Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Category: Factal

What happens when a journalist goes to product

Even unexpected career changes can be fun!

When I lost my job at The Compass Experiment in March of last year, I will admit I was a bit lost.  I hadn’t really planned what was going to come next. I already had my dream job! I was at a bit of a “now, what?” point. 

For several months, I worked independently on a full-time basis, picking up a variety of rewarding projects ranging from freelance story editing to news production, product research and competitive analyses for a variety of companies and products. I worked on some very cool projects and teams, but I will admit I missed really being part of a team, not just a frequent guest star. 

At the time, one of my many side projects was serving on the advisory board for Factal, a breaking news platform serving some of the world’s largest companies and NGOs. I had been a fan of Cory Bergman and the team’s work since their Breaking News days and was eager to do what I could to help them grow their business. It helped I had a little bit of experience in running a social media news-gathering business from my time at Storyful, so their mission was near and dear to my heart. 

Repping the team

I was a bit taken aback when Cory suggested I consider applying to be Factal’s first Head of Product, I didn’t think I had the right experience. I quickly discovered the work that the job required was all stuff I’d done before in one way or another in my journalism life.

Talking with users (directly or via the conversations of Factal’s talented member success team) was an old hat to me as a local news GM.

My job required me to pore over event reviews and feedback from readers, members and funders of all sorts to figure out the next steps. Prioritizing which new features we’d want to build into future editions of our various apps and platforms was also familiar.

Any manager with limited resources has to learn how to sort the needs of audiences, staff and sponsors/advertisers into “must-haves” and “would be nice somedays” – and walk the fine line of explaining those choices to the stakeholders.

Since I started in August, I’ve been learning so much from the team, who are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met.

I would have thought my years of customer service in retail, fast food and newsrooms taught me how to get good feedback and insights from customers. But no! Sitting in on meetings between Factal’s member success team and clients (or prospective clients) was a master class in drawing out and shaping feedback into actionable proposals and tasks for the product team to take on.

I remind myself daily to try to avoid feeling the biggest dummy in the room when working with Factal’s developer team, who do all of the actual hard work in making our products work.

I have to sometimes remind myself to keep out of the news team’s Slack exchanges, as their work is what is most familiar to me. I tell myself, “You have a different job now, they’re doing fine!”

(More than fine, actually)

The part of me that loves organizing information is reveling in learning to use ProductBoard. This is where we distill all of the incoming information into actionable steps for improving our product and business.

My husband and many former colleagues can tell you how much I love to make lists of upcoming priorities to check off. Now I can finally put that habit to good use in setting out the order of the next tasks the developers need to complete to continue keeping staff and clients happy. 

I’m also learning so much from Factal’s founding team of Cory, Charlie Tillinghast and Ben Tesch. They each bring so much to the table in terms of experience and vision.

I’ll admit that some days I really miss working on the news. I’m thankful to feel like I’m growing my skills and still making vital news and information available to those who need it. 

These last few months, I have been talking with my friends who work in product development – especially those with similar backgrounds – to learn how they made the transition. I want to learn how they structure their teams, plan future projects and schedule their time. If you have insights or tips of your own to share, please let me know in the comments, via social media or the contact form. I’m all ears!

The future is more remote work

My lovely workspace and view (Photo/Mandy Jenkins)

I’m calling it now: Working from home is here to stay.

I suppose it is my experience in working remotely that leads many of my friends and former colleagues to ask me for advice on how they should adapt to that WFH life. They were forced into it by a pandemic — but I chose it.

In the pandemic, we all had to find a way to work effectively outside the office. Now I suspect many will be lobbying to keep working from home, even for just a few days a week.

The Nieman Lab published my prediction for the future of journalism in 2022 and it is a shocker: I surmised the future of journalism is going to remain remote.

To help others who are still transitioning into this life, I shared my lessons learned and tips for working from home more effectively, so go check them out there.

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