Over the years news organisations have shifted from being content-centric to being audience-centric, which has ushered in the concept of product thinking and helped newsrooms build better products for their audience. Becca Aaronson, interim executive director at News Product Alliance shared tips during a Jamfest Africa 2021 session on product thinking and development for newsrooms. “Product thinkers connect the dots between editorial, audience, business and technology strategy,” said Aaronson.

She explained that “a product creates an exchange of value for your audience and your organisation and product thinking as a discipline is putting that product and its ability to succeed with your audience at the centre of how your organisation works”. Aaronson said that product thinking requires an organisation to understand its audience, editorial mission, business, technology resources, and needs. She said any content, platform, or service produced by an organisation needs to be viewed as a product. For example, a podcast or newsletter is a product and an organisation needs to consider how an audience or user will engage with it and how the product will achieve an organisation’s business goals and what resources are required to achieve these goals.

“You don’t need a product title or product team to apply product thinking in your newsroom,” said Aaronson. Adding that “product thinkers use a proven set of tools and frameworks to understand problems, facilitate strategic decision-making and execute product development in cross-functional teams”.

Product thinkers are often seen as ‘tech people’ but a product thinker can be a digital editor, newsletter editor, or work on social media teams. A newsletter editor is a product thinker because they are thinking about the content and testing new forms of engagement with the audience.

“It is important to note that journalism skills translate to product skills,” said Aaronson.

Journalism skills = product skills

  • Interviewing and reporting = conducting audience research
  • Writing a nut graph = setting goals and clarifying the value proposition
  • Pitching a story = pitching a product (newsletter, podcast, etc)
  • Managing an editorial team = managing a product roadmap
  • Owning a beat = maintaining and iterating a product

 Key takeaways:

  • Audience-focused goal setting
    • “How are we serving our audience?”
  • Clear, consistent communication
    • Collaboration amongst and across teams is very necessary and important.
  • Data-guided process
    • Using data and information to guide decision making

Incorporating product culture into a newsroom can improve alignment (getting everyone on the same page), decision making and execution.

Watch the full session here.

Image: Becca Aaronson, News product alliance

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