Audience Engagement Guest Columns
3 mins read

TikTok-Times: NYT’s digital pivot and the future of engagement on the Open Web

The New York Times can be a paradox. A stately broadsheet that from some perspectives still may look like the face of “old media,” The Times has also been pushing digital boundaries for years, serving as the vanguard of engagement and digital reader experience in publishing. We saw it a decade ago, when The Times was among the first publishers to bring immersive digital experience to its readers with its groundbreaking Snow Fall avalanche tragedy coverage at Tunnel Creek in 2012.

Now, The Times is again breaking down additional digital barriers, pushing the boundaries of what is possible with compelling, immersive experiences in 2021. In the process, they are adopting forms of engagement that will soon become the norm across the open web.

The paper just recently announced its new “The Truth Takes a Journalist” campaign. The effort spotlights more than 1,700 New York Times reporters as they film themselves reporting on stories around the world. The campaign will run on TV, streaming sites, audio, display, social, digital, print, and, most notably, TikTok—a first for The Times. 

By leveraging short-form video, especially in engaging, TikTok-style formats, The Times is embracing the new norm and the future of storytelling and discovery. They’ll not only pull in newer, younger users, they’ll do so in ways that break down the barriers between creators (or in this case, reporters) and audiences, enabling communities to sprout up organically around content. 

The Times’ choice of TikTok is not just aimed at winning the hearts and minds of younger readers, though. That type of short-form and livestream experience is the new emerging format for digital discovery where media is meeting ecommerce too.

That all sounds great, right? But The Times—and many other publishers, for that matter—are by and large getting it wrong in one key area. That immersive engagement? It’s happening in the wrong place. 

By taking short-form video and streaming directly to social media, many publishers—as well as brands, retailers, and D2C companies—are missing out on massive opportunities to claw their customers and readers back from the social media walled gardens and build avenues for rich engagement directly on their own digital properties. 

Given the staid and static nature of most company-owned digital properties vs. the dynamic and enveloping experiences of social media environments, that can seem like a tall order. But as we drive further and further toward the decentralized internet of “Web 3.0,” individual organizations are looking to reclaim their brands, communities, and engagement. 

The good news? That intoxicating, swipeable experience that draws so many millions of eyeballs on social media every day isn’t so difficult to emulate after all. It doesn’t take an entire team of developers—at least if you don’t try to do it in-house. In fact, it can be as easy as adding a single line of HTML code. That means that publishers and brands can compete with the digital giants on their own domains—and on their own terms. Here’s an example:

Shoppable video platform on Albertsons website

It’s a revolution that’s already fully underway, with brands of all types—from sports, to fashion, to grocery and more—leading the charge. 

An added bonus? By hosting short-form video and live streams directly onsite, brands can tap into new revenue streams, renting out digital space to advertisers and beating the social sites at their own game. 

So the New York Times’ pivot is significant in more ways than one. And brands can take a big lesson learned from the latest moves by the best and brightest in media: It’s possible, now more than ever before, to reclaim customers and re-engage them in the entire journey toward building vibrant digital communities.

Brad Wright
VP Head of Enterprise Publishers, Firework

About: Firework is the world’s leading immersive “shoppertainment” platform with shoppable video, live streaming commerce and monetization capabilities powering over 600 direct-to-consumer brands, retailers and media publishers worldwide. Pandemic-accelerated, Firework has experienced 10x year-over-year growth, bringing TikTok-like interactive video experiences, all by adding just one line of HTML code to their own website. Firework enables its customers to create and host native, shoppable video content for engaging product discovery, seamless shopping experiences and ultimately, a deeper emotional connection with consumers. The company is backed by IDG Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and GSR Ventures, with over $100 million in capital raised to date. To learn more, please visit