President Trump loomed large over The New York Times’ NewFronts presentation — literally.
A photo of the president was projected at The Times Center in New York on Monday morning over the stage as the event opened with a live version of The Daily, the podcast hosted by former print reporter Michael Barbaro, which has been a success for the Times since it debuted at the beginning of the year. Almost as an aside, the Times revealed plans to expand its audio offerings, making The Daily into a true daily by adding weekend installments to the current weekday lineup and taking on the narrative audio space carved out by Serial, that holy grail for all podcasters. Barbaro — in a tie and suit vest (no jacket), brown ankle boots and wire-rimmed glasses and looking exactly like a wonky podcast host, or like a young Ira Glass — interviewed White House correspondent Maggie Haberman about covering Trump.
Once again, the Times had a prime spot kicking off the NewFronts, the annual two-week period that publishers spend making a play for advertising dollars. But unlike in years past, the media company didn’t use the event to unveil a shiny new digital video initiative. Instead, the presentation, an extension of the company’s “Truth Is Hard” ad campaign the Times rolled out in February, emphasized the value of the publication by highlighting seemingly every aspect of its brand in a presentation that stretched to nearly three hours.
“Today isn’t really about any particular series. If there is one singular idea behind today, it’s that we believe there is no greater launchpad than our brand to serve as a launchpad for yours,” executive vice president and chief revenue officer Meredith Kopit Levien said, explaining that advertising with the Times was “not just good for journalism and therefore the world,” but also a financially effective way for brands to be associated with ideas.
Indeed, much of the lengthy presentation was devoted to positioning the Times as a cause for the greater good, not just a media company. Rather than focusing on new video offerings, the Times featured representatives from different areas of the newsroom in a bid to demonstrate its importance. A panel of photojournalists spoke about sneaking in to hospitals to document devastation in Venezuela, getting hit by car bombs in Mosul, Iraq, and spending a month covering Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drug users in the Philippines. After sharing his reporting process, noted investigative reporter Matt Apuzzo called the story he’s working on about Trump’s ties to Russia “the hardest story of his life.”
“I’m here to say thank you,” he told the audience. “Thank you for supporting this journalism. There’s a big sense of mission.”
Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, who directed the latest Times ads, came on stage and mentioned subscriptions to the Times make for excellent holiday gifts. In a Q&A with deputy managing editor Rebecca Blumenstein, who came to the Times from The Wall Street Journal in February, chief executive officer Mark Thompson mainly made the case for the value of advertising with it instead of with platforms such as Google and Facebook before vaguely addressing the controversy that erupted over the weekend about the Times’ new conservative columnist Bret Stephens.
As the presentation extended past its allotted two hours, the audience steadily dwindled. By the time recently promoted assistant editor and Sulzberger scion Sam Dolnick took the stage to hype the company’s innovation efforts (“Do you guys remember Snow Fall?” he asked, alluding to the Times’ 2012 marquee multimedia project), half the once-packed audience had sneaked out.