By Ronn Levine • 06/21/2011
A Good Take on Content Management Systems
There was a very interesting story on the Poynter website last week titled “4 ways content management systems are evolving & why it matters to journalists.” Founded as the Modern Media Institute in 1975, Poynter remains affiliated with the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest newspaper. With the lessening of the newspaper industry over the last few years, Poynter has changed its focus, now including this line on its website: “Today’s Poynter still helps newsrooms; but we assist the independent entrepreneur, too.” When it comes to building communities, Poynter can be a great resource.
In his article, Matt Thompson writes (with journalists in mind): “…it’s hard to get people interested in the one technology that they have to use every day, the thing that either inhibits or enables the space-age storytelling they want to do—their content management system.”
Here are the four main points he makes:
1. Journalism is moving from content management systems to content management ecosystems. “…A good content management system today is designed to interact with lots of other software. There’s now a genuine expectation that a CMS will play nicely with videos stored on YouTube, or comments managed by Disqus, or live chats embedded from CoverItLive. Other environments such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr come with their own suites of tools. And increasingly, what we call a content management system is actually a combo of multiple tightly-integrated systems.”
He gives three examples, the first is a site called The Stream hosted by Al Jazeera. Here they build stories in Storify that then go into Drupal to get edited and published. Storify gives editors an easy link to the social media conversations taking place. Drupal also adds capabilities such as Google maps.
National Public Radio uses a homegrown CMS called Seamus, which works with their Application Programming Interface to make it easier for all of their content management systems to talk to one another. They also use another homegrown system to manage audio assets and story budgeting.
2. There is a growing understanding that content management systems should be beautiful. Thompson makes it clear that “…better content management systems foster better content.” “The happier people are, the better their content will be, the more content they’ll produce,” says NPR’s Patrick Cooper. ““Digital newsrooms have moved from shoveling to creating,” he said. “Those two tasks require very different environments.”
3. Open-source software has raised the bar for default content management experience… “Even the most well-resourced news organizations are using open-source tools such as Django, Ruby on Rails, WordPress and Drupal alongside or inside their homegrown or vendor-built CMSes,” Thompson writes. When Thompson helped to launch his company’s new sites, he used WordPress as a starting point. “All of our development was oriented toward adapting and extending the software for our needs.” NPR helps member stations develop their Websites through Drupal.
4. We’ve realized that good content management requires constant development. Thompson writes that it doesn’t matter the size of your company, your CMS “has to develop to accommodate [an] environment that changes dramatically from year to year…If you’re part of a two-person independent news operation running WordPress, you should be updating the software regularly and adding and removing plugins that meet your needs.”
This last realization is the most important one. “Because we know that our content management environment is going to have to evolve frequently and significantly in the foreseeable future, we have to build systems that are lightweight and flexible enough to inter-operate with others,” Thompson writes. Content management interfaces have to be appealing enough for users to grasp intuitively so that training time can be limited. “And because we need to develop fast, we have to borrow tools and ideas from the world of open-source software to make our content management ecosystems better,” he concludes.
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