This is the first post from When News Meets Product. You can subscribe for future sends here
Are we entering a golden age of media and publishing, or the end of times? Who knows?
What I know is that the 'news' feels exciting again. But what I can also see is that most publishers are lost partway through their digital transitions just as the conversation shifts to talking about how AI is going to transform digital itself.
We know we should be building adaptable organisations that can respond to ongoing disruption without requiring huge multi-year transformation projects. But tackling structural issues tends to be a third rail for publishers.
It may feel like publishers have been wrestling with the product question for ever. That's because they have. When it comes down to it, the problems are structural and cultural and we know how hard tackling those dual challenges are. So we don’t.
At the New York Times, it took Mark Thompson at least 168 hours to build the alignment in his exec team that became the foundations of their digital overhaul. Every Friday for seven months they talked.
We got into the habit of quite intense conversations. In 2015, we had nearly a year when the top five or six people met in a room. We’d meet Friday at noon, leave at 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m.—so six or seven hours of debate, every Friday, from early April to November. Ultimately, through lots of kicking and screaming and argument, we ended up with a genuinely shared vision that we eventually produced as a single page of bullet points.
In a way it sounds too easy. We spent time together as an exec and figured out a way forward. But it proves how important alignment is, how it flows into decision making and execution.
That's why it's a great moment in the evolution of newsrooms to delve even deeper into the world of News Product*. A discipline already carrying the scars of the internet age as it hits its teenage years. Welcome to puberty I suppose.
Appropriately, two weeks ago Brian Morrissey of The Rebooting wrote about the product challenge at publishers.
Managing a media product is difficult, considering all the tradeoffs needed to placate various constituencies. As a result, many media products are not good…
...I used to joke that you knew a publishing organisation was dysfunctional when it had an incredibly complicated nav and sub nav with a carousel. It was a sign that nobody had a point of view or the heft to make a call.
The world, particularly publishing, needs more product people.
I would counter, more, or better?
Publishers need to up their game for sure. Many don't follow best practices. Have chaotic, mercurial decision making processes and can't keep hold of the talent they need to. This tends to reflect in the final product.
They need to be experts in UX and design, in finding actionable insights in their data, in distributing their journalism, in listening to readers, in taking better risks, in developing non-traditional newsroom roles and at thinking more than a day ahead.
They also need to come to terms with the fact that the competition for talent is much stiffer. That developer/SEO specialist/data analyst/product expert can work outside of publishing. The prestige of that 200-year-old name just doesn't outweigh the lower salary and the bureaucracy headache.
All of these combine to mean you have under-resourced, overworked teams doing their best to tread water and now, on top, a deluge of Gen AI disruption
I'll stop there for now. In the next newsletter I’m going to dig further into the ‘point of view’ comment from Brian above.
Thanks for reading
I don’t know how often I’ll publish, but it won’t be more than once a week and likely much less.
If you see a publisher doing something great or something not great in the news product space, please send it my way. If you want a topic covered or have an idea for the Newsletter, hit reply.
*A reminder that I am a Board Member of the News Product Alliance (NPA) whos mission is to elevate the discipline of news product management and expand the diversity of news product thinkers in decision-making roles.
News Product mentoring
I offer mentoring to journalists and news product professionals
I can mentor and advise people looking to get started in the media/product/innovation space and understand the wide range of paths they could take. I can also coach those moving into their first management roles and particularly anyone who is responsible for cultural change and innovation in their organisations.
In addition I can help if you are working on new business/product/organisational strategy, newsroom tooling and applying reader data & insights in the newsroom.