November 23, 2015
Photo by WOCinTech Chat/Flickr

Who is the audience that you aren’t reaching? (Photo by WOCinTech Chat/Flickr)

Congratulations! You are in a new, exciting hybrid role that works with different teams to do awesome work. Your elongated title might be Editorial Producer/Developer, Front-End Designer, or Pinterest Engagement Editor. This is becoming more common as newsrooms encourage internal collaboration and build experimentation into their strategy. This work is also really hard and mostly unprecedented, and we’re learning new things every day.

People who work at the intersections in news (social, design, video, product, partnerships) are good fits for this kind of limitless work because we have an aptitude for learning and adapting. After a few months of writing this column, thinking about how editorial and product teams can work together and solving interesting product problems with smart people, I also got a new hyphenated title that took me higher into the intersections of these fields and work with teams to reach our audiences across new platforms. These goals have worked out well in the first two months of figuring out my new role and learning what makes people who work at crossroads in the newsroom successful.

Learn about audience.
Melody Kramer’s column on how people read news who don’t work in news serves as a good reminder to us all: it is not enough to reach across the bridge from the product to editorial side of the newsroom. It is not enough to create user stories for readers and project our own news consumption habits onto them.

Who is the audience that you aren’t reaching? You can learn from them and expand how your team thinks about audience without changing any market demographics or target audience. How do they find out about news stories? Ask friends, acquaintances, relatives. Facebook could be a common answer, or newspapers, or TV programs, or email. It can be easy to lose touch with the outside world, make assumptions and build products for ourselves over time in a self-contained industry that is supposed to reach everyone in some way.

Continually write down the questions you have and ask them in public.
Some questions can only be answered by one person, and that’s fine to ask privately. But the benefits to asking basic and general questions in public are that other people also might not know the answer and there might be multiple answers. When working with multiple teams of specialists, it often helps to play the role of generalist: asking questions like “how does this work?” will encourage anyone to translate their own jargon and acronyms into language and examples that others who will need to understand it can comprehend.

In our code of conduct at Vox, we encourage people to listen as much as they speak, and realize that others have expertise that we don’t. This is why working with so many people with different skillsets is exciting; there is much to learn and setting expectations that it’s okay (and expected) to ask questions will benefit everyone.

Build relationships and get to know everyone.
Starting on a brand new team was an exciting opportunity that quickly came with paralyzing impostor syndrome. At times I forgot about all the relevant experiences I’d been through once I got questions I couldn’t answer but felt like I should be able to, or missed opportunities to show others that I knew my stuff. Admitting these things to others wasn’t always helpful, since in some cases it had been awhile since they’d been challenged in a new position or they weren’t willing to share their own difficult experiences, which is also fair.

Some of the wisest advice on starting a new job came from my closest cohorts at Poynter: you’re going to suck at a new job by your own very high standards for a long time, but building trust and relationships will be more important than feigning competence. Internalizing this helps me to reach out to people to ask questions, let them know what our team does and proactively talk even before we’ll start working together.

Spend time thinking about how your work fits into the bigger strategy.
Five years ago, engagement editors didn’t exist. Now it’s one of the biggest and most wide-reaching roles in the newsroom, working with analytics, stories, products, off-platform engagement strategies and audience. There are now so many platforms to tell stories, including Snapchat, Yik Yak, Kik, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, all depending on the audience you’re trying to reach.

In the next few years, the landscape of audience engagement and storytelling will change a dozen more times and include new platforms and formats to interpret. How do your skills and work fit into that picture? Will you be learning valuable lessons along the way that can apply to the various fields you work in? What is your team’s philosophy and purpose? There will be a lot of questions of what your team does and why, and it’ll be good to know how that work fits into the bigger picture pushing the organization and industry forward.

Acknowledge impostor syndrome and think of your role and work separately.
When I was called upon to take charge of something I was self-conscious of and would overcompensate if I thought too much about, I started to think about the work my team and I had to do instead of my explicit, pressure-filled responsibilities as a leader. I am never the loudest person in the room, often one of the youngest, and far more comfortable speaking in small groups than large meetings. All of these things combined have come off as passive and stereotype-fulfilling in the past. I had to not let myself off the hook from contributing either way and amplify my voice while I was figuring everything out.

When it served me better, I focused on either my work or my role. If I felt my opinion was getting lost or I wasn’t being heard, I would think about my role and the authority it gave me because I had proven I could make decisions like these in the past. “As the product owner” or “based on x, y and z we’ve learned” became phrases in my vocabulary when I was questioned on a decision or asked how I knew something.

Breaking down goals into doable tasks also help, and before long those goals begin to get accomplished. Creating daily to-do lists with outstanding questions or writing full agendas for meetings before they happen has helped me to organize thoughts and remind me that I know what I’m doing. Focusing on the tasks helped me figure out my own style of building consensus, talking through issues with new people, keeping a general view on lots of specialty concerns and working across brand new teams. In any new field there can be a lot of uncertainty, but your team will be there with you, figuring it out along the way.

Elite Truong is the Product Manager of Partner Platforms at Vox Media.

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Elite Truong is on the Vox Products team. She writes monthly about innovation for Poynter.
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