It’s an unprecedented time for individuals and industries. The forces of 2020 continue to reshape the media business — from a radical shift in work environments to calls for racial equity in industry ecosystems. Journalists find themselves in a unique position as they both report on these stories while being personally affected by them.
A new report from the Reuters Institute, Changing Newsrooms 2020, offers insight into today’s evolving news industry. The findings from leading researchers, Federica Cherubini, Nic Newman, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, are based on survey data analyses from 136 news industry leaders across 38 countries.
Remote working is here to stay
The pandemic forced many industries including the news media to adopt a work from home policy. And more than half of the news leaders surveyed report (55%) that their organizations are working more efficiently from home. However, at least eight in 10 respondents have concerns about employees maintaining relationships and communicating effectively.
Interestingly, nearly the same number of leaders (37%) think that they are more creative working remotely as those who do not (42%). Nevertheless, more than half of respondents’ report (54%) that they would like to go to the office a bit less often than before coronavirus. A full 21% state that they’d like to go back far less often.
News leaders report that their newsrooms are already planning future changes to their physical workspace. More than half of respondents’ (55%) state that their news organizations are looking to downsize their office space. Many think that a hybrid model could be a positive and practical solution for publishers with added flexibility and cost savings. Only 25% of news leaders report that they want to get back to an office environment.
Building a diverse news culture
The focus and attention on Black Lives Matter added external pressure on news organizations and their leaders to examine and address the lack of diversity in the newsroom. To date, 80% of news leaders report seeing progress in gender diversity. However, only 43%, see improvement in ethnic diversity.
News leaders state that publishers are doing a good job in junior staff diversity (84%) and a fairly good job with mid-level staff (59%). However, only 37% think their companies are doing a good job on diversity among senior level management.
Publishers are working to transform practices in the newsroom. They are now tracking newsroom diversity, both gender and ethnic, to include news sources, contributors, and interviewees. Importantly, ethnic diversity is cited as a top priority in the news industry.
Attracting and retaining talent
Publishers have been under pressure to transform the news media building new digital businesses and revenue models, particularly over the past decade. These companies need high quality teams to effectively manage and evolve their business strategies. More than half of the news leaders (53%) believe in their organization’s overall ability to attract and retain talent.
However, their confidence is much lower in recruiting and retaining talent across a few key departments. These include product, audience, and design (23%), data and insights (21%), and technology (18%). Further, in hiring new talent, publishers want to attract younger employees. It’s important to note that younger talent often looks for a highly competitive salary and demands high standards in a company’s culture and values.
The transformation of the newsroom’s work environment and social culture offers an opportunity for positive change. It may present challenges and potential disruptions. But its critical for publishers to stay the course to produce the necessary structural shifts in the news media.
After nearly six months away, staffers at the Annapolis, Md.-based Capital Gazette came back to the office on Labor Day. However, they weren’t there to return to their desks. Instead, they came to reclaim their belongings, bidding farewell to their newsroom and vowing to continue covering the local community despite the loss of a local office space.
The Capital is one of five Tribune Publishing-owned papers whose newsrooms will soon be permanently closed. The company is evaluating its real estate needs “in light of health and economic conditions brought about by the pandemic,” a Tribune spokesperson told the paper last month, noting the high levels of audience engagement the Capital has achieved since March.
In lieu of a replacement office, Tribune will provide Capital employees with workspace at sister title The Baltimore Sun, about 30 miles north of Annapolis, when that paper’s offices reopen next year.
Lost without newsrooms
While news typically doesn’t happen in newsrooms, offices still play a vital role in news organizations. This lesson has only been underscored in recent months, said Pamela Wood, a Maryland state politics reporter at The Baltimore Sun who previously spent 13 years at the Capital Gazette.
“I find that the biggest problem is coordination among reporters and editors,” she said. “You can’t just shout across the newsroom.”
In a constant stream of phone calls, Slacks and emails, communication is slower and prone to challenges. Further, Wood says the loss of the newsroom has a particularly adverse impact on young reporters, who benefit from simply sharing workspaces with veteran colleagues.
“I’m worried for our young journalists,” Wood continued. “There’s a lot of learning that goes on just by observation. It’s so much easier just to ask a question of somebody. When you’re alone in your kitchen you lose a lot of that. And I think that’s to the detriment of the news organization.”
Adapting to the times
Media companies across the board have been forced to adapt to remote operations. At the same time, they are faced with a historic economic crisis that’s gutted advertising revenues. So it’s not a surprise that Tribine is not the only one to consider reducing its real estate costs.
Just last month, Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch informed staffers that “remote work will be a larger part of our future workforce strategy,” as the company seeks to renegotiate its lease at One World Trade Center. Skift, a B2B media company covering the travel and hospitality space, opted not to renew its lease on its Manhattan headquarters in July. CEO Rafat Ali estimated that the move would save the company $600,000 annually.
The Charlotte Observer, a McClatchy-owned newspaper, fully vacated its headquarters over the summer and won’t be finding a new office until at least 2021. President and executive editor Sherry Chisenhall said that while there will never be a replacement for a physical newsroom, the pandemic will likely prompt the organization to take a more flexible approach to workspace moving forward.
“I know that there are some companies or newsrooms that are rethinking whether they ever need an office again,” Chisenhall said. “I don’t think Zoom calls can fully replace what it means to work together. But I think the time where the office is the home base is probably over. We know that our job is to publish stories that are relevant to the community and to grow an audience that sees enough value in our journalism to pay for it. I think we can actually do that really well without saying that people have to work 40 hours a week in an office.”
Like Wood, Chisenhall said communication has proved a challenge. In particular, newsroom leaders need to be more conscious than ever of their employees’ wellbeing.
“We have to look out for each other in ways that we never had to consciously do before,” Chisenhall added. “It’s not as easy to know who needs to take a break. It just always feels like we need to do more to make sure we’re staying in touch with people.”
The future of the workplace
The non-profit ProPublica, a national outlet by nature, has long operated a network of reporters based around the country in addition to more formal offices in New York and Chicago. That setup, coupled with the occasional need to publish stories on weekends, meant the editorial side of the company was already well suited for remote work, according to president Richard Tofel. For him, it remains unclear what a large-scale return to in-person work might look like.
“My personal hunch is that we’ll end up with a smaller office with many more conference rooms, a lot of hot desking and a configuration that permits that. But that’s just a guess,” Tofel said. “Our business depends on attracting talent, and part of attracting talent is giving people an environment that maximizes their chances of doing good work. I think we’re going to have to learn about what that means as we go.”
The ease of the transition from an office to remote work varies from person to person, Tofel said, acknowledging that work-life balance is a concern. But Tofel added that feelings of being overburdened are more likely the result of covering multiple relentless news cycles than an inherent symptom of operating remotely.
“The result is that people are working unbelievably hard, and harder in many cases than is sustainable,” he said. “We try to emphasize to people the importance of taking time. Where we can slow things down, we do.”
Despite the challenges, rethinking the function of the office and perhaps adopting a more relaxed approach to attendance could benefit employees in the long run, Chisenhall said.
“It would be great to be back in a situation where we could have space for a weekly staff meeting and to do the things that are easier and better to do in person, but not have this expectation that this is where you are by 8:30 every morning,” she said. “If untethering from an office helps people in this business improve their work-life balance, that could be a big plus that we come out the other side with.”
Publishers, especially those with a national focus, could also stand to benefit from a more distributed workforce that isn’t as dependent on physical offices clustered in large cities, Tofel said. A group comprised of journalists based all over the country, with a variety of perspectives and experiences, can help news organizations see stories and understand problems that they otherwise might miss.
Newsrooms are newsworthy
Wood has other concerns about the loss of the Capital Gazette newsroom. She worries that the lack of a dedicated office in Annapolis could place journalists in dangerous situations as the resumption of in-person activities necessitates more reporting from the field, often late into the evening.
“Now you have a reporter sitting in a car in a parking garage alone with their computer lit up,” Wood said. “Our main newsroom in Baltimore does have space. But it is absolutely not workable for a reporter who is covering stories in Annapolis. It slows us down and just makes it impossible to cover the news in a timely fashion. It’s unacceptable to say these far-flung suburban reporters can just work out of our city newsroom. That’s not a realistic solution.”
Despite his recognition of the advantages of distributed remote teams, Tofel isn’t ready to abolish newsrooms. “We have no intention of doing that. I do think that you need to gather some people very regularly. Top editors and people who run groups are often more efficient and spur more creativity if they are co-located. I’m not prepared to defend the idea that nothing is lost if you don’t have a newsroom.”
Like most Americans, I have been closely watching and reading coverage of the worldwide protests over racial injustice. And I am reminded that, during this time of unrest and dialogue, trusted news organizations and journalists are more important than ever.
Why? Because trusted news organizations give people credible reports of the protests and counter-protests; a framing of the national conversation through fair and accurate reporting and informed editorials; and a platform where elected officials are held accountable for their actions – or inaction. Imagine the state of our country if we only found our news on Facebook where everyone’s crazy uncle shares a conspiracy theory article link from Russia Today or outright falsehoods and where the fact-checking is mostly performative and the leadership can’t be held accountable.
That said, even trusted news organizations are confronting their own issues right now. The New York Times published an editorial that fell short of the standards we have come to expect – and without following their own editorial protocols. Their actions, and reactions, triggered an important discussion about the role of news organizations in airing opposing points of view.
Unfortunately, this speaks to a bigger problem. Across the spectrum of media outlets, less than 40% of people say they trust news most of the time. The top concerns for news consumers are around accuracy and bias. And, unfortunately, the difference between news and opinion is not always clear to many Americans. Historically, editorials were created as a way for newspapers to provide opposing points of view while maintaining objective news operations. Certainly, transparency will help. Because the better that audiences understand the processes by which news is produced, the more confidence they are likely to have in it.
And perhaps this particular situation with Cotton’s editorial signals a shift in what younger generations will come to expect from news organizations when it comes to the presentation of opposing opinions. Just because it’s always been this way doesn’t mean it always will be this way. We need to recognize that the consumption of news and opinion is different. Audience expectations have evolved. And we need to evolve accordingly.
Another critical issue for news consumers, however, is one of seeing themselves accurately reflected in news coverage and in newsrooms. Historically, newsrooms have not appropriately incorporated minorities in the ranks of journalists and executives. This lack of different voices and perspectives has led to blind spots in coverage and, wholesale ignoring of issues important to these communities.
We’ve seen a slew of stories emerge around longstanding issues in media organizations in the wake of Black Lives Matter. Editors and executives have left (or been removed from) their positions and many organizations have pledged to do better. And this is a good thing, because the stakes are high.
Work to do
Some organizations are making a concerted effort to remedy these shortcomings. The aforementioned New York Times, for instance, publishes an annual Diversity and Inclusion Report, where they share “data on the composition of our staff, and provide updates on the steps we’re taking to continue to build on our progress.” The goal is to be fully transparent around the current state of their diversity staffing as well as the efforts they are making to improve. However, there is some debate about whether these kinds of efforts move the needle or just underscore the problem.
But at least we’re talking about the problem. For example, there was a great deal of public debate around the merits of The New York Times’ choice to publish an editorial by Senator Tom Cotton. And the Times’ own justification and internal review were widely shared.
From my perspective, transparency is paramount. Without transparency, we won’t ever have meaningful conversations or realize change. The conversation about racial injustice is profoundly important because Black Americans need to be heard. We all need to listen. And we need fundamental and systemic change. The media plays an essential role in this important issue. So, a frank open discussion of the issues at hand – globally, nationally, locally, and in our own newsrooms – is critical now, more than ever.
According to a recent analysis from Pew Research Institute, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped 23%, year-over year. The situation has been severely exacerbated by Covid-19. In fact, by April 10th, the media industry had already seen 36,000 layoffs attributed to the economic effects of the pandemic. The situation has grown so dire that last month, the News Media Alliance and America’s Newspaper sent a letter to Congress and President Trump asking the government to provide direct support to local newsrooms.
A decade of decline
Pew’s new research highlights the plight of diminishing newsrooms across the country at a time when Americans are in extreme need of local news. They found that, in all, there were about 114,000 newsroom employees (reporters, editors, photographers, and videographers) across the industry sectors of newspaper, radio, broadcast TV, cable and other information services in 2008. In 2019, there were only 88,000. Now with recent layoffs due to the financial impact of Covid-19, newsrooms are being reduced at an alarming rate.
The research shows that most of the newsroom declines occurred between 2008 to 2014. From 2014 to 2019, the number of total newsroom employees remained at 88,000. While four of the five key newsroom industries remained relatively stable, newspaper newsroom employees declined by 51%. In 2018, newspaper newsrooms had as many as 71,000 workers across the U.S. Today the number of employees is approximately 35,000.
Further, across the five industries of newsrooms, job growth only occurred the digital-native news platform. The number of digital-native newsroom employees more than doubled (117%) from 7,400 workers in 2008 to about 16,100 in 2019.
Shrinking newsrooms now account for a significantly smaller portion of overall newspaper employment, from 62% in 2008 to 40% in 2019. Needless to say, the pandemic is devastating revenues across media outlets. None have been entirely immune to its economic and staffing impacts.
Business model shifts
Shifts in business models are taking place to compensate news publishers for their content after years of social platforms disruption of content monetization. The Australian government announced on April 21, 2020 that Google and Facebook would have to pay publishers for their news content in their country. This monumental decision requires compensation for news articles displayed on Facebook pages or in Google search result. This is an important move to ensure tech platforms pay for the content fueling their advertising revenue growth.
Newsrooms must monetize their content to survive. Identifying ways to support and compensate publishers for their content on platforms outside their owned and operated sites is critical to sustain the media ecosystem.
the dawn of the new decade of 2020, DCN members gathered at the Mandarin
Oriental Miami January 16 and 17 to network, discuss victories and challenges
as media companies evolve, and explore industry predictions.
new decade calls for a perfect ‘20/20’ vision, said Jason Kint, CEO, Digital
Content Next as he kicked off the closed-door, off-the-record gathering. That
encompasses continued focus on audience desires, pushback against the myth that
all content has to be free, and the elevation of trust and transparency in an
era marked by ‘fake news’.
Union’s recently enacted copyright law is a win for the industry, with similar
discussions expected this year in the U.S, noted Kint. Federal and state
investigations as well as emerging regulations are all good signals toward protecting
consumer privacy, regulating data use and anti-trust concerns, notes Kint.
can also expect a steady rise in content investments. UBS estimates that in
2020, a combined 16 media firms will spend $100 billion to produce content.
More than $35 billion will allocated on streaming video content, as new players
such as Disney Plus and NBC’s Peacock emerge.
feeling really good this year about where things are headed,” said Kint.
Jim Bankoff, CEO, Vox Media said he valued being at the DCN Summit. He described it as a place where premium publishers come together to “find ways to partner and to check our healthy, competitive impulses … and figure out ways to work together” in the wake of ceding ground to third party big tech platform and ad network “that have proven time and again not to have our best interests in mind.”
journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who freelances for the Guardian and Observer,
captivated the audience by recounting her experiences unearthing the activities
of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for
her work, which sparked international investigations as well as inspiring the
Netflix documentary, ‘The Great Hack’.
was my introduction to this world of creepy disinformation, but also complete
reluctance from the platforms to even acknowledge the problem, let alone deal
with it,” she noted. She was instead subjected to legal pushback from Google
and Facebook as well as online bullying.
also called for media companies to not compete against each other. Instead, she
encouraged those in the room to join together to “compete against lies and
falsehoods. We’ve seen it in Britain and you’re next,” said Cadwalladr.
Galloway, professor, NYU Stern School of Business, said
he believes that the big tech companies on the antitrust radar should be
broken up. Monopolies kill economic growth and are a “key step to tyranny,” he
contended, adding a co-opted government can’t serve as a dominating force for
pointed out that efforts to regulate the behavior of big tech fines have been
largely ineffectual. To date, the fines haven’t been punitive enough to
dissuade the big tech companies to modify behavior, he said. He also criticized
the federal government for being slow to act.
Monetization and concerns about subscription fatigue were recurring themes at the summit. Yet DCN research shows that younger audiences in particular appreciate the value of a subscription and finds that there is still consumer appetite for subscription products.
Peretti, founder and CEO, Buzzfeed noted that over the course of a few short
years, the company has begun to generate significant revenue from Facebook,
Google, Amazon, and Netflix from licensing.
don’t think Facebook or Google wants to buy news companies,” said Peretti. Of
the platforms movement toward paying for content, he said that “They get the
benefit of sharing some of the costs of the production of that content. News is
a great way to direct repeat visitors and to build trust in the platform to
avoid some of the problems of misinformation.”
Turpin II, president, National Journal, noted his longstanding publication adapted
to the changing media landscape by transforming itself from a media company to government
research and consulting services company for which subscribers are willing to
pay premium prices.
VandeHei, co-founder and CEO, Axios; Executive Producer, AXIOS on HBO said, “you
have to deliver content in a way that I would deliver in a conversation with
you over a drink, like what is new.” However, to create value, “Tell me why it
matters. Give me some context. Give me the power to go deeper.”
Complex, the path to success hasn’t been simple. Rich Antoniello, CEO and founder,
Complex Networks said, “we call ourselves a brand that happens to monetize
through media.” He said his company shifted from an ad-dependent model in 2016,
ahead of the curve.
example is the wild success of its “Hot Ones” program. It features10 questions
of its celebrity guests that get progressively more personal along with the consumption
of hot sauce that gets progressively hotter. And the business model is based
not on advertising, but on the sales of high-margin hot sauce.
also outlined the success of ComplexCon, the company’s flagship event, which connects
cultural icons with fans who spend $100 to $700 for VIP tickets, with hundreds
of thousands sold. Fans also snap up merchandise from Complex and its app-based
vendors such as Nike and Adidas.
power of fandom arose again when Howard Mittman, CEO, Bleacher Report spoke of
how his company’s app and successful franchises attract sports fans. He
described how individual athletes hold more sway in their fandom habits than sports
10 million fans have signed up for alerts and the app accounts for half of the
company’s user engagement. Bleacher Report’s focus is not on breaking sports
news, but creating engagement on its own platforms, according to Mittman.
continues to go through cultural shifts toward diversity both in company
staffing and in targeting readership such as women. “Women are generally not
seeing themselves in media and advertising to the extent that they should be,”
said Catherine Levene, president, chief digital officer, Meredith National
have been the first to support #SeeHer, a national organization committed to
accurate representation of women in media and advertising,” she said. She added
that’s not only good for supporting women, but also for the bottom line. Women
who see themselves in media and advertising are 45% more likely to recommend a product
to a friend and purchase it, said Levene.
the controversy it has attracted by those who question the veracity of its
science, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand is growing, noted Elise Loehnen, chief
content officer. The platform embraces several media forms and covers topics
from relationships to health, including alternative therapies. She said that
the controversy has been good for keeping the brand at the forefront of popular
tired of being talked down to,” said Loehnen. “We’re a strong female brand
undisturbed by the chaos.”
Tobaccowala, chief growth officer, Publicis Group,noted that the only
way to get ahead as a legacy company is to “kill your core. You have to rethink
your entire business.”
Levene from Meredith believes that the mobile world and 5G will create an even greater market for video. And, with 50% of searches conducted on the more than 200 million voice-enabled devices in U.S. homes, opportunities and challenges will arise.
action to purge third-party cookies against the backdrop of GDPR and CCPA will
impact the entire digital ecosystem, Levene noted.
is going to be the currency of the future. Those who have it at scale and the
ability to drive a lot of insights from it are going to win,” she added.
In a social media environment that is being blamed for everything from decreasing personal contact to radicalizing disaffected youth and intensifying suicide rates among girls, Tatyana Mamut, head of product, Nextdoor, made the case that her platform is creating connections on a micro-level in a neighborhood at a time when people hardly know their neighbors
believe that kindness is the next big thing in tech,” she added.
Alto journalism educator Esther Wojcicki made the case that helicopter
parenting has impacted the workforce and its ability to embrace risk and
innovation. She calls for parenting – and management – to embrace trust,
respect, independence, collaboration and kindness. She also promotes the idea
that every student should take a journalism course to build media literacy skills.
future will be fraught with change. And as Tobaccowala pointed out, “human
beings know how difficult change is.” But to survive, media companies must
continue to evolve.
have the power to shape minds and hearts, to fill the world with laughter and
tears to inform the truth,” said Kint. “Here’s to 2020 bringing the roar of the
crowd as we focus on what matters most: the audiences we serve.”
Traditional news channels are transforming into hybrid
newsrooms, combining digital platforms into an integrated business model
according to The
2019 State of Technology in Global Newsrooms Report. In fact, half of the
newsrooms in six of eight global regions are now hybrid. This research was conducted
by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in 149 countries, in 14
languages, and completed by more than 4,100 journalists and news managers.
Some of the ICFJ ‘s key findings include:
Newsrooms mix formats to distribute their content with
social media as the dominant platform.
Content distribution increased with two-thirds
of news organizations distributing content in at least four formats, compared
to 40% that did in 2017.
In terms of social media tools, Facebook (90%)
and Twitter (73%) lead the pack. They are followed by YouTube, which grew to
60% usage from 48% in 2017 and Instagram, now at 48%, which is up from 33% in
Instant messaging apps as content distribution
channels have declined in seven out of eight regions over the last two years.
Eurasia/former USSR, Europe and North America registered the largest declines,
20 percentage points, 16, and 10, respectively.
Security and new technologies are part of the day-to-day
More than two-thirds of journalists and newsrooms secure their communications while only half did in 2017. In fact, in North American newsrooms, the percentage of those that secure their communications doubled to 82%. The preferred method of security is encrypted messaging apps.
One-third of news organizations employ dedicated fact-checkers. In addition, 44% of newsrooms and 37% of journalists said they engage in more fact-checking activities than they did the previous year.
More than twice as many journalists use social media verification tools today compared to 2017.
Most news organizations aim to dismantle misinformation
and work to build trust.
Seventy-five percent of managers worry about the
impact of misinformation. However, less than half of journalists believe that
it impacts their day-to-day work.
Almost half of newsrooms are better at
separating news stories from opinion pieces.
More than three-quarters (37%) of news managers
in North America report building trust as a major challenge, up from 29% two
Government and politics dominate news coverage.
Government and politics dominant news journalism
with the exception of news radio. Radio is more likely to cover specialized
beats. In fact, 42% of news radio covers education and 43% covers health
compared to 27% of websites that cover these topics.
While nearly one-third of journalists do some
investigative reporting, this group appears to be quite limited with only 12%
identifying as investigative reporters.
Smaller newsrooms appear to offer a community
focus news and are twice as likely to report on local news as larger outlets. Twenty
percent of small newsrooms cover local and hyperlocal events, compared to 10%
of larger newsrooms (26+ employees).
More women are leading in journalism.
Women hold half or more of newsroom management positions in four of the eight regions. On average, one-third of management jobs globally are held by women. However, female leadership varies greatly by region.
Leading with women in newsroom management are Eurasia/former USSR at 62%, North America at 56%, Europe at 51%, and Latin America/Caribbean at 49%.
Women comprise 56% of newsroom employees in North America and 51% in Europe.
On average, women are 40% of the journalists in newsrooms worldwide.
Interestingly, more women (25%) compared to men (15%) report not having digital experience at the time they were hired.
This ICFJ study offers insight into the transition of traditional
news outlets to hybrid news outlets with digital platforms integrations. It
identifies the newsroom journey to improve the quality of news reporting. Newsroom
operations must now include the fight against disinformation, the promotion of
trusted news brands, the addition of heightened security, and the usage of enhanced
In today’s digital economy, all businesses are software businesses – especially content-focused businesses like digital publishing. With a wide range of apps and platforms all competing for consumer loyalty, companies that would have never called themselves tech companies are now engaging with developers and innovators to maintain customer engagement. Understanding what drives successful product development is critical to achieving growth.
One of these key realities is that product management is not the same thing as project management.
Whenever 3Pillar advertises for a product manager, the majority of the resumes we receive will inevitably be from project managers. However, these are vastly different jobs. And hiring for them as if they are the same is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make.
In product development, the product manager should be responsible for the “what,” the “why” and the high-level “when.” However, the project manager should be responsible for the “who,” the “how,” and a more detailed “when.”
Building a railroad
Let’s use the analogy of a railroad: The product manager is the person responsible for deciding that a railroad is the right solution for the problem of getting people from point A to point B. The product manager also charts the course to navigate the terrain. He or she determines where the train will go and what stops it should make and the route taken including questions like whether it should go over or through the mountains.
A product manager also prioritizes the sequencing of railways between stations. Perhaps he or she determines that New York to Boston is the most critical route. Only after that’s finished and operational should the railroad build a track to San Francisco.
Project managers, on the other hand, are responsible for laying the tracks and making the trains run on time. In product development, a project manager plays this role. They are responsible for the internal operations of the train: how fast the train goes down the track, what fuel it uses and what parts need to be replaced.
Finding the best
In the big picture, product managers are responsible for maintaining the long-term product roadmap and defining the product vision, while the project manager is responsible for managing the team’s day-to-day activities.
The best product managers inherently have these four key areas of responsibility:
Product strategy: Setting the vision and determining how to get there.
Product roadmap: Managing and prioritizing the backlog of features, defining them and making associated trade-off decisions.
Product releases: Setting what features will be delivered to the customer and coordinating all aspects and interdepartmental dependencies.
Product ideation: Running the ideation process, collecting feedback and data, analyzing that data, thinking creatively, curating new ideas and promoting the most relevant ones into the backlog as features.
Product managers do each of these things (and many more) because they understand that they can’t build a product, pass it off to a project manager, and call it a day. That’s because product management – like product development – is never done.
To give a real-world example of the difference between the two, imagine we’re talking about the team behind a fitness app like Fitbit. The product manager would be responsible for deciding that users would benefit from a series of video tutorials based on the type of workout a user wanted (Fitbit users might recognize this as Fitbit Coach). Once a decision had been made to go in that direction, the project manager would be responsible for working with the team to design, implement, and test those changes in the expected timeframe.
Of course, in mature organizations with a product mentality, you won’t find a project manager on most teams. Instead, engineering managers typically take on the project management tasks that are actually applicable to the environment.
Product management and project management, working in concert, are essential.
This starts with adopting a company-wide foundational mindset that doesn’t focus on antiquated IT thinking, which separates teams by function. Instead, this modern mindset focuses on common goals and making sure all members of the company understand the “big picture.”
In today’s increasingly digital world, this means engineers, designers, marketers and finance working alongside product managers to build software that directly addresses the customer’s wants, stays ahead of the changing market, and ultimately drives revenue and profit back to the company. At 3Pillar, we call this the Product Mindset, and it drives how we approach every digital product we work on.
Great project managers are an indispensable part of a successful company. But you have to start with great product management. This is how you will be able to innovate and ultimately disrupt digital publishing markets and grow market share. Content is important — but product is king.
About the author
David DeWolf is CEO of 3Pillar Global and co-author of “The Product Mindset: Succeed in the Digital Economy by Changing the Way Your Organization Thinks.”
Hot on the heels of reports that reveal AR and VR will become mainstream sooner than we expect, media companies are lining up to test the waters and push the boundaries. While they recognize that implementation of immersive technologies can bring audiences deeper into a story than text, 2D images, and video ever could, many have yet to grasp that they have to create stories that move people, not just “wow” them.
One company that is further along on learning curve is USA TODAY NETWORK, part of Gannett Co, Inc. and the largest local-to-national media organization in the U.S. It’s cleverly harnessed talent from a variety of disciplines, including video games development, to bring new life and excitement to environments (life on the USS Eisenhower), events (launching a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center), and formats (an investigative podcast revealing the hidden power structures behind our cities really work).
Peggy Anne Salz—mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove—catches up with Ray Soto, Director of Emerging Technology for USA TODAY NETWORK, to discuss recent AR projects and delve into how media companies can leverage growing interest in AR and VR to elevate storytelling and engage audiences.
PAS: Please bring us up to date on the storytelling experiences you have created and what you have learned.
RS: We recognize that both virtual and augmented reality are fairly new within our industry. But that’s what really motivates and inspires us to take that extra step to experiment and try something new. An example is the 321 LAUNCH app, our first AR app. It gives users a close-up live view of real launches and landings, allowing them to build and launch their own Falcon 9 rocket within the app—an experience enhanced with access to live video and real-time updates.
The aim was to combine immersive storytelling with a live launch AR broadcast, paving the way for users to engage with content in new ways. Metrics show strong retention rates and long session times, even on non-launch days. Overall, we have seen engagement times of around 3.5 minutes, and we observed that user engagement for our live launch broadcast spiked up to around 8 minutes. Right now, we hovering at around 3.5 minutes on non-launch days and about 5 minutes on launch days.
We learned a lot from the app about how to reach and engage audiences. We also learned a lot about the development cycle and the UX. The experience of creating the app—and seeing how users wanted to be in control of their experience—helped us to focus on building the foundation that would support all our augmented reality experiences moving forward. We saw that there was deep engagement with AR through interactivity, and what we didn’t want to do was leverage existing APIs that would limit us in the types of stories we could tell.
PAS: So, it sounds like you have “augmented” augmented reality platforms to suit your requirements and ensure you can support how audiences have shown they want to interact with your app…
RS: You’re right. So, we ended up leveraging the GUI game engine, and that is essentially the foundation of our AR platform. Unity provided us that foundation, where we can leverage AR kit and AR core. But we also built on top of that to incorporate the functionality we envisioned we would need for our storytelling experiences. So what we have created is a series of editorial templates, that include design templates and animations, allowing us to quickly support interactive storytelling through AR.
A good example is the augmented reality Hurricane Florence tracker. At first, it was a challenge that I presented to my team, which is made up of former video game developers with experience working with companies including Electronic Arts and NC Soft, to turn this AR experience around quickly. And we did this. By drawing from our game design experience and working closely with our product development, mobile dev team, and the editorial team, we leveraged our template to create the tracker—which we were able to ramp up, turn around and publish within 24 hours.
PAS: In the case of the hurricane tracker, you harnessed AR to bring breaking news to life. But to go mainstream AR will need to enhance content and experiences that are a little more downtempo. Do you have an example where AR adds a layer of storytelling, not just effect?
RS: A great example is our AR experience for The City, an investigative storytelling podcast where we developed the augmented reality trailer. The podcast is already a powerful story paired with an immersive audio experience—but it was missing an equally powerful visual. We recognized that, through our AR platform, we could create an experience that would allow you to explore the community that is the focus of the podcast and “tease” users to engage with the powerful story that was being told within the podcast.
In this scenario, AR gives the audience a sense of place. Clearly, it was a different type of story to tell and a different goal from launching a Falcon 9 rocket. However, we found we could just leverage what we’d learned from earlier projects and that was a plus. It was exciting to think no one had ever done this before—and we did. And through this, we recognized there is a real opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in content, such as audio, with AR and adapt what we create based on the story we’re trying to tell.
PAS: It’s exciting to push the envelope, but you also need to know where to draw the line. How do you decide if AR is a match with the storytelling in the first place?
It can be a tough one to call. So, we start by drawing from our experience and our understanding of the unique opportunities that emerging tech can provide and support when it comes to creating a very strong interactive story. The story comes first. Before we commit resources or time to develop an augmented reality experience, we work very closely with the editorial team to define what the story should be and how augmented reality can drive value to the story we’re trying to tell. It’s very much a collaborative process. There have been times when we’ve gone down a path of exploration and determined that the particular story might actually be best suited to being told with the support of an interactive graphic on the web or a video experience.
We’re at the point now where we’re able to produce an offline prototype quickly to really understand how we can tell the story in a new way that the audience can engage with again and again. The goal for an AR project can never be to create a one-time gimmick that folks will see and walk away from saying, “oh hey, that was neat.” The goal—and this is our goal—has to be to give audiences the feeling they have gained something from the experience or learned something. You don’t want the technology to overshadow the story because it comes down to the story first. We understand this because our team has had years of experience, not just with game design but in VR and more recently AR.
PAS: Your team is made up of talent from video games companies, which you’ve pointed out is a plus. What talent mix should publishers assemble and orchestrate if they are serious about creating AR experiences?
RS: We’re fortunate to have a team that is made up of former game developers, but I don’t think it’s a team that has to made up of game developers exclusively. Yes, it definitely makes it much easier to create AR experiences and ramp up a team to support AR and VR. But it’s not the only way. Publishers also need to bring together people who have a passion for the work and a desire to explore what’s possible. It’s through passion that companies can build a team able to go outside of their comfort zone. Passion guides you and helps you find ways to tell a story that hasn’t been done before. So, game development is helpful, but it’s not required for interactive storytelling.
PAS: So, what is required? What is the checklist publishers should have top of mind?
RS: Start by thinking through how you can create a narrative arc. As I said before, it’s not about gimmick. It’s about trying to do things differently and avoid getting too comfortable with how you have told stories in the past. Even if you have a template to build a story, you don’t want it to be the same every time. The aim is to encourage people to engage and come back. We want audiences to recognize that USA Today is telling interactive stories in a new way with AR, and that means pushing the boundaries through seeing the opportunities and exploring approaches.
It’s also important to identify the gaps within the story. This is where AR platforms can enhance that story. Again, a great example is the City podcast where we could improve an immersive audio experience with AR. It still just boggles my mind that we even considered it in the first place and I’m proud of the results. We recognized that it was a strong story that we could do differently. That’s the mindset you have to have for every project: try to do something that’s different but do it by creating a narrative arc that engages your audience and helps them coming back.
Everyone has a unique opportunity to define their path, but don’t only focus on the visual experience. You have to think about scalability and accessibility. You don’t want to exclude users who are impaired in any way –and this is why we have incorporated subtitles within our USA Today app. We want everyone to be engaged with the experience and able to make it what they want.
PAS: Brands are also focused on engaging users with brand storytelling and experiential content. Is there a place for brands in your future plans?
RS: We’re looking for opportunities to work on branded content. That conversation started because we observed such high engagement and retention rates. These metrics tell us there’s an opportunity—through AR—to create a personal connection. We’re poised to tell our stories in new ways, and we see ways brands can build on the growing excitement around augmented reality to engage with their existing audiences and acquire new ones.
USA TODAY recently named Maribel Perez Wadsworth as its publisher, the second woman to hold the title. Wadsworth, a Cuban-American, is the first person of color to serve as publisher. She adds this title to her current role as President of USA TODAY NETWORK, which she has held since November 2017. Maribel oversees the company’s consumer business. She formerly served as the company’s Chief Transformation Officer (2016) and Chief Strategy Officer (2015).
Here she discusses her new role, her strategy for growth and innovation at USA TODAY, and the biggest threat to the success of our industry.
How will your new role allow you to better lead the media brands at Gannett?
MPW: I’m excited to lead USA TODAY as publisher, cementing the important relationship that exists between our flagship national brand and our 109 local news brands. As president of the USA TODAY Network, I’m responsible for content, strategy and operations for all our media brands. This allows us to truly take a holistic approach to how we best serve our audiences and our communities. It also enables us to identify and scale new ideas and best practices. In addition, as we continue to expand our portfolio of niche brands, such as our recent majority investment in Grateful Ventures, we are well-positioned to comprehensively serve the news and information needs of our audiences with high quality content and experiences.
You’ve made a recent round of hires. Tell me about the type of talent you’ve added and what you are looking for to succeed in the news business today:
MPW: I’m proud of the team we are building at USA TODAY. First, because we have such a strong base of talent to start. My first move was to name Nicole Carroll as editor in chief. Nicole is an ideal partner — an exceptionally talented, award-winning journalist and a highly competitive individual with great ambition for our journalism. We’ve also just added Jeff Taylor, formerly VP of News at the Indianapolis Star, as Executive Editor. And we’re realigning and adding resources around two key areas — investigative and enterprise coverage and digital storytelling. So, you’ll be seeing those teams expand and our hiring focus will be there. But in a nutshell, what I’m looking for in talent is people of diverse backgrounds with an inherent passion for doing good and winning at it. Skills can be taught or bought. The culture we’re building, that’s what’s special.
Tell me about your philosophy on creating the best news experiences for readers:
MPW: We have to be focused on relevance, distinction and quality. That means we have to deeply understand who we serve — what do they need, what are they interested in, what do they most deeply care about. It means we have to be keenly attuned to who we are — what are our strengths, what do we do better than anybody else. And it means we have to make choices. If we are to consistently deliver on the excellence our customers deserve, we must choose where to focus and prioritize so we can truly do fewer things better.
What are the most important investments that news media organizations need to make to continue to meet the needs of today’s readers?
MPW: Our most important investment is in our people. We must ensure we are hiring great journalists and supporting their development. It is also critically important to build a culture of experimentation to continue to push the boundaries of digital storytelling.
At the USA TODAY NETWORK, that experimentation has focused on a few key areas — virtual reality and 360-degree video, including from an expanding drone journalism program; voice and audio more broadly as we more and more develop content for listeners; and augmented reality. Take a look at our augmented reality app 321 Launch, built in partnership between USA TODAY and Florida Today ‘s expert space coverage. The app allows you to track a live rocket launch in AR from any flat surface as a hologram shows you what the rocket is doing in real-time. There is also a launch simulation you can do any time and learn from our space experts as they guide you through rocket assembly, blast off and re-entry. It’s very cool and I hope you’ll check it out.
What is the biggest threat or challenge for the news business today and what advice do you have for publishers seeking to address it?
MPW: The biggest challenge our industry faces today comes from the rapid rise of unregulated megaplatforms such as Facebook and Google. And not just from the obvious place of taking digital, especially mobile, advertising spend. These platforms are also in no small way responsible for an assault on truth and trust. Their algorithms naturally optimize their business results but do little to help consumers discern between quality, premium journalism, and fake content from questionable sources. In our business, we must focus on being customer-led not platform-driven. Our business cannot be dependent on the whims of a third-party platform’s strategy. As many have seen, chasing the algorithm can lead to dramatically inconsistent and potentially perilous results. Instead, our focus must be on building a strong, direct relationship with our audiences and that starts with quality and trust.
When your employer is first and foremost in the television business, and your job is to manage the company’s entire digital presence, you’ve got your work cut out for you. That’s precisely what Jay Yarow, CNBC’s SVP and Executive Editor, Digital faces on a daily basis. He is responsible for everything that appears online outside of what is being broadcast. That means CNBC.com, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – everything.
Yarow says that the objective of the brand is tracking everything related to business, finance, and investing. “We are aiming to be the most trusted brand when it comes to everything money.”
And his approach seems to be working: In September 2017, CNBC Digital reached the number three position in the Business/Finance News category for the first time ever and delivered a record 49.2 million unique visitors in September, which was up 74% year-over year. CNBC Digital also saw impressive growth in mobile with a record high of 30 million mobile unique visitors in September, up 105% year-over-year. And so far this year, traffic from social platforms to CNBC.com has grown 83%.
Keeping it simple
When he came on board in February 2016, Yarow’s goal was to keep a good thing going and expand upon and improve what he could. “They had a great digital brand in place [when I got here]. It was growing before I got here. I helped to accelerate that growth. They have been doing digital for years. I tried to come in and add some extra,” he explained.
Sometimes, the seemingly small things make a big difference. For example, when you read a CNBC story and you see the bulleted data points summarizing the story at the top of the page, that’s something that Yarow added. “From my perspective, it’s super valuable. Investors or business leaders tend to be busy and don’t have time to absorb a lot of information,” he said. This way, readers can quickly get the gist of a news story on the way to a meeting when they might not have time to read the whole thing.
He also recognizes the importance of social media in reaching his busy audience. “I’m fortunate in that I really enjoy doing these things. It’s not like it’s a chore to check Instagram and check Twitter or Facebook or CNBC.com. These are all things I would do either way and I get to influence that.”
Keeping it real
Yarow says his primary focus is putting together a strong news team that breaks a lot of stories. As he joked, “We are first and foremost a media company. We never have to pivot to video.”
Above all, his focus is on producing high quality journalism. Then, he asks if “the journalism we are producing being rewarded with an appropriately large audience.” As he points out, it is important to be able to support the production of this journalism so reaching a significant audience and monetizing them is essential. “When you are building something, you have to make sure there is a business there,” he said. To that end, Yarow stays in sync with the business side to ensure that whatever he is doing has their support.
And, with so many media properties struggling and announcing layoffs, CNBC has been a marked positive contrast. It’s been growing and adding reporters like Chrissy Farr and Alex Sherman as well as a slew of new reporters to its tech coverage team in the last year. When it comes to different social channels like Instagram and YouTube, Yarow says he tries to hire good people and empower them to do good work. “We have great leaders we trust and empower them to run the different channels. My goal is to have nothing to do.”
“We have really focused on news and making sure we are breaking news. We built out our tech section and made it a strong team. And we are always systematically assessing business news and where we can get stronger,” Yarow explained.
One of the great advantages of being part of CNBC is that we have a lot of great platforms. I see a lot of different tech pieces being built and see what produces the best results.” He added, “We focus primarily on journalism and building a technology platform and tech stack.” And while the company is growing fast, he emphasizes that they are doing so it in a responsible way. “We are not saying, ‘Here is a $100M. Set it on fire and see what happens to our traffic’.”
A study conducted by International Center for Journalists survey set out to answer a critical question: Are journalists keeping pace with the digital revolution? Despite making strides in leveraging new technologies, the study concluded that the answer is no.
The State of Technology in Global Newsrooms takes a deep look at the adoption of digital technologies at a wide range of news media organizations worldwide. Working with Georgetown University, the International Center for Journalists conducted the study in 12 languages, and received more than 2,700 responses from journalists and newsroom managers in 130 countries.
Key takeaways include:
Newsrooms still face a deep technology gap.
Digital journalism has made some substantial gains.
In an era when fake news and hacking have proliferated, too few journalists are taking the proper precautions.
While most newsrooms find it challenging to gain trust with their audiences, there are two major exceptions.
New revenue models are emerging, but not fast enough.
Newsrooms have yet to fully embrace analytics data to make decisions.
Journalism is a young person’s profession.
The digital training journalists want is not what their newsrooms think they need.
Today’s media organizations
The report examines technological investment, use, and staffing across different types of newsrooms in the digital age. ICFJ identified three newsroom types based on their primary distribution platforms:
Traditional news organizations, which disseminate information primarily in the legacy formats of newspaper, television, print magazines, and radio. Though these organizations may have a website or some digital presence, their primary platform is a traditional format.
Digital-only news organizations that exclusively publish in an online format.
Hybrid news organizations, which use a combination of traditional and digital formats. Many hybrid organizations have transitioned from being traditional news outlets.
The report finds that digital-only and hybrid newsrooms are outpacing traditional media in most of the world. In fact, according to the ICFJ, news organizations that disseminate content primarily in traditional print, television, and radio formats are disappearing from the global media landscape. Overall, the majority of journalists surveyed work for news organizations that are either fully digital (33%) or a hybrid of traditional and online (40%). About one-quarter are employed by traditional news organizations.
Today’s newsrooms have access to a multitude of new platforms and formats — from social media to mobile apps to virtual reality, which they use to distribute their stories and reach wider audiences. Though the range of tools has expanded, the news industry relies heavily on the two social media giants: Facebook and Twitter.
Though digital-only and hybrid newsrooms are more likely to use Facebook, traditional organizations (which use digital but not as a primary distribution format) are not very far behind. Three-quarters of traditional newsrooms reported using the social media site to push out content, compared to 93% of digital-only and 91% of hybrid.
Hybrid organizations are the most likely to cut their newsroom staffs, with 41% reporting that their staff size has decreased in the past year. Traditional newsrooms are a close second, at 38%. Digital-only newsrooms are at the opposite end of the spectrum, with only 17% reporting that their staff size has decreased, compared to the 50% that reported adding more staff members.
Digital-only newsrooms are also more likely to have older personnel – in the 51-55 age group – than both their traditional and hybrid counterparts. Traditional newsrooms also have a higher percentage of staff in the 25-29 age group than hybrid ones, following digital-only newsrooms in this category.
Hybrid and digital-only newsrooms are more likely than traditional newsrooms to have digital content producers/editors and tech professionals on staff, though the number of these positions remains small compared to established roles.
The study shows that many journalists are hired into their positions without experience working in digital media or significant digital skills. While on-the-job-training remains an essential tactic for staff-strapped media newsrooms. However, news professionals almost universally agree that training is important to help them meet the demands of their job.
As the report points out, the digital era is forcing newsrooms to adapt to a constantly evolving space. They face an array of major challenges, including shifting revenue models, attracting loyal advertisers, engaging audiences, and developing new storytelling formats. While journalists (and the media organizations they work for) continue to experiment with a range of digital tools, the report makes it clear that continued investment, innovation, and development of the digital skillset is required.
As part of its annual show October 31-November 2, Folio hosted a one day C-Summit. The invitation-only event focused on top strategic imperatives for magazine media organizations. Led by Hanley Wood CEO Peter Goldstone, the day provided an intimate conversation between panelists and attendees.
Here are three key takeaways from the discussion:
1. People matter (a lot): Many of the day’s speakers expressed that competitive recruiting and managing millennials to their fullest potential are significant challenges. Across the board, it was apparent that these leaders feel that having the right people to drive the organization from both strategic and tactical levels is a top priority.
“We need to teach all employees to think about the end game and how they can contribute Give them a voice, an opportunity to express ideas and concerns… We need to give them pride of ownership in solutions.”
—Bonnie Kintzer, CEO TMBI
“It used to be that the people in charge knew everything…Well, we’re in a learn-together mode now, particularly as we try to build new lines of business. Of the 46 people we have hired at AIM since January, 32 have job descriptions that didn’t exist before they were hired.”
—Andrew W. Clurman, President & CEO, Active Interest Media (AIM)
“The scariest thing is to have an opportunity but not have the capacity to deliver. For example, we find that companies want to connect with customers by feeding them, but staffing the event side has been a challenge… Creating the right culture is absolutely critical.”
“Running a media related company over the past 10 years has been a tough job. There are a lot of dead men walking. Employees are key to transforming business. You need to attract, retain, and develop people who will change your business or you will be one of those dead men walking.”
—Tom Kemp, Chairman CEO of Northstar Travel Group
2. Advertising is data and context driven: Digital advertising is increasingly driven by data—particularly in the B2B space, which is focused on lead-generation. However, context matters as does bigger-picture understanding of what the advertiser’s objectives are and how to creatively accomplish those goals.
“Advertisers are asking: What is the value you are going to give us, how are you going to bundle stuff? That said, they don’t always really know what they are asking. They want, and need you to know more about their biz than they do.”
—Jim Elliot, President James C. Elliot Co. Inc.
“We have to be sure we are producing products our customers want to buy, not just what we want to sell, so that we continue to have the relationship with them that supports the business. And yes, we need to be able to provide as much audience data as possible. We’re thinking less about selling advertising than selling all the assets we have.”
—Tom Kemp, Chairman CEO of Northstar Travel Group
“Programmatic is inevitable because it is a far more efficient for sellers and buyers. At Hanley Wood, we love programmatic because we have the data. What we’re seeing is a bifurcation in the value proposition between what publishers brought to the table—the value of our insight around the data and the audience—versus the value of the content and placing ads in context.”
—Peter Goldstone, CEO, Hanley Wood
“Thinking about some of the new players…yes, they are taking dollars away and disrupting things because they play by their own rules. But we must continue to behave in a way that is extremely responsible because of our brands’ reputations. We’ve been successful with our ad-sales guarantee. We’ve partnered with Nelsen to measure return on ad spend. We spend a lot of time on measurement and in our strategic partnerships. It is an area of emphasis and focus to demonstrate efficacy.”
—Mark Rothschild, SVP, Meredith Digital.
3. You’ve got to put your money where your progress is. Despite a seemingly endless desire to innovate, the reality is that resources are finite and making smart decisions about what to fuel and what to fold is critical.
“We have to focus on how to grow the business despite managing a mature print portfolio. There’s always a lot to do, but what do you choose not to do is just as important. As you think about your portfolio, resource allocation decisions are imperative.”
—Peter Goldstone, CEO, Hanley Wood
“We looked at a lot of areas with underperforming assets, many outside the US, which we are in the process of selling. We are focused on being a strong US and Canadian content producer. The hardest parts are the print versus the digital pieces of the game.”
—Bonnie Kintzer, CEO TMBI
“There are lots of new shiny ideas that pop up in this industry. Yes, some are good…but others aren’t, and you have to be able to tell the difference, or figure it out fast.”
—Jim Elliot, President James C. Elliot Co. Inc.
“As an industry, there’s a drag of products that need to close, that have served their purpose, but closing them creates an opportunity to start something new. And there’s always a new opportunity.”