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New York Times London office may exceed 100 staff but it is ‘not looking to compete with local media’

By William Turvill

The president of international at The New York Times has played down the significance of the title’s staff growth in the UK – but said the size of its London operation could increase further. (Picture: Shutterstock)

The US title currently employs 65 people in London, including 35 in editorial (newsroom and opinion), and has office space for 100. And Stephen Dunbar-Johnson told Press Gazette: “I feel that we may end up needing even more space.”

Dunbar-Johnson played down reports of a “huge expansion” in London, saying that it had merged two offices in the capital – those of the International New York Times (formerly the International Herald Tribune) and the US title’s London bureau.

But he said that London, along with Hong Kong, is being made into a digital hub for the title.

“I don’t think it should be seen as we’re looking to compete with the local media, the British media, to cover the UK per se,” said Dunbar-Johnson, who was publisher of the International Herald Tribune from February 2008 until October 2013, when it was renamed the International New York Times.

“We’re looking at this as an international operation [to] cover Europe and the world at large for our readers.

“And in a global world today, a lot of our coverage is international coverage and we want to make sure that we’re getting it up on our digital platforms in the right way, in the way that makes sense for our readers wherever they are around the world – so starting as the sun rises in the east, in Hong Kong, and moves across to Europe, and then hands back to New York.”

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Away from editorial, Dunbar-Johnson said that there are commercial employees based in London and that the title’s international marketing and conference operations were based there previously. Further, The New York Times announced earlier this month that it was its native advertising agency, T Brand, is expanding into the UK next month, initially employing four staff.

But Dunbar-Johnson denied the suggestion that the International New York Times would be closing down its Paris operation, where he is based. “We’re emphasising growth – digital growth – in London, not in Paris, that’s true. But it doesn’t mean to say we’re closing down our operation in Paris – it’s still going to be an important bureau, and we have a significant commercial team here. And we’re not going to change that – there’re no plans to change that at all.”

The International New York Times newspaper recorded a total average circulation of 220,472 in 2014, according to French circulation body OJD. In Europe its circulation was 100,817 and in the UK it was 6,156.

Asked about the thinking behind the London-Paris base switch, he said: “It’s about greater work flexibility – social charges in France are fairly prohibitive; it’s not cheap in London by any stretch of imagination, but it’s more competitive; and there’s a wider pool of talent we can tap easily. And it’s cheaper… because trying to get people who are working in English in Paris you have to pay a premium for that.”

He added: “It’s easier and more flexible for a whole host of reasons. So it’s a pragmatic decision based on wanting to grow and expand – we see a great deal of potential internationally for the Times. We’re growing our digital subscriptions at a very healthy clip internationally. And we think that there is a lot of potential. And digital expansion in London, and indeed in Hong Kong, is a reflection of that.”

The New York Times website has a metered paywall allowing people to read ten articles a month for free. It claims to be approaching 1m digital subscribers, with 12 per cent of these based outside of the United States. The title declined to supply details of how many subscribers it has within the UK.

Dunbar-Johnson said: “The real point for us is that if you aggregate numbers across many, many markets it all adds up to quite a significant number and potential.

“So I think UK, clearly where there is English as a predominant language there is an advantage. But our expansion in the UK isn’t really just because we think there’s a great deal of potential in the UK. I think UK is a good market for us. But that’s not why we’re expanding in the UK – we don’t need to tap the UK by being in the UK, so to speak.

“It’s about looking at the international markets in their entirety and how do we best get into them. We do think… it’s very important to have people on the ground in the market. But in the market is Europe at large by being in London – it’s not just the UK.”

Asked who The New York Times sees as its main rivals internationally, Dunbar-Johnson said: “It’s changing a lot. If you’d asked me that question a few years ago, I would have trotted off the normal legacy media opposition… any other global publication – the Economist, Financial Times, Time magazine and all those distributing and circulating globally.

“But our pool of competition globally has now expanded considerably because we’re competing with Facebook, Google, on the one hand, we’re competing with Buzzfeed, Huffington Post now, potentially with organisations such as Vice – all of which are expanding internationally and doing so aggressively – and rightly so.”

Asked whether he sees UK-based operations – such as Mail Online and The Guardian – as competition, he said: “Well the Mail, no, because we’re in a completely different zone. The Guardian I think we would think – well I certainly think, I’ll speak for myself – they do outstanding work. I think digitally they’re very interesting.

“Are they competition for us? I guess so. They’re certainly interesting. They’re producing very good content, so that’s where they’re competition. Anybody who’s producing good content I see as a direct competitor – because they’re after the same kind of market for us. I see Buzzfeed as less of a competitor. But I do think The Guardian’s doing very interesting things.”

But he added: “Their model is profoundly different to ours because they do not have a pay model. And… I don’t quite understand their economics, but that’s not for me to worry about.”

On how The New York Times is facing up to a more “complex” and “competitive landscape”, Dunbar-Johnson said: “The focus for us is on a couple of things. It’s to make sure that we are focused on quality of content. Potentially – it’s a cliché to say it, maybe even pompous to say it, but – it really is critical to us to be zealous about making sure that we retain the quality of the content and make sure that we continue to invest in our journalism.

“Which we are doing. We haven’t curtailed our bureaus around the world. It’s very, very important to our future to make sure that we are producing really good content from all over the world.”

He added: “The other thing is to be aware, and constantly striving to understand our customers, our readers, and how they will be reading in the future. Which really links to the other navigating pillar, which is technology.

“Because it’s technology that’s going to allow us to reach more readers. And we’re now being read by more people than we’ve ever been read before, so it’s about how do we reach them and how do we monetise that.

“So there’re fantastic opportunities for us. But it is a crowded marketplace [and] the only way we’re going to stand out in that marketplace is by understanding customer, [delivering] fantastic, high-quality content that’s relevant. And so that’s the challenge.

“Rather than focus too much on who, where, what and being terrified by the wave of competition that’s now out there, it’s just focusing on what we can do well and what’s going to make us stand out from everybody else.”

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