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Product development is a crucial part of most, if not all, newsrooms' strategy for not only surviving but remaining relevant in the current journalism landscape.

But for many, particularly UK news organisations, it's still a relatively new process and one that occurs far away from the intersection of the editorial and commercial arms of the business.

"Part of the reason why newsrooms are not fully involved in this process is that for hundreds of years, they have had to think about a single product – the printed newspaper," said Aron Pilhofer, executive editor of digital and interim chief digital officer at the Guardian, speaking at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia last week (9 April).

"So when you start thinking about developing new products or new revenue streams, these are not muscles news organisations have particularly flexed," he added.

Pilhofer also underlined the role of a product manager manifests differently in news organisations than it does in technology companies.

"In a newsroom, because of this very necessary division between editorial and commercial, you'll never fully own and control that product, or have the authority to say 'you five journalists, stop what you're doing because we have to develop this new app'.

"In my opinion, a product manager is the connective tissue between those two arms, but there is not enough of it and that has to change very quickly."

During his time as editor of interactive news at The New York Times, Pilhofer worked on a number of initiatives, including the now free NYT Now mobile app and a series of interactive projects covering three editions of the Olympics, both of which brought in a small revenue for the publisher at the time.

In hindsight, the two projects would have performed better in the long run if monetisation hadn't been a "key component" of their development, he explained.

"My definition of a product is something that solves a problem, that addresses a need and sometimes that need is something people would pay for, but sometimes you can find other ways to sustain it.

"Sustainability is a key aspect of a product and sometimes it is about revenue, but other times it's about collaboration in the newsroom," said Pilhofer.

Tom Standage, deputy editor at The Economist, agreed with Pilhofer and said the "Chinese wall" that has been built between editorial and commercial in news organisations makes having the conversation about new products complicated.

"At the moment, the healthiest news organisations are the ones who have the strongest church/state divide," Standage said, "but the stronger that divide is, the harder it is to do product development, so it's actually become a liability."

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Ideas for new products should come from the newsroom, he added, but this is tricky because the people whose support is needed to put them into practice – commercial and technology – don't report directly to journalists.

"You need to have bumblebee people, who are given permission to roam freely on both sides of the Chinese wall and talk to different people," said Standage.

Find more coverage of the International Journalism Festival here, and watch the full session below.

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