Do news media companies really need to innovate?

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there. A few conversations recently have led me to write about innovation as a whole. Truth be told, I hate that word. Mainly because it’s so overused that I don’t know what it means anymore. 

As news organisations, do we really need to innovate? Or is that best left to start-ups and tech companies? That’s the first subject for this week. The second is what we need to think about beyond product market fit if we want to launch new products. 

I’ll be in London this week having face-to-face meetings. It’s my first proper trip with multiple back-to-back meetings, and I’m fully excited about it. Expect to hear more about that in a couple of weeks.  

All the best, Jodie

The case against innovation

When the INMA Product Initiative started, we ran a survey that asked what people are working on. The majority of product teams spend their time on existing products. This was reinforced in the Reuters Digital News Report this year, which found that 67% of news leaders said they were iterating and improving existing products, which compares with 32% who are launching new products of extensions.

Research from Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford shows media innovation priorities for this year.
Research from Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford shows media innovation priorities for this year.

It’s human nature to look at the next thing, the better thing. I am sure every product person who is reading this has had an executive or board member ask them, “What’s next?” Or, “What new things are you working on?” And it’s not just in media. Or product. Or technology. If you speak with any merchandiser, they will tell you that even with the most successful products on shelves, retailers will always ask: What new products are you planning next year?

But this is a problem. 

Because new isn’t always better. In fact, it rarely is. In a recent INMA Product Advisory Council meeting, someone said they had heard this: “A second of speed is worth more than any new feature.” It stuck with her. And the numbers back it up. Just look at these numbers that Twipe reported:

Research from Twipe shows what small changes can do at media companies.
Research from Twipe shows what small changes can do at media companies.

So my challenge is this: Is the product team at your media company the right place for innovation?

And when I say innovation, I mean really new things. Things that haven’t been thought of before. Not things that have been “borrowed” from other industries. The areas where I see the most improvements are features that have been borrowed from other products and other industries. 

Start-ups are nimble. Tech companies pay a lot for smart product and engineering talent and give them scope to create new things. The news industry, for the most part, is neither nimble nor able to compete for this talent, much less have it work on things that as yet can’t be measured. 

It may seem like I’m against innovation. I am not. Well, not entirely. I just think there has been a mantra from Silicon Valley that all innovation is good innovation. And that simply isn’t true. We need to think about deploying our resources wisely for our business. 

So for most of you, do you really need to be innovating? Or should you be learning from others and applying insights thoughtfully?

Dates for the diary: INMA Product and Data for Media Summit, November 3-17

This series of five modules will give you some excellent practical working tips from how to build a hypothesis using data, benchmarking your product organisation, collecting and using customer data, and bringing the editorial team on board with personalisation. 

This is just a snapshot of the five modules over two weeks. I hope you will join us. More at

New products: 3 things to consider beyond product/market fit 

Ok, so you have proved my first post wrong and have found a gap in the market. A user problem that needs fixing. It can’t or doesn’t make sense to be fixed through existing products so you are thinking about innovating. A brand new product. 

All product books will tell us that the most important thing to look at is product/market fit. However, if you talk to business executives from large organisations that have been through it, they’ll tell you a different story. 

So here are three other considerations, pieces of advice I have heard time and time again, that I want to share with you: 

  1. Financial. Beyond the cost of launching a product, you need to model out a few other factors into your P&L, including:
    • Marketing/cost of customer acquisition. 

    • Cost of ongoing maintenance. Because as much as we think everything will be perfect, we will find holes. There will be system updates that we need to conform to and other things that were not considered or not relevant at time of launch.

    • Cost of development. When was the last time you built something and thought, “Well great, we can’t improve that any more so let’s move on to the next thing?”

  2. If you are launching something within a large organisation, there is a credibility consideration. Is this product to the level that our customers expect? Because guess what: They are not thinking in terms of MVP like us. They truly want the MLP (minimum lovable product). At best, this is disappointing customers. At worst, this is a serious reputational risk.
  3. The ability and cost of shutting something down if it doesn’t work. Most new products don’t work. And that is the point of trialing things. That is the true “failure” that is worn as a badge of honour in Silicon Valley. It’s failure for the sake of it. It’s the emotions of having built something you believed in and it not having met expectations. It’s hard, it takes explanation to the few customers who did believe in it, and it may have a financial cost. (Thoughts and prayers with Google , which has 275 of these.)

This isn’t to say that we should never build new products. We need to build them thoughtfully and with consideration to the risks involved. It’s better to have answers to these questions ahead of time than it is to realise them too late.

Tweet of the week 

I really enjoyed this tweet from seasoned product leader Brian Norgard because it sparked a conversation and is something I personally feel conflicted about. Building for yourself is great. You can really get something to a great place. But the problem is that you are ONLY building for yourself. And very few of us are building for such a small demographic.

Recommended reading

  • Something that really blew my mind this week is this podcast of Joe Rogan interviewing Steve Jobs. Why did it blow my mind? Because it never happened. This is fully created using AI. In their words: “The episodes are rendered using play.hts ultra-realistic voices, and transcripts are generated with fine-tuned language models. For example, the Steve Jobs episode was trained on his biography and all recordings of him we could find online so the AI could accurately bring him back to life.” If you’re interested, in this you should join the INMA Product and Data Summit For Media Summit next month, where the head of AI and machine learning at the World Economic Forum will be keynoting.
  • This is a really interesting piece from Times of India on how they reverse engineered their taxonomy. This really stood out to me: “However, no one wakes up in the morning and plans to read world news. Instead, online, audiences organise around and follow interests, obsessions, trends and news cycles …”
  • For futurists, this is a beautiful graphic representation of McKinsey’s technology trends outlook report. Interesting that interest in immersive technologies has decreased yet innovation has increased. We’re still waiting for that tipping point.

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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