A guest blog by Robin Pembrooke, Managing Director online and on demand at ITV
A little over a year ago we kicked off the design process for our project to re-conceive and launch a brand new ITV News offering online. I'm writing on budget day 2012 and as we speak the product is up and running http://www.itv.com/news/, and being used by journalists around the country as the nation discovers what’s in store for the financial year ahead.
A combined team has delivered the project from Made by Many, ITV and ITN. Before we began there was much discussion internally about how much effort we should be putting into news online. Given the dominance of the BBC in the UK, the massive resources that the newspaper groups throw at it, and the general difficulty that everyone has in making money from online news, why would we bother?
On the left, a shot taken from the Home Page; on the right, the simple drag-and-drop Admin tool that was created for the newsroom.
The reason is that, as a company, ITV is serious about News. It’s a core part of our DNA. As a PSB we have obligations to deliver quality national and regional news, but it runs deeper than that. Our award winning news operation is a core part of ITV’s heritage, the national and regional newsrooms are our connection to communities across Britain, and the news bulletins they make are watched by millions of people a day. This scale and quality was not reflected in the digital space before this week.
A few design principles emerged early in the project. Firstly, we had to innovate. There was little point in trying to copy what the Daily Mail or the BBC was already doing. This was our opportunity to launch something distinctive in the market. In order to find our place with audiences we had to be different and tap into a specific user need.
That meant playing to our core strength; the fantastic breadth of coverage across the UK with over 300 journalists working around the clock in news rooms across the country, together with the London based teams producing the national bulletins.
...we had to innovate. There was little point in trying to copy what the Daily Mail or the BBC was already doing
Taking advantage of our ability to quickly produce huge amounts of exclusive, broadcast quality, video interviews and features were clearly key. We also wanted to create a social product which was able to reflect the conversation on others sites and platforms such as Twitter.
We kicked off with focus groups to understand how people viewed our competitors and us as a news provider, how they consumed their news, and the types of propositions that would interest them.
The research showed that there was a significant proportion of the public who were willing to trust ITV as an online news provider and were looking for a way in which they could quickly keep up to date with breaking stories that mattered to them.
Early design concepts were iterated, reviewed, mocked-up, played with, given to users, and refined until we had some elements of a prototype. It was then that the project really came to life; just a few weeks after kick off, journalists in our news rooms were given basic tools to start creating live storylines about the leading stories of the day, and we started putting real news into working front end experiences.
The process has produced a product that’s designed from the bottom up around the concept of live breaking news from around the country. Users love it, and we think it’s pretty unique as a news experience.
In development we’ve been strict about how we use scrum methodology. Every two weeks there’s been a full and sometimes painfully detailed demo of where the team have got to allow us to refine and improve the design as we go. Most importantly, the end users have come with us all the way. We’ve been running the site behind the scenes in full production mode for over 8 weeks.
At times the project’s worked like a dream, and at other times there’s been a healthy degree of creative process, and technical tension, but where there have been arguments and angst it’s been due to people’s passion for creating a product that we’re all truly proud of.
The project has been as much about organisational change as it has been about solution design and development. Michael Jeremy, Director of ITV News, Current Affairs and Sport, and his team have run a series of national summits with all senior editors and managers in his organisation during the project, and we’ve worked to understand how roles need to adapt to support the new product. The newsroom teams have been fantastically supportive of the project during a time where the changing tools and news creation processes had the potential to disrupt their existing production schedules.
I take my hat off to Julian March, Head of Digital for ITV News and Sport, who has travelled tirelessly around the country evangelising the vision of the project, explaining the product, and building momentum. He spotted the champions for change early on, and has cajoled, encouraged and celebrated as teams got on board. We’re all very proud of what we’ve achieved together with Made by Many, and we’ll continue to review the product across these first weeks and months as the public take it for a spin.