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The traditional layout of newsrooms has undergone numerous changes, first to reflect the transition to digital, then to cater to the increasing popularity of mobile and more recently, the rise of distributed news.

Some teams such as developers and product managers, who might not have worked directly alongside journalists and editors before, have also moved into the newsroom to make the process of building new initiatives more efficient.

At The Wall Street Journal, the role of a product manager or developer will sometimes overlap with that of a project manager, Katharine Bailey, the outlet's head of news products, told in a recent podcast.

"The product person is really thinking about why we are doing that specific thing and then defining the requirements around it.

"Frequently, that person wears both hats, but a project manager is making sure that the project is executed smoothly on time, within budget, from beginning to end," she explained.

Bailey's team started working alongside the editorial team in May 2015, in order to "bring a 360 view of our products into the newsroom".

'Seeing a project or product through its life-cycle'

If a journalist has an idea for a new article page, or they want to cover a certain topic differently in terms of formats and technologies, the team's task is building individual products or features to achieve that.

"Basically, what we do is see a project or product through its life-cycle.

"That involves determining whether you are going to do it, comparing it to other similar initiatives available on the market, building it, putting it out there and then assessing how it's performing, reporting that back to the newsroom and determining how you want to enhance it or develop a similar project in the future."

Bailey said the best way to find out whether a product or project manager is needed for a particular initiative is knowing if that element or capability can be reused in the future for other experiments.

If a story requires a one-off infographic to illustrate the data better, that would be created by the graphics team. But if it contains a function to quickly share information from it, for example, the product team would build it if required.

It's a big deal to even call something a project in the newsroom, separate it and say that it's not just the general course of news productionKatharine Bailey, Wall Street Journal
Each reusable design is collected into the Journal's style guide, a set of guidelines that developers, editors or other members of the organisation can use in the future to request or build similar products for their toolbox.

The editors are involved in the development process every step of the way, said Bailey, from helping the team understand the personality of a new section, for example, to deciding whether any existing model can be used or what a new one should encompass.

"They are part of the conversation the whole way through, from defining a product, to helping us design it, vetting it and actually use it through the CMS to produce content for it."

For example, to cover the US election, several teams including editors, product people and developers worked together to come up with the different features needed across the website and mobile apps before they went into production.

For newsrooms that don't have project or product managers, but where the editorial and development team collaborate directly, Bailey said it's possible to implement some workflow changes to get people to think in that direction.

"It's a big deal to even call something a project in the newsroom, separate it and say that it's not just the general course of news production.

"So a curriculum can be established to help people understand what is being built and why, such as developing a 'requirements' document and a set of milestones to help people decide what is going to make a project successful once it's done.

"Ultimately, news is our number one product and the experience around it and how you proliferate it is vital."

The difference between an editor and a project manager

At the Financial Times, special projects editor Robin Kwong recently moved into a project management role, after having spent time with the paper as a reporter, technology editor and interactive data journalist.

He said this is an advantage because he already has an insight into how different teams and individuals work within the organisation.

The tasks and aims of a project manager differ from those of an editor, he argued, who might be familiar with part of the process on the production side, but who mostly focus on the best way to tell the story from an editorial perspective.

For the Wearables at Work series produced by the FT last year, Kwong, who was on the interactive team at the time, ended up taking on both the role of project manager and editor. He started off by taking notes for himself to record all the steps in the process, before he realised that "it was a broader problem for the whole newsroom".

"I was thinking 'would this be the best way to tell the story', but I also needed to make sure that we were keeping track of metrics, for example, as we were testing this hypothesis of whether making our reporting process transparent achieved more engagement as a result.

"At the end of the day, how would you know the answer if you hadn't set out to do that from the beginning, keeping track of metrics and setting targets?"

There is no set formula for knowing when a newsroom initiative, whether it's a single article, a series or a cross-platform story, requires project management. But according to Kwong, there are two good indicators of when something is becoming too complex to be handled only by the reporter and a few other people.

My job is to help reduce or manage the complexity of producing either a really ambitious piece or series of journalism, or a case when you're completely shooting in the dark and trying something for the first timeRobin Kwong, Financial Times
"We are organised into different desks, and if a project or a story lives just within one of those, it's generally manageable, but once it starts crossing two or three, that's a sign.

"For example, if one day you have a global news story, the second day you assess the corporate impact of that in another piece, and then you end with a big magazine feature, that's a situation where you might want a project manager," he said.

The second indicator is experimenting with a new format, approach or technology. This goes beyond just trying something out without knowing if it will succeed or fail, to a core purpose of knowing what you are hoping to achieve and how to measure it.

"You also need to be able to learn something from it, and ideally impart that to the rest of the newsroom, so you've suddenly added a whole new set of requirements to what you're doing, which becomes more than just an editor trying to make sure the story is told in the best way possible.

"If you start thinking about all the different ways in which you could research, present and tell a story and also how you would then distribute and promote it, it's actually a really complicated process, which sometimes spans more than a dozen people.

"My job is to help reduce or manage the complexity of producing either a really ambitious piece or series of journalism, or a case when you're completely shooting in the dark and trying something for the first time".

Listen to the full podcast with Bailey and Kwong below:

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