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Yet another ode to the NYT

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by Dave Winer.

Oh the NYT. They do such a great job with the news, but they do such a terrible job of running the business. Permalink to this paragraph

In the last few days while CNN et al completely dropped the ball on the Iran story, they were right there, on top of it. Great stuff.  Permalink to this paragraph

Everyone else in the news business missed the Twitter SUL story, but the Times nailed it. I was so happy I can't tell you. Permalink to this paragraph

But in the meantime they're cutting the pay of Boston Globe reporters, and have no idea how or if their business will operate next year or the year after. Permalink to this paragraph

All this at a time when their product is in high demand. People love news, and we love the way the NYT does the news. So why is there a problem? Permalink to this paragraph

Oddly enough, I know, and I can tell you.  Permalink to this paragraph

Get your coffee, have a seat, let me tell you a story... Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named uncleCrackBerry.jpgThree years ago I got a Blackberry and fell in love. I was riding all over the place on the BART system and I could take the news with me. It didn't take me five minutes to realize it was the perfect River of News device, so I adapted my NYT and BBC rivers to work in their browser. Permalink to this paragraph

Unlike most developers I have the phone number of the CEO of the NY Times Digital, so I rang him up and told him how wonderful the Times was on my Blackberry and please please let's tell the world about it. After all he had an incredible communication system for doing exactly that. I wanted to fly to NY to show it off, but he said we should have a phone conference first. I thought this was a bad idea, but I did it. I shouldn't have. Permalink to this paragraph

I have no idea who was at the meeting, but the first thing they did was tell me about their upcoming mobile version of the Times that they had spent millions developing. Right off the bat I knew it had to be terrible. The only way to spend that much money on a mobile news site is to put all kinds of hurdles between the reader and the news. I said I had a totally simple way to do it that I had developed in a couple of days, by myself. (I lied, it actually took about an hour.) Then they asked what I wanted. I knew we were headed off a cliff. I said that isn't important, they pressed, I said yes -- I probably did want to be paid for my work. That was the end of the meeting. They were off the phone in less than a minute. I'm sure their version of the story will be different. But the net result was indisputable. They waited over three years before they had a reasonable way to deliver news to mobile users. Permalink to this paragraph

Yes I know they have millions of people reading their mobile site. But I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about the backbone of news delivery, and today that's indisputably Twitter. The stupid thing about our meeting, the lose-lose about it, is that right then and there we were on the edge of inventing it. And because I didn't get on a plane (my mistake) and because they had so much invested in doing it the wrong way (their mistake) we didn't do it. Permalink to this paragraph

So the first-level problem for the Times is they now are authors for Twitter, doing great work, and not being paid for it. Once again, they're going to be complaining, soon, that the tech industry is pocketing the profits while they do the work. (They'll be wrong, a lot of other people are working for free too.) The higher-level problem is they aren't competing. They're just sitting there. Spending money in obvious and wasteful Dilbert-like ways, and letting the small nimble competiton run circles around them.  Permalink to this paragraph

I would, if I were them, ask their Twitter users (and they have quite a few) what was so wonderful about Twitter as it covered the Iran story. Ask them to explain the role the NYT played in it, and if it was generally appreciated (they were great, and in general it wasn't appreciated). And then, and this is the key question, ask them how it could have been better.  Permalink to this paragraph

There's still an opportunity to create the news system of the future. But only if you're very smart about it.  Permalink to this paragraph

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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.


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Last update: 6/16/2009; 10:27:56 PM Pacific. "It's even worse than it appears."

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