The Evolution of Media Company CMS Platforms: Newspaper CMS Selection

Proprietary content management systems have long dominated media outlets, which have recently seen consolidation. What drives their CMS decisions?

Last week in this series on media-focused CMS platforms, we discussed how proprietary CMS systems have long dominated the newspaper industry, and then touched on the more recent trend towards consolidation. Today, we dive deeper into that industry and what drives newspapers to make CMS decisions the way they do.

It’s common practice in the current market to see newspapers with two different CMS solutions, which begs the question, do newspapers actually need two separate systems? The answer: For now, yes.

Regardless of which newspaper CMS is dominant, it turns out that what we see often with newspaper clients are two CMS systems, one for digital and one for print.

While there are newspapers with two different CMS systems to manage print and digital, sometimes there’s a reason beyond the lack of CMSs that can handle both. It’s really an HR issue. Keep in mind some newspaper companies retain a separate newspaper “editorial” staff that’s for the daily print edition and a separate “digital” staff for their digital properties.

Media industry watcher Digiday released a few articles over the past year regarding integrating newsroom’s separate digital and print staff. In “The case for, and against, integrated print-digital newsrooms,” The New York Daily News explains how it integrated its digital and print newsroom staff in 2011, primarily to increase the volume of content production.

The New York Daily News uses Atex’s dm.Polopoly as a CMS, with content being rendered to the desktop web via Backbone.js javascript framework. Meanwhile, The Daily Mail maintains a newspaper distributed in the UK that is completely separate from its sister digital property that is now a global success with 47 million unique visitors. The Daily Mail tells Digiday that the site is such a success because it stands alone from the newspaper and does not compete on content development. While The Daily Mail’s digital properties are powered by a custom built CMS, the newspaper utilizes CCI Newsgate for its print CMS.

The UK newspaper The Independent used CCI Newsgate’s Escenic as a CMS to manage digital content production, while leveraging Atex’s newspaper CMS solution, DM.Print, for print newspaper content production. In 2015, The Independent UK moved to Drupal for digital production for its two titles ‘The Independent’ and the ‘London Evening Standard,’ but the publisher retains Atex’s solution for newspaper production. The Independent is an example of how a newspaper can change CMS solutions that manage its digital content, while retaining another CMS for print.

**UPDATE: Shortly after publishing this post however, The Independent announced it would become the first UK national newspaper to go all digital, ceasing its daily print operations.**

Multi-Channel Publishing and moving towards a single CMS of Record

It is possible to maintain a single CMS for content production, editing, and distribution of content for both a digital and print? As newspapers integrate their digital and print newsrooms, and print circulation continues to shrink, the desire to move to a single CMS of record to handle multi-channel publishing is growing. How newspapers address multi-channel publishing is still tricky and is causing quite a bit of technology development in the industry.

One of the more widely adopted approaches is bi-directional publishing, and we see this approach being adopted by print publishers who use Drupal. All of the content production and editing is done within the Drupal CMS. When an article and its associated images are ready to be sent to a print layout system, APIs send the content to a print design system such as K4 or Adobe InDesign; this is the first direction the content goes. These print design systems prepare the content to properly fit the layout of the newspaper, which means in many cases, the articles need to be truncated to fit alongside other print articles and display advertisements on the page. Once the new version of the article for print has been made in the design system, an API call pulls the print version back into the main CMS and stores it there alongside the digital version. This is known as “bi-directional publishing” for newspapers.

A leader in integrating Drupal with these print layout systems is the technology agency DPCI, and you can read about their work integrating Drupal with various print design systems like Adobe InDesign, K4, Digital Flywheel. The Vineyard Gazette newspaper and it’s development agency successfully put Drupal at the heart of it’s bi-directional publishing plan, where all editors work in the digital CMS and then content is sent onwards to print systems. Switzerland’s Le Temps, a newspaper brand owned by European media publisher Ringier, is one of the first newspapers to replatform from a proprietary CMS to the most current version of Drupal -- Drupal 8. In fact they are using a customized version of Drupal 8 that’s specific for newspaper brands, called NP8. Since Le Temps still has the print newspaper daily, their development agency Wunderkraut made sure LeTemps’ drupal CMS NP8 would integrate with their news print system, Digital Collections, bidirectionally.

Digital First and Central CMS Solutions for Newspapers - Custom Development

Other major newspaper titles are trying to make this transformation, where the digital CMS will be the center for producing, editing, and distributing content to all channels. The two major U.S. titles leading here are The New York Times and The Washington Post with their custom solutions -- Scoop and Arc, respectively -- but with very different approaches.

The New York Times also seeks to have a single CMS of record. Moving away from Oracle’s Fatwire CMS starting around 2008, the New York Times has now built a CMS solution called Scoop. The goal of Scoop, according to the Times, is to act as “a system for managing content and publishing data so that other applications can render the content across our platforms.” I would also call such a system a decoupled CMS.

Javascript frameworks render content from Scoop CMS to the New York Times’ digital properties, like According to FastCo Labs, “Backbone.js and RequireJS are used for structure, as well as web development standbys like jQuery, Modernizr, Underscore.js, Hammer.js, and SockJS.” Content is also sent from editors using Scoop CMS to their newsprint system CCI Newsgate to deliver the daily print edition. This is a reverse of workflow in terms of how the New York Times used to leverage Scoop and CCI. Previous to 2015, all editing was done in CCI and then sent to Scoop to deliver content to the web.

The Washington Post’s approach to having a digital-first CMS is a bit different from the New York Times’ approach. The Post does not call it’s custom CMS, Arc, a CMS, but instead a “suite of tools.”

The Washington Post’s Arc suite integrates with other CMS systems that the Post uses, like Wordpress, which manages 70% of its content production. The newsprint CMS, Methode, is delivering content to the Post site as well. According to technology analysis tool Wappalyzer, The is the fifth largest digital property using Methode today.

The main tools that Arc offers include PageBuilder, which allows editors to easily build digital front end experiences for the content they produce, or WebSked, which is a newsroom collaboration tool. These applications still don’t leverage existing open source CMS solutions, and require custom technology development using Scala programming language at the core. Regardless, it seems like with Arc, The Washington Post will still be wed to the use of other CMS solutions like Methode and Wordpress.

Sharing or Selling CMS Tools for Publishers?

The Washington Post, like other media companies who have built custom CMSs in the past, plans to offer the Arc suite to other publishers. Newspaper Willamette Week recently became the first Washington Post Arc customer.

The Washington Post was bought by Jeff Bezos in 2013 for $250 million, and the technology team there believes it is a benefit to have the leader of technology giant Amazon behind the company. In a Washington Post corporate blog, Shailesh Prakash, VP of Technology for the company, was asked why the publisher is “looking to get into the software-as-as-service business?

“We have also built a best-in-class product, design and engineering team that is empowered and has the support of every executive in the company, including our owner, himself one of the (if not *the*) leading technologist in the world. Put those factors together, and I think we are uniquely positioned to offer technology that will help other media organizations truly embrace digital and offer their readers, journalists and advertisers state-of-the art tools and experiences.”

German publisher Hubert Burda Media is also building a suite of publishing tools, but unlike the Washington Post, the offering is centered around a CMS, and in this case, Drupal 8. The initiative is called Thunder. While the Washington Post thinks it’s technology leadership is a differentiating factor and that Arc tools should be sold to other media companies, Burda’s Thunder is a collaborative effort - from the page:

“We believe that publishers do not compete with each other through technology, but through content and brands. Technology is rather a limiting factor for publishers as, for example, content management systems are often expensive and launch projects take substantial time and money. The Thunder Coalition is formed to attract as many publishers worldwide as possible – as users of the Thunder distribution and as contributors to the technology. The goal is to spend less money overall by working together- and not to receive money from others.”

To date, two of Hubert Burda Media’s magazine brands, and, have launched on Thunder and Acquia. To manage its print business, Burda is using the Digital Collections asset management system along with K4.

What’s next for the Newspaper Industry?

It seems the push for a single CMS of record at newspapers and other publishers has begun, primarily with the use of Drupal 8, and through collaboration in the publishing industry on the platform. However, as I’ve detailed here, some publishing titans like the New York Times and The Washington Post have decided to create custom in-house solutions to address multi-channel publishing. The Washington Post goes a step further by becoming a provider of SaaS media production and editorial tools for other news media companies. In the next part of our series, we will explore what’s driving the explosion of custom and closed CMS development within larger media companies and conglomerates, and also expose the costly risks associated with these types of initiatives.

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