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Interview: „The organisation must come before the system“

The days of easily understandable newspaper production are long gone. Today, editorial offices must also use the Internet, smartphones and tablets. Where do the biggest problems lie in this media-convergent publishing process?

The first issue is the complexity involved in planning and coordinating the use of the different media platforms. Another problematic area is deciding what content makes sense on which platform for which segment of the readership and how it needs to be prepared. The days when you could simply transfer a print text more or less unchanged onto the digital platforms are long gone. User behaviour and users’ expectations on each platform are now too specific.

What role do modern editorial systems play in this?

In the first area, the systems can help to conceptualise the topics in the long and medium term through easy to operate planning tools and establish content, times and the necessary formats, for example picture galleries, videos, etc., for each platform. This is important for the efficient scheduling of the editorial staff and other resources. It is also extremely important that the obstacles that the editor has to overcome in order to publish his content on different platforms be kept to a minimum. System manufacturers are therefore required to design simple user interfaces which enable the editor to create in a few steps a text version for mobile, tablet, Internet and print, record the metadata in a simple way, ascribe a video format or other rich media content to the texts, and create hyperlinks within a few seconds.

In many editorial offices you hear complaints about the technical infrastructure, i.e. laborious procedures, labour-intensive operation and crashes.

Technical systems will never be perfect. There will always be complaints and one shouldn’t expect systems to solve all the problems in an organisation. However, many of those complaints are often also attributable to the person’s own decisions. We have often encountered situations when new systems are to be evaluated and introduced where the new system is supposed to be as faithful a copy of the old system as possible – after all, the users are used to it and feel comfortable with it, and a frantic attempt is made to transfer existing processes onto the new system, even though they may now no longer make any sense, particularly in the context of cross-platform publishing. This often results in installations which have been reconfigured and reprogrammed until they seem right to the users. However, this is at the expense of stability and above all the possibility of maintenance. I do not mean to say that a system has to be installed in the standard configuration envisaged by the manufacturer, but many manufacturers have good ideas regarding the possible form of modern editorial processes, and the systems are designed to support those processes.

What are the biggest shortcomings of editorial systems in your opinion?

Many systems obviously have their roots in the production of print products, and, in many cases, the digital platforms were bolted on through various extensions. This often means that there is no real integration between the system components, and the connection has instead been created through export and import interfaces. Also, the subject of planning was never addressed in traditional newspaper production, which is why some planning tools are the way they are. Like the digital components, they are also often programmed as an independent module and integrated into the editorial system through more or less intelligent interfaces.

Are publishers’ IT departments actually sufficiently qualified for such complex and specific editorial systems? How do you rate the technical support of the editorial offices?

It varies a great deal from company to company, but unfortunately we often notice that many IT departments do not see themselves as a service provider for the editorial office, but rather as gatekeepers who want to decide who is allowed to use what and how. In our opinion, IT departments in media companies have huge strategic importance, as information technology and the optimum use of technical platforms are absolutely critical for future success. However, this requires a rethink in the company – IT has to become a top management concern and the employees must see themselves as strategic partners to the editorial office. This also requires that the activities be repositioned – away from PC support and toner replacement and towards information management and strategic preparation for the editorial and commercial products of a media company.

Obviously, this must also be accompanied by a change in the employee profiles. What do you think of the editor/reporter system with specialists for production?

I think that in many case that principle makes sense, particularly if production is complex. In the case of video, for example, it definitely makes sense that the production be carried out by specialists. However, when it comes to the creation of purely textual content with images for various platforms, many systems are already easy enough to enable an editor to adjust them to the platform and publish them himself with a few clicks.

You have experience of newspaper editorial offices all over the world and on every continent. Where did you find the best solutions for working with editorial systems?

We found the best solutions where the organisation was first adjusted to the new requirements with which a modern editorial office is confronted and then the editorial system was evaluated and implemented in line with the processes.

And what’s the most peculiar thing you’ve seen?

In one company a clean, structured evaluation process which followed the principle I just mentioned resulted in a clear order of priority for system options. The entire project team and the editorial office were behind the decision, as it corresponded best to the new editorial concept. However, in the end the management purchased the system that was in last place! As justification they said that the manufacturer had provided the existing system and was therefore already linked to the company, and it had also offered a good price.

 

This interview was published in MEDIUM MAGAZIN, 09/2013

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