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Jens Seidel
Interview  | 

“We should merge online and print newsrooms”

Mr. Seidel, today's editorial systems are enormously complex. In your view, what has changed in this respect in the last years?

Publishers today expect that the high layout quality, such as we take for granted in  print products, should be guaranteed also for presentation in various online channels. It is no longer a case of publishing content online in any shape or form. Information presented in the web as well as on mobile devices should be displayed in a high typographical quality and with an appealing layout. For this, news media should have as far as possible an integrated system in order to enable editors to optimally place  news stories for print and news portals in a functional and layout-oriented way.

Many newsrooms are currently considering “online first”, meaning that not all content which lands in the web must necessarily also run in print. But it is important for newsrooms to have the possibility to feed all channels via one platform.

There is at present a major trend on the systems side towards so-called storytelling modules that serve to elaborate and present the news stories so that they appear in an appealing way to the reader. This should also include the integration of audio channels. e.g. with a link to Alexa. Another important aspect is the possibility of mobile production. All these modules and functions must be tailored precisely to meet the specific requirements of the publisher concerned.

Is it already commonplace for newsrooms at news media operations to work with an integrated system?

Newsrooms today mostly continue to work with two different systems for print and online. From our point of view, it is better to merge the online newsrooms with the print newsrooms. In many modern publishing companies it is already established practice for the newsrooms to concentrate on the content and the story while other  colleagues ensure that it is optimally distributed – on newspaper pages or via news channels. In many cases today it is no longer the editor who produces the newspaper pages, but the so-called operator. This is leading to an efficient assignment of tasks, ultimately resulting in specialisation.

New technology is therefore driving change in the organisation of the publishing operations?

In many cases the required technology that could support such organisational changes is not yet in use. The greatest difficulty, however, is mostly that the publishers think in terms of newspaper pages. For example, the editors in the local sports section know that they have to fill a half to a full newspaper page on any given day. They concentrate on this and do their research accordingly instead of focussing on the content independently of the medium concerned. Publishers and editors-in-chief would like to change this and structure everything in such a way that optimal use can be made of the new technology. But, naturally, this cannot be achieved from one day to the next.

Can you give examples of which publishers already put this into practice?

The Ruhr Nachrichten have already made major progress in this respect. Right now  they are changing their complete organisation and determinately pursuing the  online-first concept. Similarly, the Mittelbayerische Zeitung in Regensburg has introduced such a change process. As for smaller-sized publishing companies, I can cite the ZGO Zeitungsgruppe Ostfriesland in Leer. The example of these publishing operations clearly show that the editorial system requires the corresponding modules in order to be able to more efficiently plan content production and output control – with the aid of so-called organisation management modules. These are referred to also as editorial management systems. They permit you to optimally organise topic planning and the deployment of resources in the newsroom – e.g whether freelancers should be incorporated or not.

How important is the speed with which news can be published?

That is a decisive point. The aim is to become more agile and get the content to the communication market as fast as possible. Everyone must be the quickest in his region to communicate a news story, because when people find out that something has happened and input the keywords to a search engine, naturally the publisher wants to guide the readers to his website.

Do reporters make much mobile use of editorial platforms today?

Our customers are very interested in the mobile working option. Today, reporters can freely decide whether they want to work with a tablet, smartphone, notebook or desktop PC  – they can use all devices to produce content quickly. All they must do is to write a brief accompanying text and already it lands in the editorial system and can be output on news portals. We are constantly working on further developing such options.

To what extent does this correlate with the use as a cloud solution? 

If you have a mobile editor that you can use to produce newspaper pages and feed online media, then this can be highly compatible with a cloud solution. Several major companies have already decided in favour of this approach. But we repeatedly encounter publishing companies that, for security reasons, do not want to have content, as their most important capital, stored in a cloud. This is above all a consideration if the servers of the suppliers are not located in Europe. We host the data of our customers in Limburg and in Roubaix in France. Independent of the data concerned, what matters is also whether the actual application is in the cloud and therefore web browser-compatible. That is the case with us.

To what extent do news media today still build their own editorial and CM systems? 

There is naturally one aspect that we should not forget where editorial systems and CM are concerned: For publishers, the topic of print and newspaper continues to be a positive generator of turnover. For this reason they require editorial and CM systems that are compatible with print. Editorial systems for print call for decade-long experience and corresponding developer capacities to build the correct editors. Most publishing companies do not have the necessary resources and should therefore concentrate on content production and marketing. They must also themselves continually further develop and support “homemade” systems, and that is a problem for the publishing companies. There are large operations, such as the Washington Post, that market their own editorial system also to other publishers, thus  creating a business sector in its own right. But that presupposes the availability of resources on a scale that many do not have: Amazon's Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, where reportedly several hundred developers are now working. In addition, several Norwegians, pioneers in “online first”, are building their own systems. Although the German media groups have their own software developers, they do not have such personnel capacities.

Therefore the competition is not inactive. WordPress is now building its own editorial system for small and medium-sized operations, with money from  Google...

It is worthwhile to take a closer look here. These are usually all editorial systems that can serve only online channels. Despite all moves towards “online first”: Publishers  need print to earn money. Most of the new software suppliers entering the market cannot manage print. Therefore, for the publishers who decide in their favour, this means that they continue to operate in two parallel worlds. And that cannot be the solution.

But that is undoubtedly also a cost-related consideration, or not?

Yes, of course. No matter whether you buy or lease a software – the best deal will always be an off-the-shelf solution. But many publishing companies have a problem with this because all have their own specific requirements. We operate in a creative  industry. At the same time, “standard” is not equivalent to “bad”. We invest man-years in development and have already raised many specialities to the level of standards. With such a high-quality standard it is possible to cover a wide range of needs. The re-organisation at the Nordsee-Zeitung in Bremerhaven, that is at present undergoing a complete change process, is a good example for this.

In your experience, how long do such change processes require up to a new organisation and suitably integrated systems technology?

As far as the innovation and change processes at the publishing companies are concerned – that can naturally vary to a large degree. But, for example, if a publishing operation wants to now orient its strategy completely towards “online first” and introduces new systems to this end – a new editorial system with CRM, an advertising and distribution system – then the total time required for the project will quickly reach two years. But this includes all project stages, from evaluating and selecting systems up to going live and transforming the processes.

You accompany many such transformation processes. How do you yourself manage to adapt repeatedly to the new requirements of the, in part, crisis-stricken media industry?

We have at present 62 employees and continue to develop our systems at our facility in Ettlingen. This works because we learn a great deal from practical experience and work with agile development methods. We constantly analyse our products and services and continually check which individual requirements we can elevate to standards level. Important here is not to develop three years long and not show anything on the market, but instead to demonstrate the development steps every four weeks in order to obtain feedback. In addition, we promote the sharing of experiences between journalists and developers. Therefore in this connection it is possible to talk in terms of Co-Creation. Sometimes even I am surprised by the resulting dynamism. For this reason we wish to further promote these exchanges of experience. Accordingly we are considering smaller user groups and meetings with a view to expanding this dynamism..

Visit Funkinform on 8 and 9 October 2019 at the leading exhibition of the newspaper and media industry IFRA World Publishing Expo and the parallel DCX Digital Content Expo. Funkinform will be showing its “Dialog” solution with the latest modules.

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