Introducing Monitor: CMS for human corrected news aggregator

The required intro

Meduza is an independent russian language media platform based in Riga, Latvia. We are a news aggregator but we produce our own news and reports as well. Meduza is three months old but our monthly audience is more that two million. The original post was written in Russian, thanks to the guys from Unbabel.com for translation.

Monitor: Meduza’s Internal Editor

The center of life for any publication is its admin panel (aka its CMS, also called an internal editor, backend, etc. You can call it whatever you want but for the sake of simplicity we will call it an admin panel or Monitor). Here texts are written and published, with the whole editorial board taking part. The quality of the admin panel is not only determined by speed but also environment: If the Admin panel is slow and uncomfortable, it constantly irritates those who use it; the ideal admin panel is one you do not notice. Moreover, if the admin panel is bad, Editorial begins to hate Development, and if Editorial hates Development they will never work together. If they never work together you can forget about new media: you will not get further than publishing simple text with a picture. Thus, developing an admin panel is generally a major project for an online media outlet.

In general, while developing an admin panel, it is important to proceed from several postulates:

  1. In no case should the admin panel be at the mercy of Design or Development. The editor is the only person who actually knows what is needed. The main thing is to ask the right questions. If you do not connect editors during the creation of the admin panel, you will create a dead thing: it will be a lot of unnecessary work and of little need.
  2. A good admin panel can not be done without a designer and the designer interface. We repeat: the admin panel — is a very specific and complicated mechanism, made to meet specific needs. It must be intuitive. Interfaces of such a level cannot be developed without a specialist. It is better to first get a guideline with drawn elements from the designer. It is not good to fully draw the admin panel without any guidelines. In this case, any change would require the intervention of the designer. It is long and expensive.
  3. Do not forget about the admin panel after its launch. Internal editing requires constant development — if the admin panel will be not developing simultaneously, you will hinder the development of the editorial.
  4. Do only what is truly necessary. It is better to make 5 essential functions than spend a lot of time on innovative but a non-obvious solutions that no one will use.

What we are going to show you now is already the second version of the Monitor. The first was made at jet speed in only three months. This second one was launched several days ago.

Here it is.

24 hours

24 hours, the main screen of the Monitor

This is the main screen of the Monitor. As the name suggests, all the materials that passed through the Monitor in the last 24 hours can be seen here. Materials are divided into published ones and those that are in the works. The upper yellow banner is called “Covenants” and is used for important announcements.

The “24 hours” screen will soon see serious changes. There will be a separate post about this.

Calendar

Calendar, the least used Monitor screen

An illustration of the fact that during the development of the admin panel you should focus on mandatory things. Calendar was created for planning: the editor creates the next week’s material and remembers pending deadlines — in the first version of the Monitor, the calendar widget was also shown on the screen “24 hours”. In fact, it turned out that the vast majority of editors actively interact with the news, where, by definition, there is no planning. Meanwhile, the smaller part of the editorial board that engages with a publication’s history finds it easier to use post-its on a glass wall. Thus, the calendar stands empty as a reminder of the time and money spent in vain.

Learn from our mistakes.

Issue

Issue, the most complicated of the Monitor screens

Users of the site will not see published material and nothing gets into the RSS unless the production editor puts it in the Issue. The publish process looks like this:

Once an editor starts to take active steps in an issue, the screen is locked for the rest:

All sections of Meduza are assembled by hand, there is no automation.

All materials

All materials for preservation’s sake

Everything is simple here: this is an archive. Search by the type of material, the date, or the name of the editor. We will not dwell on this for a long time.

External

All editors have access to internal statistics: how many is the current on-screen content collecting. Statistics are given per half-hour and for the lifetime.

Statistics

This shows internal statistics about editors and types of materials — it is also open to everyone (in general, there are no user roles in the Monitor, everyone is equal).

The average time spent on material is a sly figure and not always indicative.

Sources

A complex screen, made by hard work. Meduza is an aggregator. That concept is at the heart of the publication — material that’s able to reference to any source. It would seem that everything is simple. It’s simple, but not quite. Sources are different. It happens that one site may simultaneously have several sources (e.g. Vkontakte, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). It may happen that one source is represented by several sites (e.g. Alexey Navalny). Therefore, sources have subsources and synonyms. Here, for example, is the look of the source page called Vkontakte, russian biggest social network:

This is it about the screens within Monitor (the remaining screens are quite technical and there is nothing interesting to say about them). Let’s proceed to the process of creating material — that is, let’s click on the green square in the upper left corner.

Material Creation

What you see is the interface for creating a news article, the simplest material of those offered. An article that has been written and published looks like this:

Pleasant things:

  1. Right and left columns are independent.

2. Any source automatically has an added screenshot (made by a robot, an editor has nothing to do with this). This is done in case we will be accused of quoting incorrectly: we always keep the original.

3. The source (if it is in the Monitor) is determined automatically. That is, when the editor of the copies in the source link nytimes.com/some_url, the Monitor immediately understands that this is The New York Times and binds it to the source material.

4. In the material, several people can work simultaneously — we block the material by the fields. Moreover, one editor sees what the other is doing:

5. There are fields limitations by signs — it works like twitter.

6. All text fields automatically pass through the printer. The printer is not ours, it is bad, but a better one is yet to be found. Probably we will have to make it ourselves.

7. Recently the autosave has been running continuously — that is, it is not necessary to press the “Save” button all the time and lose half of the material for any reason.

What we are showing here is the news editor. Editors of other types of material look very similar so showing them is not very interesting. It is interesting that in the last version, we placed the text editor and a photo editor in different interfaces. We did this for two reasons: first, because the photo editor can run in parallel with the editor; second, because they need very different things that do not get along together.

Photo Editor

Photo Editor — an alternative kind of material, available by link. It looks like this:

In the photo editor one can not edit the text, but it is convenient to work with pictures. A significant number of fields are simply removed. If desired, the text field can be reduced to a minimum and one can attend to pictures only:

Pictures can only be inserted between paragraphs. To insert a photo, you need to drag it from the left pane to the right in the specially designed field for this:

Monitor reports what the size of the uploaded photo is, offers to change it directly in the text without deleting it, offers to view it in full size, as well as move it through the text.

Publication process

When publishing material, the editor pays attention to how the material will look on the web and in applications. The preview at the moment is not quite accurate, but we are working on it. In addition, a couple of weeks ago, we started to automatically generate images to accompany the material on social networks — they are also displayed in the preview, but here they can be corrected:

We are still testing this feature, so these pictures do not leave Meduza. We’ll launch this feature soon.

Last but not least

A few days ago, we launched a quick way of creating and editing articles. It is not in the Monitor. This is an extension for Chrome.

If you install the extension and click on it when you read stuff on Meduza, you will immediately get into the Monitor. Here we go:

Or if you have found an interesting publication on the other site:

Monitor has created the material — alongside an associated source, title, and even the text (which we, of course, will rewrite, but it simplifies and accelerates the editor’s work).

Is that all?

To begin with, yes. Subscribe to our Medium and we will tell you everything else we come up with. On our part, we welcome any ideas.