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The New York Times' Jill Abramson Hits SXSW

The newspaper's executive editor chats with WWD about the soon-to-be-launched NYT Now mobile platform and developments at the Styles section.

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TIMES’ NOW: On the second day of the South by Southwest Festival, the unseasonably cold rain and wind had out-of-towners glued to their phones, including New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. “I’ve been looking at my weather apps, and it doesn’t look good,” she lamented at a cocktail party to show off the soon-to-be-launched NYT Now mobile platform. “I brought completely the wrong clothes.”

As for the app, Abramson was full of enthusiasm. “It’s really all you will need to be, as I call it, good to go on the news,” she said. “It will give you a quick distillation of the important stories of the day, and if you want the full New York Times story, you get that too, and we’re also going to curate material that we think is the most interesting and newsworthy from the rest of the Web. And what makes NYT Now really different is that all this is going to be done by New York Times editors. I devoted about 10 to 15 of my colleagues in the newsroom to work on the story selection. It’s going to be New York Times quality journalism in every way, and that’s going to make a fantastic product that I think will vastly expand our audience.”

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Abramson said the Times now has more than 750,000 digital subscribers and the app is aimed at expanding that number. Regarding the thorny issue of native advertising, she admitted it will have a “big role” on NYT Now and also will become more prevalent on the Times’ main Web site. “Obviously, on mobile, which is a smaller screen, the different ad units are somewhat limited by size, and I think native ad units will be available in sort of the interstitial space between — let’s say, top news and something else — so that you won’t have a native ad like in the middle of the news screen, but where there might be natural breaks, you’ll find them,” the executive editor said.

“They’re basically a vertical swipe. They come up pretty naturally. They’re completely clearly labeled as advertising. I really doubt ours are going to be controversial. I just think there’s no room for confusion about what they are, so I think NYT Now will be a very hospitable environment for native advertising.”

Then there is the question of the two openings at the Times Styles section following the departures of Cathy Horyn and Suzy Menkes. Abramson said the Times “will have some exciting announcements coming this week,” adding, “We may even fortify our staff even more [than just two hires]. I think the thing about fashion and style — it’s become, of all the subjects we cover, in an odd way the most global, and you’ll see our approach become a lot more global. You look at the success of — I really admire Adam Moss and The Cut. It’s just a really great app.”

It wasn’t all work, though. Abramson was at South by Southwest for the third time, but this time was extra special because she attended with her son. “My son is in the music business, so we actually share a hotel room, and my late hours every night I’m going to his music things,” she said. “He’s a musician, but he’s also a music promoter. His name his Will Griggs.”