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Media companies must balance editorial and content teams

By Jodie Hopperton

INMA

Los Angeles, California, United States

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Hi there, it’s been a good week. Los Angeles, where I am based, is starting to open up, and I had my first business meeting in almost a year and a half. It feels great to see people face to face, and I hope you get to do that again soon, too. 

Over the next couple of months, we’re going to be looking at how newsrooms and product teams work together. Do you have separate teams? Joint teams? Bridge roles? I’d love to hear how you think about this intersection. E-mail me at jodie.hopperton@INMA.org.

Differentiating journalism and content experiences

As we start delving into the intersection between newsrooms and product teams, it’s helpful to think about how we frame “content.” A senior executive recently explained their thinking: The content experience is where product leads; but when it comes to the journalism itself, product is in a more supportive role.

Let’s break that down a little. 

There may be many different ways to showcase journalism for maximum impact. Just think about the graphics and charts we all use around COVID. Sometimes a photo should lead because it’s so impactful; sometimes it’s simply illustrative — size and placement matter. Newsrooms have high stakes in these decisions and usually (arguably) bring a lot more to the table than product. 

Consider a simple article page. Editorial will have demands around how to showcase the journalism. There are numerous ways the text, graphics, video, etc., can be implemented on the page. Which format options are available? What do consumers respond to? How can you optimise for impact? 

Product enables the journalism. 

A content experience will combine the journalism with all objectives. There will also be demands from the business: How much advertising should be placed? Where do we place marketing calls to actions such as prompting people to subscribe? How do we optimise for consumer experience such as speed? A product team will need to make decisions based on all of these factors. And, in an ideal world, the decision will be agreed by all relevant parties.  

How does your organisation handle the balance between the journalism and the content experience? E-mail me at jodie.hopperton@INMA.org.

Date for the diary: July 7

Our next Meet-Up is on July 7 at 10:00 am New York time. I’m going to be quizzing Karl Oskar Teien at Schibsted (Norway) and John Kundart at the Financial Times (UK) about the alignment of editorial and product within their organisations. Do you have questions for them? Send them to me in advance (jodie.hopperton@inma.org) or join us (link) and ask them directly.  

The natural tensions around timing

Newsrooms mostly work on immediacy. That’s the business of news. Journalists intrinsically work with speed and accuracy. Ideas and requests may come spur of the moment. A new feature is needed now. 

Product teams think more systematically, with a perennial view. There is often — but not always — a road map. A new request will displace something else that has been scheduled so there needs to be some prioritisation. What are we trying to achieve with this experience? What is the return on investment? How does it align with our objectives? These questions will be asked by product teams to prioritise. The answers are likely to take time to formulate. Thus tensions can arise.

Conversely, product teams may work on a new feature and launch an MVP (minimum viable product). It may not be perfect or have all the bells and whistles that are ultimately planned, but it gets it out in order to start getting customer feedback. Rarely are MVPs perfect. They are not accurate, and that can go against the instincts of many in a newsroom.

Thus tensions may arise. 

This can be a good thing. Too little tension and there is not enough questioning of solutions; there may not be a rounded view. Too much tension can lead to bad blood and affect working relationships.

 

Going back to editorial working on instincts and product being data and structure led, it’s easy to see how tensions arise. However in a productive environment, product will embrace some gut instincts and test them to get feedback on whether the idea should be developed further. 

Perhaps this is why bridge roles between product and editorial are popping up. Once such leader told me his role was effectively to “organise chaotic requests from the newsroom to give some structure and translate them to product.” He has a deep understanding of each team’s goals and how they operate and can provide the balance necessary.

Tweet of the week

 This week’s tweet of the week is a spotlight on a small but smart product feature. I suspect The New York Times isn’t the only company to have implemented this, but as Jeff Jarvis says, it’s smart. It keeps the paywall, makes use of social networks, and makes subscribers feel good.

Recommended reading

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 jodie.hopperton@inma.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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