When The New York Times released a full-length feature describing the life and times of the late Nelson Mandela to recap Mandela’s life, the information traveled quickly. To the Times’ horror, the story was repurposed by The Huffington Post, which ended up contributing a lot more traffic to the Huffington Post than to the Times.

“You guys got crushed,” said one Huffington Post executive. “I was queasy watching the numbers. I’m not proud of this. But this is your competition.”

The New York Times, one of the few staples of traditionally objective, serious journalism still around, has watched this happen a lot of times. More digital-savvy competitors come and sweep away potential visitors by repackaging Times content into more user-friendly headlines and context.

Even as the Times struggles to keep traffic growing, the content is working for other digital properties. When the movie “12 Years A Slave” was released, it wasn’t the newspaper that showcased a 161-year-old Times article on the movie’s inspiration, Solomon Northup. It was Gawker. And Gawker got all the traffic that went with it.

All of these findings and more have been made public by a leaked report “Innovation,” in which internal staffers at the New York Times analyzed the paper’s triumphs and trials to evolve into the digital newscape.

After browsing it, there’s one thing that’s clear: The New York Times, like so many other large organizations, has a serious Big Data problem.

All the News That’s Fit to Repurpose

There’s no reason that the Times shouldn’t be absolutely raking in the traffic. It’s still one of the most highly-respected news outlets around and the content is far more impactful than a splashy page with exclamation points or a list of GIFs. But in the digital age, splashy pages and GIFs tend to get more traffic.

The New York Times shouldn’t go full Buzzfeed. But there are a lot of content marketing opportunities for the paper. First and foremost, The New York Times has to learn the value of repurposing.

Consumers are increasingly drawn to “selfie” style content consumption (not “selfie” content, which is a big distinction). This style of consumption means there are more available channels to reach people than ever before. All you need is the content to fill each channel. It doesn’t have to be original content, just stuff that’s framed the right way for each one.

Gawker, for example, knew that people would want to learn more about the original story behind “12 Years A Slave,” especially as press coverage around the movie picked up. Some enterprising Gawker reporter dug through the Times archives and shared the article. The result was more than 200,000 views. For curated content.

The problem for the New York Times is that curating a reader’s journey requires the right tagging. And that’s where the paper falls flat. According to the report:

  • It took seven years for The New York Times to tag stories “September 11”
  • Stories were not tagged “Benghazi”
  • For fifteen years, recipe articles weren’t tagged by ingredients – changing the data to include ingredients improved search optimization by 52 percent

Why is it so important to tag articles? Because that allows readers to pick-and-choose what they want to read. It also lets search engines know what the stories are about. When the Times does package and repurpose old content, the results can be astounding. A collection of stories about human trafficking written by Nick Kristof throughout the years, for example, garnered more than 450,000 views in six days.

All of this goes back to offering readers a journey they can craft themselves. Interactive story features and well-tagged articles can create pathways that result in higher user engagement.

This relates to B2B tech companies as well. A lot of businesses have the assets that sales might need to convince a prospect to download a demo or attend a meeting. You might even have a bunch of research that could stir up a bigger conversation on social media – as long as it’s packaged right. And you can find it.

Media, Publishers and Traffic

After glancing at the report, it’s easy to tell that the biggest problem for The New York Times comes down to Big Data. Without reports on what initiatives are working, what content and what channel is creating engagement, or what topics need more attention, the paper is often writing stories that have no audience.

This is a fundamental problem for many media companies today. By capitalizing on real-time topic discussion, Gawker got more traffic for a New York Times story than the paper ever did.

For real engagement, companies and organizations need to not only create great content, but use it at the right time. Writing to existing trends will result in higher engagement and traffic.

Not every New York Times article is going to have to be like Buzzfeed’s nonsensical and solipsistic lists. By pulling in users with an article about a relevant and timely topic and then tagging the article with the right metadata and related pieces, the Times can create a user journey that will operate from the top of the funnel (sensationalist) to the bottom (real news).

The good news is that the paper already has more content than anyone else that can be repackaged and curated for that exact purpose. Now, it’s just a matter of doing something with it.

The same goes for B2B tech companies. If you know where all of your case studies, PDFs, graphics and white papers are, you’ll more easily be able to repurpose them into an infographic, guide or blog post about a relevant topic. So start tagging and start digging. The content you need for a great campaign may already be underneath your feet.

Want to learn more?

In The Evolution of PR, Content Marketing and Blogging, we cover:

– The ongoing changes in the world of PR
– The principles of content marketing for tech companies
– Important blogging strategies
– How to use press releases for more than just brand-building