Closing the NPR API Gap

At Publish2, we’re working with some of the largest, most innovative and forward-looking public media organizations.  We’re helping them dramatically extend their reach and grow their membership through partnerships with newspapers and other local media. We’re helping them transform their newsroom workflow, with an emphasis on digital, without making huge investments in upgrading or replacing legacy systems.  Overall, we’re helping public media stations better achieve their mission while increasing revenue and reducing costs.

Through our work with these leaders in public media, we’ve been introduced to public media stations across the spectrum who are interested in how Publish2’s platform technology can help them survive and thrive in the digital age.

In these conversations with public media, we are often asked about Publish2’s capabilities in the context of NPR’s Digital Services. This is not at all surprising.  All NPR member stations are *required* to pay for NPR’s Digital Services through a mandatory fee.  If the needs of members stations were being fully met by Digital Services, we would likely not have any public media customers.  And we would not be seeing so much demand among public media for what Publish2 can help them achieve.  Why buy a service or license a technology if you’re already paying for one, albeit forcibly, that achieves your objectives?

So for the benefit of the public media community, we thought it would be help to explain how Publish2 can help stations achieve what NPR Digital Services cannot.

Anti-Competitive Digital Services

In a normal competitive context, we might position Publish2 as a powerful alternative to NPR’s Digital Services. But the mandatory Digital Services fee does not give NPR member stations the luxury of choosing the best-in-class technology, despite that clearly being to their benefit at a time of such dramatic technology-driven transformation in media. It’s clear to most media companies that their future depends on digital. What advantage is there in mortgaging away all control over the core technology platform that will carry you into the future?

In the face of anti-competitive practices and locked-in technology budgets, almost all of our work with public media has been funded by third-party grants. Think about that.  The largest public stations, who pay the most for NPR Digital Services, are forced to go outside the NPR system, to independent grant makers, in order to fund the technology innovation that is the key to their future.

To be clear, this isn’t about NPR (we love NPR and are avid listeners).  It’s about NPR Digital Services, which is a separate group based in Boston, far from NPR headquarters in DC, with “new people” who are not from the “old NPR” (to quote a key distinction made by a public media station digital team leader).  And this post is a public response to a great deal of anti-competitive activity that we’ve encountered behind the scenes, which we thought was the most appropriate way to respond because, after all, it is PUBLIC media.

That all being said, the simplest way to explain why we’ve seen so much demand among public media stations for our technology is that Publish2 effectively closes the NPR API Gap.

The API Gap

The “API gap”, as we like to call it, is not unique to NPR.  It’s based on the broad failure of APIs in the news industry, a problem that Publish2 was specifically designed to solve. The API gap exists because of a series of terribly flawed assumptions about newsrooms:

  1. There is always a developer available to create entirely customized applications for an API.
  2. That developer has time available for this custom development.
  3. The newsroom can afford the FTE cost of having that developer spend time setting up and maintaining a custom application for an API.
  4. The newsroom’s analogue editorial system (broadcast/print) and web CMS are sufficiently sophisticated and capable to that they can be integrated with the API, even given the time and attention of a capable developer.

In the vast majority of newsrooms, whether they be broadcast, newspapers, or even online media, none of the above is true.

The NPR API, like all APIs, assumes that all of the above is true for all members stations, and that it’s true for any news organizations that want to partner with member stations.

Make Life Easy for Newsrooms

Publish2’s solution to the API gap is to assume that there’s only one viable path to integrating with newsroom editorial systems and web CMS — work with what those systems can do out of the box, without any support from a developer or any customization.  This means supporting a huge range of delivery formats, some highly customized, some highly antiquated.  Publish2 supports any custom XML format, we support all of AP’s formats (including ANPA, the old satellite feed format), and we support FTP, to bridge the gap between the web and analogue editorial systems.  We support any and every system, from new and shiny to old and busted, that exist within newsrooms.

Publish2’s innovation is that we meet the newsroom’s requirements, instead of forcing them to meet our requirements, which is what an API demands. Life is hard enough for newsrooms. Our goal is to make it easier.

Publish2 closes the NPR API gap by working with the existing content import and export capabilities of member station CMSs.  We also make integration entirely turnkey for member station partners, such as newspapers in their region.

Use ANY Web CMS

NPR has recognized problem of their API gap. That gave birth to Core Publisher, NPR Digital Service’s web CMS offering for member stations. The unique feature of Core Publisher is that it is integrated with the NPR API, making it easier for member stations to use NPR content on their web sites. It also makes it easier for NPR to get member station content into the NPR API.

This is a reasonable approach, assuming that the member station doesn’t already have a web CMS that works well for them.  Or that they aren’t interested in choosing a web CMS based on competitive vendor review, as most news organizations do.  Or that they aren’t interested in customizing their CMS to meet their unique needs.

Publish2 offers member stations a different way to close the basic NPR API gap. With Publish2, member stations can use literally any web CMS, because Publish2 can integrate with any CMS, and our system is fully integrated with the NPR API.  So we can send and receive any NPR content, directly to and from any CMS, as required by member stations.

Build Local Networks

But Publish2 also goes beyond providing an alternative solution to the fundamental problem of how member stations can work with the NPR API.  Publish2 isn’t limited to public media content.  Our system handles content from wire services, like AP, and we can handle content from regional partners, increasingly a key focus for public media. Publish2 can enable stations to seamlessly share content and collaborate with newspapers and online local media.

This is critical, because increasingly public media stations see their future in local.  If consumers can access national content, like NPR’s, from anywhere in digital, e.g. npr.org, then public media stations need to focus on local as their core franchise.  (If you see a parallel between NPR’s relationship with local member stations and AP’s relationship with local newspapers, yes, you’re onto something).

Empowering local news networks is Publish2’s core franchise. That’s why we’re working with several of the Local Journalism Initiatives funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Publish2 also handles, for example, all content distribution for the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch and Bay Citizen, to the largest news organizations in California.

But wait, there’s more…

Integrate Digital and Broadcast

Publish2’s platform technology isn’t just for digital, i.e. we’re not just a “digital service.” We can support broadcast as well, by integrating with any broadcast editorial system, such as iNEWS or ENPS, delivering NPR or any other content directly into wire queues, as many stations receive content from AP.  With Publish2, broadcast can build their own wire service, combining NPR, AP, local and regional partners, other national sources like ProPublica, literally any content.

And Publish2 can also go beyond empowering member stations with external content.  We can enable stations to integrate their web and broadcast systems, towards the increasingly important goal of integrating broadcast and digital workflows and operations.  Stories published first on the web can flow directly into the broadcast editorial system to be edited into scripts, like an internal wire service. Audio segments published first on the website can be transcoded and delivered as broadcast-ready files directly to the broadcast system.

Platform for the Entire News Industry

The key to Publish2 as a platform for public media stations is that it isn’t just a “public media platform” (haven’t heard that moniker in a while).  It’s a platform and network for the entire news industry.  NPR Digital Services is investing millions of dollars of member station fees to build a platform that Publish2 has had for years.  Some public media stations may think that’s the most efficient way to spend their money.  But we respectfully disagree with re-inventing the wheel.  And we know that many public media stations share that view.

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.

Legacy Editorial Systems and CMSs Are Killing the News Industry’s Digital Transformation

The news industry’s digital transformation is being thwarted and outright threatened by legacy editorial and content management systems that were not designed to build a bridge from old to new.  Here are seven ways that legacy CMSs are hurting the news industry:

1. Creating content in a print editorial system is NOT digital-first
Many print editorial system vendors have convinced newsrooms that creating content in a front-end system and then “sending” it to the web counts as digital-first. These same newsrooms have used web-native blog software like WordPress to create true-digital first workflows where reporters publish on the web first and continuously update stories.  Excellent workflow tools (e.g. Edit Flow, NYT’s Integrated Content Editor) have been developed for platforms like WordPress that make it truly viable to publish everything digital-first by using a blog or web CMS as the newsroom’s primary CMS.

But this web-first content has no way to make it back into the editorial system for the print workflow… other than copying and pasting, or forcing reporters and editors to recreate these stories. That’s a huge disincentive to being digital-first! It’s telling that most newsrooms still think of this as “reverse publishing” — you can imagine the gears of the legacy editorial system grinding as you try to force it into reverse, but it gets stuck in neutral!

Newsrooms that create content in a print editorial system remain anchored to print-first workflows, and that puts digital products and digital revenue last.

2. No way to efficiently share content or create integrated workflows across newsrooms
Legacy editorial systems, which were designed as siloed desktop software that runs in each newsroom, have hacked an ostensible “content hub” layer on top of their outdated software architecture and sold it to news companies on the promise of internal content sharing.  These print editorial systems masquerading as hub solutions have not only proven notoriously unstable (see 7 below), they have failed to enable any kind of viable workflow for sharing content across newsrooms.

Giving every newsroom access to every other newsroom’s content via a shared database is not a workflow!  Imagine an individual newsroom, or a national desk, rooting through piles of local content to find stories of broader interest.  It’s like stealing from your sibling’s room — it’s a recipe for strife and frustration.

News companies are all focused on transforming from holding companies for local news orgs into fully integrated media companies that can leverage all of their content in new digital products.  Given the strategic importance of integrating newsroom operations, the failure of these print editorial system pseudo-hubs is particularly distressing.

3. Can’t create distinctive apps and mobile products when powered by a web CMS
There is a huge opportunity for news orgs to create apps that are highly differentiated from their websites, to support both a subscription model and premium advertising.  But how is that possible when all that news orgs have to power apps are the feeds from their website?  If content doesn’t go into the web CMS, then it doesn’t go into the app. Forget creating a content package distinct from the website, or curating content from new local and national sources.

For years, news orgs were criticized for “shoveling” print content onto the web. Now legacy CMSs are forcing them to re-shovel content into apps and mobile.

4. Can’t curate new content sources outside the newsroom
Apps like Flipboard and Pulse are seeing huge consumer adoption by aggregating content from top news sources and presenting it in innovative tablet user interfaces. Can news orgs compete? Not if their app is powered by their web CMS!

Outside of commodity wire content, news orgs have no way to aggregate content from new local and national sources because they have no way to get it into their CMS, and so no way to get it into their apps. Local news brands could create compelling new products by combining their original local content with a network of local and national content partners. In fact, they could use new content sources to enhance their print product in parallel.

Unfortunately, their editorial systems assumed that all they would ever use is commodity wire content. FAIL.

5. Downsized newsrooms are drowning in inefficient workflows (copy/paste/email/reformat)
Everyday, we hear about workflows based on copying and pasting from one legacy editorial system or CMS to another, or emailing content from one newsroom to another.  How can you ask newsrooms to do more with less and then ask them to spend hours a day hacking their way around deficiencies in their legacy content management systems? Newsrooms are so beaten down with these hacked workflows that it never even occurs to them that there could be a better way, that content management technology can actually create efficiencies instead of headaches.

6. Can’t integrate with partners and distribution channels
Want to share content with regional partners. Open up that legacy CMS, copy, paste, email. Want to use content from regional partners. Open up your inbox, open the email, copy, paste. Lather, rinse, repeat. Want to distribute content to a new channel or platform? Create an IT project to produce a custom feed — if you’re lucky! With a legacy editorial system, connecting with external partners is as efficient as a game of phone tag.

7. Content hubs built with legacy print editorial systems have been a disaster
Can you imagine in an age of agile cloud software an implementation plan that is slated to take 12-18 months?  That’s how long most news companies have had to budget to roll out print editorial system pseudo-hubs.  It’s desktop software, so if you have 50 newsrooms with thousands of people, that’s a lot of installations!  Hard to imagine in the age of the cloud.  Also hard to imagine that news companies should be in the business of maintaining servers that are more reliable than Amazon Web Services, or maintaining software code that has been hacked to do something it was never designed to do.

So it’s no surprise that these print CMS pseudo-hub implementations have produced notorious failures.  We know of implementations at some of the largest news companies that constantly crash, have horrible 15-year-old Windows desktop user interfaces, and rather than create efficiencies have turned into black hole time sinks.

We Feel Your Pain — There’s a Better Way!
We designed Publish2 for newsrooms to overcome all of these limitations and more, without actually changing any of these legacy editorial systems or spending a dime on upgrading them. When we implement Publish2, we ask the newsroom to imagine their dream digital-first workflows, what would be optimally efficient, and what they never thought possible with their legacy CMS. And then we make it happen, like magic.

Publish2 can:

  1. Deliver digital-first content into print CMS wire queues — the newsroom can go digital-first by turning digital content into an internal wire service for print. Newsrooms are free to adopt any blog or web CMS without worrying about integrating with legacy editorial system.
  2. Enable seamless sharing of content across newsrooms (including newspapers and broadcast TV) by connecting legacy editorial systems.  No need to purchase expensivee upgrades or spend 12-18 months consolidating on a legacy system that won’t deliver any efficiencies.
  3. Power apps and mobile sites that are highly differentiated from desktop websites, with distinct original content and content curated from a network of partners.
  4. Enable local and national content partnerships, to create new local products with curated content that engages consumers better than the best Silicon Valley news aggregator startups.
  5. Eliminate all copy/pasting/emailing/reformatting from newsroom workflows. Enough is enough!
  6. Enable seamless content sharing and distribution. No need to create an API and deploy development resources that you don’t have. With Publish2, you can connect with any partner or platform — it just works.
  7. Provide a reliable, scalable, efficient software-as-a-service to enable news orgs’ digital transformation.  That’s all we do.  And that’s why we’re really good at it.

Announcing Publish2 News App: White Label HTML5 Tablet App for Publishers

We’re excited to announce the upcoming launch of Publish2 News App, a white label HTML5 tablet app for publishers. We’re following the path blazed by the Financial Times’s HTML5 app, with all the benefits of bypassing app stores: cross-platform, publisher control of user data, no need to share revenue, always the most up-to-date version.

Unlike other app solutions that require publishers to use the app maker’s ad network and share revenue, Publish2′s News App is based on a simple software-as-a-service license fee. For a reasonable fixed annual cost, publishers get all of the upside from monetizing their app.

Publishers Control Monetization

Speaking of monetization, Publish2′s News App is optimized for high CPM video advertising, and not just for video content — News App can monetize text and photos with video ads. We see a huge opportunity with the immersive engagement of tablet apps to monetize text and photo content better than on the desktop web. We will support all third-party ad servers and ad networks, giving publishers full control over ad monetization and without taking a share of the revenue. (We will of couse support display ads as well.)

The same principle of publisher control applies to paid subscriptions. Publish2 News App will integrate with third-party paid subscription services, giving publishers full control over whether and how to charge for their app, making it easy to align with their existing paid content strategy.

User Experience Consumers Will Pay For

Our goal is to help publishers create an app that consumers will pay for by creating a highly engaging user interface for news consumption. Since the iPad appeared, numerous tablet app aggregators have launched, focused on innovating news consumption to create user experiences worth paying for. Publish2 News App enables every publisher to compete with the user experience innovations of these tablet app aggregators, so that they can retain full control of the consumer relationship, but without incurring high development costs.

Speaking of aggregation, our News App is powered entirely by Publish2 feeds. That means publishers can create an even better user experience by complementing their own original content with content curated from a network of new content sources: sister publications, regional partners, alternative newswires, local blogs, local businesses, and more.

As to white labeling, publishers will be able to fully customize the app’s look and feel, to match the color pallet, typography, and design of their publication.  Publishers will also have full control over the app’s consumer-facing delivery — the app can be hosted on the publisher’s servers or on a dedicated cloud hosting account.  As with all software-as-a-service, Publish2 will maintain and update the app code, so publishers and their readers will always have the most up-to-date version.

Here are the highlights of Publish2 News App in brief:

    Cross-platform HTML5 app that creates an experience fully equivalent to that of a native code appWhite label solution can be customized to match publisher’s colors, fonts, and design aesthetic 

    Hosted software-as-a-service always has the most current app code, no need for users to download updates

    App powered entirely by Publish2 feeds, combining publisher’s content with content curated from Publish2′s network

    App user experience optimized for displaying high CPM video ads, for both text and photo content

    Publishers have full control over user data (in contrast to Apple’s iTunes app store)

    App will integrate with third-party paid subscription services

    Simple, annual software-as-a-service license fee avoids the need to share subscription or advertising revenue

Here is a live demo of the Publish2 HTML5 Tablet App for Publishers.

The Real Cost of Newsroom Inefficiency

How many times today did someone in your newsroom copy and paste content from one system to another? Or move content by logging into multiple systems or emailing files around to editors?

How much time did your newsroom staff waste today overcoming the inefficiencies of your internal systems, redoing work that had already been done, or chasing after content from partner or sister newsrooms?

Think about the real cost of inefficiency in your newsroom. If you added up all those wasted hours every day, across a year, what would they amount to? What could your newsroom afford if it wasn’t paying for that inefficiency? Depending on the size and number of newsrooms, that wasted time could add up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per year.

With the staff reductions of recent years, newsrooms simply can’t afford to waste time. It’s a top of mind issue across all the newsrooms we talk to.

Everyday we hear stories of workflows accomplished through tedious copying and pasting. Reporters enter breaking news stories into the web CMS, where they create headlines, subheads, breakouts, and info boxes, and then editors have to start all over from scratch in the print editorial system. Or web producers labor to manually recreate on the web what editors have already spent hours of the day creating for print.

Every newsroom has to update their website throughout the day, publish content into new tablet apps, engage with their community in social media, and still put out the paper. The problem is that these workflows are fundamentally separate, rather than being an integrated daily news operation.

We also hear over and over that partner and sister newsrooms are emailing content back and forth, calling each other up to chase after copy. There are so many high value content sources that editors can tap into outside of the newsroom, but it costs them hours to go out and fetch it, rather than have the content come to them as the traditional newswire has always done.

These are hours that reporters and editors could be spending on creating original content. How much more content could your newsroom have produced today if editors and reports hadn’t wasted so much time with inefficient workflows?

The newsroom has always prided itself on efficiency, because nothing less than the most efficient operation could get a newspaper to press everyday. But the staff reductions, the demands of the web and other digital platforms, and the ad hoc nature of new content partnerships have taken a huge toll on newsroom efficiency.

That’s why Publish2 has been focused on solving newsroom inefficiency by addressing one of the key root causes: disconnected systems.

Simply by syncing a newsroom’s existing print editorial system and web CMS, we can save newsrooms hours a day in lost productivity. By connecting the newsroom’s publishing systems, then, to those of sister newsroomscontent sharing partners, and alternative news sources, we eliminate emailing content back and forth, more rounds of copying and pasting, ad hoc phone calls in search of content and permission, and yet more copying and pasting from third-party websites.

With all publishing systems connected through Publish2, all content gets created once and is then synced across all systems, within your newsroom and across newsrooms.

Suddenly the time savings starts to be measured in FTEs.

Think about how your newsroom could redeploy that staff time. What new products could your newsroom create? What new revenue opportunities would you be better positioned to pursue, especially if the gains in efficiency come from an integrated content workflow?

Every newsrooms should make it a top priority to remove all copy and pasting and emailing from their workflow and enable content, both internal and external, to flow efficiently across all platforms. That’s a critical step in transforming the newsroom into an agile organization positioned for growth.

Solving Big Universal Problems

The best that any company can hope for is to find a big, universal problem that nobody else has solved. It seems we’ve hit upon that problem, based on the reaction to “How to Make It Easy for Newsrooms to Link on the Web“, and a follow up email we sent to our community that framed the larger problem — “How to Solve the Print-Web Workflow Problem.” (Hat tip to Paul Balcerak who first framed it that way.)

The response has been tremendous.

Every newspaper newsroom in the world is struggling with integrating print and digital workflows.  And Publish2 can solve this problem for every newsroom, using their existing systems.

The inefficiency created by disconnected print and web workflows — all that copy and pasting, and emailing, and more copy and pasting — has huge costs. Newsrooms can no longer afford that kind of inefficiency.

The beauty of our solution is that by connecting their existing publishing systems, we can also connect newsrooms to a larger network: sister publications, regional partners, local blogs, and new content partners.  We can also distribute the newsroom’s content to tablet apps and social media. That’s the power of connected publishing.

And this isn’t just about newspapers. Magazine publishers, we’ve discovered, are wrestling with the same problem.

The evolution of publishing from print to digital can’t happen by flicking a switch. It requires a bridge. Every print publisher needs a bridge to digital. That’s the big, universal problem we’re solving for the news industry.

How to Make It Easy for Newspapers to Link on the Web

There has been a great deal of debate in the last few days about why mainstream news organizations in general and newspapers in particular don’t link out to sources from their stories. Many participants in the debate have asserted that this is because news sites still fear sending people away. Or they don’t “get it,” i.e. they don’t understand how the web works, or the value of linking, or even what a link is.

Perhaps that was true to a larger extent in the past. But having spent a lot of time working with newsrooms, I can tell you that by and large this is no longer case. The problem is not one of attitude or ignorance, but rather the more mundane yet still hugely significant problem of technology and workflow. And it’s a much bigger problem than most people discussing the issue realize — so much so that the solution has not been obvious.

Fortunately, there is a solution. But first, for the sake of broader understanding, let’s fully flesh out the problem.

Here’s how Brian Boyer at the Chicago Tribune explained it:

At the Chicago Tribune, workflows and CMSs are print-centric. In our newsroom, a reporter writes in Microsoft Word that’s got some fancy hooks to a publishing workflow. It goes to an editor, then copy, etc., and finally to the pagination system for flowing into the paper.

Only after that process is complete does a web producer see the content. They’ve got so many things to wrangle that it would be unfair to expect the producer to read and grok each and every story published to the web to add links.

The solution seems obvious — switch to a web-centric workflow by creating all of the content in the web CMS first. Most web CMSs make it easy to add links, or at least much easier than newspaper print editorial systems, many of which don’t even accept HTML.

While many newsrooms do now publish breaking news on the web first, there are two big reasons why newspaper newsrooms can’t easily ask all of their reporters to write all of their stories in the web CMS first:

1. Web CMSs don’t handle multi-stage editorial workflows

As Brian pointed out, after a reporter finishes a story, it needs to go to an editor and then to a copy editor. Most Web CMSs are not designed to handle this workflow. You can’t set story status to track where is in the workflow. Editors can’t be notified that stories are ready for review, or are ready for copy editing. Reporters can’t be notified that revisions are required. You can’t manage story assignments. You can’t customize the workflow in any way.

I’ve actually heard many web-native editorial operations complain about this limitation, even in a flexible CMS like WordPress. Daniel Bachhuber actually developed a plugin for WordPress, called EditFlow, to solve this workflow problem (which is great, if you use WordPress as your primary web CMS, which most newspapers don’t).

But why on earth, you might ask, do these newsrooms need all of this editorial process? Why do they need layers of editors and copy editors? Most web-native publishers let their writers post directly to web. If there are mistakes, they can just update the content in real time, fix typos, post corrections, etc.

That’s how web publishing works. But it’s not how print publishing works.

In print, you only get one chance to get it right. Publishing content as a continuously updated process works great when you can update in real time, but not when you have to wait until the next day to post the correction, at which point it’s really too late.

And there’s another big difference between publishing on print and publishing on the web — finite space. If a reporter files a story, and there’s not enough space for it, somebody needs to make it fit on the page. Because the web has infinite space, web CMSs were not designed to accommodate a workflow that requires making the content fit the available space.

Lastly, there’s one more major difference between a print workflow and a web workflow — press deadline. You’ve got to print the newspaper, and everything needs to be ready to go by the time the presses roll. On the web, you can publish on a rolling basis, 24/7. But for print, it only happens once a day, which by its nature requires a more complex, coordinated process.

It’s certainly open to debate how many editorial layers are really necessary for creating the print product. Many newsrooms have been forced to reduce the number of layers as the result of cost reduction cutbacks. But it’s simply not practical for most newsrooms to produce the print product without a system that can handle an editorial workflow with some degree of sophistication.

2. Web CMSs don’t support the print layout process

Creating the newspaper print product is, fundamentally, about traditional desktop publishing. Layout and design is done typically in InDesign or Quark. And most newspaper workflows are based on a process for easily getting content into page layout.

A key function of the print editorial system is to flow content, properly formatted, onto pages in InDesign and Quark. These systems can also sync edits made on the designed page (e.g. making it fit) back into the database. Many of these systems handle high resolution photos, also necessary for print, but not the web.

Bottom line — newspapers can’t simply throw out their print editorial systems and just use their web CMS for everything, simply because it’s easier (or even possible) to create links in the web CMS.

That brings us to another seemingly obvious solution: Why not create all content in the web CMS first, then simply import it into the print editorial system for the print workflow.

Newsrooms actually have a term for this: Reverse publishing

You could make a strong argument that it’s time to “reverse the polarity” of publishing, as newsrooms transform for a digital future.

There’s just one problem — there’s no way to get content from the website into the print editorial system. Most print CMSs can’t import RSS feeds, because they were all designed based on the assumption that content flows in the other direction. Print editorial systems are typically desktop applications that don’t natively connect to the web. (This, by the way, is why it’s so difficult for web publishers to deliver content to newspaper partners — subject for another post.)

Charms & Pendants: charms,
Earrings: gold and silver earrings,
Rings: Diamond Rings.

The newsrooms that do publish web first are typically reduced to copying and pasting content from the web CMS into the print editorial system.

So even if a newsroom reverses the polarity of its publishing priorities, the technology doesn’t make it easy.

Until now.

The Solution

Publish2 has solved this problem, with a very counterintuitive approach. We’ve developed support for delivering content into print editorial systems using the import function that these systems were designed to use — receiving content from a traditional newswire.

To deliver content into print editorial systems, Publish2 uses the formats and delivery mechanisms that are completely unknown outside of newspaper newsrooms and foreign to anyone who only publishes on the web (ANPA, NITF, I won’t bore you with the details).

Using the Publish2 Print-Digital Integration module, newspapers are able to create content in the web CMS, publish web and digital first, and then easily flow all the content into the print editorial system. We strip out the HTML for print, so reporters can link as much as they want in the web version. We can also deliver the content into the archiving system.

And we can do it all without any change to the existing systems, and without the significant expense of throwing out the old system and buying a new one.  So there’s no throwing out the baby with the bathwater to adopt a digital first publishing workflow. This solution also has the benefit of freeing up web producers from a lot of copy/pasting and other manual workflow to spend more creating original web content and features.

The result is that the only barrier to change is a willingness to change. And that is a barrier that most newsrooms, as a matter of survival, have already overcome.

Publish2 Update: Network Growth and New Business Model

Many people have reached out to us recently and asked, “How’s Publish2 doing? You guys have been very quiet for the last few months.” That’s because we’ve had our heads down rolling out the full content distribution service that we announced last summer and launched in beta last fall. And… we’ve successfully launched our business model.

So it’s time for an update on the growth of our content distribution network and our new software-as-a-service licensing business.

Network Growth

The value of any network grows exponentially with the number of participants. So we’re excited to report the our network now includes over 200 news organizations that are actively distributing and acquiring content through Publish2.

See who’s in the Publish2 network.

We’ve found the key to network growth is members “inviting their friends,” just like on Facebook, which in our case means news organizations inviting their partners. When all of your partners, and news orgs that you want to partner with, are on the network, it’s easy to see the value in joining.

We’re focused on bringing the hundreds of newsrooms we’ve worked with over the past three years into the network.  As with all networks, the larger it is, the more valuable it becomes for everyone involved.  We’re exploring every network vector for content distribution and content sharing — state, region, sports leagues, topics like health, environment, business, etc.

(Interested in joining the network? Let us know.)

New Business Model: Software-as-a-Service

In the past six months, we have also successfully launched our paid software-as-a-service business. Here are some of our paid SaaS customers, which include over 50 news orgs:

SaaS is the ideal business model for our network because we can support the business models of our network participants — whether that be content bartering, licensing, ad revenue share, or branding — without dictating what their business model should be. All news organizations on our network control their content rights, terms of use, and the business agreements they set up with their network partners. There a lot of companies out there looking to take a percentage cut of your revenue, but we’re not one of them. SaaS also ensures our long-term sustainability as a network platform.

While joining the Publish2 content distribution network is free, our paid software-as-a-service license is required for automating the delivery of content directly into publishing systems — legacy front end editorial systems, hosted web CMSs, open source CMSs, mobile apps — we support them all.  We know most news orgs don’t have a developer with free time to code to an API, so we skip the API and integrate directly with existing systems using open formats and technology that newsrooms can use right out of the box. Our software-as-a-service comes with full support for integration and newsroom training — we’ll meet your technology and newsroom where they are today.

We also know that unless content gets delivered where time-crunched editors work every day, it won’t get used. Logging in to another website to download content is typically a non-starter.  We deliver content into existing wire queues and post directly to websites. That’s what puts news orgs in the position to reduce the cost of “filling the news hole” and create new products by curating content from their network (what we call the Content Graph).

Our software-as-a-service now includes a range of “content modules” that enable news organizations to take advantage of connecting the network directly to their publishing systems.

For example, Freedom Communications is using our Internal Newswires module to create a content sharing network for all of their properties, to maximize the value of the content that their newsrooms create everyday. Editors can export stories from their editorial system with one click, without having to log into Publish2. And shared stories show up in their existing wire queues alongside other wire stories. They are also sharing budgets to help newsrooms plan around shared content.

Once they have all their publishing systems connected, Freedom can use other Publish2 modules to:

USA WEEKEND Magazine, a Gannett Company, is using our Syndication Management module to distribute content from partners like The Doctors, as well as some of their own content, to their hundreds of newspaper customers for use in print and/or online. Our Syndication Management module allows USA WEEKEND’s carrier newspapers to pull content directly into their publishing systems.For web syndication, we provide content tracking, branding and links back, and Google’s syndication-source meta tag to prevent problems with duplicate content in search.

Climate Central is similarly using our Syndication Management module to enable news orgs interested in their environmental reporting to get it delivered directly into their publishing systems, with the goal of significantly ramping up their syndication across hundreds of partners. We take care of all the implementation and support for their partners, while they sit back and enjoy greater pickup by getting their content to editors. Climate Central is also using Publish2 to automate posting content from partners on their own site — here’s an example.

East Oregonian Publishing Company is using our Co-op module to share content internally and with other news orgs in the Northwest, starting with Oregon Public Broadcasting. They are also using our Content Bridge module to bridge the gap that still exists in most newsrooms between print and web. At the same time that editors share stories through the Publish2 network, they can send them to their own website. For stories already on the web, they can be shared back into the print production process and delivered to the archive. Hours spent copying and pasting can now be more productively reallocated.

Bakersfield Californian uses our Alternative Newswire module to receive content from a range of news sources, from free newswires like AOL DailyFinance to licensed content from California Watch and McClatchy-Tribune.

News organizations continue to surprise us with new ways to use our platform — setting up content distribution as a peer-to-peer network opens up a lot of possibilities for cost savings and new revenue streams. Having integrated directly with news organizations’ web and print publishing systems, Publish2 makes it easy for them to expand their use of the network.

For example, based on newsroom feedback we created a module for newsrooms to set up a PR newswire service for local businesses, as a way to add content to their sites, source local business stories, and source local advertising leads. We created the Local Industry Newswires module as a way for news orgs to enable companies in a major local industry to share news and information — news orgs can even create a B2B publication and sell advertising. We created the Community Newswires module to make setting a blog network turnkey and easily scalable.

We are also excited to be serving the mission of news organizations on our network:

  • Sustaining and growing resources for original reporting (especially local) by reducing the costs of third-party content
  • Enabling new products that produce new revenue streams to support journalism
  • Enabling broader regional and national distribution of important public issues reported at the local level
  • Enabling broader distribution for nonprofit news organizations, and new business models that support those organizations
  • Enabling news organizations to be the beneficiaries of disruptive new models, rather than the victims

The other question we get asked is, “Why is Publish2 creating a network for the news industry? Isn’t that like vitamins for dinosaurs?”

Yeah, well, for those keeping score, the news industry is still a $100 billion worldwide market and many newspapers are in fact profitable. The last few years may have been painful, but every news organization is now solidly focused on transforming for future growth.  To do so, news companies must adopt technologies that enable their newsrooms to create new digital products while simultaneously preserving the ROI of their legacy print product.  Providing that bridge between old and new is precisely what Publish2′s platform and network are designed to do and, given the rate of adoption we’re seeing now, we are very optimistic about the future of the news industry.

Content (Re)Packaging: Curation and Syndication in the Age of Unbundled Digital Content

I’m going to be speaking at the American Press Institute seminar on Creating the Digital User Experience, May 12 – May 13, 2011. Here’s my session on “Content (Re)Packaging: Curation and Syndication in the Age of Unbundled Digital Content”:

Digital consumers get their news from a wide range of “content packagers” — social media (Facebook, Twitter), search (Google), portals (Yahoo, AOL), and now a new breed of tablet apps (Flipboard, News.me, Zite). Find out how news publishers can meet consumer demand and support new business model by distributing their content through all of these new channels. Learn how editorial brands can become curators themselves and take back control of content distribution by creating news packages the news consumers want.

Here’s the program overview:

In today’s complex digital media landscape, there is only one way you can stay ahead of your competitors: create a compelling user experience.

API’s Creating the Digital User Experience will connect you to the interrelated world of content and revenue and platforms and applications on the Internet. It’s about understanding what people want and giving them the rich online experiences they crave. It’s about the wave of always-connected consumers, location-aware mobile apps and services, and digital platforms that are making business and news unlike anything we’ve experienced before. And, it’s about driving revenue from it all.

And the other session leaders — awesome group:

Featured Discussion Leaders


Tyson Evans and David Wright

Interface Designer, The New York Times and Senior Interactive Designer, NPR

Session: If coders are from Mars and designers from Venus, how can we all get along?



Dorian Benkoil

Co-founder and Senior Vice President, Teeming Media

Session: Apps or HTML? How to get on every screen.



Kelley McDonald

Director of Information Architecture, NavigationArts

Session: Future proofing your digital strategies


Rebecca Moreno

Director, Front Page Programming, Yahoo!

Session: Art + Science: The Yahoo! Home Page



Mary Peskin

Associate Director, American Press Institute


Limor Schafman

President, KeystoneTech Group

Session: Mobile strategies, mobile business. Find out how the mobile experience can transport your company to your audiences and consumers.


Ryan Sparrow

Instructor of Journalism, Ball State University

Session: SND Best of Digital Design: What makes a winner and why

More about the seminar here.

Clay Shirky’s right that syndication’s getting disrupted — but not in the ways he thinks it is

In my contribution to the Nieman Journalism Lab’s 2011 Prediction series, I agree with Clay Shirky’s prediction about the disruption of the traditional news syndication model, but disagree (yes, I disagreed with Clay Shirky) about how the disruption will play out.  Here’s an excerpt:

The desktop web has been a revolutionary platform in terms of access to information, the democratization of publishing, and the socialization of media. But as a medium for consuming news content, from a user interface and user experience perspective, it’s problematic at best and downright awful at worst. News consumption has begun a major shift from the traditional desktop web to apps for touch tablets for a simple reason — the user experience and user interface are so much better, as the recent RJI survey of iPad users reflects. Consumers are choosing tablet apps over the traditional desktop web based on the quality of the user experience and the overall content “package.”

News organizations are already shifting their strategies to take advantage of that consumer shift. But few have thought about the role of syndication in news apps. With the immersive, hands-on experience of a tablet news app, the value of syndication changes entirely. Apps that deliver nothing but one news organization’s content will not compare favorably with the content richness of the web, no matter how good the UI is. And apps that bounce users around from site to site with an in-app browser, mimicking the traditional desktop web model, will fail for precisely the reason why users chose the app in the first place.

But news apps that can deliver full content, curated from a wide range of sources, within a cohesive, optimized — even breakthrough — UI for news consumption, will win because users will have the best of both worlds. Syndication in news apps will not be about republishing news that everyone else has. It will be about combining curated news with original content in order to create consumer packages that are deeply engaging and in many cases worth paying for. With this shift, news organizations will stop ceding to aggregators the huge value creation of curating and packaging news. Instead, news organizations will start defining their editorial brands as curators as much as they define them as original content creators.

Read the rest at Nieman Journalism Lab.