Apr 2, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: NYT to soon offer most articles via automated voice


Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The New York Times plans to make the vast majority of its articles available to users as narrations read via an automated voice, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: The move will help position the Times as one of the biggest audio news companies globally.

  • The company published 2,300 audio recordings, including podcasts, in 2023 with more than 600 Times reporters contributing.
  • Its podcasts were downloaded nearly 1 million times last year. The Times' flagship podcast, "The Daily," is the most popular news podcast on Spotify
  • The NYT Audio app reached over 1 million downloads in 2023.

State of play: Beginning this week, 10% of NYT website, news app and audio app users will get access to the new automated voice narrations, says Stephanie Preiss, senior vice president and general manager of audio and TV at the Times.

  • Narrations will be available on 75% of article pages that the Times publishes articles to start, with plans to eventually expand the feature to all published articles and all app users.
  • For now, all articles will be read aloud by the same automated voice. In the future, Preiss says, the Times is hoping to deliver a more personalized experience, which could include giving users the option to select a style of voice narration or customize their narrated article feed.
  • The narrations respect the Times' business rules, meaning users who are not logged in, or are not subscribers, won't be able to listen to unlimited voice narrations.

Between the lines: Some narrated articles will also be available in a new "Listen" tab within the Times' main news app that's also being rolled out to a select group of iOS users to start.

  • The Listen tab is currently available to about half of the Times' audience of iOS device users. All users will be granted access over time.
  • The Listen tab will feature the newsroom's best audio journalism of the day in a variety of formats, including podcasts, exclusive shows, narrated articles, and stories read aloud by the reporters who wrote them.
  • The tab sits at the bottom of the Times' main news app, alongside a dedicated "Play" tab with games. Those tabs are meant to give users who don't subscribe to NYT apps an opportunity to sample the content.

Yes, but: The Times doesn't currently have plans to bring automated voice narrations to older articles. In the past, it has brought older content into its lifestyle apps, like decades-old recipes for its Cooking app.

Zoom out: The Times built the narrated voice technology in partnership with a generative artificial intelligence company, but executives declined to say which firm they're working with.

  • The company is currently engaged in a legal battle with OpenAI and Microsoft over copyright infringement, but it's still experimenting with AI as a means to scale the impact of its human-created journalism.

The big picture: Investments in audio have helped the Times transition from a storied newspaper into a multimedia behemoth that reaches younger audiences. It's also helped the company humanize the Times' journalism, says Paula Szuchman, director of audio.

  • Part of the company's incentive to build out narrated voice articles was to scale the success of its reporter-read articles, says Sam Dolnick, deputy managing editor who oversees the Times' audio report.
  • The Times plans to have all of its articles narrated in some way eventually, with the majority being automated, but 15%-20% of articles, especially more personal stories, will likely be read as "reporter reads."

What to watch: For now, the Times sees narrated articles as an opportunity to increase engagement with its news report, but Preiss noted that they could become another destination for advertising at some point.

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