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Analyze This: New York Times Innovation Report

All means are ends in the becoming.” –unknown. The truth in this observation is demonstrated in the recent turmoil at the New York Times. And we hope not by The Ford Motor Company.

A lengthy 91-page self-analysis by NY Times executives was leaked (flooded) recently to the outside world. Titled “Innovation Report,” it revealed the “means” that made the Times the pre-eminent daily newspaper in America has become an “end” that no longer serves it well. Deifying the integrity, values, pride in its heritage and belief in the processes that made it great in the print age has left the Times behind in what got them in the news business in the first place – making money through advertising based on readership. Some of its digital competitors attract more readers by re-packaging Times journalism than when the Times first publishes it.

While one or more Times executives grumbled that the interactive world did not mean readers determine the news, the advertising and subscriber numbers say that increasingly, it is the readers deciding how, where and when they get their news and, inferentially, what they consider the news.

People who spent years dedicated to being the best journalists they knew how to be, maintaining standards forged and tested over the paper’s 160-year history are now faced with what the executive analysis referred to as “disruptive innovation.” Many columnists covering media have published their own takes on the Times introspection.

Catherine P. Taylor offers her five takeaways in Social Media Insider, May 16. On May 15 staffers at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab offered high-points from their reading of the report and Erik Sass’ Column in Media Daily News engendered some interesting comments. On May 19, Bob Garfield wrote in his Garfield At Large Media Post blog,” … the leaked NYT Innovation Report, (is) a point-by-point explication of how the paper has complicated the existential crisis facing all newspapers by doing practically every single thing wrong for 15 years.” All agree that the Innovation Report is important and worth reading.

On the “means” side of the opening quote, Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” mantra became the means for freezing the waste of money and time in theOne Ford fiefdoms of Ford and focusing all of its resources on saving Ford from bankruptcy and a government bailout. “One Ford” extended to the thoughtful selection and grooming of Mulally’s successor. And, hopefully, to others who subsequently move into the role. The challenge will be recognizing when down the line, technological and cultural changes in society and in the auto industry make “One Ford” a Golden Calf, – an outmoded hindrance to fresh thinking and behavior.