Old Dogs New Tricks and Crappy Editorial Systems

​”You can’t fix what you won’t admit is wrong.” says Digital First Media CEO John Paton of the newspaper industry. That much needed tough love applies to the newspaper industry’s struggle with legacy editorial systems. (The title of this post is inspired by the title of of a recent talk by Paton.)

Newspaper executives have been sold on content hub solutions by the “old dogs” of news industry technology — the print editorial system vendors — whose “new tricks” are failing because they are implementing clouds solutions with desktop software architecture.

​Executives at news companies are beginning to realize, to their dismay, that although these print editorial system vendors have slick brochures, their cloud content hub solutions are mostly “smoke and mirrors” (to quote an executive).

News executives bought into these print-CMSs-in-cloud-clothing because neither they nor their IT executives have little basis to understand why the desktop editorial software they have used for so many years can’t simply be put into the cloud. Creating a dynamic network across newsrooms requires an entirely different software architecture, which legacy editorial system vendors could only create by completely rewriting their software from scratch… which none of them has done.

​The first step for news executives to admitting that they have a serious technology problem is understanding why the technology they have is wrong. News executives previously didn’t have to understand much about technology, but as Silicon Valley has driven the convergence of media and technology at an accelerating rate, all media companies must be as savvy about technology as they are about content.

​A simple way to understand why legacy editorial system vendors can’t deliver cloud content solutions is to draw an analogy to office productivity software. Imagine if Microsoft took the desktop version of Office — Word, Excel, PowerPoint — and put it on server. Would that be the equivalent of Google Apps, a web application designed from the core to enable collaboration in the cloud?

Of course not. In fact, Microsoft, with its massive development resources, only released a cloud version of Office last year — that’s how hard it is and how long it takes to re-architect desktop software for the cloud. Yet legacy print CMS vendors have been selling cloud content hubs for years — how much re-architecting do you think they did?

Based on what we’ve heard about the struggles that news companies have had with these legacy print CMS content hubs — even just keeping them from crashing constantly — not very much re-architecting at all.

Content management in the cloud, connecting disparate systems, workflows, content formats and types, is a complex problem — one that is too often beyond software not originally designed to solve it.

To make matters worse, implementing a single CMS that promises to do everything has proven to be a disastrous decision. But the alternative — a network that connects legacy and new systems with a flexible cloud-native architecture — was not a solution the old dogs could deliver.

As Paton said, “I meant what I said earlier when I used the word struggle.”

News companies have invested millions of dollars in “crappy” hacked technology with fundamentally bad architecture. How hard do you think it is for news executive to admit that they have a fundamental problem?

Very.

But to quote Paton again:

“We ignore this at the risk of killing our business but worse we ignore it when the solution to our future is sitting under our noses if… we would only let go of the past and embrace the future.”

Couldn’t have said it better. The news industry needs Paton-like truth telling about their core content technology. And the solutions are right under the industry’s nose — content platforms architected from the ground up to bring the news industry into the cloud, to create dynamic networks that turn siloed newsrooms into a fully integrated news operation.

Unfortunately, the politics of bad technology decisions have left some of the largest news company scrambling to overcome the failings of “smoke and mirrors” products. But even these problems can be overcome with properly architected technology — not by abandoning failed platforms, but by filling in the gaps.

The news industry is beginning to embrace Jon Paton’s tough message about what’s broken and how to fix it. Hopefully, they will soon begin to embrace his message as it applies to broken content management technology.

Scott Karp

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