History of the New York Times Website

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History of NYTimes.com

The New York Times initially came online as a sort of me-too exercise (as in, “oh well, you have to be there, so let’s be better than other publications that beat us to the internet”). Yet currently, its web and mobile presence has transitioned to a global informational entity – and ironically, The Times is now seeking its journalistic and economic future in the virtual universe, given the plummeting profitability of traditional brick-and-mortar print publications. The Times, with its motto of “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” was long regarded within the journalism community as America’s national newspaper of record. And during nearly two decades, it has worked doggedly to figure out how to match its online presence with its reputation, as it segued from a mostly static website to a fiesta of interactivity, video and multimedia options. The web version as of late 2015 has more than 60 million unique visitors each month, and is the number one individual newspaper website in the United States.

AOL Site (1994)

The Gray Lady, as The Times before its color pages was called, dipped its toe carefully into the waters of the web in the spring of 1994 on America Online. In a service called @times, it offered a selection of the day’s news, including cultural and entertainment articles. The service was limited to America Online’s 4 million subscribers.

NYTimes.com launch (1996)

The debut of The Times’s own homepage was Jan. 22, 1996, when its editors stated that the newspaper hoped to become “a primary information provider in the computer age.” These early homepages carried the paper’s banner, “The New York Times,” with a subordinate message, in tiny capital letters, “ON THE WEB.” To the left of the day’s date was The Times’s venerable motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The online version was essentially a copy of the print sections, with limited interactivity, no comments and no blogs. It was viewed then as an alternative platform for the print newspaper. Here is the original press release issued by The Times about its new website on Jan. 22, 1996.

There was no access charge for domestic users, but first-time users were required to register. The online version did offer value added: there was new content about technology in a daily web site section called CyberTimes, and there were online forums. Also available was the breadth of The Times archives, and, as the press release said, “the immediacy of news updates.” But it would take nearly a decade before The Times consistently posted important original stories online first -- instead of waiting for them to appear in the print newspaper.

Maturation of the New York Times website (1998)

By 1998, The Times homepage had dropped the “All the News That’s Fit to Print” slogan, and offered more, and larger, featured headlines, bigger pictures, more items and a sleeker layout.

Article growth, interactivity and ads (Early-Mid 2001)

After the advent of the millennium, the homepage began featuring a greater number of articles, and placed more emphasis on the online equivalent of the “inside” pages in the print edition, as well as articles that appeared in its Sunday supplements and special sections. By mid-2001, the homepage offered more web ads, gave more prominence to its classified advertising section, and attracted attention to its web forums, encouraging interactive reader interest. Even then, The Times was trying to increase “dwell time” on the site.

September 11, 2001

The Times website became vastly more responsive to breaking news than its original iterations -- and if necessary, scrapped its homepage clutter when major news erupted. One of the most iconic page views from this era was that of Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks in New York City. Unfortunately many elements of the homepage image are missing, including proper fonts and images, due to the fact that this is rendered from archive.org.

NYTimes.com begins to take precedent over print version (2004)

By 2004, the homepage claimed more and more time from editors and reporters, and increasingly those who wrote for the print paper became accustomed to writing additional quick stories that were tailored to the web.

A Times video game(!) and all content made free (2007)

In May, 2007, The Times was said to be the first newspaper to offer, as a part of its editorial content, a video game called “Food Import Folly.” The game can be found here.

In that year, online videos were becoming more evident on the website, accompanying articles unpredictably, depending upon the availability of video reporters. Untutored print reporters – who were video amateurs in comparison to their network and cable counterparts -- were assigned to work with videographers to cover news stories, because web readers said they preferred reports that weren’t “slick.” The videos were often presented as adjuncts to print stories. Here is one of them.

The Times had started charging viewers for access to editorial columnists and critics, to boost revenues, but on Sept. 17, 2007, the paper announced that it would make all content free. The theory then, widely accepted, was that there would be more potential advertising revenue from the increased traffic on a free website. Also, columnists and reviewers were complaining that their articles weren’t being widely dispersed around the web, since only a limited subscription audience could see their writings. In 2008, The Times leaped into the mobile universe, making its website available on the iPhone and and iPod Touch. And in 2010, the website was made available to viewers on iPad mobile devices. The bright, colorful image of The Times on the iPad seemed to tip the journalistic balance toward the web: the internet news site, once considered by reporters and editors as an annoyance, requiring more work for the same salary – suddenly began to be recognized as the engine of the paper.

Paywall introduced for content (2011)

In 2011, The Times, disappointed by what it discovered were paltry advertising revenues available from web ads, established a “paywall” for subscribers, which continues to the present. Readers would be able to access up to 20 articles each month without charge, but more frequent readers had to buy a subscription. By April, 2012, the number of free-access articles was halved to only 10.

First foreign language site in Mandarin (2012)

In 2012, The Times introduced the first of its foreign language news sites, in Mandarin, which included original content by staff reporters in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. To avoid censorship by the Chinese government, the site’s server was located outside of China. That site exists at [cn.nytimes.com cn.nytimes.com].

Here is the Times official announcement about their Chinese-language site.

Next year, The Times fan-fared another major web redesign, offering more streamlined article pages, while presenting an interface with faster load times to make “navigating between stories easier,” The Times said. The Times created a video announcement.

Online version eclipses print edition (2014)

By 2014, The Times on the web had become more seamlessly integrated with the print paper. To not only the staff, but also its readers, its online efforts seemed to eclipse the attention given to the print edition, which was nevertheless still robust in both advertising and circulation.

First virtual reality news article (2015)

On the weekend of Nov. 7, 2015, The Times took another landmark step online, distributing more than a million Google virtual-reality viewers to its subscribers. After assembling their Google cardboard viewers, subscribers could download a free virtual-reality app on their smartphones. Those were to be placed in a slot in the viewer. Readers could then look at their phone screens through lenses in the viewer, which enabled them to see a three-dimensional, 360-degree view of The Times’s first virtual reality film. Called “The Displaced,” it visually told the story of three children uprooted by war. Instead of offering travelogues or movie clips, The Times created its “first critical, serious piece of journalism using virtual reality, to shed light on one of the most dire humanitarian crises of our lifetime,” its executive editor said.

The desktop version can be found here, while instructions for using the viewer are here.