February 6, 2020

Some of this piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here

What’s the wonkiest thing you’ve dealt with because of your newsroom’s CMS?

Katy Camp, digital content manager at WFTV in Orlando, might win this one.

“We had one that had a ‘known bug’ that would populate some pages sometimes with a very old story about the Chinese economy that had been deleted,” she shared Wednesday on Twitter.

Journalist Matt DeRienzo, who’s worked for Hearst Connecticut and Local Independent Online News Publishers, recalled a CMS menagerie.

“I remember at one point at the New Haven Register, we counted and were working in five or six different CMS platforms that all had to talk to each other in order to publish,” he wrote on Twitter. “And it was very tail wags the dog. Like for the PDF edition to work, we needed four extra steps.”


And in the newsrooms he’s worked for, Tyler Fisher and his colleagues “did almost all of our work outside the CMS.”

Fisher, who worked as a news developer at Politico and NPR, said the limitations were too difficult to work around. So he built cool things outside the newsroom’s publishing platform.

Related: How to get a new CMS – a guide

I don’t think it’s editorializing to say, but – this is bad.

In the three newsrooms I’ve worked in, I’ve seen CMS moves erase archives, add characters into headlines and merge bylines until there’s just one supercalifragilisticexpialidocious reporter.

It’s exhausting. And it makes the thought of a new publishing platform seem terrifying instead of promising. What will we lose? How long will this take? What will get broken in the process?

We tried to answer a lot of those questions, with help from people in newsrooms and CMS companies, in a new project with News Catalyst. This might interest you because there are more and more modern publishing platforms built by and for newsrooms, and where do you even start (oh look, research on five of them)? Or it might interest you because the Knight Foundation and News Revenue Hub are funding 25 newsrooms up to $20,000 to make the move. Or maybe you just need help seeing the bigger picture.

Fisher, News Catalyst’s deputy director of technology, offered this: “A CMS is not just a technology choice,” he said. “It’s a choice you’re making for your entire business.”

Related: Here’s what you need to know before moving to a new CMS

Damon Kiesow, Knight Chair in digital editing and producing at the Missouri School of Journalism, put it in even simpler terms: “CMS is destiny.”

I hope our CMS guide is useful whether you’re planning a move, applying for the grant or just want to understand more. We have some cool opportunities that are part of it, including open demo days and a place to submit questions to the publishing platforms and people using them for three of the CMSs. We’ll wrangle the answers.

And seriously, I’m here for your CMS horror stories. Share them with me on email or Twitter — I might add them here or start a new post, and we’ll try to heal together.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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