The CMS is your first editor

David Cohn
Jan 9, 2017 · 3 min read

Once while quarreling with a developer over CMS priorities I was told “hey, do I come to your team and tell you how to write stories.” And my immediate response was “yes, that’s exactly why we are discussing the CMS features.”

Technical features of a CMS dictate editorial. It’s as simple as that.

Almost everyone intuitively understands this when they think about the CMS’ they engage with on the daily. We don’t classify Facebook’s compose box as a CMS, but that’s what it is. It’s an “open” CMS where anyone can get functionality by signing up.

Most newsrooms have a “closed” CMS and only employees have access. But let’s focus on the open CMS’s for now, since they are a common technological touchstone.

The difference between Twitter and Instagram is ALL in the CMS. One starts with text, limits you to 140 characters and over time has allowed you to include multimedia. The other starts with a picture and you can add text only as a comment, but you have unlimited characters in those comments.

This is why we recognize an Instagram post for what it is and a Tweet for what it is. Take the design away and I suspect people would still be able to recognize which platform a piece of content was published with — because it fits the CMS better. That is called “Platform Intelligence.”

Technology and editorial are two sides of the same coin. If you want to do something unique from an editorial front, you may have to create a custom CMS.

When Circa wanted to “atomize the news” that meant creating a CMS where “the article” was not the base of production.

While I’ve never seen “Chorus” the CMS of Vox, I’m confident the “Stacks” feature that was heralded when Vox launched was a core feature of the CMS.

Conversely, if you change something on the CMS, that will have an impact on editorial.

If Twitter changed its compose box to have no character limit, the “editorial” tone of Tweets would change. When Instagram allowed for 15 second videos, the nature of the content changed. Same for any change made on Facebook, Snapchat, etc.

If you are in the business of editorial, you must understand the publicly available CMS’s (social networks) and how they shape tone, content. This is a great opening to think about your own news organizations CMS and how it dictates the content your organization produces.

Another analogy: 50 years ago a reporter would work on a story. He/She would go back/forth with their editor and after a few rounds, it would be passed on to a copy editor and finally a page designer.

The page designer is really the first person to think about “product.” They were the first to really engage with a “CMS” (the analogue CMS for print at least). The reporter was divorced from this and really didn’t care besides hoping their content was as close to the front page as possible.

Today, the reporter, through the CMS, touches the product. It started with WYSWIG editing (‘what you see is what you get’) but has evolved from there.

Where you decide to publish, if a choice, should reflect the editorial you want to accomplish. Imagine if I tried to respond to Nikki on Snapchat!?!?

The features you fight for in a CMS reflect your future editorial aspirations.

A List Apart (ISSN: 1534–0295) explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices.

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David Cohn

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Senior Director at Advance Publications innovation group. Twitter: @digidave or http://blog.digidave.org Do what I can to help. Also, I love you.

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David Cohn

Written by

Senior Director at Advance Publications innovation group. Twitter: @digidave or http://blog.digidave.org Do what I can to help. Also, I love you.

A List Apart Sidebar

For people who make websites, from A List Apart

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