A next-generation unified CMS

It’s been a long time coming -- too long -- but in the next month or so we’re finally moving savannahnow.com to a new responsive Drupal 7 foundation. There’s more to it than that, though.

ContentWatchWe previously had moved several other of our sites to responsive Drupal 7 systems, including businessinsavannah.com, jaspersuntimes.com and lavozlatinaonline.com. And of course we launched www.dosavannah.com several years ago as a responsive D7 site from the start.

But savannahnow.com is a huge beast with years of content to be migrated, specialty pages to be rebuilt, a high volume of daily postings and (the big one) a need for close integration into the newsroom’s content-workflow environment.

It’s that integration that I am going to describe here.

There’s a belief in some journalism circles that “if we just had the right content management system, everything would be great.” That’s silly -- journalism comes from reporters who dig, not from content management tools. 

But tools are important, and they do influence the behaviors of their users.

At the Savannah Morning News we manage content for around 35 print press runs per week under half a dozen separate brands, another half a dozen separate websites that are continuously updated, several iOS and Android apps, more than 30 social media channels, and a long list of special products that are produced throughout the year, ranging from monthly neighborhood newsletters to annual tourist publications. 

As a content management challenge, this is much more complicated than the situation at the typical U.S. newspaper in the pre-Internet era. Life was simpler then. One size pretty much had to fit all. Today, we operate a portfolio of specialized, niche products.

Print and digital have to coexist -- it’s not an option. Digital absolutists generally don’t understand how fiercely loyal core print readers can be, or how much money is involved. (Print absolutists … well, most of them, thankfully, are gone, retired, or simply left the industry.) Our tools have to meet the needs of all platforms and products, and they have to encourage our staff to do the right thing at the right moment in the right medium.

So our “inside” environment is being upgraded to have more robust support for “outside” digital channels, while retaining responsibility for the fairly complex print workflows. 

Our “inside” system is Mediaspectrum ContentWatch, a cloud-hosted tool that serves all the Morris Publishing Group business units and integrates with AdWatch, which manages the global workflow of advertising composition. Earlier versions of CW were heavily print-centric, but as it’s a flexible database system, we were able to craft fairly good support for continuous digital publishing. 

The new system takes that to a whole new level, directly integrating with Drupal through some existing and custom APIs. This includes not only content management but also Web presentation management, with direct manipulation of Drupal nodequeues (ordered lists), media assets and Web previews of unpublished stories. 

This means reporters and editors can work in a single environment while supporting dozens of products, both print and digital, with robust versioning, instant Web publication when desired, and precise presentational control.

This next-generation unified CMS is actually a hybrid, part Mediaspectrum, part Drupal, part proprietary, part open-source, part print and part digital. The key is integration. 

All software is a work in progress, and this is no exception. We’ve been working closely with Mediaspectrum for quite some time and look forward to continued evolution of their products.