Twice in the space of a few weeks I have heard a top honcho at the New York Times make a speech with the crucial importance of emotional engagement as the main theme. In London it was Arthur Sulzberger (see here) and today at WEF in Hamburg, President and CEO Janet Robinson.
What is it with these NYT executives that they want so much to be loved? Robinson said that many digital websites had not fulfilled their potential because their connection with their readers wasn’t strong enough. And the missing link is emotion: they’re after the readers’ money (as of next year a charge will kick in after a so-far unspecified number of clicks in a month) but, even more important, they want to capture their hearts. Besides using that phrase, Robinson talked about expanding and maximising the “consumer experience”.
Language like this can only be the product of market research studies. Opinion researchers love studies of emotional temperature. But this preoccupation with filling the emotional hole still sits oddly with the other standard component in both the Sulzberger and Robinson speeches: that the NYT will never compromise on standards and quality. Isn’t some of that quality down to formality (chilly stuff like rules about how you do journalism)? They didn’t nickname the NYT the “Grey Lady” for nothing. Can you have warm affection and serious respect? Maybe you can, but if these speeches are going to convince, they have to tackle that question.
And a last piece of advice to the NYT’s executive floor: reading a prepared text is probably not the best way to forge an emotional bond with an audience.