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Best practices for product management in news organizations

News is a product.

Conceptually, that is a leap for people from traditional reporting and editing roles. We are used to buying “products” in stores or online. We hear tech people describe a new app or service as a “product.” And all that makes sense. But we traditionally did not think of news that way.

Product managers are responsible for overseeing a news product that is both an editorial success, a commercial success, and is built efficiently and functions well.

The news you publish, in aggregate and over time, is also a product — in its various forms as a physical thing (a newspaper) or a digital service (a website or app) that you sell or distribute to a target market of consumers.

And in the era of the “personal news cycle” — where abundant information and constant connectivity gives each individual control of her news consumption — our news products must be good and targeted to succeed. They must know who their users are, what they need, how they need it, and deliver a satisfying experience.

That is what a product manager does. And increasingly this role, which has long been a staple of the tech world, is emerging in news organizations.

Product managers are responsible for thinking about what users (your readers or viewers) need from the whole of that product; what their experience of it is like; how it could be more convenient or valuable to them. This means they are responsible for simultaneously considering the business and marketing strategy, the technological execution, and yes, the editorial direction of the news. Good product managers weave all three into a single strategy — overseeing a news product that is both an editorial success, a commercial success, and is built efficiently and functions well.

The American Press Institute recently invited more than 40 product-manager types from leading news organizations for one of our Thought Leader Summits, to explore this increasingly vital role. From that day of intimate discussions we have distilled in this white paper the best practices and insights that all news organizations can learn from.

We have organized the insights into several chapters:

  1. How to integrate product management in your organization
  2. How product managers should work with their bosses and colleagues
  3. How to do good user testing and get feedback on products
  4. How to hire effective product managers for a news organization
  5. Making the leap from editorial to product thinking

This white paper is intended to help several types of people: People in product management roles who want new practices and ideas; Managers trying to ensure their organization puts the right process in place to have someone managing the experience and value that users get from your news; and journalists, designers, developers, marketers, or anyone else in the organization who contributes to making content or building products and wants to play a better role in making the products successful.

The ideas, and in some cases the words themselves, are drawn from the few dozen participants of our summit. We don’t imply that every summit participant endorses every idea or view expressed in this white paper, but collectively they deserve credit for inspiring the wisdom it contains.

Sarah Milstein took the lead on organizing the summit and recruiting the participants, as a consultant to API. She is VP of programs at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, with a diverse background in journalism, lean startup methods, and product development.

The summit participants were:

  • Kelly Alfieri, Executive Director of Special Editorial Projects, New York Times
  • Jeff Anderson, Digital Media Director, Virginian-Pilot / Pilot Media
  • Brett Atkinson, General Manager – ksl.com, Deseret Digital Media
  • Daniel Bachhuber, now Principal at Hand Built, former Director of Engineering, Fusion
  • Katharine Bailey, Head of News Products, Wall Street Journal
  • Russell Banz, Vice President, Content/News Products, Deseret Digital Media (DDM)
  • Jeff Carney, Corporate Director Digital Content, BH Media Group
  • Denise Clifton, Visual Strategy Editor, Newsroom, Seattle Times
  • Laura Cochran, User Experience Lead, Conde Nast
  • David Cohn, now Senior Director of Advance Publications’ Alpha Group, then Executive Producer, AJ+
  • Toni Cruthirds, Product Manager, New York Times
  • Beth Davidz, Product Director, Billy Penn
  • Cecilia Dobbs, Group Product Manager, International, Guardian
  • Michael Donohoe, Director of Product Engineering, New Yorker
  • Trish Dorsey, Digital Production Manager, National Geographic
  • Betsy Ebersole, Sr Product Director, Atlantic
  • Ben French, VP, Product, New York Times
  • John Hashimoto, Sr. Director – Product Management, CNN Digital
  • Jennifer Hicks, Executive Digital Editor, Wall Street Journal
  • Jeff Hobbs, Lead Product Manager, News, Advance Digital
  • Jill Hudson, Director of Content Initiatives, National Geographic Digital
  • John Humenik, VP/News, Lee Enterprises
  • Breana Jones, Product Manager, Fox News
  • Dheerja Kaur, Head of Product, theSkimm
  • Clarence Kwei, VP Product & Engineering, Fusion
  • Matt LeMay, Co-founder, Constellate Data
  • Suzanne Levinson, Head, Digital News, McClatchy Company
  • Aleksander Mielczarek, Sr. Product Manager, TIME Digital
  • Constance Miller, Deputy General Manager, Digital, National Geographic
  • Sarah Milstein, summit organizer; VP of Programs, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures
  • Demian Perry, Director, Mobile, NPR
  • Lauren Rabaino, Product Director, Vox Media
  • William Renderos, Sr Product Manager, Seattle Times
  • Michael Riley, President and Editor in Chief, Chronicle of Higher Education
  • Sarah Schmalbach, now Senior Mobile Product Manager at the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab, then Manager, Product Development, Gannett / USA TODAY
  • Zach Seward, VP of product and executive editor, Quartz
  • Lauren Shea, Director of Product, BostonGlobe.com, Boston Globe
  • Audrea Soong, Director of Product Development, Forbes
  • Andrea Spiegel, Senior Vice President, Product Development and Video, Forbes
  • Gabriel Stein, Sr. Product Manager, Upworthy
  • Chris Tindal, Senior Product Lead, BuzzFeed
  • Eric Ulken, executive director, digital strategy, Philadelphia Media Network
  • Willy Volk, Director of Product, Huffington Post
  • Carla Zanoni, Executive Emerging Media Editor, Wall Street Journal
  • Ashley Zywusko, Product Manager, Advance Digital, Inc.

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