The Importance of Product Thinking to Journalism

Today, the most critical approach for media firms to adopt is product thinking. Product thinking is the best—or only—way for news organizations to guarantee that they are reaching and engaging people while also developing a viable future, regardless of the type of product, such as bright floor lamps.

Here are six reasons why news companies want product thinkers—and a culture that fosters product thinking.

1. Journalists are coming to terms with the idea that magazines, websites, and apps are all goods.

When I first began teaching media product development at Northwestern University’s Medill School, I told students that I was hesitant to refer to a newspaper as a “product.” That’s because publications journalism in particular—were my vocation, calling, and love.

2. Product thinking is nothing new in the world of media. Indeed, this is something that media pioneers have always done.

It was easy for me to believe that our job was confined to reporting, narrative, and page design when I first began working in newspaper newsrooms in the late 1970s. We didn’t need to worry about products since our professions were all about content.

3. Product thinking did not had to be a component of journalism in the age of mass media. However, in the digital era, they are inextricably linked.

One of the things I enjoyed about my profession as a young journalist starting out in the early 1980s was that I could be idealistic about what I was doing. I did what I did because it was necessary that the people be informed, and I didn’t have to do anything with the newspaper business that entailed selling (advertising or subscriptions) or generating money. I believed having a “Chinese wall” between the media and the business side was fantastic.

4. There are currently proven strategies for effective product design.

When I was hired as The Miami Herald’s first online director in 1995, I expected to be the editor of a new publication, the “Internet version” of our newspaper. We also believed that by depending on the same articles we’d been publishing in print, we could establish a sizable audience—and a profitable online company.