The New York Times had a bit of a leak the other week - an internal report on how they were doing at "digital". It was depressingly familiar reading for those who have been trying to get organisations to "do digital" for a very long time, but you have to hand it to them: at least they commissioned a report and they got people who were smart enough to write a really good one.
If you’re in a large organisation, lots of it will probably ring true. And, because it’s from The New York Times, it’s really well-written.
The report begins: "The New York Times is winning at journalism. Of all the challenges facing a media company in the digital age, producing great journalism is the hardest.
"Our daily report is deep, broad, smart and engaging – and we’ve got a huge lead over the competition.
At the same time, we are falling behind in a second critical area: the art and science of getting our journalism to readers. We have always cared about the reach and impact of our work, but we haven’t done enough to crack that code in the digital era."
It sums up the modern dilemma beautifully. We’re really good at the main thing we do, but we’re not so good at this digital stuff.
You won't stay good at your core activity if you don't realise it's being changed by the internet
And right in the first 92 words of this massive and important report, these smart, capable, involved people make the same mistake everyone makes.
Here’s our core business and here’s the internet. They never get it – these are now the same thing. You won’t stay good at your core activity if you don’t realise it’s being changed by the internet. You won’t get good at the internet until it’s part of what you do all day.
Around the same time as that report dropped, The New Yorker carried a cartoon. It showed five people around a typical conference-room table; it’s obviously some sort of business meeting. The chair of the meeting speaks: "We need to rethink our strategy of hoping the internet will just go away."
As they say – it’s funny because it’s true. Deep, deep down, it’s what most businesses are hoping.
If you can’t face the whole New York Times report, the Nieman Journalism Lab blog has a great write-up. You might find it helpful to read how another organisation is coping, or failing to cope, with digital challenges. Perhaps get a copy of that cartoon too.
Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
This article was first published on