How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Jodi Rudoren, associate managing editor for audience, discussed the tech she’s using.
Tell us a bit about your role as head of audience strategy.
It’s a new role, and in many ways, we’re making it up as we go along.
The mission is to get more people to read more of The Times. To get addicted to our journalism. To make it part of their daily lives. And to do that, we need to make the journalism work better for more people — which doesn’t mean changing our core values, but does mean reconsidering and reimagining how, when and where we tell stories.
The journalism itself is our strongest audience tool — we want storytelling that meets readers needs, wows them and is so compelling, so essential, so helpful, so excellent that they make it a daily habit. To get there, we need to help our journalists think more about the audience and read the data signals about what readers want to help inform coverage decisions. Ultimately, it’s about building relationships.
That’s the 30,000-foot view. Closer to the ground, I’m overseeing our portfolio of newsletters, one of the most powerful ways to reach new readers and keep them coming back, as well as our Reader Center, where we showcase who we are and what we do, engage our critics and elevate reader voices around the news of the day.
I also lead special initiatives to expand and engage our readership in California and outside the United States, and to better serve women. Audience Strategy also includes our amazing and growing Search team, which is all about optimizing journalism’s largest channel, and Off-Platform Initiatives, where we look for new opportunities to reach people.
What tech tools are most important for doing your job?
Does Google Calendar count as a tech tool? It’s embarrassing, but my job is a somewhat endless series of meetings, so I live by that thing.
People are often shocked that I keep my calendar open. It’s part of my life philosophy of radical transparency, which is sometimes called “oversharing.” I once accidentally put my 5:30 a.m. spin class on a group calendar — at least it was a workout and not an appointment with a doctor for some rare skin disorder!
The other thing I can’t live without is my iPad Bluetooth keyboard by Logitech. It’s with me at breakfast, on the train to work, in all those meetings; I once was overheard typing on it in the women’s bathroom.
How do we use tech or data at The Times to determine which audiences we are underserving and then try to serve them?
We use a combination of data and surveys to find gaps and opportunities. Looking at IP addresses helped us realize that we had large and fast-growing audiences in California and outside the United States, especially in Canada and Australia. But we also saw that they read less deeply or frequently than people closer to our New York headquarters, so we stood up teams to lean into those audiences and make it more clear that The Times is for them.
Google Analytics and reader interviews revealed an engagement gap with women, which led us to create the Gender Initiative. One of the things that group does is look closely at which types of stories perform well with women (personal narrative, visual stories, things with a conversational tone) and which do not (data-heavy analysis). We surface these insights to reporters and editors to help guide their decisions about the best way to tell each tale.
We also spend a lot of energy looking at search trends to make sure our report is answering the questions readers ask most and publishing stories when people are hungriest for them. These are people searching for news! They’re our people. They just don’t all know it yet.
A lot of this is still a work in progress, and maybe it will always be, because our industry, and technology, are changing so much so fast. What’s critical, I think, is pretty much the same thing that was critical in my prior roles as reporter and editor — that I know enough to ask the next best question.
What are some of your favorite examples of how The Times is using tech to attract new audiences?
The Daily has to be the single best example of us not just reaching a whole new cadre of people but really becoming part of their lives: something like one million people a month listen to at least half the episodes. The magic of the show grew out of a profoundly simple question: What does The Times sound like?
What has been transformative is not just the tech — audio/podcast versus articles — but the whole approach of combining the story itself and the story behind the story into one irresistible thing. It’s barely two years old, but I can hardly imagine a Times (or even a world?) without it.
All new storytelling forms excite me. Data visualizations like this piece about race and income-mobility are mind-blowing in their ability to explain complicated topics. What we call tap-throughs, which generally combine video, stills and text in an immersive way, add multiple dimensions to our reporting and reporters and are unforgettable. Here’s one I loved on the border of China and North Korea.
In that same vein, Our Open Source forensic-video investigations are groundbreaking — a piece on the Gaza fence protests was so much more powerful than anything I wrote (or read) about the two wars with Israel that I covered there.
And some of this doesn’t depend at all on tech. I’m a big fan of the “What we know and don’t know” form, which we deploy at big news moments to help readers catch up and cut through to get the essentials before diving into some of the deeper stories. These are just words arranged in a way that’s different from a traditional news story, plus a few bullets. Hey, this Q. and A. is a new story form, too!
Outside of work, what tech product are you obsessed with?
I’ll tell you the tech product I’m obsessed with not having: a search feature that scans all the streaming services on my Apple TV to quickly find where the show I want lives or what my options for watching a particular movie are. There should be an app for that!
I’m entirely dependent on Waze and Google maps. My 11-year-old daughter recently mused that she hopes that someday soon, everybody will somehow have these programmed into the brain and know how to get everywhere. I tried to explain to her that when I was growing up, you had to call and ask for directions, and that a lot of people — including my mom — mostly would drive only to places that they were confident they knew how to get to, and how small that made the world.
We also love to hate Alexa. She has helped cultivate an appreciation for ’80s music in my kids, who also suddenly have frequent needs for setting timers. Maybe my favorite moment was when my son, who is also 11, said, “Alexa, get me a girlfriend,” and she responded, “I’m sorry, I can only reorder items you have already purchased on Amazon.”
You’re a big cook. What’s your favorite kitchen gadget, and why?
A real chef would offer a paean to a humble knife here. I am not a real chef.
I have more high-tech stuff than I need, definitely. I really like my Air Fryer, which is basically just an extra-hot and fast oven. I make eggplant in there and drown it with a quick sauce of cherry tomatoes, garlic and basil, very healthy and yummy in about 20 minutes.
My newest toy is the Whynter ICM-15LS ice cream maker, which could not be simpler. We made a coffee ice cream spiced with coriander, cinnamon, cardamom and chili that was divine (and decaf!), and just did a smooth-as-silk mango sorbet. The problem with having a great ice cream maker is having great ice cream around all the time.
But all of this is really windup. My favorite kitchen tool is completely ridiculous, unnecessary and cheap: the Oxo Good Grips 3-in-1 Avocado Slicer. The thing is a joy-maker. No fear of cutting yourself when you (or one of your kids) hack into the pit, and those even slices are very impressive for plating. I’m not saying it’s the first thing I’d take with me to a desert island, but I do like seeing it in my drawer.