The New York Times' Page One meeting is like peering into a hive and seeing firsthand how bees make honey: it’s complex, lively and fascinatingly efficient.

For more than 60 years, The Times editorial staff has gathered to map out the news and decide which stories would appear on the front page of the paper. Today, while still called the Page One meeting, it has almost nothing to do with the printed newspaper.

Print ruled for most of the The New York Times’ history, but in 2015 the organization underwent a significant shift in its editorial operations. Digital and mobile consumption had skyrocketed over the past decade and the bastion of hardcopy journalism recognized that the future was digital.

“It used to be that digital was downstream from print, everything hinged on print,” said Clifford Levy, the newspaper’s deputy managing editor. “We’d take whatever was on the front page and slap it on the home page.”

However, the editorial team found that digital audiences consume news differently. For example, the largest audience reads news on mobile phones between 6 and 10 a.m., and again between 6 and 7 p.m. The newsroom had to be responsive and ready, 24 hours a day.

For the first time in history, print floated downstream from The Times’ digital properties. And as the newsroom transformed, so did the editorial huddle.

“The Page One meeting is a metaphor for evolution of The Times,” said Levy.

The meeting’s agenda and routine is an inspiring example of effective collaboration, honoring tradition and putting audiences first. It’s format can help any organization, especially audiences looking to build efficiency and clarity in their teams. Here’s how:

Meeting Efficiency

The Times runs the Page One meeting twice a day, every day, at 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. A few dozen staff — section editors, news desks, reporters — gather around a big square table. People call in from foreign and faraway bureaus.

A facilitator introduces guests (another tradition that invites transparency) and opens with what’s trending or spiking in the news. Then the team goes around the table, with each news desk editor reporting high-level “slugs” of stories.

There’s almost no emotion and only minor discussion — the round-robin style keeps the rhythm rolling and prevents rabbit-holing or untimely content reviews. Graphic and photo editors report out and it’s over as quickly as it starts.

The twice-daily meeting sets the overall pace for the entire editorial process. Everyone works towards these two meetings, setting their tasks and their schedules accordingly.

Takeaway for Marketers:

  • Be clear on a meeting’s agenda and stick to it.
  • Figure out if you have the right people in the room, and if not, don’t waste everyone’s time.
  • Choose a facilitator, who takes notes and keeps everyone on track.

Respect the Audience Experience

When The Times moved to a digital-first approach, it meant more than just formatting or responsive design — it meant creating content that was native to the format upon which it was consumed, while holding the standards that made The New York Times, well, The New York Times.

“We had to become digitally native in a way we never were before,” said Levy, adding that you can’t slap a newsprint story, say, on Snapchat. Empathy, he said, is vital — really understanding how the audience will experience your work.

To get the editorial staff to really understand the mobile experience, Levy shut down everyone’s desktop for a week, requiring them instead to work on their smartphones.

“Core journalism unites the experiences, but the content has to feel native or audiences and advertisers will reject it,” Levy said. “If you don’t, the whole thing feels hollow or fake. An audience can very easily sniff out when you’re not authentic.”

Takeaway for Marketers:

  • Whether you’re producing news stories or marketing collateral, always consider what your audience or customer experiences.
  • Create content native to the platform it’s intended for and find a way to blend your marketing agenda with audience interests.
  • Most importantly, be authentic.

Leveraging Legacy

Whether you’re The New York Times or a cleaning-products company, knowing what your brand stands for and honoring its tradition is important. For a legacy brand like The New York Times, Levy said there is a constant push-pull between being innovative and protecting the brand.

How do brands make sure that the elements that make their legacy product successful don’t get in the way of remaining relevant in the future?

Levy said all team members need to share the brand vision. In journalism, the age-old “separation between church and state” (editorial and advertising) blurs in a modern digital organization. The newsroom and marketing need to collaborate in order to be successful.

“My job is to get more people reading NYT stories. Marketing’s job is the same thing,” said Levy.

“The more walls we have in this organization, the more likely we are to fail.”

Takeaway for Marketers:

  • Make sure everyone on your team is clear about what your brand/company stands for.
  • Make sure the audience or customer shares that vision.
  • Get your team to commit to breaking down walls and silos; otherwise you’re operating a marionette with broken strings.

It’s clear that the Page One meeting wouldn’t work without a vital ingredient — trust. Even though it’s crowded and news is breaking by the minute, there’s a sense that the people in the room have everything under control. There’s no panic or chaos and it’s clear that management trusts that the right people are in the right jobs.

Takeaway for Marketers:

  • Get the right people in the right jobs – or train them so they can have confidence and clarity in their work.
  • Trust your people. If not, they’ll flounder and a lack of trust will seep into your organization.

The New York Times editorial beehive hums with efficiency and commitment. Marketers can use the Page One meeting as inspiration to make their own hives buzz with clarity and collaboration.

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Deb Landau is the managing editor of iQ, Intel’s award-winning tech culture magazine. A seasoned journalist, Deb has penned more than a dozen guidebooks for Lonely Planet Publications, was anthologized in America’s Best Crime Writing, wrote an app for the Olympics and teaches writing at the University of Oregon.  In her spare time, she paddle boats and climbs mountains with her twin boys.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Deb Landau

MANAGING EDITOR OF IQ, INTEL