Jessica Lessin founded The Information, a subscription technology business publication, last year, after spending years in a traditional newsroom (at The Wall Street Journal, specifically). We sat down with her to ‘talk shop’ about her profession, her publication, and how technologies like Asana help give her team a competitive advantage.
Pen, paper, Asana, and a new type of journalism
Traditional newsrooms are an exchange of words. — Jessica Lessin, founder, The Information
Tell us a little about The Information: your team and your workflow.
We are very much a startup: we have an of engineering lead, a lean team (see some of the team in the photo), and a few tools that we rely on to get our work done, primarily: Asana, Google Docs, and good old pen and paper (we are journalists, after all).
Asana is really useful in helping us connect the dots to uncover story opportunities: everyone enters leads and details into Asana, and we can search by any keyword to see trends, patterns, and connections.
When you’re at a startup, it doesn’t matter whose idea it was; that’s a shift from traditional journalism, and one we’ve really embraced at The Information. Our goal is to provide really useful, in-depth, and timely information to our subscribers. Asana is a great complement to this way of thinking: everything is transparent and collaborative. In turn, we’re able to write better stories for our readers because we share information in a way that’s unlike the traditional newsroom approach.
What are you doing differently at The Information?
We try to focus on pain points we’ve all experienced over the course of our lives as journalists and really address those at The Information.
Historically, in journalism, lots of ideas and tips get lost in notebooks. We use Asana to make sure that doesn’t happen and to surface, share, remember, and then write them.
What are some of the ways you use technology, and more specifically, Asana?
Our stories are still written primarily in Google Docs, and the way they’re written really depends on the writer. Some writers prefer to work off of one long document, others create separate docs for each company they’re covering.
Asana started out as a personal organization tool for me, and has turned into so much more. Now, it’s the backbone of our company: it’s a collaborative workspace, knowledge base, bug-tracking tool, and business solution.
A few ways we use Asana include:
Everyone on the team is empowered to share information. We put things we’ve heard and might report on in Asana because you never know when one will turn into a story. Sometimes, stories can take weeks and months to develop — the only way to build on them is to keep collecting information. One of the main selling points of Asana is the serendipity of being able to execute a story based on connections you discover on the content side.
Turning ideas into stories
We tag anything that’s news-worthy as ‘News’ and add reporters as followers. That’s when the chase starts. I’ll often come out of a team meeting in which we’ve talked about six or more topics. Historically, my notes would be in my notebook, and a few weeks later, we wouldn’t be able to recall where an idea came from. Now, all these topics are in Asana. You can search Asana and connect the dots.
News scheduling ‘Sked’ project
In some ways, we still operate like a traditional publication. We have a ‘Sked’ project that dictates our news schedule. In that project, we have Sections for every day of the week: Monday for stories due on Tuesday, Tuesday for stories due on Wednesday, etc.! We schedule content in two-week blocks and drag stories around under each reporter’s name, where they belong.
Since we’re such a small team, we don’t have numerous, sizeable departments working on website updates, finance, and the like. Asana is flexible enough to be used not only for news, but anything from accounting to bug fixes. Staying lean with regards to our tools lets us streamline our processes and pitch in wherever we can. Some common projects we use are ‘Countdown’ and ‘Waiting Room’; both are for bug tracking and we tend to move tasks from one to the other as they move down the production line.
I divide my brain between reporting time and business time: Asana lets me do both. — Jessica Lessin, founder, The Information
Asana aligns really well with our business: the stories we publish are better with teamwork —there are more points of view, gut checks against facts, and an efficiency that’s unmatched. We make passive hours into productive ones: having an idea and contributing it to your team is huge. With Asana, you can do that from anywhere, and immediately take action on it —no longer do these things just hang out in your email.
On business and news trends
What are some interesting trends in the news you’ve been able to break and follow?
From our perspective, we’ve seen a number of interesting trends in the news:
- Enterprise is definitely being positioned as more exciting and cutting edge — we’re seeing a lot of stories around that.
- People are curious about early-stage funding, how people build companies, and the implications of increased productivity.
- There’s a trend toward the unbundling of apps, and a curiosity about the Asian market (it’s huge!).
These are the trends you will likely continue to see us covering.