What Trinity Mirror can teach the New York Times about digital: Experiment quickly and often

Lab, image courtesy of Thinkstock / YanLev.

In a much-publicized internal innovation report that leaked earlier this year, the New York Times talked a lot about the trends in digital media that it needs to figure out how to get on top of — and also how the newspaper’s culture needs to change to make experimentation more feasible. If the Times wants some lessons in how to do this, it might consider talking to the folks at Trinity Mirror Plc in Britain, where traffic and digital revenue have exploded thanks to several rapid experiments in both standalone sites and new features.

As Digiday notes, Trinity Mirror saw the average number of monthly unique visitors increase by over 90 percent in the past six months, to 61 million, and its digital revenues grew by almost 50 percent in the same period, to $25 million. While this isn’t enough to make up for the declines most newspapers have been seeing in print ads, it’s nothing to sneeze at.

Among the key forces behind this traffic and revenue growth are two of the company’s digital-first publishing experiments: a “viral content” site called UsVsThem, and another called Ampp3d that focuses on shareable data-driven journalism. Both were created by veteran journalist Martin Belam, who spoke with me not long after Ampp3d launched, and later wrote a blog post about he and his team created the site in just eight weeks.

Create quickly, and keep it small

In his post, Belam talks about a number of lessons learned from the building Ampp3d, but says that one of the most crucial factors in getting such experiments to work properly is having a small team that operates to some extent separately from the main newsroom or editorial operation:

“Throughout my career the most successful products I’ve been involved with have always been a small team with a laser focus on delivery of one achievable goal. Monolithic projects involve so much project management overhead, that a lot of effort and energy is expended on organising ‘building the thing,’ not ‘building the thing’ itself.”

In his interview with me, Belam also pointed out that one of things both he and Trinity Mirror management agreed on before the projects began was that they would have to prove themselves in a relatively short time frame — two or three months at most — or be killed off. “If we can build an audience then great, we’ll keep on doing it,” he said. “But if we haven’t, then that will tell us there isn’t the market for what we’re trying to do.” The Digiday article notes that Trinity Mirror has already killed one experiment: A site called thepeople.co.uk that failed to generate enough traction was shut down in January after three months.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / YanLev

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