The wall between a newsroom and the business side of a news media company is long gone, literally and figuratively. And that inclusivity now involves other departments, their people and systems. At the center of them all is often product.
At The Washington Post, collaboration started by giving one person the shared title of chief product officer and managing editor.
At Condé Nast, it began with migrating the company’s brands into the same front-end and CMS systems.
Product leaders from both news media companies detailed their collaborative efforts during Thursday’s module of the INMA World Congress of News Media, sponsored by Meta. The World Congress continues throughout May on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Registation is available here for all or individual sessions.
How product, editorial work together at The Washington Post
Kat Downs Mulder is chief product officer and managing editor for The Washington Post. The media company recently merged the two roles to foster collaboration between the product and newsroom teams. Her dual leadership role at The Post represents a different approach than most news organisations take, and it’s also new. She just moved into the position in October from having led just the product team.
“We saw a ton of opportunity for unifying those teams and thinking about them in a more global way,” Mulder said. “Content and product don’t exist in different worlds.”
And readers don’t really make a distinction between the two when deciding what to pay for, she said: “People in the organisation need to understand that what was created by the newsroom and what was created by the product team are indistinguishable to the reader.”
Mulder shared her three tips for collaborative communication and product ideation:
- Translation: It’s important to make sure everyone is speaking the same language. Often people might be talking about the same things, but using different terms. In product, people might be talking about results using terms like KPIs and A/B testing, “but what that really means is impact.” Try to avoid having people sit in meetings using words that the other side doesn’t relate to.
- Trust: Focusing on the same mission builds trust. In some organisations, there is some distrust between product (which has historically been part of business side) and the editorial side. But understanding common goals can help get past this. “Product is not threatening to the integrity of the journalism. It’s about creating a better product for the users,” Mulder said.
- Transparency: Talk about goals, results, successes, and setbacks regularly and openly. Mulder said she invites a wide variety of people to meetings to give feedback and participate: “If they want to contribute, they know how to contribute.”
Once you establish the team dynamic, the ultimate goal is to expand product thinking so that everyone is making customer-focused, data-focused decisions, which she explained in detail to World Congress attendees.
This shift is a new way of thinking and somewhat experimental, which is a good thing, she said: “I would encourage you to be experimental and try new things.”
Condé Nast moves to common systems across brands
When Katharine Bailey, senior vice president/global head of product and design, joined Condé Nast, the U.S.-based company was in the middle of migrating its brands onto the same front-end system, Verso, and the same content management system (CMS), Copilot.
Bailey called the migration a “fundamental” reset in terms of how to talk about, plan, and prioritise the work they're doing. During this process, they realised implementing macro-level goals into a brand’s timeline was tricky. Part of that came down to reusability, she said.
Condé Nast began to flip its design process from brand-led to “experience, initiative, and capabilities-led,” Bailey said. The focus would be on creating design toolkits to use and reuse across different brands.
Bailey connected how the company’s migration would inform their new two-tier design system: “The real value of getting on to the same platform is that now we can build stuff, make it configurable, build out a design system… that we can really use across all of our brands in smart ways.”
So far, Bailey said, what’s working well for them is allowing a brand to partner with their CMS platform/Copilot team to evolve a feature, and that team would focus on scaling it out to other brands. Bailey made it clear that the same feature would look and feel very different from brand to brand.
“If you start to talk across a full portfolio about the kinds of experiences you really want to dominate in, and then within that, what are the initiatives that are going to help drive the reusable capabilities that you need, that really has worked well for us… in terms of planning out our road maps.”
To develop their design system, Bailey said they worked to create shared definitions and a common language to ensure each team and department was on the same page when it came to their goal of reusability.
Cutting down on language confusion was key for their teams to plan and do the work effectively, she said. This step seemed obvious but has been something they’ve used heavily.
“I’m saying template, you mean component. I say journey, you mean experience.”