Thinking of News as a Product

Nieman Lab have recently published two articles which encourage an adjustment in the thinking about the skills a journalist needs to have, and indeed what constitutes journalism.

As developers are called upon to build sites which deliver targeted news streams to consumers and elsewhere data is mined to extract stories, how are the journalistic and technical roles divided and who makes the big decisions? Is there a need for recognising a new role?

Cindy Royal made an interesting argument for changing the way journalism is taught to support the emerging role of ‘news product manager’, at the end of last year;

‘It is evident, by the proliferation of technology products presented by news organizations, that the role of product management is being fulfilled. But the specific elements of these roles are unclear and nebulously defined. The combination of strategy, leadership, communication, and technology will become a highly sought skillset…Journalism educators should begin to include media product and engagement management topics in their courses and start thinking about curriculum change and faculty recruitment necessary to support the preparation for these roles’.

The American Press Institute has recently published a white paper entitled ‘Best practices for product management in news organizations’ which explores this new role. The paper was put together through discussions which took place at a thought summit attended by ‘40 product-manager types from leading news organizations’;

And in the era of the “personal news cycle” — where abundant information and constant connectivity gives each individual control of her news consumption — our news products must be good and targeted to succeed. They must know who their users are, what they need, how they need it, and deliver a satisfying experience. That is what a product manager does. And increasingly this role, which has long been a staple of the tech world, is emerging in news organizations.

Nieman lab’s Joseph Lichterman summarises the API’s main findings in his article here.

Lichterman say’s collaboration between those working on the product and those working in the newsroom is key and that ultimately a good team must be focused on the final output rather than internal politics and turf battles. He says the paper also points to the need for leaders to articulate their goals clearly with a focus on how the goals will be achieved.

If your newsroom is hiring a product manager, this is Lichtermans description of the ideal candidate;

‘Someone who takes on a product role also needs to be an advocate for the user, someone who values readers as an important part of the news ecosystem. The ideal product person is also someone who is able to develop relationships throughout an organization and can also deal with managing conflicts’.