Telegraph staff to work on web products in new lab

Journalists at Telegraph Media Group are to work with technical and commercial staff on short-term projects in a new innovation unit set to open at the newspaper this weekend.

Telegraph Labs, a new glass-enclosed office space within The Telegraph’s Victoria offices, which will serve as a hub for teams of around eight to 10 staff from across the company, will be tasked with rapidly developing new, commercially-viable online products.

‘It’s meant as a space where we take people on four to six-week cycles, take them out of their day jobs and get them to focus on a specific thing, and get them to rapidly create something that we can put out there very quickly,’Telegraph chief information officer Paul Cheesbrough told Press Gazette.

‘The whole concept is that nobody stays in there, so there’s no fixed person working in the lab – we’re trying to move as many people as possible through to bring some of its culture back out onto the floor.”

Telegraph Labs’ computer network will be separate from the main Telegraph infrastructure to prevent it being restricted by the security limitations on the main network. It will develop new products based on a long-term roadmap that will be reviewed every fortnight in a meeting open to anyone in the company interested in proposing a new idea.

One early project is likely to be the development of a mobile version of Telegraph.co.uk.

Cheesbrough said the ultimate aim of the lab is to produce new products at a rate of about one per month, but he acknowledges that failures will be part of the process.

‘It is a safe place for people to work on things that might be high-risk and might be subject to failure, but that’s alright as along as we learn things out of it,’he said.

‘That mindset isn’t that common within the traditional culture of most newspaper companies.”

A major aim of the project is to break down the traditional corporate divide between technology and editorial departments.

‘The phrase ‘IT department’ is something I’ve tried to ban since being here,’said Cheesbrough, who joined The Telegraph from the BBC last autumn.

‘For most of these types of organisations – and The Telegraph is not unique in this – technology has been treated as IT. It’s stuff that nobody is really interested in unless it goes wrong and it’s certainly very divorced from the creative, journalistic mindset, but more importantly from the mindset of our customers and consumers.

‘The last thing a company like this one can afford is a technology team that is totally disconnected from the core of their business – but you find them everywhere.’

Cheesbrough has been hiring additional technology staff including some who previously worked as journalists:’The holy grail is someone who’s good at technology, who is good at journalism and who knows how to make the money.”

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