The New York Times announced yesterday a serious upgrade for its online Opinion Pages. The overhaul will see a slew of substantial new additions that point to NYT’s vision of Opinion as one of its core content propositions:
* A new blog by Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal will scan and respond to the world of opinion at The Times and elsewhere.
* Border Lines, a weekly map series by Frank Jacobs that will examine the contemporary political world map through examples of quirks in national borders, which illuminate enclaves, exclaves, no-man’s-lands, undefined borders, etc.
* New Opinionator columnists, including: Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who will comment on health care policy; and Diane Ackerman, an author and naturalist, who will cover science and nature, among others.
* Frequent Op-Eds that will be exclusively available to online readers.
* Op-Docs, opinionated, short-video documentaries, with wide creative ranges, about current affairs and contemporary life from both renowned and emerging filmmakers.
* Campaign Stops, a political opinion blog that will chronicle the 2012 election cycle with regular contributions from Timothy Egan, Charles M. Blow, Ross Douthat and Thomas B. Edsall, among others.
* Additional enhancements to the Global Opinion section.
It’s worth mentioning the numerous products above in full - this Opinion Pages upgrade is perhaps the most substantial the NYT has ever seen. Then throw in the hefty-sounding launch events (three of them: in Washington, New York an Paris, streamed live on NYT.com) and you get a sense that it’s more than just a facelift. It’s not surprising to see the paper invest heavily in premium content, yet the large scope of these improvements is rather telling. Already publishers have been focusing more and more on opinion and commentary, both online and offline.
In Scandinavia, one of the premier financial titles is moving its opinion content to the front of the paper, where it will be featured as the main content strand. A big European publishing group is changing its format in the next year to accommodate more analysis and commentary. Reuters and Bloomberg, meanwhile, have recently launched proper online Opinion hubs of their own; Time.com is soon to follow suit by launching a dedicated vertical focusing on commentary and opinion.
These developments are as logical as they are necessary. Just how necessary they are, however, became strikingly clear to me only recently - I learned that up to 80% of an average publisher’s resources is spent on news coverage. This figure exemplifies the core issue with legacy publishers - they surely know what type of content to focus on, but clearly don’t have the nimbleness to shift priorities quickly enough. For newspapers online, the pure news coverage business has no doubt been rid of any semblance of a profit margin. Brand loyalty, and profit margins, cannot be built on homogeneous, time-sensitive content in this age of fragmentation and source abundance.
Beyond the ability to yield better ad revenues, the need for more commentary and opinion is also purely practical from an editorial standpoint - as content breaks down into even smaller units (consider Twitter and live blogging) of an increasingly greater number and variety, there is a clear need for deeper analysis and broader context. The way that publishers adapt to these new trajectories will be one of the most important factors in their survival - good to see that quite a few are already moving in the right direction.