Joey Marburger, Head of Product, The Washington Post

The Society for News Design is excited to announce that Joey Marburger is joining our lineup of speakers for the SND Charlotte workshop on April 19-21 in Charlotte, N.C.

Marburger was labeled as The Post’s punk rock star by Digiday for the work he’s accomplished as Director of Product. Marburger has been at The Post for more than six years, moving from Mobile Design Director to Director of Digital Products and Design to his current role. He has also worked at Gannett and the Indianapolis Star.

SND.org’s Chloe Meister chatted with Marburger about being a product designer, The Post’s digital revolution and what’s ahead for DC’s flagship media organization.

PRODUCT DESIGNERS ARE RELATIVELY NEW POSITIONS IN NEWSROOMS. TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR PATH TO BECOMING THE DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND WHAT YOUR ROLE IS IN THE NEWSROOM. Product kind of grew naturally within The Post. When I first took over the digital design department, I looked around the newsroom and realized design was really shifting. The graphics and news design teams were taking on what digital design had predominantly done. The terms user experience and user interface were tossed around a lot, and I thought we needed to formalize that. I proposed that we should focus on digital products more from a user perspective and that visual design was now only one piece of how we told stories digitally. Then Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post and almost immediately asked about “product,” and three years later here I am.

My team is a mix of product managers, product designers and engineers. Each product manager oversees a portfolio of products from audio to distributed platforms, like Facebook Instant Articles to apps to story innovation. My job and my team is focused on our readers: How to reach current and new readers and make sure our journalism is the best experience possible for that reader.

Product is the intersection of engineering, news and design. My job is to make sure we are rowing in the right direction that makes sense for our readers and The Post.

HOW HAS THE CULTURE CHANGED INSIDE THE NEWSROOM AS THE POST HAS GONE THROUGH THIS DIGITAL REVOLUTION? We were pretty digital before Bezos acquired The Post. We just had a much longer timeline I think. Jeff was encouraging us to go, go, go. Also our editor, Marty Baron, and my boss and our CIO/CPO, Shailesh Prakash, were already setting up our digital path forward. What I like to say a lot is that our culture moved to an even more “there’s nothing we can’t do” attitude. We also hired more than a hundred digital-savvy journalists. That definitely helps change culture. But hiring a bunch of people doesn’t equal success if you don’t have a clear mission.

Bezos has a quote I truly believe in. He said, “I strongly believe that missionaries make better products. They care more.” Journalists are natural missionaries.

WHAT STILL NEEDS TO CHANGE IN THE POST NEWSROOM TO PUSH THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION FURTHER? I’m sure there are a lot of small changes we could tackle but I think change is always happening. We have to not only adapt to it but be ahead of it. The Product Team focuses not only on our huge digital distribution through the site but also on smaller platforms. And when you add up a lot of small growth, it’s suddenly big growth.

There’s already a good momentum of adoption throughout the newsroom digitally. I was one of the few people talking about audio — not podcasts — at the beginning of 2016. Now we are diving into that even more this year.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO DESIGNERS WHO WANT TO FOCUS MORE ON BEING A PRODUCT DESIGNER? Learn how to conduct research. Definitely learn a little bit about coding. You don’t necessarily need to be a full-stack engineer. However, I remember back to my print design days and I had to learn how the press worked. Also, ask tons of questions. Be the little kid that always asks, “Why?”

WHAT’S AHEAD FOR THE WASHINGTON POST? WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON THAT YOU’RE MOST EXCITED ABOUT? We have so much exciting work happening at The Post right now. My head is usually stuck somewhere between now and 2050. First, we are focused on making sure our journalism reaches more and more readers, nationally and internationally. As far as most exciting, I would say I’m really interested in augmented and mixed reality storytelling this year. It’s probably a few years from truly mass market but to me it feels like a whole new storytelling medium we can have fun with. And it’s really hard. Design is all about solving tough problems though and making the complex simple.

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About SND Charlotte

• Don’t miss your chance to UNITE & REBEL, register today: Register
• Book your hotel room (before they run out!): Use the SND discount link
• Check out the lineup of speakers we’ve announced for the workshop. What a team!
• Don’t miss the Think Before You Make pre-conference day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center