News product goes from trend to standard

“Organizations will realize that they need formal product managers — and even full-fledged news product teams — to connect the work they’re doing in the newsroom with the audience, technology, and revenue strategy.”

In 2023, news organizations will realize that they need product leaders in the newsroom who are explicitly tasked with overseeing the execution of editorial products — and not just the editorial strategy of these products, but editorial strategy in combination with technology, revenue and audience strategy.

News product management is not a trend — it’s an essential function of every news organization. When newsrooms don’t clearly define product management processes and roles in their organization, they operate less efficiently and effectively to the detriment of their bottom line. That’s why across the news industry, organizations will realize that they need formal product managers —and even full-fledged news product teams — to connect the work they’re doing in the newsroom with the audience, technology, and revenue strategy.

In previous years, we’ve seen the rise of the product thinker.” Those are the people in your newsroom with the ability to think across disciplines — most commonly technology, user experience, and business — to define and execute a strategic plan. In today’s newsrooms, product thinkers are being tasked with the essential work of defining and guiding implementation of the news organization’s strategic vision, but without the support of a defined role or career path.

These product thinkers are in a parallel position as the “digital journalists” who founded audience teams in the 2010s. In most newsrooms, product management is undefined and doesn’t fall into anyone’s job description. But “product thinkers” are stepping up to do this work anyway.

Think about the evolution of the “audience team” in the 2010s: News organizations realized that social media and audience development couldn’t just be an extension of the journalists’ job. It was an essential part of distributing content and growing audiences, which in turn, was necessary for securing revenue. Journalists were being asked to do more with less; and it often took away from their ability to produce great journalism. So, newsrooms hired and built teams to manage content distribution, evaluate audience growth and pursue audience growth strategies.

Now, we’re on the same path to formalizing news product management.

Who is defining what success looks like in your news organization? Who is evaluating whether a new idea will lead to increased revenue, audience growth, or both? Who is pursuing new editorial and technology partnerships? Who is keeping track of whether your internal tools and technology are keeping pace with the rest of the industry? Who is making conscious decisions about how to prioritize internal resources — especially your team’s time and precious bandwidth? Who is fostering better communication and aligning decisions across editorial, revenue, audience and technology teams?

The News Product Alliance has built a community for product thinkers in order to help define the discipline of news product management and provide legitimacy to those seeking to transition their careers into product management and build product teams within their news organizations. We’ve heard time and again how hard it can be for them to get necessary buy-in to formalize bridge roles into proper product roles.

“My goal is to have a more clear path of where I fit in within a news organization and steps to progress in my professional career moving forward,” said one participant in the NPA’s recent Mentor Network program. We asked applicants to tell us which were the most salient challenges for them — 30% said professional development was the biggest challenge, followed by getting into a product role for the first time and change management.

Another program participant pointed out the difficulty of juggling undefined positions and responsibilities: “I expect to learn from my mentor what career paths are available to someone in my position. I’m hoping to know by the end of this how I can advance from an audience, digital, and social media news professional to a news product manager and owner in the audience, digital and social media space.”

As an industry leader, The New York Times has charted a path for what successful integration of product management in the newsroom can look like. In the company’s investor presentation in June 2022, president and CEO Meredith Kopit shared the goal of reaching 15 million subscribers: “There is a tremendous opportunity for long-term growth to attract and retain a larger audience driven by an expansive and connected product experience that makes us indispensable to millions of people in their daily lives.”

The strong focus on product doesn’t only help the organization fulfill its mission, it increases revenue significantly. Subscriptions to joint packages in the first quarter of 2022 were the highest of any quarter since digital subscriptions have been around.

As a global organization, the News Product Alliance is seeing how essential this work has become in every news organization — not just legacy ones in the United States. Just look at Brazil. Digital Brazilian news organizations like Jota or Aos Fatos are finding new ways to earn revenue and competitive advantage, with well-established product strategies and teams.

In the case of JOTA, in addition to social listening work, the organization has the JOTA Labs team, which focuses on introducing innovations to news production by working closely with tech and editorial. They create tools based on data and AI that they use to respond to readers’ questions, supporting their strong subscription model. Aos Fatos, Brazil’s benchmark fact-checking organization, has invested in building a unique content management system and has grown to develop several technology products that are a key component of a revenue diversification strategy.

Ad-hoc product thinkers are starting to figure out how they can better align the limited resources of their news organizations around common goals and pursuits, foster better communication across departments, and build news products that both sustain their organizations and serve diverse audience needs. They’re developing a new discipline and specific expertise to lead better decision-making across the organization and prioritize the investment of limited resources. They are becoming product managers.

As the success of product-focused news organizations becomes evident, we expect to see more newsrooms attempting to formalize their product practices, transitioning existing bridge roles into actual product management work, and investing in the creation of their interdisciplinary product teams. That also means that competition for news product talent — especially with news organizations’ lower pay scales — will get harder, and organizations will have to provide clearer paths to newsroom leadership if they want to retain expertise in-house.

Felicitas Carrique is the executive director of the News Product Alliance. Becca Aaronson Davis is the executive consultant of the News Product Alliance.

In 2023, news organizations will realize that they need product leaders in the newsroom who are explicitly tasked with overseeing the execution of editorial products — and not just the editorial strategy of these products, but editorial strategy in combination with technology, revenue and audience strategy.

News product management is not a trend — it’s an essential function of every news organization. When newsrooms don’t clearly define product management processes and roles in their organization, they operate less efficiently and effectively to the detriment of their bottom line. That’s why across the news industry, organizations will realize that they need formal product managers —and even full-fledged news product teams — to connect the work they’re doing in the newsroom with the audience, technology, and revenue strategy.

In previous years, we’ve seen the rise of the product thinker.” Those are the people in your newsroom with the ability to think across disciplines — most commonly technology, user experience, and business — to define and execute a strategic plan. In today’s newsrooms, product thinkers are being tasked with the essential work of defining and guiding implementation of the news organization’s strategic vision, but without the support of a defined role or career path.

These product thinkers are in a parallel position as the “digital journalists” who founded audience teams in the 2010s. In most newsrooms, product management is undefined and doesn’t fall into anyone’s job description. But “product thinkers” are stepping up to do this work anyway.

Think about the evolution of the “audience team” in the 2010s: News organizations realized that social media and audience development couldn’t just be an extension of the journalists’ job. It was an essential part of distributing content and growing audiences, which in turn, was necessary for securing revenue. Journalists were being asked to do more with less; and it often took away from their ability to produce great journalism. So, newsrooms hired and built teams to manage content distribution, evaluate audience growth and pursue audience growth strategies.

Now, we’re on the same path to formalizing news product management.

Who is defining what success looks like in your news organization? Who is evaluating whether a new idea will lead to increased revenue, audience growth, or both? Who is pursuing new editorial and technology partnerships? Who is keeping track of whether your internal tools and technology are keeping pace with the rest of the industry? Who is making conscious decisions about how to prioritize internal resources — especially your team’s time and precious bandwidth? Who is fostering better communication and aligning decisions across editorial, revenue, audience and technology teams?

The News Product Alliance has built a community for product thinkers in order to help define the discipline of news product management and provide legitimacy to those seeking to transition their careers into product management and build product teams within their news organizations. We’ve heard time and again how hard it can be for them to get necessary buy-in to formalize bridge roles into proper product roles.

“My goal is to have a more clear path of where I fit in within a news organization and steps to progress in my professional career moving forward,” said one participant in the NPA’s recent Mentor Network program. We asked applicants to tell us which were the most salient challenges for them — 30% said professional development was the biggest challenge, followed by getting into a product role for the first time and change management.

Another program participant pointed out the difficulty of juggling undefined positions and responsibilities: “I expect to learn from my mentor what career paths are available to someone in my position. I’m hoping to know by the end of this how I can advance from an audience, digital, and social media news professional to a news product manager and owner in the audience, digital and social media space.”

As an industry leader, The New York Times has charted a path for what successful integration of product management in the newsroom can look like. In the company’s investor presentation in June 2022, president and CEO Meredith Kopit shared the goal of reaching 15 million subscribers: “There is a tremendous opportunity for long-term growth to attract and retain a larger audience driven by an expansive and connected product experience that makes us indispensable to millions of people in their daily lives.”

The strong focus on product doesn’t only help the organization fulfill its mission, it increases revenue significantly. Subscriptions to joint packages in the first quarter of 2022 were the highest of any quarter since digital subscriptions have been around.

As a global organization, the News Product Alliance is seeing how essential this work has become in every news organization — not just legacy ones in the United States. Just look at Brazil. Digital Brazilian news organizations like Jota or Aos Fatos are finding new ways to earn revenue and competitive advantage, with well-established product strategies and teams.

In the case of JOTA, in addition to social listening work, the organization has the JOTA Labs team, which focuses on introducing innovations to news production by working closely with tech and editorial. They create tools based on data and AI that they use to respond to readers’ questions, supporting their strong subscription model. Aos Fatos, Brazil’s benchmark fact-checking organization, has invested in building a unique content management system and has grown to develop several technology products that are a key component of a revenue diversification strategy.

Ad-hoc product thinkers are starting to figure out how they can better align the limited resources of their news organizations around common goals and pursuits, foster better communication across departments, and build news products that both sustain their organizations and serve diverse audience needs. They’re developing a new discipline and specific expertise to lead better decision-making across the organization and prioritize the investment of limited resources. They are becoming product managers.

As the success of product-focused news organizations becomes evident, we expect to see more newsrooms attempting to formalize their product practices, transitioning existing bridge roles into actual product management work, and investing in the creation of their interdisciplinary product teams. That also means that competition for news product talent — especially with news organizations’ lower pay scales — will get harder, and organizations will have to provide clearer paths to newsroom leadership if they want to retain expertise in-house.

Felicitas Carrique is the executive director of the News Product Alliance. Becca Aaronson Davis is the executive consultant of the News Product Alliance.

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