Content management systems are being enlisted to tackle newsroom workflow problems and the proliferation of fake news in a fast-evolving industry. In a new special report, Angela Misri looks at how CMS-level content verification has come into play, along with the increasing demand to produce platform-neutral content and why some media companies, including Al Jazeera and Hearst Television, have chosen to build their own CMSs.
CMSs Tackle Workflow, Fake News Problems
The rising threat of fake news and the intensifying speed of change in the digital medium continue to drive the evolution of content management systems. Where five years ago producers were being trained in how to differentiate their content for each channel, media organizations are now looking to CMS providers to help take some of that growing responsibility off the shoulders of their editorial staffs.
Roadmaps have shifted from trying to anticipate integrations for social networks that don’t even exist yet to creating a system of robust application program interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) that are simplified enough to feed any new channel that appears.
“Any time a new tech pops up that’s not accounted for in the workflow, it causes a lot of pain in the newsrooms; it causes a lot of pain on the development side; and then it causes a lot of pain to the CMS provider to identify the problem and spin up a solution for it,” says Damon Kiesow, head of product for the McClatchy Co.
Elizabeth Osder, head of revenue at Lakana, agrees. “We’re in a real-time world where content is rapidly flowing in and feeding out to a complex ecosystem of distribution channels,” says Elizabeth Osder, Lakana’s head of revenue. “Expecting newsroom teams to manually package and optimize content for each new channel is difficult — if not increasingly impossible — without automation.”
Lakana responded to this need with flexible sharing tools like its autoflow system.
“Autoflow is a view into the entire body of stories the site has to offer,” explains T.J. Kudalis, product manager for video and data products at Lakana, “It’s the tool we use to power feeds, site display and off-site distribution. [Producers] tell the CMS everything about a story, then the story’s metadata drives the population of autoflows.”
Scripps is among the clients migrating to the new version of Lakana’s CMS.
“It has some search engine optimizations, and a lot of workflow upgrades for our editors in terms of uploading videos and pictures and things like that,” says Bryan Dunbar, CTO of Scripps Digital.
Dunbar says they are in the testing phase, but he’s hopeful the new version will relieve some of the problems, namely a locked down data model that doesn’t allow for fields to be repurposed for custom data.
“The way that video works in the [current] system, you can have video objects but they don’t handle YouTube,” he explains, “To do a video embed, people are actually editing in-line with a WYSWIG editor in the content. It would be nice if we could just get a field in the CMS for a YouTube embed.”
Kiesow says McClatchy is looking for that same kind of malleability from its CMS provider, Escenic. “Media neutral is fine, but what we’re interested in is platform neutral. How do we have producers, reporters, editors producing stories in the CMS that can most easily be exported not only to the core website but to all the channels?”
Basically, Kiesow wants to enter a piece of content into CMS and open up a preloaded drop-down that allows a producer to modify it for each specific channel.
Storyline, in development now, is Escenic’s response to that plea for platform-neutral content. “Storyline is a sequence of specific story elements that will adapt [content] to each channel,” CEO Mark Van de Kamp says.
Al Jazeera’s in-house CMS, Oryx, was originally built 10 years ago. It credits a strong API layer to create platform-neutral content. “We have been able to extend it into a platform that is connected to an ecosystem of other platforms for smart content management as well as for distributing content to multiple existing or emerging platforms including web, mobile, social, syndication partners and even IoT,” says Rizwan T. Ahmad, lead architect for Oryx and head of digital platforms at Al Jazeera.
Upgrading and transitioning users to improved platforms is a constant in the CMS industry. Newscycle is in the midst of migrating its clients onto ONSET, which, according to Kelli Chmielorz, director of product strategy, was developed partially to answer that “produce once” requirement.
“We were really focused on allowing a journalist to create a digitally engaged article and then on automating the production process in that system by using database-stored library items,” she says.
Verification At The CMS Level
Distributing their content directly into third-party websites quickly and securely is on all clients’ roadmaps, so every CMS provider interviewed is moving to direct URLs and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), a security technology for establishing an encrypted link between the web server and the browser.
The proliferation of fake news and the backlash toward it have prompted everyone from Google to Apple to Facebook to demand a clear, undisguised path from news provider to audience that Scripps’ Dunbar says is here to stay. “We have the responsibility to make sure we’re secure and that ends up being translated to the CMS providers,” he says.
Companies from Apple to Google to Paypal have changed the requirements for developers as part of a security upgrade. Dunbar says that the days of offering up a signed metadata file and hosting it wherever you wanted are over. Now, companies must serve files directly from their domain with no redirects over SSL.
“The problem with going distributed is that you lose a lot of the signal of trust that you would have if you were on our websites or in our app,” Kiesow admits. “Everything starts to look very commoditized, all stories look the same and the URLs are obfuscated. But I’m not convinced that a lot of readers would notice those as positive trust signals anyway. Unless the platform itself is doing a really aggressive effort to call out trusted sites — like what Facebook is trying to do right now.”
Some CMS providers are further along in the security they provide their clients. Lakana’s platform has HTTPS built into it, Osder explains, “We’ve been working with our clients to meet their SSL conversation deadlines. The real challenge is verifying that all the third-party vendors a single site might work with also have SSL capabilities so that a site is in full compliance.”
Chmielorz believes Newscycle covered its verification bases with its CMS products. “Those kinds of functions or rules to adhere to are standard within ONSET,” she says.
“Is it a concern? Sure,” says Steve Lett of Libercus, but he sees the verification process as a shared responsibility of the third-party channel, not the CMS provider or the news client. “My customers are producing locally relevant content that Facebook can depend upon as verified and dependable.”
But Lett says SSL is just one of the ways Libercus can, and must, respond quickly to changes in the industry.
New Tech Outpacing Development
The speed of change is one of the reasons Al Jazeera brought its CMS in-house.
“Most of the commercial proprietary CMSs are slow to respond to the fast-paced needs of digital,” Ahmad says. He notes Al Jazeera built a lot of add-ons for its CMS to improve the ingest, management and publishing of the content.
Hearst Television also recently switched from a Lakana CMS to its own home-grown product called Hearst MediaOS. According to Hearst’s website, the move was made in part to speed up the process of creating content, minimize the number of templates and to “save costs and [consolidate] resources.” (Hearst declined several requests to be interviewed for this story.)
But keeping pace with the industry’s speed presents complications to everyone.
“It’s not always easy to move quickly when you have multiple clients and you’re trying to please them all,” says Bruce McClean, head of digital content and audience development for Nexstar, which owns Lakana. McClean says the broadcaster is in the midst of a huge development phase in its CMS and isn’t able to pivot toward new requirements right now.
Rather than taking all that responsibility on itself as the only provider of CMS development, Osder says Lakana relies on a strong community of developers to respond quickly to new tech requirements.
In addition to internal teams, “we want more people working on our APIs and SDKs,” she says, pointing to the projects Lakana has with its clients right now. ”Once we develop an innovation together, we pass it on as quickly as we can to the core CMS.”
The balance of delivering the tools that every story needs and anticipating the next requirement from the audience is something Escenic’s Van de Kamp watches very closely. “The trick is to do it well, by all means, use your own technology but do it by reusing services and micro-services — that is also the landscape we are working toward. And don’t forget about the journalists squeezed in this battle of architecture, because they need to navigate.”