Defining product may be the first step in evolving it

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


The Reuters Institute annual trends and predictions report found that 93% of leaders felt product was important but less than half felt that the product role was well understood. This is emblematic of the product problem: It’s not a single thing that can easily be defined.

I came into this initiative with a view of product that hasn’t so much changed as has morphed and clarified slightly. Here is how we’ve been defining product: 

“A cross-organisation function, working closely with editorial and technology, which balances the consumer experience with business objectives.” 

The four categories of product in news.
The four categories of product in news.

So what does that actually mean? Here are some explanations of terms that I have found helpful.

Product thinking puts a focus on designing and building for the customer. The “product” should solve a real world problem such as “I want to stay informed,” “I want to be entertained,” “Tell me what I need to know,” or, more specifically, “What is most important in my local area?” or “I want to share this with a friend.” To be truly successful, product thinking needs to be infused within the culture of the entire organisation: Everyone needs to be working towards making the best customer experience possible. 

The content experience means that consumers can access our journalism is the quickest, more intuitive way possible. The rule of thumb is that product leads the experience and the newsroom leads the content, but there is some nuance to this — especially when the content could be delivered in multiple formats (text, video, graphics, audio etc). 

Product is a process. It is a structured methodology from solving customer problems and identifying user needs, through to forming hypotheses, testing and iterating, and — if successful — launching them. There are slight variations on a product process; each organisation must tweak to suit their own culture, structure, and skill sets. 

Ultimately, we want our customers to love our apps, Web sites, newsletters, and any way they interact with us. That’s product’s job. As Gibson Biddle, former VP of Netflix, puts it: Delight customers with a hard-to-copy, margin-enhancing product.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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