It’s about products, not vanities

Vanity is occasionally peculiar to us media people. How much, I experienced twice last year. First, after seven years, I quit my job as editor-in-chief. Then I got married and changed my name. Ottlitz statt Plöchinger: “How can you? You are a brand! “- I have not counted how many times I have heard this question, which is more of an astonished Hoppala. And product chief instead of editor-in-chief: “What should that be? Why do you give up a dream job? “This was usually sincerely questioning, but finding an answer that is understood took longer than the name. And that reveals more about our industry than just vanity tendencies.

Product: For traditionalists among journalists this is a foreign word. I understand you. It scares them just as much as “content” or, worse, “content” because they prefer to say “texts” or “posts” in good German. Product, that sounds like mass production, at best manufactory, in the worst case Fordism. A car or whisk is a product. An apple not so much, more of a food, in the sense of means of life. And not journalism – he is passionate. I share the attitude, on the one hand. On the other hand, the technology industry is, on the other hand, as foreign to this point of view as, say, to the motorist the coachman’s whip. Anyone who knows no product management in IT companies does not know the basic principles. Now journalism is being driven by technology, and our basic understanding of these issues is changing.


This text is taken from the current issue of LEAD 04/18. Available now in the kiosk or order online here.

Information industry works differently

Who in our industry for the “product” in the job title decides, whether -chef, -manager, -entwickler or-thinking-you-what-off (there is a certain demarcation confusion), often reflects longer about what he actually wants to produce. This reflection aims in the middle of the vague, in the curiosity, the confusion, how journalism is to secure the future in the digital world. Anyone who manages a product line at a car manufacturer, takes care of modern design, good people and machines, cheap manufacturing, and then the customer may decide! The information industry works differently. We can design the most beautiful apps and great sites – without nice texts and posts they are useless.

Our products are only good for the content. Conversely, the most beautiful content pops when the vessels – the products in the strict sense – are bad. “Product” is more with us, namely always: vessel plus content.

We, journalists and publishers, are now moving through this field of tension together. We explore new ways to economic independence without endangering journalistic independence. At the same time, we have to rethink journalistic and business models. We do: product development. Because this takes place in the middle between the journalistic and the economic of the media houses – why we should work differently with each other. This makes the term product not only a field of tension, but exciting; so I always explain my motivation.

Talk about what you learn

The products that brought the classic print industry to life, newspapers and magazines, but also the news sites that emerged in the 1990s, are in the mature stages of their life cycle, as they say. Unhappily, without professional development, their revenue models die faster, sometimes slower. With print that is quasi-discussed, but also with on-line the advertising business challenges us so that products must change strongly – in the future also readers like to pay there.

An Anglo-Saxon colleague told me that product development in the media is best served by two simple principles. First, always think strategically, business, journalistic and pragmatic at the same time – only when you combine that, you can be successful. And zeros: Always think of the users. They ask. Listen to. Learn. And talk about what you learn.

When we introduced the new subscription model Spiegel +, we published all figures and insights on our devblog. As a result, colleagues from other houses have reported that today are less competitors than companions and have shared their experiences. Transparency is perhaps a third guiding principle: anyone who understands product development as an open process learns faster from and with others how to survive digital disruption.

What do we have to lose? Maybe a little vanity. That has not hurt anyone yet.

Stefan Ottlitz is one of the most prominent minds in German digital journalism. The former DJS student now heads the product development department of Hamburger Spiegel-Verlag. From 2010 to 2017, Ottlitz was editor-in-chief of Sü, since 2014 also a member of the editorial board of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. There, the 42-year-old was responsible for the digital projects. During this time, the paid content model of was also launched.

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