Who's Going to Buy The New York Times's New Opinion App?

The paper of record’s new bid: $6 per month for opinion and aggregation.
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The New York Times

When The New York Times announced its new mobile app, NYT Now, in April, it did more than release a new piece of software to the world. It proposed a new media schedule for would-be users: With time-pegged briefings for the morning and evening, a human-picked selection of stories from the website, and a list of interesting news stories from other sites, it made sense of the daily deluge of Times content.

For some users—for me—the schedule stuck. Like the designer Craig Mod, I’ve “opened NYT Now multiple times a day, everyday, since the day it was released.” 

NYT Now is only the first of three new apps from the Times this year. The second goes live today: It’s NYT Opinion, an iPhone app that packages the complete daily offering of the paper’s extensive opinion section. 

Or, that’s some of the product. With the release of NYT Opinion—the app—the paper has unveiled a new kind of subscription, opinion-only, that customers can purchase for $6 per month. For $78 per year, the subscription allows customers to use NYT Opinion apps and to access any opinion story on nytimes.com.

It gives readers, in other words, access to something that—when I talked to Timesfolk on Tuesday—they frequently called “the Opinion franchise.”

“The opinion franchise is one of the most valuable franchises for The New York Times,” Denise Warren, the Times’s executive vice president of digital products, told me.

John Geraci, director of new digital products, said the app grew out of “months” of conversations with opinion fans about what they want in an app. Centrally, he said, opinion readers just want access to the opinion section. But they want something else, too: “They want more voices, as well. They want a broader range of voices.”

The new app seems to serve this need. Like NYT Now, it’s broken into three columns. The first—“Today”—serves all the Times’s opinion content from one day in a single stream. There, the paper’s unsigned editorials sit next to its guest Op-Eds sit next to Maureen Dowd getting stoned out of her gourd. Stories from the Sunday paper’s expanded opinion section will also reside in “Today,” as do the paper’s excellent Op-Docs video series.

Second, there’s an “Op-Talk” section: an aggregated list of opinion pieces that the paper’s staff think are especially deserving. The paper will look both to the national media—yesterday, an Atlantic story about the Spanish king’s abdication sat at the top—and smaller places its readers might not check.

The opinion staff seeks to draw on “small publications you’ve never heard of in the United States, publications overseas, even from publications in China,” said Geraci.

Right now, he added, the opinion section was often where the dialogue “begins,” but not where it ends. “It’s occurring around us, and we want it to occur on the New York Times.” With the Op-Talk aggregation stream, “we can keep the water-cooler conversation on the New York Times platform.”

The app's aggregated 'Op-Talk' section (NYT)

“We’ve never really done a lot of trying to round up the best opinion of what’s done elsewhere,” said Andrew Rosenthal, who edits the paper’s opinion division. “We do it already in that we try to put stuff on the page everyday that we think people will want to read.”

The section has been hiring staff accordingly, mostly from outside the Times machine. Six people are working on the app right now: two dedicated to writing, two to editing new content, and two to “just go finding great stuff,” according to Rosenthal. He estimated the paper would hire two more to fill out its team, such that it could edit and aggregate around the clock.

He said the staff would hunt for “provocative, thoughtful, entertaining” articles, and that readers would understand that—unlike the paper’s own op-eds—it wasn’t vouching for the fact-checking (or copy-editing) of these recommended reads. They would also summarize wide-ranging arguments across the web into short, hyperlinked summaries. “There’s no ideology here—if there’s a really good editorial in the Wall Street Journal, we’ll give it to you.”

“We’re not very good with cat pictures,” he added. “But we’ll get there.”

The Op-Talk stream will also be available on the opinion section’s website.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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