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How the right CMS can accelerate digital transformation for publishers

June 21, 2022 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN
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 Digital news consumption is a daily habit for most consumers. But they have high expectations.  Audiences want news to be timely and offer easily discoverable news content. 

An underperforming website infrastructure can be a crucial barrier for publishers. In moving toward digital transformation, publishers must upgrade their: 

  • User experience, 
  • Ease of discovery of news and information of interest, and 
  • Mobile optimization of both content and advertising.

The Knight Foundation worked with a small group of Black-owned local media outlets to upgrade their publishing solutions to serve underrepresented communities. Members of this group faced challenges, from aging technology to legacy website standards. The five organizations participating in this lab include The Atlanta Voice, The Dallas Weekly, New York Amsterdam News, Houston Defender Network, and The Washington Informer.

While participating in the lab, Atlanta Voice, the Amsterdam News, Houston Defender Network, and The Washington Informer upgraded their content management systems. The Knight Foundation provided grants and guidance for necessary transition and monitored the process. Their report, Digital content platform upgrades for small media outlets, highlights the publishers’ experience and key findings to assist other small publishers in the process.

Participating Publishers:

  • Atlanta Voice is the largest audited African American community newspaper in Georgia, with more than 600 print newspaper locations in the Atlanta metro area.
  • Amsterdam News is one of the country’s oldest published African American newspapers and a leading voice of the black community in the New York region.
  • Defender, also known as the Houston Defender, is Houston’s leading Black news source and offers breaking news, lifestyle, politics, commentary, and community newsletters.
  • The Washington Informer is a multimedia news organization that serves the information needs of the African American community in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area.

Determine the right content management system 

A content management system (CMS) or platform is what houses the content that publishers produce to serve website visitors. CMS platforms need to quickly load content on browsers across device types, including desktop, tablet, and mobile phones.

After a careful review, the publishers in the study decided on Newspack as their WordPress CMS. Its design targets small and medium-sized digital news organizations specifically. The move to Newspack helped provide the publishers with:

  • A clean database of imported content.
  • A better control of story display.
  • Additional improvements to position a well-performing website.

While transitioning to a new CMS can be challenging and requires technical expertise, Newspack onboarding included support tech and importing all the archived content. 

While a CMS is one of the most expensive investments in the digital transformation process, it includes a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. This helps to reduce the need for additional capital investments. The SaaS model eliminates depreciating hardware like web or database servers.

Beyond the technicalities of transformation

It’s crucial for all stakeholders – including senior management and newsroom staff – to be at the core of a publisher’s digital transformation. Teams need to learn a new process for sharing information, often repositioning themselves. A successful transition means aligning internal teams with your service providers to work together.

Staff development is also critical. An essential function in a digital news organization is that of a web producer. It is necessary to have someone on the team who can produce, edit, and post the digital-first news content. Other positions need to evolve as well and fill gaps in old practices that are now online. Publishers needed to think long-term and strategically and not look to fill full-time or part-time roles with outside contractors. 

Digital transformation is continuous and the transition to a new CMS is a serious commitment, especially for a small publisher with limited resources. Publishers willing to learn new practices and formulate new workflows will run more efficiently and effectively. The results of this transition link to an engaged audience and more advertising and reader revenue.

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