News Leadership 3.0

November 12, 2010

For live coverage, does your content management system “play nice with others?”

For breaking news or high-profile ongoing coverage, it helps to be able to quickly present news no matter how it arrives. But at many established news organizations, their content management systems don’t make this easy.

Here’s one example of a service that can make it easier for news organizations to deliver to audiences real-time news that gets filed via many channels, from Twitter to e-mail to cell phones and more. It could also make it easier for smaller news orgs and blogs to collaborate on live coverage…

By Amy Gahran

At many established news organizations, the CMS is primarily oriented toward print or broadcast production of packaged stories. Web capabilities usually get layered on top of legacy systems, due to the huge sunk investment in those legacy systems plus the cost, time, and complexity to overhaul them for digital-first processes.

Such layered systems generally do a decent job of delivering news stories online, but they’re generally less flexible about directly integrating content from third-party services like Twitter or Flickr, or photos sent from a cell phone.

Also, presenting liveblog-style coverage can be a rather clunky and labor-intensive process to implement within a typical news CMS. Many news providers rely on CoverItLive for liveblogging, but that tool presents a usability hurdle since it’s actually an embedded player that site visitors must activate in order to view the content—it’s not just a regular web page.

I recently learned about ScribbleLive, a hosted service that functions as an add-on CMS for integration of live content. It’s already being used by several major news brands, including Reuters, Hearst Television, and Canada’s National Post.

I don’t normally write posts that focus on one product, but I think this is a good example of the kind of tool that could help both large and small news providers overcome technical limitations that in turn limit editorial and collaborative options.

A Sept. 30 Venture Beat story describes how ScribbleLive works: “News organizations create a web page or an embedded stream of content to cover a specific event or breaking news story. Then reporters can add updates in almost any way they like. They can log onto the site and post stories, pictures, and videos, of course, but they can also e-mail their text, photos, and videos, or upload them via an iPhone application. And they can incorporate reader comments and Twitter updates into the stream.”

To see ScribbleLive in action today, check out Reuters’ live coverage of this week’s G20 Summit in Seoul. Or from Canada’s National Post, here’s their archived live coverage of last month’s high-profile trial of Col. Russell Williams.

During an online demo, ScribbleLive execs Michael De Monte and Mark Walker showed me how news organizations can use this service both as a content filing system for reporters in the field, and as a curation system for social media content and reader comments. Reporters can publish photos, audio, video, or even courtroom sketches from their cell phones, tablets or laptops directly into the system. Content can also be filed directly into the system via e-mail or SMS.

Also, editors can selectively post content from Twitter users, keywords, or hashtags that they’re monitoring—or any other source that offers a feed or API. The system includes permissions control and other safeguards, including digital rights management.

Said Walker, “Some contributions coming into the system are very short, like tweets. Others are far more extensive. The objective is to allow people to cover things in the most appropriate way.”

De Monte added: “Our mantra is paragraphs, not pages. We’re developing stories a graph at a time.”

This content integrates well into the news site layout. On the back end, the dynamically generated pages reside on ScribbleLive’s servers (since this is a hosted solution) but appear under the news site’s domain. So as far as Google is concerned, the content is all on the news site. ScribbleLive can also serve the news site’s ads and support its analytics

The visual effect is that the live coverage is a page within the news site, not a widget tacked onto a page. But news organizations also can opt to create a widget for this content that can serve as a teaser box on the home page or section head.

Also, unlike widgets, this live content can get indexed into the archives of the news organization’s CMS, making it easier for the news organization to reuse that content later as warranted. For example, check out the archive of Global News’ coverage from June’s G8/G20 summit in Toronto. That’s an improvement over widget-based live content presentation tools such as CoverItLive or Twitter badges, which host that content on their own servers and isn’t necessarily easy to find or reuse later.

Once you have a CMS that plays nice with the web, social media, e-mail, and other popular communication channels, you have more options to experiment with your editorial approach. According to De Monte, when the Canadian mobile sports site TheScore.com decided to cover virtually every pro sports game in North America, they recruited “super fans” to provide a sort of “sports citizen journalism.”

“These fans have permission to moderate for the site’s coverage of that game, and they get assigned to cover events,” said De Monte. “The result is something that runs in between personality-driven coverage (such as radio “color commentators”) and a live online chat. It’s more about what people think about the game, not play-by-play coverage, so it doesn’t run afoul of the leagues’ media contracts.”

On the other end of the spectrum, ScribbleLive could be used to help large or small news providers (including local sites and bloggers) collaborate on live or ongoing coverage. Distributing this content (and advertising) through a common system to several sites might benefit news orgs, advertisers, and audiences.

De Monte explained that ScribbleLive is licensed on an enterprise-wide basis, where the client organization pays either a base fee or a fee for each site where the service is used. Recently, however, they’ve also begun offering a network license: “There is no ‘mother organization’ in this case,” he said. “Rather, it’s a group of properties that have a relationship between them. You could negotiate pricing for each member within your collective.”

Could news organizations or open-source coding initiatives “roll their own” tool that would emulate ScribbleLive’s capabilities? Possibly—and I would welcome that development (as well as more commercial competition to ScribbleLive). However, this would require a significant investment of time and/or money. For news organizations that wish to expand their live coverage options right now, ScribbleLive is currently ready to use.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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