For four weeks, audience engagement editor Michael Denison and six of his colleagues at Science News, the magazine of the Society for Science & the Public, learned from experts how to implement product management techniques and tools in their newsroom.
Now, as a result of what they learned in the course, they have incorporated product thinking meetings into their weekly routine.
“We could benefit a lot from having a more clear strategy around all of our newsroom products. Giving me the language to communicate that need and the tools to figure out that strategy will be immensely helpful,” Denison said. “A small group of us took the course together, and we’ve already started work as a product team together, trying to nail down strategies and vision.”
Nearly 350 people from 48 countries took the Big Online Course (BOC) “Product Management for Newsroom Leaders” from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas that ran from April 29 to May 26, 2019. The Center mainly offers massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are free and attract thousands of students, but occasionally offers BOCs, which are capped at a few hundred students, have a nominal registration fee, and offer a deeper dive into the topic at hand.
During that time, four instructors taught how to use product thinking in the newsroom, how to develop a product strategy and set goals, and how to confront potential challenges. They also learned which ethical guidelines to keep in mind when doing this work.
Instructors were Becca Aaronson, director of product at Chalkbeat; Shannan Bowen, product manager and audience strategist; Emma Carew Grovum, a multiplatform storyteller and product manager; and Cindy Royal, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and director of the Media Innovation Lab at Texas State University.
“Even as the role of product management expands in journalism, not every newsroom will have a product manager,” Aaronson said. “This course focused on how journalists in any newsroom position can incorporate product thinking — the frameworks and tools used by product managers — to interrogate their work and look for ideas that will sustain their newsrooms and better serve their community.”
This was the second course on product management offered by the Knight Center. The first, a massive open online course (MOOC), took place in 2017.
Journalist Andrea Steinsträter, a project manager at German public-broadcasting company WDR, took both product management courses, as well as others from the Knight Center.
“I’ve taken various because the courses are so great and always discuss important trends and matters in contemporary journalism,” she said.
Steinsträter said the latest product management course will help in her career as the variety of products in newsrooms has grown.
“When I started my career, we did television and a news website. Nowadays, the same brand consists of different products like videos for Facebook, stories on Instagram, news posts on Twitter, still television reports, website articles, news apps… To make a career in the news business we have to understand the differences of each product,” she explained. “The professional way to set goals, analyze product outcomes and adjust strategy is a crucial skill in newsrooms today, and the course provides knowledge and tools to improve personal results in a newsroom.”
In addition to weekly lecture videos, readings and quizzes, students discussed course topics and sought advice in online discussion forums and on social media.
Aaronson was impressed by the conversations.
“It didn't surprise me, because the journalists who signed up for the course are passionate about finding new solutions for their newsrooms,” she said. “The discussion forums provided a space to share ideas, provide feedback and ask questions, and ultimately, connect the materials in the course to our real-world newsroom experiences.”
Students were afforded a couple weeks to finish activities past the end date, but the course is now closed. Conversations continue in the closed Facebook group page.
The next opportunity is the BOC “Know your audience: Strategies for increasing reach and engagement of your journalism,” with instructor Amanda Zamora, chief audience officer for The Texas Tribune. Read our blog post about the course here or visit the course landing page to register.