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Photo/The New York Times; Illustration/Axios

The New York Times has hired former Times product veteran Alex Hardiman as the company's head of product, reporting to chief operating officer Meredith Kopit Levien.

Why it matters: Hardiman's return comes at an inflection point for the business of The Times. The company has lots of users, but not enough that pay for its journalism. To change that, it's making product the central business engine of the company.

"We have 150 million people who visit the New York Times on a monthly basis but only 4.7 million pay us. We have to close that gap.
— Meredith Kopit Levien

Details: Hardiman begins as head of product Oct. 31 and will be based in New York City. She comes back to the Times after having spent a year as chief business and product officer at The Atlantic and 2 1/2 years as head of news product at Facebook. She spent 10 years as a leader in news product division at Times from 2006 to 2016.

  • Hardiman will oversee a team of roughly 60 product managers and hundreds of additional designers, engineers, data scientists, and more.
  • "The Times' approach will be much more like the product thinking at a big consumer tech company like Facebook as opposed to the way a traditional newsroom would approach product," says Hardiman.
  • It's also bringing on Jon Tien, reporting to Hardiman. Tien spent five years at Zynga from 2009 to 2013 and most recently has worked advising various startups.

The big picture: Beginning about a year ago, the company's business structure, under Levien, was broken out into teams that manage "missions" which are product objectives and "functions," like product advertising and marketing.

  • For example, one product mission is subscription growth, led by senior vice president Hannah Yang. Tien will lead The Times' product mission on engagement.

Be smart: For most companies looking to grow digitally, the problem is exposure. This is not the case with the 168-year-old "Gray Lady."

  • "Most digital products have to go out and find or acquire an audience through paid means," says Levien. "We don't have to do that."
  • "The thing we have to do that is make this product as compelling and addictive as our journalism to get people to keep coming back and forming habits with us."

Bottom line: "One of our biggest opportunities is the idea of getting actual products to organically grow engagement," says Hardiman. "A lot of journalism companies rely on just journalism."

What's next: Expect to see more investments being made iteratively in the company's core news app in the next few months around things like how the company signals breaking and developing news.

  • For example, the company has been running an experiment for Android phones in the real-time presentation of news when there's not yet enough information to write a full story.

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