Product thinking in newsrooms: Takeaways from SRCCON:PRODUCT

Earlier this year, Alley teammates attended SRCCON:PRODUCT in Philadelphia along with 150 product thinkers from publishing organizations—including reporters, strategists, editors, entrepreneurs, and others—at Temple University’s campus for the first conference by, for, and about product and news.

SRCCON is an events series produced by OpenNews that “connects a network of developers, designers, journalists, and editors to collaborate on open technologies and processes within journalism.” Although many of the previous events have included significant discussions on the intersection of news, technology, and product development, this was the first SRCCON to focus 100% on the product thinking aspect of journalism.

As the SRCCON:PRODUCT organizing team noted in the event’s original announcement:

The future of journalism is digital-first, reader-focused, community-oriented, informed by data, highly collaborative internally and externally, and supported by diverse revenue sources and strategies. Product thinking is key to how we transform our organizations to meet those challenges.

What were the big lessons learned at SRCCON:PRODUCT? Here are some takeaways from teammates who attended:

  • Newsrooms can learn a lot from product development processes born out of Silicon Valley. Tech teams, along with us here at Alley, have useful tools, including Agile and Scrum, design thinking, personas, jobs to be done, human-centered design, and product vision canvases. But we can also learn from Silicon Valley’s mistakes. Since trust is imperative to good journalism, using shady tactics to sell data or manipulate success metrics will be counter-productive to our goals.
  • When you want to try out a new feature or experiment with a new product for your company, think of how you can create the “Simplest Useful Thing” for your readers or teams to start. Then iterate on it once you’ve validated (or reformed) its value and usefulness. You can spend a lot of time, money, and effort planning and executing a complex project that is launched with a big bang, or you can try a more incremental approach to learn from your efforts and adapt for the next steps. 
  • Infusing product thinking in your newsroom is hard. Not every editor, reporter, or manager has even a few days, never mind a month or two, to work together on a cross-functional team to build something new full-time. You can start small with bag lunches or a “happy hour” to discuss innovative ideas and experiments to create for them. 
  • There are plenty of success metrics for a CMS: performance scores, database size, SEO, and accessibility assessments. What about the usability of a CMS, which can be so subjective? How about counting the number of clicks to create an article, measuring “happiness” with the workflow with surveys, or auditing whether features within the CMS are understandable to the newsroom?

There were plenty of other takeaways and connections made at SCCRON:PRODUCT, and you can see session notes and materials on the schedule and events pages. Or to read another take on SRCCON:PRODUCT, check out Rich Gordon’s post for the Knight Lab.