Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

Wanted: The Spectator is looking for a product owner

This new role will define our magazine in the digital age

Every successful publication has one thing in common: a brilliant tech person working hand-in-glove with editors. We’re looking to hire such a person. This is one of the most important vacancies we have ever advertised.

We’re calling this role a ‘product owner’ but the job is something bigger: in effect, a digital editor who is able to help us shape our apps and website so they look as good as the magazine. The quality of a digital publication’s product is now as important as its journalism – so The Spectator’s future success depends on us getting this appointment right.

We are again living in an era where the right tech person can transform the audience and prospects for the best writing

When people subscribe to a publication now, most download the app and almost all will log onto the website. Publications live or die by whether the app or website is of any use. Does the app or website ask you to log on every single time? Are they easy to navigate? Do they match the ever-improving standards of other publications’ digital offerings? We’re launching a new app soon, but we then want to then embark on a process of continuous improvement. We need someone with imagination who can think about what’s feasible and what’s possible. Someone who knows enough about the tech world to help us avoid the traps that ensnare so many publications.

We’re not looking for a coder or software developer, but someone who can work with such people to get the results we need. You will not need technical skills (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt), but you’ll need to be aware of technical processes; i.e. when someone asks you for a change, you should instinctively know how big a change it will be and have a feel for what has to be done. We’re looking for someone who will…

  • Realise that small things (like ease of subscription process) are worth spending ages on. We are, after all, a subscriptions-based company.
  • Realise that an app that doesn’t open or a website that doesn’t load properly is as bad as a magazine that has its pages stuck together.
  • Enjoy working in an office (22 Old Queen Street is gorgeous and we rely on teamwork: people who like to WFH need not apply).
  • Recognise that the first few screens that a new user sees are as important as a magazine’s cover.
  • Work with our subscriptions team for ever-greater improvements on the meter journey (‘you’ve read two free articles, now please sign up’).
  • Work with our data team to make sure we use the right metrics in the right way.
  • Who is able to manage and improve all that we offer, from our Kindle edition to the way the website loads an ageing Android tablet. It’s vital to avoid thinking that all our readers are using the most up-to-date iPhone or Mac on the market. 
  • Someone who recognises that just as articles are written in ways that are designed to engage, interest and illuminate, the medium by which we share them should do the same.

You’ll be working two or three days a week with the senior editorial team – indeed, you’ll be regarded as a key member of that team. But you’ll also be working with the digital department (we will soon be using two external agencies for our new WordPress website and PugPig app) as well as the marketing team. You’ll be a bridge between all three.

Getting this appointment right will be crucial for us. As a newspaper editor put to me recently, a publication’s ‘tech person’ is like George Martin to The Beatles. Someone who can make even the greatest raw material twice as good by recognising the means and methods by which people enjoy it. The right person can be transformative. For this reason, we’ll be headhunting as well as taking job applications. If you know anyone we should be tapping up, please email me to say who and why (you can guess my email address).

David Butterfield, a Cambridge don and historian of our magazine, recently dropped off a first edition bound omnibus of The Spectator he found at auction. It’s beautiful. I gave a copy as a wedding present to Lara Prendergast, our executive editor. The original Spectator was a daily op-ed published on a single sheet of paper – made possible by Sam Buckley, who had the tech to print and distribute it every day (those applying for the job might like to read up on our history). When the series folded after 550 issues, he bought the copyright (then a novel idea) and published all the essays as an eight-volume set. The Spectator of 1711–12 was a print phenomenon for the next two centuries. Such was its ubiquity in educated households that it’s said to have shaped the English language more than anything other than Shakespeare. Benjamin Franklin taught himself how to write properly by copying out pages from The Spectator.

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Today, Buckley would be called a ‘product owner’. We are again living in an era where the right tech person can transform the audience and prospects for the best writing. The Spectator has almost doubled its sales in a market that, in recent years, has crashed by two-thirds. Given the state of English-language journalism, we have navigated things pretty well so far. But we need someone else to work with our editorial, tech and subscriptions teams to help write the next chapter in our magazine’s proud history. Apply here.


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