Class Assignment: Work with The New York Times

Samantha Cookinham outside the New York Times Building
August 15, 2018


By Samantha Cookinham, JMC ‘20

When I enrolled in the Audience Development course taught by Professor Ari Bevacqua, I never imagined that I would spend the semester working with The New York Times on an audience development project.

Professor Bevacqua, a communications director at The New York Times, launched the Audience Development course at SMPA. Her curriculum focuses on giving each student the opportunity to apply the skills they learn in the class through real-world projects that provide organizations with strategic plans to help grow their audience and increase engagement.

During the spring 2018 semester, I worked closely with the Times staff on the launch of a new education section in April 2018. Working with the Times' Jill Agostino, special sections deputy editor, and Christoph Fuhrmans, special sections senior staff editor, I conducted a research project for Learning: A Special Section.

Working on a new section at The New York Times was exhilarating — I had the opportunity to build and present a data-driven report to expand the audience at a world-renowned publication.

Over the course of the semester, I conducted research to assist with short- and long-term audience development growth and increased engagement. I created surveys for the target audience, tracked analytics and used data to build a presentation and report with recommendations for reaching the Times' goals for the section.

I also developed plans for increasing audience development with social media, search, email and brand awareness. When I completed the report, I was invited to present my recommendations to the section editors at The New York Times headquarters.

Jill Agostino, Samantha Cookinham and Christoph Fuhrmans

It was a dream come true to present at and tour The New York Times building in Manhattan. Watching journalists, editors and executives at work and seeing the collection of Pulitzer Prizes the Times has amassed for “accomplishments, achievements and forms of excellence” in American journalism was surreal.

Working with the Times on this project, I was able to apply the skills we learned in the course, from optimizing mobile, search and social for reach and engagement to analyzing site traffic and using A/B testing. The hands-on class format that Professor Bevacqua uses was an immensely valuable and effective way to learn and develop fundamental audience development techniques.

I highly recommend and encourage all SMPA students to take the Audience Development course — it is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Beyond the incredible opportunity to work with top publications, the course also includes a class session held at The New York Times Washington bureau where I spoke with journalists and heard from the Washington bureau chief, Elisabeth Bumiller.

Professor Bevacqua is a leading professional in audience development and digital strategy and the skills I learned during her course will be very valuable for growing professionally and standing out in the field to advance my career.