June 18, 2015 Last Updated 11:43 am

Publishers begin contemplating issues created by decoupling content from their brands

Besides the issue of who does the work to edit and distribute editorial to social media and aggregated content outlets, there is the question of who is in control once it is there

One of the objections some publishers had to creating their first digital editions for tablets (and later smartphones) was that they believed their staff simply didn’t have the time to spend on additional production work. This led to many taking the PDF replica route. But others eventually decided to create native or hybrid digital editions, usually spurred on art directors who assured management that not only could they accommodate the work load, but that it was an essential part of the brand’s overall digital publishing strategy. (I would say that native digital editions are very much a designer driven medium.)

Now, many publishers strongly believe that as part of their digital publishing initiative, editors will need to decouple content from their brands, posting stories on new digital publishing outlets such as Flipboard, Facebook’s Instant Articles, Apple News, LinkedIn and others. This, too, will require additional work, but this time editors will be front and center.


In the past, major publishers have often established new teams to do the work of editing and production for their new digital news products. Launches for NYT Now and other apps often included announcements of new hires or staff moving over to the new project. In the case of NYT Now, then executive editor Jill Abramson said at launch that a team of between 10 and 15 journalists would be involved with the project.

That is not likely to happen with these new bite-sized news products as they are often driven by RSS feeds (or the creation of a brand new feeds specifically designed for the channels).

One big motivating factor for publishers is the desire to experiment with new ways to gain digital audiences, especially on mobile devices. While the lure of these new outlets would be the creation of new revenue lines, at launch some think it is first most important to see if these new channels can reach new readers and boost overall brand readership. This was what motivated the NYT to launch its NYT Cooking app and web subdomain first as a free product, to see if readership could be built up – and then and only then start to pursue a monetization strategy.

“We did that in part because we realized that perhaps we went too fast toward monetizing NYT Now and NYT Opinion,” said Clifford Levy, Assistant Masthead Editor at the NYT, and NYT Now editor. “Maybe in the future, a better path is to first do audience development and then do monetization.”

One question some publishers have is who is ultimately the publisher when it comes to editorial content appearing in Instant Articles, Apple News, other outlets? Is it Facebook? or the NYT?

This issue will likely work itself out over time, but some fear it will lead to editorial compromises.

The Verge today gets at this issue at the end of a story about The Sunday Times sending The Intercept a DMCA notice**. At issue here is a notice sent to The Intercept because that web outlet criticized a story published by the Murdoch owned UK newspaper that accused Edward Snowden of sharing documents with the Russians and Chinese. The Intercept article called The Times piece “journalism at its worst” for factual errors, at least one of which was later deleted from the Times article.

But The Verge story, written by Sarah Jeong asks about what happens when these third party aggregators get DMCA notices? Will they be more eager to comply and take down the content than a news organization would be?

“And although a publication can just shrug off a defective DMCA notice, the growing trend in digital journalism is a reliance on third-party platforms like Facebook, which are indeed the intermediaries that the DMCA actually applies to,” Jeong writes. “See, for example, Facebook’s Instant Articles, where stories from outlets like The New York Times and BuzzFeed are hosted on Facebook’s servers. What will happen when Facebook gets hit with DMCA notices intended to censor those articles?”

** Digital Millennium Copyright Act = the U.S. copyright law designed to prevent copyright infringement.

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