Tech and tools at The Washington Post

From Arc Publishing to streamlining newsroom workflows, here’s what The Washington Post’s Director of Newsroom Product, Greg Barber, is working on.

by Simone Flueckiger | February 20, 2019

Working at the intersection of journalism and tech, Greg Barber, The Post’s Director of Newsroom Product, oversees a team that works within the newsroom to understand needs for tools and workflow improvements and collaborates with internal engineering teams and external vendors.

“We’re solution-finders,” says Barber, who has more than 15 years of experience at The Washington Post under his belt. He first joined in 2003 as one of the founding editors of its free daily newspaper Express. Since then, he has worked as managing editor of the WaPo Labs R&D group and co-founded The Coral Project, initially founded as a collaboration between The Post, the New York Times, and Mozilla.

Barber will be speaking at the World News Media Congress in Glasgow, 1 – 3 June.

WAN-IFRA: What are your three newsroom priority projects?

Greg Barber: We have well more than three priority projects. On the list:

  • Preparing for the 2020 election cycle. I was the director in charge of coordinating our digital election presentation in 2018 — managing development of tables, maps, graphics and special projects to tell the election story from the primaries through Election Day. I’ll be taking on a similar role for 2020, and I’m already excited by the ideas we’re generating.
  • Integrating tools from Arc Publishing. We work closely with our Arc colleagues to onboard their latest tools and to deliver feedback from reporters in the Post newsroom. Collaborations between reporters and engineers yield the best news products.
  • Streamlining newsroom workflow. My team is working on a bunch of improvements from implementing a unified planning system for horizontal departments like photo, video, graphics and design to rolling out new software for the publishing of source documents, legislative data and newsroom hiring.

What is the one you are having the most fun with?

It’s hard to top planning for the election. I grew up in the Washington area, so conversations about U.S. politics were part of my day-to-day social fabric. I developed a healthy interest in government and history, which makes working with industry-leading reporters and technologists a dream job.

The story of election nights is intriguing on its own — who won, how they got there — and finding the best ways to tell that story on a variety of devices using the latest technology is a compelling puzzle. That’s the macro story. The micro story is equally fascinating: what are the motivations and individual decisions that result in support for a candidate or an ideology? Our challenge is to tell both stories at the same time, for an audience that might glance at our work or read it for hours.

Are there any projects that have not worked and you have moved on from? If so, are there any lessons or takeaways you can share?

My projects for The Post tend to be large, multifaceted and experimental, so there are more evolutions than endings.

Some of what I’ve learned along the way:

  • The worst failures are experiments you don’t learn from.
  • Defining success is an important first step for any project, large or small.
  • To manage projects most effectively, communicate clearly and often, and always with an eye toward people’s motivations — your audience’s, your team’s, your supervisors’.
  • There’s often a disconnect between what readers/users want and what they say they want. Always listen, but also watch your analytics.
  • Small, genuine interactions between news organizations and their audience can go a long way toward building mutual trust, respect and loyalty.
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