How 6 big publishers think about their technology staffs
Many media companies fancy themselves tech companies these days, a recognition that modern publishing is more than just producing a story or a video; it’s about getting them distributed as widely as possible.
“We are at the intersection of journalism and engineering,” said Jed Hartman, CRO of The Washington Post. “Being a great journalist isn’t good enough if you don’t have the engineering to make sure your product is strong enough across all platforms, and that is facilitated by engineering.”
Along with creating home-grown CMSs, publishers often boast about their engineering prowess. Here’s a look at how many technology employees the Post and five other publishers actually have, in order from most to least.
The consumer magazine publisher has more than 1,000 full-time technologists of a worldwide workforce of about 7,300. Under CTO Colin Bodell, they break down into three groups: There’s a tech team that supports corporate applications and has groups dedicated to big data, ad systems and e-commerce. A product engineering team takes care of editorial tools and products that the audience uses, like websites and mobile apps. Finally, there are brand-specific engineering staffers that work on the company’s individual titles.
The publisher and broadcaster has around 800 full-time engineers, product and digital leads, out of a headcount of 20,000 worldwide. While the number has been fairly constant, the makeup has changed. Commodity-type work has been outsourced so employees can focus on specialized products like building the company’s common publishing platform. Another big change is the growth of hybrid roles — editors with a degree of coding abilities. “That’s a good result; the most productive products are going to come from those teams who are cross-disciplinary,” CTO Phil Wiser said. “From a content-creation standpoint, the content creators need to utilize much more data and technology to reach their audience.”
The Washington Post
The Post employs 250 in product, design and engineering, representing about 14 percent of the workforce. About 40 of them were added in the past couple years under the paper’s Jeff Bezos ownership. Although all report to a tech lead, most of the recent hires are embedded in the newsroom, creating story templates and publishing tools. “The Web has changed very dramatically, and we need to build very sophisticated Web products that work in that ecosystem,” said Greg Franczyk, chief architect on the engineering team. “It’s not enough to produce a story and push it out and hope people read it.”
The British media company has about 140 full-time product managers, engineers, data analysts and UX experts, said Tanya Cordrey, chief digital officer at Guardian News & Media. Comprising about 8 percent of the paper’s staff, they range from newly graduated developers to experienced professionals who have come from other news outlets such as the BBC and The New York Times; technology companies such as Google, Skype and Amazon; and agencies. Cross-functional teams focus on individual areas such as theguardian.com, Guardian Apps, editorial tools and Guardian Membership.
The Huffington Post
The Huff Post has become one of the top U.S. news sites on a data-driven obsession with programming the news, but it doesn’t mean the site has a slavish devotion to just hiring computer scientists. The digital publisher has about 100 full-time product, engineering and design employees, representing about 12 percent of the company, but Sam Napolitano, the vp of engineering, has an art degree and said he’s more interested in how people will fit in at the company than their coding credentials. He credits the fluid working relationship between engineering, tech and editorial with helping give rise to products like a forthcoming blogger app, code-named Donatello. “It’s so important for edit and tech and product to work very closely together,” he said. “So many of our products have come out this way.”
The business site has 40 tech and product people of a total staff of 340. Thirty-three work on design, user experience and development, and the rest focus on the site’s functionality for end users. Engineering is considered, with edit and sales, part of the three-legged stool that holds up the company, so BI looks for engineers that care about its news mission. “If you don’t get a little excited about seeing your code in widespread use … maybe BI isn’t the right place for you,” said Julie Hansen, BI’s president and COO.
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