Can Twitter save New York Times from a bad idea?

A new product idea from the New York Times is getting a poor reception. But that's a good thing.

New York Times wants to appeal to the millennial generation (just like everyone else for that matter). The company is growing its revenue from online subscribers but is struggling to grow its advertising revenue and new Times CEO Mark Thompson is looking to innovate. So the company came up with this idea: New York Times Junior. A digital version of the newspaper that's targeted for "college students and twenty-somethings."

As Forbes reports:

A Times source says NYT Junior would be targeted not at very young readers but at college students and twenty-somethings. The idea would be to offer them a limited-content version at a price point calibrated to a just-starting-out-in-life budget.

While it doesn't seem like it will be a completely new product the Times is rolling out (just a new way to attract online subscribers), the idea isn't getting a good social media reception. First it got the Gawker treatment, "All trend pieces all the time?" Then tweets like:

The name is certainly problematic with a condescending feel that could alienate the young people its trying to attract. But choosing stories that appeal to millennials might also be a flawed idea. As Paid Content points out: "I assume college students and recent grads care most about the sections of the paper that older people also care most about." Plus, "much of the coverage that some NYT exec might think is most aimed at a younger audience could be, in fact, the same stuff that is most easily found for free all over the internet."

The initial feedback is negative, but this is actually a really good thing for the Times. Twitter, and, really, the Internet, has become a valuable way for businesses to test ideas with the general (social media-using) public. Companies can get quick reactions to new ideas, bad and good, without putting many more resources into a bad idea or at least rethinking the idea if it gets a bad reception.

Business innovation doesn't happen without first having a lot of bad ideas. Fortunately, for New York Times and others, there's social media to scrutinize those ideas before they hit the market, not after. If they're actually using the free feedback to their advantage is another question.

Photo: Flickr/jfingas

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