Press Gazette has partnered with BuiltWith to create a unique picture of the technology which underpins more than 2,000 of the world’s leading news websites. Our first focus is on the technology used by publishers for content management systems. Next week we look at analytics.[Sign up for Press Gazette’s free Future of Media Technology webinar series which has sessions on content management, analytics, adtech and paywalls]
While newsrooms experiment with many technologies, they are more alike than different in the technology they choose to deliver their core functions such as content management, a Press Gazette analysis has found.
Using data from BuiltWith, a business intelligence company that creates technology profiles of websites, Press Gazette analysed the content management technology underpinning leading news sites (based on their traffic) to get an insight into the solutions selected. We found that more than four in ten news websites use WordPress for at least part of their domain.
Although BuiltWith’s data cannot give us an exhaustive picture of the tech stack used by a newsroom, it can inspect a page’s source code to pick up some of the most popular tech tools used by websites around the world.
And getting these tech tools right is critical for newsrooms.
Making the right technological decisions is, says Sanjay Ravindran, New Statesman Media Group’s (NSMG) chief information officer, “crucial” on two fronts.
“You want the best tools for your business but, secondly, stakeholders — the editorial team, the commercial teams, the management — all need to be confident in the solution that you’re proposing. And, more and more, it’s the modularity and ability to change — not necessarily very quickly, but efficiently,” he says.
“There are some industry standards but where the variation happens is really around how you intend to monetise your audience or if a particular site has a specific USP [unique selling proposition] that needs something that isn’t available in the standards solutions.
“The thing is really to understand what your USP is and then build a technology stack that fits that USP,” adds Ravindran.
NSMG (which owns Press Gazette), he says, spends significant time investigating, building and deciding to integrate more specific products.
One way NSMG has done that, says Ravindran, is through its choice of Content Management Systems (CMS). For any publisher, the CMS is naturally the backbone of the business. In a digital-first newsroom just a few of the many things that the CMS needs to do is provide a great user experience, support remote work, and integrate with an increasing number of data tools, monetisation platforms and social sharing tools.
While NSMG uses WordPress, the need to manage a whole suite of websites under the media group meant it had to build a customised, central publishing platform (which it has named Figaro) on top of WordPress since what it needed was not commercially available.
NSMG is in good company. When it comes to content management, WordPress was the most widely used technology on our list. More than four in ten (44%) of sites were built — at least in part — on the open-source content management system, among them the properties of News UK, which is possibly the biggest user of WordPress in the publishing world. Broadcaster Al Jazeera, which recently launched its new digital platform on top of WordPress is another well-known adopter.
Drupal, a highly customisable open-source solution, although far less popular these days, was behind a further 5% of sites, including The Economist.
We couldn’t identify a known CMS for some 600 sites in our list, which could suggest they’re using a bespoke CMS, as is the case with The New York Times.
Although WordPress seems to have lost a little popularity among websites as a whole in recent years, it should come as little surprise that so many news publishers choose to either manage their website with highly, customisable, open-source tools like WordPress or go for an entirely bespoke solution since getting the right CMS is critical to a publishing business.
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One reason Al Jazeera says that it decided to use WordPress was because it is a platform many journalists already know.
Gabriel Karp, Europe head of digital service agency, 10up which helped Al Jazeera to re-platform says that his company's core focus usually starts with the CMS. "Then we build out from there," he says.
"From my perspective, the key purpose of a CMS is to ensure that the newsroom or the editorial team can do the job that they're there to do, and they can do it efficiently. And they have all of the kind of features that they need from a fund management perspective," says Karp.
Ravindran agrees. "That is where your content is generated and making that a good experience for editors and journalists is paramount," he says. "Just as important is the ability to satisfy all the commercial requirements and the commercial team."
Karp says that while he uses WordPress as a solution for many of the company’s clients, it’s not the go-to answer for every business.
"We use WordPress a lot but it is not always the right answer. We start with what are the requirements of that newsroom both as we think about the front end and the back end? Do you need different architecture for it from a technology standpoint? Are you just using the product out of the box or are you really customising the product? Are you using a hosted product? What are the implications of that?"
One tech that is becoming increasingly popular with newsrooms is the so-called "headless" CMS - as used by New York Times and TechCrunch among others.
A"headless" CMS decouples the content from the presentation layer, making it easier to adapt content for use across digital platforms other than the website.
As well as ensuring content displays well across different devices, a headless CMS says Karp can also tie in well with evolving business models.
"Especially [for newsrooms], using a headless CMS or WordPress as a headless CMS, you can create whatever business model and structure on the front end that you need to. All of those tools exist and are at your disposal," he says.
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