Product management is the new journalism

“In 2016, media organizations and journalism schools will begin to comprehend and define product management and embrace it as a relevant and critical career path. Shouldn’t people in these roles be trained to have the storytelling, ethical, and legal mindset of a media professional?”

New roles have emerged in journalism to support digital products that integrate data and engagement. Those with web and mobile development skills have been called upon to create special project sites, mobile apps, and interactive user experiences. Most creators of these media products haven’t been considered journalists and have largely been ignored in journalism research and curriculum. These product management roles are often viewed as technology-support, not fundamental to the journalism being produced. But these public-facing products help develop new audiences and provide opportunities for participation, contribution, and interaction with the media.

cindy-royalThe audience-centric nature of these technology products makes them as much “journalism” as traditional stories. And those who work on teams developing these products are often making editorial judgments and decisions. In 2016, media organizations and journalism schools will begin to comprehend and define product management and embrace it as a relevant and critical career path. Shouldn’t people in these roles be trained to have the storytelling, ethical, and legal mindset of a media professional? What is the market for individuals with strong tech savvy and media sensibility? How can we incorporate this mindset in journalism curriculum?

For example, the simple decision of providing social sharing icons on one’s website requires someone who understands the specific functionality, can decide which sites to represent, knows what the user will be able to do on each site and can plan the organization’s interaction with the content. Analytics associated with this feature need to be gathered and comprehended, and the role of this activity needs to be incorporated into the organization’s broader social media strategy.

Here’s another example. In developing data-driven news interactives, decisions must be made as to how the application will be used, how the user can customize the presentation and what data and content are to be presented. These activities go much further than simply coding a website. Are these decisions always being made by individuals who understand journalistic mission and ethics? Or are news organizations often outsourcing these roles and hoping for the best?

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. In the next year, media organizations will seek to better understand these emerging roles and consider the journalistic qualities that should be present in decisions associated with technology products, particularly as related to the audience’s civic and democratic participation. 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.

Cindy Royal is an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University.

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