Gini Dietrich

Lessons You Can Take from The New York Times Storytelling

By: Gini Dietrich | March 1, 2012 | 

We’ve been talking a lot (particularly this week) about the companies that are doing social all wrong.

Let’s turn the tables today and look at a company that is doing it exactly right.

The New York Times.

It’s not like they’ve been without fault. When they announced their online premium paid subscription model last year, many people flocked to RSS feeds that allowed them the same content they’d received for free for, well, free.

There was debate, both internally and externally, about whether or not the model would work.

At the time, I selfishly defended them. Because of Spin Sucks Pro, we need people to be willing to pay for unique and highly relevant content.

And yet, it’s still remains to be seen whether or not it’s actually going to make some money…nearly a full year later.

But charging for content isn’t the only thing the 161 year old Gray Lady is doing to stay up with the times.

Yesterday, when Facebook rolled out the Timeline for businesses, they were one of the first to roll out, not only a cover photo that shows their employees on two levels of the organization’s building, but also historical data (see the dates on the side), going back as far as the 1850s.

But that’s not it.

They also are using Tumblr to showcase photos from its storied past. Titled The Lively Morgue, they are pulling photos from file cabinets and manila folders to post on the blog, in order to not only provide photographic evidence of a rich history, but to tell a story to reengage those who may have fallen away.

In fact, the first photo to appear this morning is one of Joe Namath (in fur and velvet corduroys, none-the-less) in 1973 watching the the Jets win a game  from the sidelines because of his injured elbow.

If you scroll through, you’ll find photos of policemen finding liquor hidden in dress dummies during Prohibition and paper ticks being thrown during an Apollo 11 astronaut parade.

But they’re not just for show. If you’re a photo and history nerd, you can buy images for $169. At that price, it might be pretty cool to have some photos in your home from the year you were born or the year your parents were married or even just historical events that fascinate you.

I know most of your companies are not 161 years old nor do you have photos with such rich histories (after all, how many of us have photos from Kennedy’s assassination or the 9/11 terrorist attacks?). But there are so many lessons about storytelling you can take from the newspaper, no matter how old or new your history.

How will you tell your company’s story?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • SnezanaSubotic

    RT @ginidietrich Lessons You Can Take from The New York Times Storytelling

  • DoTime_WX

    Storytelling! That’s where we make an impact, and it doesn’t matter if it’s sales, criminal attorneys, script writing, or selling content on the Net. 
    Very nice ginidietrich , it’s the storytelling that makes us connect with others. I believe it’s vital for institutions / businesses to convey their message in this manner so as to have a human quality. 

    • ginidietrich

       @DoTime_WX  It’s so easy yet so many companies don’t want to do it. People love visuals. I’m totally sucked into the NY Times Tumblr blog. Why wouldn’t you want that for your business??

      • DoTime_WX

         @ginidietrich Exactly, why wouldn’t they? Visuals, along with an interesting story goes a long way.

  • Very cool stuff. Sadly, the pay wall doesn’t seem to be doing well for them. They can’t get a handle on how to convert their news gathering and reporting process to an online model, and still make money. The layoffs continue and circulation continues to fall. 

    • ginidietrich

       @KenMueller I’ll be curious to see if people are more engaged with these news tactics. If I weren’t already a subscriber, it would be enough for me to pay.

      •  @ginidietrich Well, I think you’re different from most people. (DUH!). We communications types think along different lines. I don’t subscribe and this wouldn’t make me pay for the paper/online subscription. But I don’t pay for hardly anything. I have friends who work there and they’re scared silly. 

        •  @KenMueller @ginidietrich biggest fraud ever in history well since the Trojan Horse was digital ad networks convincing media companies they could get the same revenue from digital ads if they gave their content away for free. The next problem was web pages not being exactly like print so we didn’t have to turn pages. This made a lot of money for the ad networks but none for the media companies. Worse was the ad industry who still to this day says ‘but if we only made the ads better they will click’ forgetting all research and behavior studies showing it doesn’t matter what they do unless it is a big bribe we won’t click.

  • So I went to my client page. It said ‘Starting march 30th all pages will have the new features click here to give a test run’ So I clicked. And nothing happened.
    BTW did you see the class action against Facebook for tracking across websites. This could be HUGE! Hope the class action wins and ends third party tracking..
    BTW yes NY Times is working it. I hope they succeed we need that liberal media bias to stick around a bit longer 8) And isn’t the WSJ pay wall working?

    • ginidietrich

       @HowieSPM Talk to @KenMueller . I know he has his Timeline working. It sounds like you did something wrong!

    • @HowieSPM I’ve got the same message about March 30th on my page and yeah, clicking on the preview does nothing. Something tells me that the liberal bias will stick around… Fox news needs a Yin to their fair & conservative Yang

      •  @SociallyGenius  @HowieSPM The preview does change things, but it won’t give you the cover photo, you need to add that yourself.

        • @KenMueller Good point Ken, failed to consider that 🙂 @HowieSPM

  • Sometimes Spin Sucks is a little to grown up for me as I do not have a PR & Marketing firm, or any company for that matter! But I’m glad you let me ride your coattails anyway.

    I’ve never been into the NY Times, not to say that dislike them, but you’re right – this is a nice touch. I’m a bit nervous myself for this timeline because have very few graphic design capabilities. All I have is my avatar lol.

    • ginidietrich

       @SociallyGenius But you do have photos, do you not?? And you can tell stories, the way you want to tell them, visually. It has nothing to do with PR or marketing. It has to do with telling your brand’s story. And, even though your brand is in its infancy and not supporting you full-time yet, you still have an opportunity to use images to tell the story you want to tell.

      • @ginidietrich Tru dat, Gini. You’re right, I’ll make it work. As far as photos go, and maybe this is a different debate altogether, but haven’t logged into Tumblr in months since I started reading real blogs. If I want photos, I go to Pinterest now. What’s your take on the diff between tumblin & pinning?

        • ginidietrich

           @SociallyGenius  I like Tumblr for more information – text accompanying photos. I use it for my food blog, to post the recipes, and then pin the photos from there.

  • Out of full disclosure, I should say that the New York Times to me is the equivalent of Facebook to @HowieSPM , for a variety of reasons, mostly my dealings with them on a regular basis while working up in NYC.
    Having said that, let’s punch a few holes in their social presence. They don’t allow fans to post on their wall, and they have turned off the ability to send them a message.. Additionally, they don’t engage with their readers, and there have been reports of them removing comments to their posts that they view as negative toward the Times. 
    So really, the Facebook page is just another RSS feed for them, which, for a newspaper, can work, but for a publication that is hurting, and has a reputation for looking down their nose at people, they might want to change that. 

    • ginidietrich

       @KenMueller  You’re certainly entitled to your opinion and I agree it’s wrong for them to shut off engagement. But I’m really pleased with how they’re telling their visual story. It’s a really good lesson for all companies, no matter their size or history. 

      •  @ginidietrich Oh, I agree on the visual side. Just curious how it all fits together down the line. When your employee morale is low, some of this could hurt you down the line.

        •  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich Gini we have just saved a lot of money on office supplies because Ken is our hole puncher. 8) And while it drives me crazy I agree with him most of the time.

  • I think this gives an interesting view into the history of the Times. But I have to agree with  @KenMueller  that the NYT’s is not the best example of a social company. This one part is great, but the rest of it leaves me wanting more.

    • ginidietrich

       @Anthony_Rodriguez  Perhaps they’re learning their lesson and beginning to understand the power of the social web.

  • This is cool and creative. Regardless of what they’re doing elsewhere, making use of their impressive archives is enough to pull me in. Nice discovery. Makes me think of all the opportunities people have to really use the timeline. I’d love if my parents posted photos from their past and told stories. And I think highlighting the “who” behind the company on Timeline is good to notice for any company.

    • ginidietrich

       @jeanniecw I think so, too. I really love this. 

  • JulioRVarela

    Great post!

    • ginidietrich

       @JulioRVarela LOL! Thanks!

  • cmcpointsofview

    @ginidietrich Not the only ones. See what DELL is doing here. REAL soc media investment ..lots of LISTENING too.

  • I’m not a reader of the NYT, but I really like the idea of checking out the photos they share on Tumblr. I think a lot of history buffs (amateur and not) will have a lot of fun with it.

    • ginidietrich

       @Amy Peveto I think I might become obsessed with it. It’s really cool!

  • spreadingJOY

    @JoyFull_deb <- truly joyful here

  • I have lots of photos but I make more money by telling people to pay me not to publish them.  Of course I have to thank those “friends” who found it necessary to post shots of us from fraternity parties because everyone needs to know what I looked like when I…
    The pictures are fabulous and I only wish that I had time to really sift through them all. That whole worth a thousand word thing is really true.

    • ginidietrich

       @TheJackB Remind me never to do anything suspect when you’re around.

      •  @ginidietrich Good luck. You are not the only one with a memory like an elephant and access to Photoshop. 😉

        • ginidietrich

           @TheJackB BWAHAHAHAAHAH!!

        •  @ginidietrich I told one of my 8 million little sisters about you and she lectured me on your behalf, said something about me being nicer.
          Don’t know where she got the idea that I am not always nice but I do know that someone might get a bunch of emails about a care for sale…..

        •  @ginidietrich Damn fat fingers, that is “car for sale” and not care.
          Hell, might as well write about a “care for sail” and how the “point is mute.” The snob in me says that a lot of people wouldn’t notice those typos, but that is a post for a different day.

        • ginidietrich

           @TheJackB I figured you meant car…and your sister is right. You should be nice to me!

        •  @ginidietrich  I am always nice. Just ask my sisters. 😉

  • borderlinephil

    @ginidietrich NYT’s digital strategy man came from Rolling Stone – more good things on the way.

    • ginidietrich

      @borderlinephil That was a great hire!

  • bitesizepr

    @ginidietrich that was enough to make me go friend NY Times on facebook

    • ginidietrich

      @bitesizepr Right? I did the same thing!

  • chiefmaverick

    @ginidietrich This is really great info. TY for sharing 🙂

    • ginidietrich

      @chiefmaverick You bet!

  • Narciso17

    Diggin What @ginidietrich’s Saying Here: Lessons You Can Take fm @NYTimes Storytelling

  • rhonda hurwitz

    Good post about storytelling, Gini.  Now we need to write one about redefining business models when the world is changing.  I’m rooting for The Grey Lady, but she looks like an underdog at the moment.
    My daily issue gets skinnier with each passing each week, despite all of this. They’ll have to pry the last printed issue out of my cold, dead hands … if they last so long. (via @markschaefer)
    Meanwhile, yes … I love their Facebook page.  Nicely done, and inspiring for the rest of us.

    • ginidietrich

       @rhonda hurwitz They’re going to have to pry the last issue out of my hands, too. LOL!

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  • LCIDstudio

    This is great! I love they way the New York Times is using it. I just started a facebook page for my new business and am trying to do it right!

  • LCIDstudio

    @C_Pappas @spinsucks Awesome! Just made an FB page this week for my business and this is exactly the info I needed!

    • SpinSucks

      @lcidstudio @C_Pappas Belated response… but… Cool! Glad to be of help. 🙂

  • sourcePOV

    @maddiegrant recent reader of Humanize, Maddie, & a fan. Very much like your refs to culture & of course Senge. Props for referral: @dc2fla

    • sueyoungmedia

      @sourcePOV @maddiegrant @dc2fla Agreed, just saw Humanize (Scoopit). RSS feed?

      • sourcePOV

        @sueyoungmedia ACK lol, RSS = kryptonite; tried to use & I get 500 posts I can’t get to; m/b I need to take a class 🙂 @maddiegrant @dc2fla

        • sueyoungmedia

          @sourcePOV @maddiegrant @dc2fla Too funny! The blind leading the ….

        • maddiegrant

          @sueyoungmedia @sourcePOV there’s also a Tumblr with a feed –

      • maddiegrant

        @sueyoungmedia @sourcePOV thank you! There is a feed – put this in Google Reader –

    • maddiegrant

      @sourcePOV @dc2fla yay!!! will you do me the honor of a review on Amazon please?

      • sourcePOV

        @maddiegrant of course; but headed for pizza now; will do this w/e, will help me organize my many thoughts 🙂 @sueyoungmedia @dc2fla

        • maddiegrant

          @sourcePOV @sueyoungmedia @dc2fla thank you!! no rush of course 🙂

      • dc2fla

        @sourcePOV glad you’ve gotten to know @Maddiegrant’s POV Synergies! (as promised)-More @socialfishfood @ SocialFish

  • nshafer2

    There’s a really good documentary called “Page One” about the New York Times and how they have been trying to adapt to the new technologies out there.  It’s on Netflix now if you want some more insights.

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