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From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

“We will stop asking ourselves, ‘Are we a media company or a tech company?’ and find that the distinction is arbitrary. A truly collaborative company will be a new species altogether.”

This year, newsrooms will double-down on something that we normally don’t love to think about: structure and process.

After getting burned by platforms the last two years, media companies are pulling back from the ubiquity mindset — that growing our audience means being present on (and winning at) all of the platforms.

Instead, we are turning inward to focus on making our core offerings the best they can be. And this means we’ll have to get serious about exploring new processes and organizational structures that lend to innovating editorially, not just technologically.

We will balk at the idea of tearing down existing newsroom power dynamics — heads of editorial vs. heads of product/tech. It will feel like there’s too much at stake: our time, our money, and our egos. But the fact of the matter is small, cross-functional teams with flat hierarchies produce the best, most innovative work. Our side-by-side silos won’t cut it anymore; product and UX will need to cozy-up and learn to think like writers and editors, and vice versa.

With smaller, Swiss Army knife teams, product managers, designers, reporters, editors, and developers can align their goals to work as one scrappy unit. Our “products” will move from low-touch, automated, templated, and mass-distributed, to high-touch, sensorially compelling, and with a focused user-base in mind.

The shift towards storytelling as a product-development process will take some convincing. Media companies are skeptical of tech culture, and for good reason. “Move fast and break things” isn’t a suitable mantra for an industry with a civic responsibility to get the details right. But we will learn to take the parts of tech methodologies that work for us, and ditch the parts that don’t. In the end, we will have created something entirely our own.

This type of big-picture thinking for newsrooms will be hard, slow, and painful, particularly for journalists accustomed to the fast-paced rhythm of the daily news cycle. But my hope is that in 2019, we will stop asking ourselves, “Are we a media company or a tech company?” and find that the distinction is arbitrary. A truly collaborative company will be a new species altogether.

Rebecca Searles is a product manager at NBC Owned Television Stations.

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