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Changing editorial workflow and technology for digital publishing

AOP interview: Diane Burley, Nstein Technologies

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In February 2009, AOP hosted a forum looking at how new editorial technologies are shaping multimedia publishing. Ahead of the event, we caught up with one of the speakers, Diane Burley, Digital Industry Specialist at Nstein Technologies, to discuss how editorial process has evolved over the years, and what to expect from the future.

Q. How has the shift towards digital media changed the way editorial teams work, compared to the pre-Internet days?

Diane Burley, nStein
Pre-Internet the workflow was writer, editor, and into production for a single media outlet. Print has had decades to streamline the workflow and improve efficiencies. The addition of digital media has seen the evolution of a digital savvy team - combined with the traditional editorial team.

In some cases these two teams are set up to complement one another. But in most, there now exists two very strong 'systems' that really don't have bridges between them. And by bridges I mean both physical and cultural ones. Moving content from one system to another is made difficult by rigid workflows, locked infrastructures and rigid workers.

Q. Has digital media been in any way a hindrance to editorial standards and practices?

In the majority of companies, digital media has been an ad hoc system -- cobbled onto a highly rigid editorial system. To just 'get it done' has probably meant breaking or sidestepping some of the rules. Also, staffing has decreased while the amount of information going into multiplying channels is increasing! Certainly this scenario does not help in maintaining strict standards.

In general though, most "traditional" news organizations have set up digital teams with a very strong appreciation for digital rights and ethics. I would say that digital media is not a hindrance to editorial standards, but rather the systems that support editorial standards have not been established thoroughly.

If a person has a deadline, there is an image available, how much time can the person spend trying to determine if s/he has rights to use the image? A system can be set up with access controls, with dashboards to indicate stories are waiting for approvals, that greatly minimise these confusions.

Q. Is the technology keeping up with demand from editorial? How can technology improve the way content is created and delivered?

The technology is way ahead of the demand! The challenge is, has management invested in the correct technology and the training in technology to keep up with demand? I am very familiar with editorial systems - these were rigid mainframes designed to do a single job: keep news flowing down the assembly line and onto the presses.

Management invested in these very expensive systems and it appears to be more rational to keep bolting on new 'extensions' to an old system rather than just starting over. But these ‘Frankensteins’ were designed for print.

And that's where their heart remains. They were designed to ease a linear workflow, and so don't have adequate fields to add tags or metadata, for example, to indicate the presence of video content.

Digital media means the flow is bi-directional: print to digital channel, digital channel to print, and even multi-directional if you include user-generated content. These old systems just can't handle that.

Q. How do you think a typical editorial team will look and work in five years time? What are the main trends and changes to look out for?

Wouldn't it be great to see a single newsroom with writers, producers, audio, video and still-photo artists who can work together to determine the content going into multi-channel delivery? How about domain experts culling the many voices of inbound reader comments to provide analysis and commentary?

Of course, this newsroom must be supported by an infrastructure that will allow the creating, collaborating, categorizing and channeling content to ease this multi-dimensional flow.

Companies that are doubling down on digital to stay competitive and stem the flow of red ink must rethink the entire editorial workflow and the types of people who can work in this environment. Tethering to the past can betray the future.

Diane spoke at the AOP Forum ‘Editorial technologies shaping multimedia publishing'on 26 Feb 2009 - More details and download speaker presentations.

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