Media and Drupal workflow

I got to sit in a session where we’re learned about how newsrooms are using Drupal in varying ways. In a discussion called “Drupal in the Newsroom,” representatives from NY Observer (Tom McGeveran), Mother Jones (Nick Aster), and a representative from The McClatchy Company (I’m working on the name since I ran out of batteries and was scrambling for a plug when everyone was getting introduced) joined in a panel discussion.

McGerevan said the New York Observer takes a lot of the essential elements of Drupal and uses them in the newsroom. The newsroom operates in a way where most things are published to the web and then changed, improved, repackaged and put into the print publication. He says the news product more native to the web in its workflow. But they haven’t built any custom workflow into the CMS. They have customized Drupal for editorial needs. They found templates and ways to package content to do the things they need. In their recent relaunch of the site, they have editors applying a weight to a story. That determines how much prominence it has on the site. No more scheduling of the story items. It’s a thought process that is more web native. I really like that!

McClatchy’s workflow is rapidly developing. When they first started experimenting with the CMS, they were looking at standalone builds. They saw a lot of instances where affiliate IT departments were using Drupal as a back end or adding widget items into existing CMS. The Drupal commenting system is the only thing they would use it for. But as McClatchy newsrooms gain more knowledge, they’re using it more. Some newsrooms want to use it as a primary data entry site to feed the content into their core CMS and eventually use it to the print product.

Aster said Mother Jones used to consider itself as a magazine that happens to have a website. Now they’re working with the belief that they’re a 24 hour news agency. That thought process started changing when they introduced blogs two years ago. The web-focused workflow is more relaxed and once people realized that is a better process, the use of Drupal was welcomed. This process also created a less complex approval and permissions process to get articles and blogs published to the site.

The first thing that came to my mind was whether the newsrooms are working on any Agile development concepts using Drupal. Apparently McClatchy used Drupal to build a mom community in only a week and a half! I think that’s amazing. If I was able to build a functioning community site in that short amount of time, I could have four or five test projects running! Okay. Maybe three.

It was interesting to see where the conversations were going with the session. There was more culture talk and workflow talk than an actual discussion in how Drupal functions. I kind of really wanted to talk about Drupal functions. But the discussion turned to how did the newsrooms change culturally to become web-focused. The one thing that stood out from all three men was how all three newsrooms have an open source environment. They all said it made sense to work with an open source product. That was so great to hear. I’ve hit snag after snag from cultures that don’t work with Drupal’s flow.

The one workflow item that I really enjoyed hearing about what how Mother Jones is using Drupal’s features to create more of a community through online readers and potential contributors. Mother Jones wants to be able to share investigative journalism online where the community can help steer the conversations into solutions. The magazine added two little flags in Drupal where the comment can be a recommended solution or a documented result on behalf of the problem.

In the end, I got the feeling that the room was full of people bursting to talk about journalism and how we can find really great solutions for the industry… and the possibility that Drupal is one of those solutions. One person asked if Drupal was a fad… I mentioned that statement on Twitter. Ben Shoemate, who I finally met in person after talking on Twitter, mentioned to me that he felt that question was a bit dramatic. The real question is this: Do these newsrooms all expect to switch content management systems every two years? That’s when I really figured out why we’re doing all of this.

We are looking for solid CMS that is flexible enough to do what we want it to do today and what we’ll want it to do tomorrow. And if it isn’t flexible enough tomorrow, it needs to be able to export all of its data easily to prevent an ugly CMS divorce. That’s what matters. It doesn’t matter if Drupal or WordPress or Django are the fads. What matters more is if we don’t like the CMS, we can export, get out and move on without losing data.

So that’s where the question of output of web content that can go right into the print system becomes very important. If you can export web content to go into a newspaper, then you can export all of your content into archives or into an alternate CMS.

I’d love to hear what you think!


  1. “Fad” is just such a … crappy way to describe Drupal or any other language/CMS. A CMS is just a way to get your content in front of subscribers. I mean, seriously, are we going to start calling Photoshop a “fad?” Let’s not get sucked into the idea that the technology is determinative of the content. It’s the other way around.

  2. Pingback: Tech4him - Technology with Integrity » Blog Archive » Christian Technology Web Resource Blog

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