The managing editor of the New York Times has revealed how the title plans to grow its newsroom and audience in the UK as part of a major global expansion.
Speaking exclusively to Press Gazette, Joe Kahn said the NYT does not plan to compete directly with established players in the UK on domestic breaking news. But he said he believes it can provide in-depth international coverage which British readers will pay for.
The US daily employs some 1300 journalists and has enjoyed success since 2011 with its metered paywall.
It expects to exceed 1.4m digital subscribers (who pay in order to read more than ten articles per month) by the end of this year and some 200,000 of these are outside the US. Press Gazette understands that less than 20,000 of those international subscribers are based in the UK.
The title already employs around 40 journalists at its London bureau and plans to further increase that number.
The international expansion follows a rebranding of the global print edition to more closely resemble the US mothership.
The New York Times International Edition (as it is now called, rather than the International New York Times) has a circulation of 220,000 around the world, but the main emphasis of the New York Times’s global push is digital.
Kahn said: “Internationally we attract 35 or 40m unique visitors to our digital properties on a monthly basis, which is about a third of our total readership.
“We believe that number can grow substantially as we invest in better and more relevant coverage around the world for that audience and improve the experience people have when they come to our digital properties.”
He said that part of that growth will come from improved and more localised coverage on apps and the mobile web. But there will also be more investment in journalism.
“We are continuing to invest in coverage that we have about the world, for the world, and improving the experience readers have when they come to the New York Times.
“We’re uniting behind a big push that will make us the first American news organisation to think about the total global audience as our core audience. ”
He said that in London there are plans to grow the video team, invest more in visual journalism and expand coverage of particular stories.
“We’ve always had a big news bureau in London with a primary focus of covering the UK, we want to think about how we broaden and expand that reporting for New York Times readers in the UK as well as for readers outside the UK.
“I expect we will be making additional investments in high quality coverage of the UK with a goal of generating more subscribers and readers in the UK.”
The New York Times has earmarked $50m over the next three years for its global expansion, which is a small outlay compared with what The Guardian and Mail Online have spent on their overseas operations.
Kahn said: “We are learning in part from what we’ve done in the past and some of our peers have done in terms of their global expansion. We are much more focused on creating bridges on to our core news product rather than creating expensively-produced separate editions of the New York Times.
“Rather than thinking of ourselves as coming in and competing with the Guardian or the FT, we are still going to be New York Times.
“We are making prudent additions to our staff in order to increase our competitiveness on what we consider to be the biggest global stories that have local resonance, but we are not trying to cover Westminster for a UK audience. We’re not trying to try to provide a rival version of breaking news which there are many fine local providers for.
“We’re doing New York Times quality stories, we’re just doing more of them more immediately and we hope more impactfully to a local audience.
“We’re also improving and investing in the digital experience of coming to the New York Times.
“$50m is a pretty good chunk of money but it would not be enough money if we were trying to invent a new New York Times for the UK . We think it’s a good amount of money to extend the brand of the New York Times and expand the reach of the New York Times.”
Kahn said that last year saw the fastest growth of digital subscriptions since the paywall was launched in 2011, with the highest rate of growth coming from overseas.
And he said that in the face of a challenging advertising market, subscriptions are the primary commercial focus of the global expansion.
Asked why he thinks British readers will pay to read the New York Times when they get The Guardian (for example) for free, he said: “We don’t expect to get exactly the same audiece that The Guardian has in the UK or many of the other very competitive UK media titles get.
“The UK as an extremely competitive media landscape which is not crying out for an international brand to come and shake up. That’s not really our model.
“We do think though there are very few UK titles that provide the depth of reporting that we have from around the world, or from the United States which is a a very important story for readers here.
“We don’t think any of our peers do the same kind of multimedia and digital reporting that we can deliver on a daily basis on our properties and that when people come and sample what we have they’ll realise it’s worth paying for.
“It’s not going to be 5m people in the UK, but we do think the UK is one of the most sophisticated places in the world and there are more paying readers for the New York Times here than we are currently getting.
“We have had a decent response to our digital subscription product in the UK already, but we think we can grow that number substantially.”
Listen to the full version of this interview in this week’s Press Gazette Journalism Matters podcast.