You’re thinking about product all wrong

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


This week I am ranting. It was my birthday recently, and perhaps I am getting grouchy in my old age. Perhaps another year around the sun has given me some good perspective. Either way, I have a few bold things to say.

Q: How do you use product thinking to get people to pay for journalism? 

A: You can’t.

Why? Because this question starts with the solution, not the user. It is the antithesis of product thinking. If you find a product process that starts with the answer, not the user, I will buy you dinner. 

Product thinking starts with the user — not the end result.
Product thinking starts with the user — not the end result.

As I have been delving into all things product for the last 18 months, there has been something that doesn’t always sit right. For example, we talk about building daily habit. It’s hard to do that if we only focus on the realms of journalism because it automatically reduces our potential audience to those who want to consume a certain amount of news per day.

Yes, we saw a spike during COVID and other big news events as people were looking for news and information (so did social media), and that gave us some hope. But now it seems that people are burning out. In fact, a recent by the Reuters Institute shows an alarming number of people actively avoid the news: 38% said they often or sometimes avoid the news. What makes this number alarming is that this number is up from 29% in 2017. 

Bente Zerrahn, innovation catalyst at Axel Springer in Berlin, wrote an article for recently about Gen Z. Bente sums up by saying: “Long story short: The kids are not alright. And one could argue that removing negative content from your life (like a 24/7 stream of bad news) is actually self-care.”

How can we build a daily habit if we know that so many people are actively avoiding it?

Fellow product people, please don’t quit your job. This is the opportunity. This is the user need: People want to stay informed, but they don’t want to be depressed. This is our challenge. This is what we need to solve for. (And this is what we are talking about at the INMA Product Iniative meet up on September 14; more here).

If you are reading this newsletter, I suspect you also read the WSj article “I stopped reading the news. Is the problem me — or the product?” In the article, Amanda Ripley uses the terms “hope” for what audiences need. She gives a solution that resonated, arguing for “agency” or what some would call service journalism: What are the actions our readers could take if they want to do something? We expect our readers to sit back and be informed. But that may not actually be what they want. In fact, a lot of the time we know it’s not. 

Our existing products will only get us so far. How do we expand? What can we offer that serves our users needs?

Firstly, we need to find our users’ needs. And not just our current users’ needs but our potential users’ needs. We must listen to our core readers. But if we only focus on them, we will not grow. 

Twenty years ago, publishers were in the business of information, of classifieds, of dating, of games, of puzzles, of jobs, of announcements. Yes, this was all bundled with the news in a product we called a newspaper.

The digital landscape changed that because we didn’t adapt quickly enough and our product was unbundled. But that doesn’t mean our users don’t still want some of these things. They want to have bundles of products by brands they trust.

Just look at how The New York Times has moved to be a consumer brand — not just a news brand. Journalism is still very much at its core, but they have developed cooking, games, puzzles (Wordle!), and consumer reviews. Some media organisations are known for their local knowledge, their city guides, their wine clubs. 

So, let’s think about our user needs. Let’s think about their lifestyles and how we build products that leverage our brands as this is where we can move the needle for the future of our industry.

Rant over. Thanks for listening. Feel free to argue with any of the above, I’d really love to hear some other views on this. You can reach me at  

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Jodie Hopperton

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