Mentor Network helps Damon Kiesow bring Missouri Method of hands-on learning to emerging product thinkers in journalism

Damon Kiesow

By Austin Fitzgerald

COLUMBIA, Mo. (Jan. 24, 2023) — Damon Kiesow, the Knight Chair in Digital Editing and Producing at the Missouri School of Journalism, is offering his expertise in service of the industry as a mentor in the News Product Alliance’s (NPA) Mentor Network.

As a co-founder of the NPA and one of the network’s 50 mentors, who hail from numerous industries related to technology and journalism, Kiesow is helping three “emerging product thinkers” in journalism-related fields build skills that support ethical and sustainable digital media businesses.

“This program is a great opportunity to fuel innovation in the industry by letting professionals experience good product work firsthand and take that knowledge back to their newsrooms,” said Randy Picht, executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the School of Journalism. “Damon and his fellow mentors are showing future product leaders what is possible, and that’s the first step toward effecting real change.”

Kiesow started meeting individually with his mentees in October, when they began planning a project that implements principles of good product management in a practical fashion — an approach that dovetails neatly with the School of Journalism’s Missouri Method of hands-on education. The program will run until April 2023 and prioritizes people with what Samanta Leguizamón, program manager for the NPA, calls “impact potential.”

“The entrepreneurial and business sides of news organizations have been undervalued. We are creating a path that honors the industry’s focus on community and truth-seeking while being more attuned to the health of the business.”

Damon Kiesow

“When deciding on participants…we looked for people with a mix of experience and attitude that could make a difference and push their organization towards a more product-centric mindset,” Leguizamón said. “It’s a way of solving problems by shifting the focus to the audience’s needs, allowing different stakeholders within the organization to pursue the same goal.”

For Kiesow, the program — which is supported by the Google News Initiative — is an opportunity to help change the status quo when it comes to talking about the economic aspects of running a newsroom.

“The entrepreneurial and business sides of news organizations have been undervalued,” Kiesow said. “We are creating a path that honors the industry’s focus on community and truth-seeking while being more attuned to the health of the business.”

The concept of product management and its associated best practices are longstanding features of the tech industry, an important kinship given journalism’s increasing use of technological innovation to adapt to an ever-changing news market. Journalists have been doing this work for years without realizing it had a name, according to Kiesow. But he pointed out that there are key differences between the tech and journalism that require the news industry to develop its own standardized take on product work.

“Facebook and a news organization have different goals,” he said. “We aren’t here just to optimize profit. As a discipline, we’re still trying to figure out how to balance the mission of public good with business needs.”

That is where the Mentor Network comes in — Kiesow hopes the 150 people who will receive training from mentors like him through April will pay the experience forward, not only improving their own organizations but modeling the practice of effective product management for others in the industry, helping industry standards solidify over time.

The program is the latest effort to promote news product strategy in the industry from the NPA, which launched in 2020 with the support of the School of Journalism and RJI. To learn more, click here.

Updated: February 23, 2023

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