News Ltd has anounced they’re moving to the Méthode content-management system. Méthode seems to be the favoured newsroom CMS for a number of publishers. A part of the News Ltd announcement focused on the integration of social media streams into the newsroom. This is possibly the least interesting feature in the rollout of Méthode. In most circumstances Méthode is an attractive CMS for large cross-platform publishers (newspaper, magazine, web, app, etc.) because of the way it deals with content.
What is Methode?
I’ve come up with a list of features of Méthode largely framed in terms of how I have taught my ‘Online News’ journalism unit this semester. My main focus for part of the unit was to introduce students to using a CMS for editorial production purposes. (The other focus was ‘data-driven journalism’ and presenting students with the challenge of finding, assembling, analysing and incorporating ‘big data’ into their set of practical journalistic skills.):
1. Integrated cross-channel publishing platform.
This is the “One CMS to rule them all” approach. In LOTR there was a single ring of power; in publishing land, there are integrated CMS packages that bring together all publishing channels into a single integrated production flow. Méthode is produced by Eidos Media. Eidos calls this cross-channel publishing. A properly integrated cross-channel publishing has been the ‘holy grail’ of publishing:
The holy grail of the CMS producers has been creating a onesize-fits-all solution; something which seamlessly integrates the reporters producing the content, the production journalists, and the website and print production software and hardware.
This has a few practical implications.
2. All staff engage with the same production process interface.
Everyone is (or at least can be) working through a CMS. Copy is not ‘filed’ as much as it is copied and pasted into specific fields. I am currently typing in the ‘body’ field of a ‘new post’ in WordPress. There is also a title field and various SEO fields. (I experiment with new SEO plug-ins on my site for teaching purposes.) I also have access to my site’s media library for inserting multimedia files. Méthode is integrated with industry-standard Adobe software for the designers to do their thing. Eidos even treats advertising the same way with advertising copy and so on entering the production work flow. It is not surprising that the most advanced in-house or custom content management systems I’ve seen are normally organised for advertising sales and placement.
3. Every editorial element in Méthode is a database element.
‘Data-driven journalism’ normally refers to stories produced by critically engaging with a dataset. Méthode transforms all editorial copy (and other elements) into database elements. A good example is the way Méthode handles images:
When several channels are being served from the same content base, images will be required in a wide range of formats and resolutions, both during the workflow process and for final publication. Wherever an image is published, in a print page or an online channel, it must first be tailored to the resolution and ‘colour space’ requirements of its destination.
When an image is uploaded to the CMS it auto-formats these images to be used according to the necessary standards of each page template of each publishing channel. There is a single content base which is repurposed across multiple channels. Every different element of a story/package can be published in a number of different ways, including body copy, standfirsts/ledes, headlines/titles, captions, etc. The same headline may exist as a print headline, website post title, email newsletter subject line and so on. Eidos calls repurposing of editorial elements and republishing of stories across channels ‘compound stories':
I don’t know if News Ltd print designers use templates and if they do to what degree, but Méthode enables the sophisticated use of CSS templates, which will save a great deal of time. This means copy can be posted and the formatting and design work is already done at the template stage. I imagine that some competent journalist/editors will be given responsibility of some sections without any design input (beyond the template stage) whatsoever.
Not everyone thinks that the use of templates is a good idea, however. A few creative directors will be very unhappy if the level of customisation possible from non-template design was ever completely removed from the production process. As one CMS developer told the Press Gazette a number of years ago:
The efficiency of any technological publishing solution is dependant on the amount you are willing to use templates. The CMS companies can provide this – but editors are generally unwilling to make too much use of templates on newspaper and magazine pages because they want to have the creative freedom to display stories as they see fit, so this is where the idea of having a fully integrated system breaks down.
Even in the design-heavy world of magazines, the use of templates in some parts of he production process would surely free up valuable time. There are many staff writers who have been given the unenviable task of preparing copy for email newsletters by hand normally using the editorial copy of magazine ‘contents’ pages and simply copying and pasting the headlines and standfirst/extracts that reside in the contents descriptions. Contents pages, email newsletters and other regular sections of magazines (‘Coming next issue’, ‘News’, etc.) could easily be based on templates and only require very minor tweaking.
5. Future-proofing the production process?
Méthode is an XML-based system. Basically, this is the web designer/developer/engineer way of saying that all the editorial content is being translated into an XML database. Through the use of filtering with appropriately categorised data (editorial) elements, any piece of data can be repurposed for any given XML-friendly platform, even those that do not exist yet. Eidos has already produced an iPad version of the CMS editorial interface, which basically turns the iPad into a mobile mini-newsroom.
CMS Thinking? Journalism EducationPerhaps the introduction of an integrated CMS will see other changes at News Ltd. Amy Gahran argues that “tools embody mindsets” and she suggests that journalists need to develop a ‘CMS thinking’:
Content management systems have become the core tech tool of the journo trade. These days, journalists absolutely need to know how to use a CMS — not just to file stories, but also at least the basics of how to set them up for projects, integrate stylesheets and themes with them, choose the right CMS tool for the job, integrate content from a variety of sources (including feeds, databases, and XML), and creatively distribute and promote their stories.
Gahran further develops this line of thinking in the discussion around her original post:
Think of content as modules that can be structured, mixed, mashed, and reused — rather than thinking strictly in terms of narrative stories. This is a key point where hands-on experience with a CMS affects journalistic practice. When you start thinking of your end product as a series of modules that can be configured in a story but that can also be used and distributed in other ways on your site and beyond your site, that can affect how you go about doing the reporting.
We’ve decided on using WordPress in class. It is a cheap and relatively powerful system. It does not really allow for a properly integrated approach across non-online channels, but it does present the opportunity for students to begin developing their ‘CMS thinking’. I use the Edit Flow plugin to transform the blog-based CMS into something closer to an actual newsroom CMS. As part of the changes to the UC Journalism course we are creating a final year ‘Newsroom’ unit that is designed to provide students with the experience of using a CMS in limited ‘newsroom’ conditions. We are gradually going to incorporate greater functionality into our WordPress-based publishing platform.
As a sidenote, the font I’m using in headers does not render accents above letters (the é in Méthode) and apparently neither does The Australian’s font package.