Hey, dreamer: It’s about the money

Much has changed since I left the newspaper business in 2005 — including my sense of journalistic reality.

Over the intervening months, I have rethought many long-held assumptions about journalism and the relationship among audience, content and revenue. And my rethinking is still stewing in the crockpot.

One thing has remained constant, though: Regular hearty meals with the New York Times. (And, I should add, my penchant for overwrought metaphors…)

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that the most recent “Talk to the Times feature focused on Denise F. Warren, senior vice president and chief advertising officer of The New York Times Media Group and general manager of NYTimes.com, answering revenue-related queries.

Blasphemy! The paragon of fine journalism discussing …(gasp)… revenue?!

Unfortunately, journalists can no longer afford to be so high-minded. The reality is that the days of easy profit margins in the media business are gone. And without profits, it is difficult to sustain large investigative journalistic enterprises.

Warren offers some interesting admissions in this realm, once you get past the corporatespeak.

In answer to a question about intrusive ads covering content:

We take great care to ensure that we balance the user experience against the need to produce advertising revenue to support our journalistic mission. The large-format advertisements you refer to command a significant premium, and drive a very sizable amount of revenue. This revenue allows us to invest in the types of journalism, multimedia experiences, and technological innovation that our readers have come to expect from NYTimes.com. We think that this results in a fair balance for the reader, and is one that we carefully monitor every day.

  • Translation: We are willing to inconvenience readers to make money to support high-quality journalism. So, Dear Reader, suck it up.

(She did add, however, that the number of such ad intrusions per user are limited. And there’s always the vaunted “Skip This Ad” button.)

She also tackled the accusation of spreading stories across several pages to increase page views and ad slots:

In the early days of the Web site, we paginated — as you rightly point out — to increase the inventory of advertising opportunities we could sell to advertisers. Now, our audience has grown dramatically since those early days, and we are no longer in that position. The question really has more to do now with cracking the code on the best way to present long-form journalism, and with the difficulty of changing our page templates. We will consider improving this experience, as we seek to improve the way we present our high-quality news and information more generally.

  • Translation: Yep. We went after the bucks. And we got them.

It’s nice to see such transparency and candor regarding revenue from the Gray Lady. As long as she keeps putting out innovative journalism in print and on the Web, I don’t mind.

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