By: Peter Marsh, Vice President of Marketing

Part 2: Digital Platforms

Flash forward to the web

The rules changed again around the turn of the century with the advent of web content management technology. Companies like Vignette, Interwoven, Polopoly, Ektron and others developed proprietary systems that enabled publishers to manage the presentation and delivery of content on their websites.

Back then, these systems were typically interfaced with a publisher’s editorial CMS to exchange content between online and print channels. Most of these solutions were installed on-premise in a company’s computer room or data center, but some – like Clickability – were hosted using early software-as-a-service models.

A few publishers, hearkening back to the days of Morris, decided to build their own platforms. The Ellington system is one example. Developed by the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World for its own internal web content management needs, Ellington was spun off into a separate division called Mediaphormedia, which provided sales, support and services to other publishers looking for a platform built specifically for news media companies.

Proprietary eventually gave way to open source technology, and a new platform duopoly ensued. Publishers now had two basic choices: buy a purpose-built CMS solution where the vendor is responsible for creating, modifying, managing and expanding the source code; or, select an open-source system where the source code can be inspected, modified and enhanced by the vendor and/or by the publisher’s in-house development team.

The open source option grew in popularity over the past decade or so, thanks largely to the extensibility of these platforms and the global community of developers constantly enriching the source code to add new functionality. Favored open source content management solutions included WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, TYPO3, Magento and many others. Of these, WordPress and Drupal quickly emerged as the preferred platforms of choice among news media publishers.

With WordPress, a publisher gets a web content management platform that’s quick to install, easy to learn and straightforward to manage. WordPress also has market share on its side, powering over 30 percent of the world’s websites. Drupal-based systems can be more complex to implement, but this complexity often translates into greater configurability for large, multi-site environments. In addition, the launch of Drupal 8 gives Drupal the edge when it comes to website cybersecurity protection, data breach detection and real-time reporting.

Coupled, decoupled and headless CMS options

But wait, there’s one more thing to consider. In the democratic world of web content management platforms, publishers can now choose between three deployment options. With a traditional or coupled digital CMS architecture, the backend is tightly linked (or coupled) to the frontend. Content is created, managed, and stored on the system’s backend. Website design, applications and other digital assets are also stored on the backend. Journalists write and publish on the same backend that website visitors are viewing. The frontend in a coupled CMS environment is mainly responsible for presentation – i.e. displaying published content on the site’s HTML web pages.

By contrast, a decoupled CMS architecture separates (or decouples) the backend database from the frontend presentation layer into two separate components. Content creation and storage is managed in the backend, while content delivery and presentation is managed in the frontend. With a decoupled architecture, journalists create and edit content in the backend, just as they would in a coupled CMS. The difference here is that a decoupled architecture takes advantage of web services and API’s to deliver this content to any frontend web design on any device and any digital channel.

For publishers that want to build or integrate their own frontends, the headless CMS option is often most attractive. A headless architecture is akin to the decoupled model, as both consist of a content management and storage backend where content is delivered from the database through an API.

The main difference lies in the presentation layer. A headless CMS can connect to any publishing frontend, meaning content can be delivered to any device or digital channel. In effect, it’s the Independent Party of the CMS deployment tri-opoly. Because content is not bound to a predetermined user interface, a headless CMS allows the same content to be published independently to a website, an app, a wearable device or any device connected via the Internet of Things (IoT).

So many options, so little time!

The point is, news publishers today have more content platform choices than ever before. This is vitally important to an industry craving a technology solution that gives journalists and editors a single view and a single point of access to all content. In the old days, this simply meant text. But now it means articles, archives, graphics, images, video, audio and all social media assets delivered to almost any internet-connected device imaginable.

Content will always reign supreme. But, the platform on which it runs will remain a democratic process where freedom of the press meets freedom of choice.

Note: DTI and Saxotech came together in 2013 to form Newscycle Solutions. Atex Inc. and MediaSpan (Harris/Baseview) were added in 2014. The combined company has installed print and web content management systems at hundreds of news media companies throughout the world. In 2016, Newscycle introduced ONSET, its next generation web content management system based on the Drupal 8 platform. The company later formed a partnership with leading Drupal 8 developer Acquia to extend the ONSET system for global media companies. And, in July 2018, Newscycle announced the acquisition of Infomaker, a Swedish supplier of open, cloud-based publishing platforms for content creation, editing, asset management, omni-channel delivery and presentation. Infomaker enables Newscycle to offer its customers a choice between Drupal and WordPress-based web content management solutions.