Building a team where engineers work side by side with journalists

At the intersection of tech, media, and democracy

Building a team where engineers work side by side with journalists

Throughout any newsroom leadership position I’ve held during my career, I always felt that journalism needs more product people. Whether it’s technologists, ex-marketing, salespeople, or journalists who transitioned to product management, the business is changing rapidly, and newsrooms are in desperate need of a team that bridges editorial, UI/UX, and revenue.

In the previous years, most publishers thought that investing in some expensive suite for their newsroom would make the life of their staff more effortless, and it would bring along the digital transformation they needed. Especially in Greece, in any organizational & structural shift, no matter the technology used, the solution was always to hire more journalists to increase content volume, resulting in more ad money. That was the easy part of the decision-making because it was the safest path forward. The traditional business models are simple.

Traffic, ads, revenue

In the last years, when ad revenues dropped drastically, newsrooms asphyxiated financially, and publishers realized they needed to diversify their revenue and focus on producing less content while increasing quality and readers would sustain their online publications. Today, the organizations that managed to innovate around their audience are leading the race in reader revenue. And this is a growing trend that’s here to stay. Even though the shift towards paid subscriptions for news appears to be a pandemic-driven trend, it is here to stay as the overall pot of news subscribers continues to grow. This year the top English-language news publishers reached 28m paying online readers.

Where product meets audience: a revolution has just begun

As business models in the industry change rapidly, the practice of journalism evolves. Because most of this process is happening online, there’s a growing need for more robust product teams and tools that will add up to their stack, tools that will give a much more detailed picture of the journalism’s holy grail: Audience needs.

At Project EPSILON, we stand precisely where “audience” meets “product”, “product” is a relatively new term in the news business, and it’s not only a term but a revolution that’s brewing in newsrooms. Product is the revolution of bringing together editorial, design, tech, and business so your audience can understand your content and help newsrooms become sustainable.

If you want to learn more, I suggest you visit the News Product Alliance website.

This is the revolution we are joining, supporting newsrooms with infrastructure and groundbreaking ideas so they can help their communities stay informed, choose wisely and create a better society for tomorrow.

And there are tons of newsrooms, creators, digital media startups, legacy media who don’t have dedicated teams, and they need us.
Journalism isn’t a product; after all, it’s a service. And that’s what we will be doing — innovating so journalists can tell better stories.

We do journalism innovation

What we aspire to build, primarily, isn’t a technology or a media startup. We are building a team that will work at the intersection of technology, media, and democracy. For the coming two years, we will focus purely on how we can help newsrooms understand the needs of the communities they serve. The problem we‘re trying to solve is how newsrooms can “listen” better to the needs of their communities. Because if they listen more meticulously, they’ll respond accordingly, and growth won’t be a problem.

This need will shape the future of content creation on the web after the transformation of big tech as we know it. And the transformation of big tech is happening as we speak. Until today, publishers treated “audience” as an anonymous mass just because they weren’t their clients, and advertisers were. Due to politics (Trump — mistrust), big tech (Facebook — ad revenues), there is a structural problem in the traditional business models of the media industry, so they have to be disrupted. That’s why more and more newsrooms prioritize audience engagement. And in a few years, this will be the new norm.

In the years to come, journalism innovation will be needed more than ever because the net will be offering multiple ways to monetize, and people will need more information they can relate to.

The information economy is growing in a way we can’t imagine, and tech is growing, enabling us with countless opportunities such as Web3 and AI.

We have deep faith in technology, but we don’t believe in technology as the heavenly kingdom where all of our problems as humanity will just vanish. We see it as the means to create a better world. We believe in knowledge, cognition, method, creativity, discourse, responsibility, collaboration, accountability, and FUN.

What we don’t have and why you should join

Just to be clear, we are not building a newsroom or anything like that, and we won’t be producing content. We will be delivering technology and methodologies that enable people who create content online to “listen” to their readers. It’s not analytics or a feedback platform; it’s an engagement solution.

So far, we have pretty much our entrepreneurial drive and a passion for helping newsrooms grow in any way, shape, or form. We are backed by great investors such as Starttech, one of the very few venture studios in Europe, and also we have the European Innovation and Technology Institute on board.

We haven’t written a single line of code so far. We’ve mostly spent our time verifying what kind of problems local newsrooms in the U.S. face when engaging with their communities. We’ve been prototyping on Figma, and envisioning how to plant the seeds for a company culture that will make change.

What we have is a community of like-minded people in Athens, Europe, and the U.S. They are journalists, community organizers, consultants, editors, product people. Our vision is to have engineers working together with this community, building tools that reflect their needs. And we’d love to hear from you if you see yourself in this space.

My co-founder Spyros wrote in this Medium post about how he perceives local news. What I’d add is that we come from Greece, so we can totally relate to news deserts and local news. After a decade of constant crisis that turned from a financial crisis to mostly a cultural one, the Greek media landscape has turned practically into a news desert, and this is hurting our democracy. Part of our mission is to fix this.

Do you really know what your audience wants?

Four publications showed Dataharvest 2022 how they do it. The title of this blog post was the title of a session Qurio co-founder Tassos Morfis led during this year’s Dataharvest European Investigative Journalism Conference. But first a few things about the conference.