Photo courtesy of Mumsy

Why a Decoupled CMS is Great News for News

The future of news is fragmented, and publishers need to master delivery in order to ensure that content is reaching its readers no matter where they are or what device they are using. And they cannot do that with an outdated CMS.

Publishers know that the news business is changing beneath their feet. As the millennial generation becomes a bigger part of the news-reading audience, the trend toward mobile will only continue to gain steam. Add to all of this the number of proliferating social media channels, the burgeoning wearable technology market, news apps appearing every other week, and the challenge before news publishers is clear.

Over the past few years, multichannel delivery has morphed into omnichannel delivery. It is no longer just about print vs. digital, or desktop vs. mobile. Now there are Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, and Google AMP publishing channels — all of which aim to help improve the mobile news experience but add yet another distribution channel to some publishers’ line-ups. As Frank Gilbane wrote on the Gilbane Conference blog,:

“Multichannel content management is still hard, but it was one thing to hesitate when there was only one extra channel — now there are n+1 channels, the cost equation has changed, and you can’t build a sustainable digital experience without solving this problem.”

Unless you have a psychic on staff, you won’t be able to look into the content future and the many devices, platforms, and channels that will shape it, but there are ways for publishers to “future-proof” their content and get ready for whatever might come down the pipe — but it requires decoupling editorial tools from the presentation (more on that later).

The Digital Native Competition

While everyone in the digital space is trying to work out the multichannel problem, legacy publishers have a special challenge: competing with digital native outlets and the new formats they bring to the table. Take, for instance, Vox’s card stack format, which capitalizes on the freedom the web provides to create new, innovative ways of presenting content. Instead of carrying over the text-heavy formats of print publications, Vox has opted to create totally new formats like the card stack which allows readers to swipe through different story points, told in a variety of formats — such as video or charts.

Meanwhile, Quartz is using the mobile context to its advantage. In February of 2016 it released an app that looks more like a chat platform than a typical news app. When a user opens the app — only available on the iPhone and Apple Watch for the time being — she is greeted by text bubbles offering teasers from the latest news stories. She can then click on the stories she’s interested in seeing more of. The recent advent of “news bots” is following the same trend.

It’s not only web pages anymore

With digitally native media outlets like Vox and Quartz continuing to push the boundaries of what digital content delivery looks like, it becomes even more pressing for legacy publishers to keep up with the times — and even innovate.

Publishers Need to Stay Flexible

What advantage do the digital native publications have over legacy pubs? Flexibility. According to Stephen Hills, former Washington Post president, “In order to remain competitive, publishers should embrace a new model: identify key trends, experiment to find what works, and then measure, analyze, and iterate.”

That’s easy to say, right? Harder to actually do. But there are examples of old media going all-in on the digital front and being a success — giving those digital native upstarts a run for their money. And you need not look any further than Hills’ own organization. Recent efforts effort helped the WaPo have a banner year in digital — reportedly adding more unique visitors than any other information site in the first half of 2015, and was named to Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 in Media.

Guess who else made that Fast Company list? The Guardian. Media organizations don’t come much more venerable than The Guardian, but that has not stopped the company from innovating. With the help of over 40,000 user comments The Guardian revamped its website in a number of ways, and increased its load speeds across all devices. More importantly for our purposes, it began experimenting with exciting new formats, including a graphic novel called Techsploitation.

These examples are great for inspiration, but it won’t do you any good to simply play catch-up as these other media outlets raise the bar.

To stay flexible enough to easily experiment and find what works for your publication you need to have the right strategy, and more importantly, the right tools.

How a Decoupled CMS Can Help

WYSIWYG tools have been great for news bloggers without any coding experience. Tools like WordPress and Drupal have made it easy for anyone with an internet connection to set up a website and start publishing, but traditional monolithic content management systems are not up to the task of future-proofing your content. In order to be ready for the delivery challenges of tomorrow, you have to decouple your CMS from the presentation of the content. Developers are starting to catch on to this.

With a decoupled architecture there is a traditional, database-driven CMS where editors and other content creators can enter and manage content: let’s call this the “Editorial CMS”, still much needed due to the complexity of large newsrooms’ workflows. On the frontend, presentation can be handled in a variety of ways, and accesses the content for the site (or apps, readers, whatever) via programmer-friendly APIs. This allows you to redesign the site without having to rework your CMS, but also means content can be delivered to a variety of frontends — making it easier to deliver content to any device.

By implementing a decoupled — or “headless” — CMS news organizations can stop worrying so much about what new devices and channels the future may bring. They can also start experimenting more easily with new formats to help keep up with the digital native competition.

Companies like EidosMedia are developing content management frameworks (CMFs) to help publishers move forward and embrace the future of decoupled CMSs. EidosMedia’s Cobalt, a new module currently in private beta, ingests content from traditional CMSs and makes it accessible in a variety of modern, accessible formats — and is fully integrated with EidosMedia’s CMS Méthode. The CMF can also deliver content, stored in JSON format, through RESTful APIs, which allows a publisher to deliver the same article to Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, WeChat — or any other medium — from one backend. (OK, tech-speak over!)

There are already an awful lot of acronyms in the world of content delivery, but the list will only get longer as the number of platforms, devices, and formats publishers are expected to service grows.

Publishers need to be ready.

Content Wrangler Scott Abel, and co-author of Intelligent Content: A Primer, describes future-proofed content as “content intentionally designed to anticipate the future needs of an organization and minimize the pain, stress and cost of meeting those needs.” In order to help your content meet this definition, you may need to seriously consider investing in a decoupled CMS. Instead of worrying about what the next delivery challenge will be, you will be able to count on your technology to be ready to tackle whatever comes next.

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