WORKFLOWS SPECIAL - CONTENT CREATION 

Key peformance areas

Welcome to our latest workflows special, this time looking at all aspects of content creation. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers to the publishing sector and from senior editors at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Key peformance areas
Photograph: iStock.

Our ‘content creation’ special feature consists of five separate sections:

Key trends

Key performance areas

How can the quality and quantity of a publisher’s output be improved?

In a nutshell

Suppliers spotlight

In this section:

Staffing

Freelancer management

Remote filing

Content selection / commissioning

Article / home page composition

Text inputting / editing

Picture selection / editing

Deployment of audio-visual elements

Audio production

Video production

Content re-use

Rights management

SEO

Managing multiple outputs

Sign-off / approval process

Staffing

Diversity

Esther Newman, editor, Women’s Running, says: “Publishing has a real problem on its hands here. As an industry, it’s majority white and middle-class, and few publishers have worked on ways to make their companies more diverse. It’s all too easy to pluck graduates from media courses. One way that Anthem has worked to address the imbalance is by investing in apprenticeship schemes, which has necessitated a bigger and longer investment in training, but the rewards have been massive, both for the apprentices who learn on the job, and for Anthem as a whole, which has benefitted from their diverse experience and talents.

“In terms of widening the diversity net, so much work needs to be done. Publishers need to proactively market outside the usual channels, to engage with recruiters who advertise more widely, geographically and socially speaking. I was incredibly impressed by the Brixton Finishing School, and I think we would all do well to engage them with our next round of recruitment.”

In part, the answer is, says Martin Cloake, managing editor, Global Relay, “there needs to be more properly constructed recruitment processes and less informality.”

Gavin Thompson, regional editor, Newsquest (Wales), is looking to “find ways to rebuild links locally with schools and colleges. Local newspapers used to do regular work experience at that level but in recent years, it’s become less common and more focused on universities. But if we want to attract applications from more diverse groups, we’re going to need to put the groundwork in and I think that’s where it needs to start.”

Training

“There needs to be a recognition that training is an investment not a cost. Training helps retain staff, cut churn, improve standards and expand horizons,” says Global Relay’s Martin Cloake.

Cesare Navarotto, chief digital officer, Atex, agrees: “Training should become an essential part of the workload of any editor: writing in a SEO / social optimised way is an ever-evolving skill which needs to be continuously monitored / evaluated.”

Luke Nicholls, content director, edie, adds that it’s important to, “regularly check in with team members on their training needs. The training and development of staff was too easily forgotten during covid as publishers were forced to just think about delivering the here-and-now.”

On top of specialist areas like SEO or systems training, there is also a lack of awareness of standard keyboard shortcuts which means that even the most simple tasks can take seconds more than they need to. Seconds, of course, add up to minutes, which add up to hours…

David Coveney, director, interconnect, encourages publishers to, “see if your staff persistently do things the hard way, or if they learn and pick up on the tips and tricks that make life easier. Like double clicking on a word to select it, rather than painstakingly moving the cursor with the mouse. If someone’s on top of these details, they’ll quickly get on top of other things.”

Skill sets

Women’s Running’s Esther Newman says: “Anthem has worked hard on upskilling the whole company digitally, rather than leaving that knowledge in the hands of a golden few. It means we can all take ownership for the company’s success, ensuring that we’re publishing the content that our audience is seeking.”

Rob Corbidge, head of content intelligence, Glide Publishing Platform, has noticed that “journalists are now more aware of the role technology can play in their success. They are generally more production savvy than their peers were a decade ago – through necessity. Writing a good headline now requires the skill and understanding of SEO. Ensuring content gets shared needs social media savvy. Understanding the data to learn what content works, and more importantly, why it works, is a growing requirement too. And surfacing content on your site becomes easier and more effective when journos are au fait with the workings of their CMS.

“We spoke to an editorial leader who said, basically, today, if a journalist turns up and doesn’t know how Google search results work or how to improve their chances of a story scoring high, then they aren’t equipped to do the job properly.”

The amount of actual IT expertise you employ in-house largely depends on the publishing platform you use, says Nigel Abbott, enterprise sales advisor, FotoWare: “Adopting SaaS solutions where possible can result in less reliance on IT specialists in the organisations, since updates and maintenance can be handled by the service provider. This reduces the risk of investing in IT and tying up funds that are better used elsewhere.”

Having said that, says Glide Publishing Platform’s Rob Corbidge, “there is no downside to having a greater understanding of the technology which dominates how content gets where it should go. Publishers ideally need at least one person, if not several, who sit in both the tech and editorial camps, to create a two-way street of understanding between tech and editorial to share knowledge of doing things better.”

Pete Fergusson, founder & CEO, Nemorin

Video is becoming increasingly important, and publishers should, says Pete Fergusson, founder & CEO, Nemorin, “go with video trained journalists who can not only find a story, but shoot it, interview on location, then edit quickly. What was once a big ask, is now standard, partly thanks to new skill sets coming through from younger people.”

When it comes to shooting branded commercial content videos, “there are reasons to look at outsourcing, mainly due to the varied briefs coming through. It’s really tough to have every skillset for every genre in-house. Long-form, short-form, character animation, 3d, TikTok, cars, fashion, lifestyle etc – that’s a big ask from one team. A publisher is probably better off having a good production manager or video producer who can take a brief then bring in a production company to do the work, then disappear afterwards until they’re needed again.”

Talent pipeline

“A lot of people are saying that recruitment of good trainees is hard but I have to say I haven’t found that. We’ve had loads of good applicants for recent vacancies,” says Newsquest’s Gavin Thompson: “That said, it’s important to think about the talent pipeline. I’ve invited some candidates who didn’t get a job recently to come in and do placements with us – one of them might be perfect next time we have a vacancy.”

Freelancer management

One of the consequences of covid is that it has made the employment of freelancers more straightforward, because, says Esther Newman, “It’s all remote! WFH has changed the landscape. Not having to require freelancers to come in to a physical office, and to enable them to work flexibly means that I’ve been able to have the freelancers I actually want.”

Gavin Thompson acknowledges that “access to your CMS can be an issue with freelancers. If they can put content into your systems, that’s a big win, as putting a story into the system, uploading pictures, putting it on a page or whatever, all take a fair bit of time. But it’s not always possible.”

To that end, Rob van Dorp, owner, AdFactory International, says publishers should adopt an “online portal editorial system to steer their freelancers, and have articles coming in in the right format.”

It’s important, adds Paul Driscoll, director, Media Systems, that “freelancers can fulfil their roles in an inclusive way as opposed to being part of a bolted-on process.”

Nigel Abbott, enterprise sales advisor, FotoWare

FotoWare’s Nigel Abbott says: “Establishing a central system for all digital content can noticeably improve collaboration with freelancers. For instance, by enabling freelancers to work with editors in designated photo archives, and having the ability to add comments and annotations directly on images. These shared archives may be configured to fit the needs of specific jobs, for instance by establishing a common metadata framework between the publisher and the freelancer.”

In terms of managing freelancer contracts, says Atex’s Cesare Navarotto, “many publishers still rely on homemade systems, or even handmade Excel files, for tracking freelancers’ work and calculating their payments. It is about time to adopt market solutions which can automatically match each reporter with the right contract and calculate fees that are then consolidated in a financial report and sent to external invoicing systems.”

And, says Media Systems’ Paul Driscoll, “efficiency reports should be used to check that freelancers are contributing in a timely manner and adjustments made to the workflow if it’s clear that there’s room for improvement.”

And, whilst it should hardly need saying: “Treat your freelancers with respect. Be polite, appreciate them, give them notice if work is ending, get them paid quickly. If you do, then there’s a good chance they’ll be there when you need them – but never take them for granted,” says Gavin Thompson.

Remote filing

“Whilst many aspects of content creation are a solo effort, it’s the bringing it together and orchestrating them which really presents the challenges. Interactions between parties causes delays and interruptions, breaking the creative flow with people switching between jobs and taking time to ‘find it and pick it up again’. Managing the collaboration between contributors, authors, artists, clients and management is the less sexy aspect of publishing yet doing it right can make a huge difference,” says Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule.

Google, DropBox et al

“The mechanics available to enable collaboration in 2022 are extensive,” says Mike Hoy: “The appearance of shared network drives like DropBox, Google Drive, SharePoint etc have enabled the humble office file server to spread its wings and reach those working externally while Adobe’s cloud provides ways to share, publish and collaborate on another level. Challenges exist though in orchestrating the end-to-end process and tracking the journey.

“The toolsets available today to facilitate collaborative design are extensive yet implementing these poorly can severely hamper their effectiveness. Insisting everyone works on office-based platforms (accessed externally via remote desktops where needed) instantly introduces a hurdle – it’s one of hundreds of minor bumps in the road that impacts on the flow. Look for solutions that provide secure team access from wherever they may be.”

Direct access

Rich Cheary, CEO, Publisher’s Toolbox

Rich Cheary, CEO, Publisher’s Toolbox, says: “We really believe in the value of standardising the way media content is shared from a team of content contributors – to move away from a situation where news or content editors are receiving content from multiple platforms – Google Drive, WeTransfer, WhatsApp – it’s too inefficient.

“With so many media assets to manage and store, finding the right content at the right time becomes infinitely more simple when media assets are being shared and stored in a standardised way within a single ecosystem or platform.

“Searchability is the key … with all incoming digital media assets centrally stored in the cloud and accessible in one place making it possible to find the assets you need, when you need them.”

Cesare Navarotto says that the “editorial system should be fully browser-based and accessible from the internet. Mobile access should provide a simplified GUI, adapted to smartphone access. Remote access should happen in a secure way, with end-to-end encryption and MFA authentication.”

Reducing the need for manual intervention is key, says Paul Driscoll: “It’s essential that content can be seamlessly submitted into the workflow irrespective of location and that it has all the necessary metadata attached. It is of course best if users of the system are given direct access (eg. employees WFH) but where this is not possible or desirable, there should be an easy-to-use delivery point that in turn places the content into the workflow without the need for manual intervention.”

Nigel Abbott adds: “With an increase in remote and agile work habits, publishers need to ensure that their programs are hardware neutral and can be accessed from anywhere.”

Scale is quite often a factor in upgrading to an end-to-end publishing platform. Papermule’s Mike Hoy says: “Small teams with good working practices and clear communications can be extremely efficient but as things scale and teams become more distributed and siloed, issues creep in and the processing becomes disjointed and error prone. Adoption of a central management platform becomes imperative.”

The potential time savings from giving direct access to the publishing platform are considerable, says Mike Hoy: “Time after time, we see files being moved and renamed manually, updates in parallel to spreadsheets, Slack, Monday or other such tools. It’s these many little additional tasks that are both error prone and surprisingly time consuming. It’s not the keying of a file name on its own that’s the issue. It’s the application switching, file locating, copying, naming and updating of parallel tracking data that can be a grind. The whole process takes less than a minute but it’s broken that all important flow and if you count up those minutes, they start to add up.”

Content selection / commissioning

“Commissioning of new content benefits hugely from being tightly integrated with all elements of the contracting, submission, selection and publishing process,” says Phil Arnold, managing director UK, censhare: “All too often, these are separated across multiple systems leading to problems of visibility of available content, rights management and output. With the right system, all these activities can be easily tied together into a single workflow.”

Digital-first & data-led

“As a company, we’re thinking more digital-first with all our content,” says Esther Newman: “From re-addressing the balance of budgets in the favour of digital, to commissioning content after analysing what our audience is searching for, to then crafting content in digital-friendly shapes according to the channel, our focus is all about the consumer.”

Cesare Navarotto thinks that “editors should have access to news monitoring tools showing real-time search trends from Google and trending topics on various social channels. Ideally this could happen inside a dedicated “newsgathering” module integrated in the editorial system, sitting next to a “job planning” module used to assign stories to editors and track their lifecycle.”

Tighter control

Paul Driscoll, director, Media Systems

According to Paul Driscoll, “too often commissioning is not properly managed with the result that costs can rapidly spiral out of control. It should be part of the workflow and consist of approval processes and budgetary overview. Once approved, the commission should automatically trigger the contact with the contributor, give them the means to easily upload the content, and finally update the finance system with the payment details. This is a more transparent process, keeps control over costs, and alleviates a lot of manual effort that is often involved in creating the commissions, ingesting the content and in ensuring timely and accurate payments are made. It means real-time control is in the hands of the editor / managing editor rather than everything being done manually post-production.”

“Content selection and commissioning should go hand in hand,” adds Publisher’s Toolbox’s Rich Cheary: “By that I mean, your workflow should allow you to commission and collect media assets in the same system from a team of registered users, making it simpler for the editorial desk to keep track of incoming assets as related to a specific brief.”

Article / home page composition

“Again,” says, Esther Newman, “this has become a digital-first construct. We have moved away from ‘editorial’ headlines to ones that actually say what they do. Copy is shorter, more succinct and accessible. Contributors, imagery and content are carefully considered for diversity and inclusivity. Competitor and non-competitor sites and other output are rigorously checked for innovations and success stories.”

David Coveney, director, interconnect

“It feels very weird, as a technologist, to give advice to journalists and publishers, but please,” pleads interconnect’s David Coveney, “for the love of god, use more headings (with hierarchy – leave H1 to the titles on the web, and then H2 and down as appropriate), and put captions and descriptions on images. I can look at the word counts and the dwell times on websites for every one of our customer sites and I can tell you that nobody reads everything on the page. They simply can’t. If you use headings, then at least you help your reader to parse the content more quickly and get to what they want to see. Does that matter? Well… yes, because a returning and regular reader is important.”

Home page composition

Cesare Navarotto notes that some newsrooms devote a lot of time to the manual curation of their website front / home pages because a careful selection of news and optimisations of their teasers (titles and images) can increase the engagement of the readers. The front / home pages are still the main showcase for a publisher and a careful curation is considered a brand building exercise which can help convert more readers into subscribers.

According to Cesare, specialised tools for front / home page curation can streamline operations and provide tools for:

  • Manually placing content in specific positions
  • Customising the teaser text (eg. creating a more enticing title for the home page) and image, while keeping untouched the original title (which could be SEO-optimised) and image of the article
  • Changing the page layouts according to the situation

Text inputting / editing

“It’s quite a blunt equation: if a writer is spending two or three times as long as they should just entering the content, then that’s less they can do in a day. If content is the prime asset of publishers, then it’s easy to see how slow inputting and editing will hurt the business,” advises Rob Corbidge.

Tone

Esther Newman says: “Women’s Running has always had a strict tone of voice document that all writers adhere to, with an emphasis on our runner persona. Recently, this has been updated to include detail on SEO and keyword guidance so that all commissioned content is online-applicable no matter what platform it arrives on first.”

Standardisation

Russell Pierpoint, managing director, Evolved Media

Russell Pierpoint, managing director, Evolved Media, normally recommends “editor’s tools as part of the workflow systems rather than off the shelf MS Word etc. That allows for standardising formats for ease of repurposing. The workflows then allow better more efficient processes to get the content edited and to where it needs to be, either online or to print, with more efficient collaboration.”

Text being supplied in a variety of formats (Word, RTF, plain text or even InCopy, to pick a common few) is an issue says Mike Hoy: “where you start and where you end up is typically dictated by who’s supplying the raw original and what’s the final destination format. Look for systems that can easily derive and importantly maintain in sync derivative versions in the needed formats. For instance, if you’ve adopted InCopy for subbing text in InDesign layouts, ensure that the managing platform can provide the text in a plain or tagged text format for another platform. You shouldn’t have to rely on users converting and or exporting variations as this is yet another bump and interruption in the creative flow.”

Increasing use of automation

“If the initial content is in an ultimately unusable format, put automated processes in place to transform it, allowing the users to use a single application rather than having to jump between different ones,” says Paul Driscoll.

“For us,” adds Rob Corbidge, “cutting the need for a writer or editor to have to exit the system to do associated tasks, such as finding link URLs, finding or editing images, adding files or data, or getting links to videos, should be a priority. No system can do the writer’s key task for them – finding and forming a story – but it can certainly make it a trivial task to enter it into production, and to magnify its reach when it’s in the system.”

Brian Alford, founder & CEO, Bright Sites, advises publishers to use “a modern CMS that has tools that will support an efficient workflow, including keyword and sentiment analysis, ability to link content to related content in the archive, SEO recommendations and competitor analysis.”

And, adds AdFactory’s Rob van Dorp, “whether working in an online editorial portal or in a local text editor (eg. Word) that copies into the editorial system, both must allow spell checks.”

A second pair of eyes?

Martin Cloake, managing editor, Global Relay

“The big debate,” says Martin Cloake, “and it’s been going on for years, is ‘does copy need looking at by a second pair of eyes?’ I say ‘yes’. Not just because I worked as a sub for years, but because it’s necessary if you want consistent quality. It’s too often seen as a cost – employing two people to look at one thing, or holding up publication. But it’s key. Facts, meaning, presentation – there isn’t a single part of the process that doesn’t benefit from a second pair of eyes. The process might need streamlining, and I understand old frustrations with overly-interventionist subs, but we really have got to remember this is a team game.”

Picture selection / editing

Brand values

“One of Women’s Running’s over-riding principles is on diversity and inclusivity in terms of race, size, age, sexuality and ability. We ensure that the whole team are aware of this and that it is at the forefront of our minds when we’re selecting and creating imagery. We work hard to ensure that the women represented across our brand are representative of the readers we have, and those we would wish to encourage to take up running,” says Esther Newman.

Image finding / sourcing

censhare’s Phil Arnold encourages publishers to ensure “that image libraries are connected and delivered in an integrated manner alongside the other creative tools that are provided to content authors. Keywording is an important part of the workflow. It should be taken very seriously as it allows editors to find the best images in one’s library.”

“Publishers often,” says Cesare Navarotto, “have huge image archives which are hard to utilise at their full potential, because of missing image metadata (preventing an effective search of the archive) and / or of unclear licensing status (eg. can that archive image actually be re-used for a new article?).”

The impact of this is wasted effort and increased costs. “How many times,” asks Mike Hoy, “has your business purchased the same or similar image because you either couldn’t find it or weren’t sure of the rights you had? The right DAM system should allow you to track an asset’s journey, usage and licencing. A simple traffic light approach is often all that’s needed – Green: owned and free to use as we please. Amber: owned but has restrictions. Red: Not ours, needs purchasing. Add a short rights text field and ‘source’ information and you’ve covered off the majority of likely future questions.”

Bright Sites’ Brian Alford adds: “Tools are available to match images to content with integrations with picture agencies using their APIs. Alongside traditional search, recommendations help speed up image selection for articles and smart cropping tools reduce the need to download images to the desktop to open in a separate image editing tool.”

Image editing

Martin Cloake says, “the picture editor / researcher’s job is another that has been squeezed, even more than the sub-editor role. Again, we’ve got to balance commercial reality with retaining skills. It’s good to get the people who produce words to think visually too, and modern production techniques often necessitate finding an image to upload with copy. But we need to retain elements such as negotiation skills on picture buying and library contracts, the ability to give and deliver a good brief, and also recognise there will be times we need to buy in the skills of picture specialists. As in so many areas, it’s about separating general skills from specialist skills, and knowing when and how to deploy the specialisms. And – last point – original imagery still has the most impact.”

Rob van Dorp agrees that picture editing should ideally be done by specialists: “The one thing that you don’t want your editorial staff to waste time on is editing pictures in, for instance, Photoshop. Mostly there are others much better (and faster) in that! Our editorial system only allows editors to rotate and crop pictures; that’s it. Leave the rest to the professionals.”

However, due to commercial pressures, journalists are increasingly finding themselves working with pictures, so it’s important to give them the right tools.

“When publishing an image,” says Cesare Navarotto, “an editor should keep in mind that it will appear in many different channels and screen sizes (eg. home page teaser on desktop, article page in mobile, social share on Facebook, etc), each deserving a carefully selected crop in order to deliver the best experience. It would be useful if the CMS could automatically generate multiple framing suggestions, with smart detection of focal points for better cropping and resizing, using state-of-the-art face and feature detection algorithms.”

Tom Pijsel, lead product manager, WoodWing, says that publishers should “take advantage of image optimisation tools to automatically colour correct, harmonise formats or perform cut-outs.”

Workflow considerations

For efficiency’s sake, image selection should as far as possible be done from within the workflow, without the need to exit to other applications.

Paul Driscoll says: “The workflow should deal with integrations to all of the used image repositories, be they internal or external. Users should be able to search the repositories from within the workflow and not have to know the intricacies of each platform. AI should be used to apply metadata so that, rights permitting, images can be more easily identified for multiple channels and future re-use.”

Digital asset management systems are an important component.

“Clients we work with are often implementing DAM solutions that are integrated with their workflow solutions,” says Evolved Media’s Russell Pierpoint: “The DAMs are less an image archive and more an active participant in the editorial workflow with the ability to search existing images, integrate with image libraries, as well as allow easy remote submission from photographers. They have a fluid connection to the workflows to pull imagery into print and digital production. Editing is facilitated by connections to popular applications. But also, more and more, with automated normalisation to formats and tagging, cropping and enhancement.”

“By investing in the right solutions, publishers can drastically cut the time spent on culling and selection, as well as image input and editing,” adds Nigel Abbott, who also highlights the use of AI: “you may further speed up such processes with artificial intelligence to quickly identify the content and add the correct keywords.”

WoodWing’s Tom Pijsel also advises publishers to take, “advantage of AI technology to automatically tag and categorise images, for both incoming image streams as well as the long-tail archive.”

Deployment of audio-visual elements

Incorporating “videos streamed from YouTube or Vimeo, or audio pieces and snippets streamed from SoundCloud or Audioboom” into your content is very straightforward, says David Coveney.

Paul Driscoll adds, “the tools used in the workflow must make it easy to embed all kinds of digital content within an article, ensuring the right content is applied as befits a specific channel. A common editor should cater for all channels and make it a relatively simple task to swap parts of the content in and out as needed.”

Indeed, “If content creators don’t think in terms of words, images and sound,” says Martin Cloake, “they are falling short. We’ve gone past the ‘shiny thing’ stage when everyone wanted a bit of everything this great new, portable tech could produce, and the smart operators are at the stage of asking ‘what do we need?’ and ‘how do we make it work for us?’. Being agile is also key here – deploying fragments of audio or video within the body of longer pieces is a great way of engaging. If I was coming up with some marketing schtick I’d say, ‘the audio fragment is the new pull quote’. But I’m not going to do that.”

Esther Newman uses video extensively in social media: “With the welcome addition of a social media manager to the Women’s Running fold, we’ve been able to upweight our video output on our Instagram and Facebook channels. Snippets of video of our coverstars are released alongside new issues of the magazine, while we use animations and podcast snippets to entertain and engage. Every social media post of this type results in a significant uplift in engagement.”

Audio production

“Audio is still much under-valued and yet it has exploded. People listen to huge amounts of audio content – it’s fabulously portable. There’s a balance to be struck, and one size doesn’t fit all, but while it is possible and can be desirable to get content up ‘dirty’, good production is important. Quality shines through and too many people think audio is just about turning a mic on and uploading the recording. So, again, we need to identify where to deploy expertise, and think about whether we need that permanently or if it’s something we can buy in when needed,” says Martin Cloake.

Growth in podcasting

“The Women’s Running podcast has been running since May 2020, and has become an enormously successful part of our brand, now garnering 27k downloads a month,” says Esther Newman: “It’s commercially successful too, bringing in a new revenue stream thanks to continued sponsorship from big-name brands. The podcast offers a new way for us to engage with our audience, and one that has hit a nerve: a podcast that offers real advice to normal runners – we’re not all about marathons and performance here!”

Luke Nicholls, content director, edie

Podcasts are proving successful in niche B2B markets too.

edie’s Luke Nicholls says: “Podcasts can be a real gamechanger and are worth considering no matter how competitive or niche your space may be. Having a regular podcast can create a sense of community with your audience. It can also speed up the journalistic process (no transcribing required!) and – most importantly – it can create a real sense of ‘team’. We’ve also found an increased appetite from sponsors for this medium in recent months.”

Production considerations

“It’s relatively easy to record audio,” says David Coveney: “but to get the levels right, do noise reduction and so on needs either an expert (it’s easy to find audio producers who can do this on freelancer sites like Fiverr) or you can use something like Auphonic, which is a website that can help do this work automatically.”

“Of course, quality is key,” adds Luke Nicholls: “if you are going to do it, you must be willing to invest in staff training along with the right equipment and perhaps even a soundproofed studio for the team chats and guest interviews.”

Cesare Navarotto notes that “a decent headset costing less than $50 can already produce podcasts of good quality. Editors should be able to record their podcasts directly in the browser, in a dedicated section of the editorial system where they can first record the audio and then do simple optimisations like trimming it and adjusting the volume.”

Audio versions of articles

Of course, audio is not just about podcasting.

Cesare Navarotto, chief digital officer, Atex

Cesare Navarotto says: “The editorial system should take advantage of the latest text to speech services and automatically generate audio versions of each article, thanks to so-called “neural voices” (based on neural networks and machine learning) that can provide very natural-sounding speech.

“The same AI-powered technology can be used to create synthetic voices personalised for each editor: after some hours of training where each editor reads into the system, their voice will be encoded and will then become available. Then each article written by an editor will also automatically get an accompanying audio version, read with the actual voice of the editor!”

Video production

“New audiences are coming to mature brands via channels like shared videos on TikTok and YouTube and Facebook; young audiences don't share long reads like mature audiences do but they share video and images prodigiously. How are you able to serve them? Are you in those spaces in the first place, and are you able to successfully serve those audiences when they arrive at your main hub? Being there is one thing, having what those audiences want when they come to you is something else. This is more about tone and format than pure production, but a one-size-fits-all approach is as unwise with video and audio as it is for written content,” says Rob Corbidge.

Increased video output

“Video is a growing focus for us at the moment,” says Gavin Thompson: “We find video does make people more likely to read a story, but also it’s hugely valuable for social media engagement so you get double value from producing it. Get a video in a story, then run it as a native social post as well.

“But it’s not high end production. It’s reporters using their phones, or video we’ve curated from readers, CCTV of crimes and so on, editing with some simple captions. It can’t be too complicated because there isn’t time.”

“For us,” adds Luke Nicholls, “we’ve found videos to be a valuable addition to our coverage of key industry events, including our own. We launched a #SustyTalk video interview series on Teams during lockdown, as a way of keeping our audience connected. As we returned to live events, we introduced #SustyTalk Live – an on-the-sofa style talk show at the sidelines of our conference which added a bit of theatre and maximised content outputs at relatively little cost (and the journalists enjoyed recording it!).”

Video editing

David Coveney advises publishers to “never underestimate the difficulty of both shooting, editing and producing video. And the longer it is, the harder it gets. And video covers a broad base – are you doing TikTok videos lasting one minute or even less? What about long, high value reviews or items? Documentaries? You also have to decide where this fits into your business and your marketing efforts. Video is very different to words and pictures.”

“Video publishers will continue using specialised systems,” adds Cesare Navarotto, “but some basic video editing functionality could be handy to integrate inside a general-purpose CMS: editors often receive newsworthy video content from external “non-professional” contributors such as citizen journalists or policing organisations. To be published, these videos need to be trimmed and maybe get a watermark or some other overlay text. These are all operations that a modern CMS could provide in an integrated manner.

“Video stories have become a very popular content format, thanks to the likes of Instagram and TikTok, and once again, editors could benefit from a system where they create their video stories in a centralised manner and then publish them directly to socials and to the main website/s.”

Video assets management

“When dealing with video assets across a wider, more distributed production team,” says Rich Cheary, “it is imperative that all your video assets are cloud-centralised. By taking control of the end-to-end transcode cloud workflow and streaming process, media groups can benefit from a more tailored and custom, monetisable video service.

“Video production teams that are distributed save enormous amounts of time by being able to search and clip video files in the cloud by not having to hack on local drives to download and upload large video assets.

“Video searching and quality of results can save hours of a production team’s time, so we recommend investing in software that can transcribe audio-to-text, cater for AI and ML tagging of labels, locations, celebrities, brands etc – which should be available on any DAM/MAM of value.”

Inhouse vs outsourcing

One question publishers face when it comes to video production is whether to employ the skills in-house or to outsource.

Nemorin’s Pete Fergusson advises: “Generally speaking, you’ll want to keep editorial video in-house, due to the rapid nature of most of the content, and commercial content via third parties in conjunction with an in-house campaign team. It’s two different skill sets.”

When managing branded content video projects, there is lots to think about.

Pete recommends that publishers tackle such outsourced projects as follows:

  • Get a producer, creative or someone else from the video team in the early discussions with clients or prospects. A good person will help you mould the brief, suggest creative ideas, know ballpark budgets and sense commercial opportunities. They’re a good wing person early on in the process.
  • Let the video team speak to the client about logistics. Try and have someone in the video team who is client facing and knows how to read the room. Too often, the video team is left out of the loop, then has to pick things up too far down the line. Consider asking the video editors to be in those early conversations; they’re a key part of the creative and often overlooked.
  • Spend time with the editor in post-production so you can see what the options are around narrative structure, pace, tone, branding etc. This might take half a day but will speed things up overall.
  • Provide clear instructions on key points after the shoot; don’t leave the video team just to get on with it. What are the key messages you want in the edit otherwise key points may end up on the cutting room floor.
  • Use transcription tools to reference interview content and who said what.
  • Consolidate feedback. Unpicking video edits can get expensive or be time consuming. It’s just a case of allotting a little bit of time for post-production.

A good producer will welcome this approach, says Pete Fergusson.

Content re-use

Brian Alford says: “People consume news on so many devices these days; content can be repurposed into different formats, whether it’s web stories which provide a highly engaging mobile format similar to Stories on Instagram, liveblogs or to video by converting images and text to templated videos. The archive is a treasure trove of fascinating stories and images and this content can be put into modern content formats to bring to a new audience.”

At Women's Running, says Esther Newman, “all content is commissioned digital-first, regardless of the channel on which it’s going to be used. In this way, evergreen content can be repurposed at any date in the future, and circled back to with newer, more appropriate content.”

At Newsquest (Wales), say Gavin Thompson, “we share content across our sites. The National Wales, for example, supplements its original stories with content created by reporters across Newsquest’s local sites to serve a national audience. Our CMS allows us to easily clone stories and tailor them to the different audience.”

Well structured and flexible publishing platforms enable the easy re-use and repurposing of content.

“This sits at the core of what we, as a technology partner, think is vital for publishers and is something technology should make easy,” says Rob Corbidge: “you write stuff once, and the machine should send it widely and to new outlets as demanded without the editorial teams having to pull any levers.

“The obvious next step is then to find more ways to get that content utilised. Site structures should promote users being able to see content via lots of different routes, and writers should stop thinking of creating individual ‘pages’ on a site: they create great content, mark it up well, and let the machine send it to as many places as your designers can create spaces for, or commercial teams can utilise.”

Finding it

If you can’t find your previously published content, then, quite simply, you won’t be able to re-use it.

Therefore, says Phil Arnold, “it’s a good idea to keyword existing content and to have a content management system that offers a great search. There’s a lot of potential in using great content in new contexts, and it’s good to be able to find that content easily.”

Paul Driscoll agrees: “re-use of content can be improved by making it easy to find in the first place. If it’s not, then time and effort will be used in recreating something that already exists. If users can look at all potential sources from within the workflow system and not have to swap in and out of disparate applications, it’s much more likely that content, rights permitting, will be found and re-used. Re-purposing should be handled by automated background processes triggered from within the workflow, be it resizing or changing formats.”

Nigel Abbott adds, “most publishers have thousands of assets stored and should be able to re-purpose these to maximise their full potential and get the highest possible return on investment. A solution that enables keyword-based search and metadata-driven workflows makes it easy for your team to retrieve content when needed, which is especially useful for re-purposing.”

How a publisher stores previously published content will also have a bearing on its re-usability.

Mike Hoy says: “Successful repurposing is often a case of finding the originals as starting from a derived format like a PDF means you’ve already lost vital data. Again, this should be a fundamental requirement of any DAM system you invest in. Make sure you can.”

Findability relies of comprehensive tagging. To that end, says Cesare Navarotto, “editors should be guided in selecting the correct tags to associate, AI-powered engines should suggest named entities and concepts, but at the same time, editors should be able to maintain their internal tag dictionaries. Tag curation can be a very tedious and time-consuming task, and big savings can be accomplished if the editorial system provides an integrated, permissions-driven, tag management tool where admin editors can approve the new tags and merge them when necessary. It does not sound very sexy, but tag management can still make a difference in terms of how discoverable and how reusable your content is.”

Compliance

Phil Arnold says that the “re-use and repurposing of content to different output channels, titles or countries needs to be tightly integrated into the commissioning and rights management processes. Whilst there are still hurdles to repurposing content between print and digital channels and translation, the visibility of content and rights through a single source of truth of the entire publishing process, can ease the pain.”

Rights management

At Women’s Running, says Esther Newman, they have an ongoing relationship with one of the main picture agencies, which “is worth its weight in images”. Beyond that “individual rights are discussed and often used as part of contra deals with photographers and brands, in order to benefit both us and them.”

Penalties for misuse

“Don’t get caught out!” warns Luke Nicholls: “there seems to be a growing number of instances of image rights firms scanning websites for imagery which doesn’t have the correct attribution, which can be especially risky for brands with a big archive of articles. It’s really important that every team member knows which images can be used and how to give proper attribution where appropriate.”

David Coveney has noticed “publishers having problems with images they’ve downloaded from valid free sources like Unsplash but, because they aren’t scrupulous with records, they’re getting into trouble when an image is pulled from the service and goes premium only. Similarly, some image licensing is time limited – again, if you don’t have a way of tidying up and removing out-of-license images, you can get into trouble. It’s perfectly possible to automate handling the expiry of images that are published on your site. Ideally, of course, you can get a license that isn’t time limited.”

“Another common problem,” adds Cesare Navarotto, “is preventing illicit usage of images by staff who can inadvertently use images which should no longer be available: the CMS should clearly show which images are free to use, which ones can be used but carry a cost, and which ones are archived and can no longer be used. This means that the CMS should allow internal mapping of the contract terms of the various content providers.”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of demonising these highly proactive image rights firms, but says Martin Cloake, there needs to be a “sharper defence of the rights of creators to be credited for and benefit from their work”.

Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Russell Pierpoint says that “a good DAM allows storage of all the metadata needed for a publisher to know the rights associated with an image. It will also control access by users to imagery based on the rights metadata. With integrations to libraries and commissioning processes, the application of this metadata becomes automated, so the process is efficient and reliable.”

Nigel Abbott adds: “Most modern publishers choose to create a centralised ecosystem for their digital content since such a structure is helpful in effectively managing visuals in accordance with their rights. While there are many ways to store files, a DAM enables you to import, add or edit metadata, making it easy for publishers to know what rights are associated with specific assets, as well as build collections or workflows based on these. This is incredibly important to help make sure there is no accidental misuse of images that the organisation does not have the rights to use, and thereby avoid potentially heavy financial penalties.”

Compliance & reporting

“To ensure that content can be used for a specific channel, be used more than once etc, it’s obvious to say that capturing the rights at the initial point of entry into the system, be it the DAM or the production module, is essential,” says Paul Driscoll: “The system used should make it mandatory to capture the rights at this initial stage. If you are commissioning work from contributors, make sure that your system automatically tags the content on ingestion using the rights that are within the commission agreement.”

Phil Arnold adds: “Accurate rights management of all content is key to cost efficient publishing and is best captured at the start of the publishing process. Rights can be easily inherited from contracts or inferred by rules in metadata and controlled to ensure that rights are not breached and that assets can be shared across titles, channels and regions where allowed.”

“At the very least,” says Cesare Navarotto, “the content management system should be able to provide detailed image usage reports: showing when and where each image from every content provider has been used. These reports should be easily exported or better accessible via API, so that accounting systems can use them to calculate royalties and payments to content providers.”

Protecting your own IP

“Protecting the value of your digital media IP begins,” says Rich Cheary, “with having a central view of all media assets – typically a cloud media library with various levels of usage and access – to provide a secure and ring-fenced view of compliant media assets.

“Once in the cloud, it’s all about who, when and where. Cloud functionality makes it possible to manage and control access to your content once authenticated, to keep track of who’s downloading / consuming your media and when, and run netwide diagnostics on where any unsanctioned publication of media may have occurred.

“Traceability is key, and only possible when there is a cloud-based platform with advanced services that gives you the tools to protect and detect your valuable digital media IP.”

SEO

“I think over the next two years, there will be a swing back to SEO from social and so, having solid SEO strategies with the many evolving techniques baked into the news and content creation workflow is essential. Just writing a URL with keywords and tagging an article is not enough – a modern SEO strategy involves using tools to find the real-time trends, adapt headlines and add in content with supporting structured data including FAQs to gain an advantage against competitors,” says Brian Alford.

“All our content is created with an online audience in mind,” says Esther Newman: “that means that we conduct SEO and keyword research ahead of commissioning or writing any content. The need always comes before the creation. Existing URLs are carefully mined for good performances so that we can add content to them and keep them fresh.”

A word of caution from Martin Cloake: “There’s still too much of a battle between the kind of SEO that is essentially clickbait trying to game the system, and what should be an understanding of how to engage an audience – including how to be found.”

Important things to consider

“A SEO-optimised editorial workflow starts with choosing what to write about according to the trending topics, in order to intercept as much real time search traffic as possible,” says Cesare Navarotto.

“Once a user starts writing an article on the chosen topic, they will need to take several decisions which will deeply affect the SEO potential of the article:

  • Which title to use?
  • Which URL to use?
  • Which tags to associate?
  • Which related content to link to?
  • Which inbound links to add from other content previously published?

“And this is only a small portion of the SEO-relevant decisions that an editor must take every time they publish a new article. Any editor publishing to the web should consider SEO as an essential part of their professional backgrounds and publishers should provide recurring SEO trainings.

A good CMS, continues Cesare Navarotto, can help in almost every aspect of the SEO workflow, for example:

  • Differentiating the main title from the SEO title
  • Suggesting related keywords to use in the custom URL, but preventing further modifications once the article has been published
  • Suggesting article tags using automatic entity recognition and taxonomy classification powered by NLP (natural language processing) services
  • Creating topic-based landing pages, and providing means for their editorial curation on top of the automatic generation
  • Suggesting related articles for inbound and outbound linking
  • Showing the real-time incoming SEO traffic so that editors can monitor which articles are attracting most traffic and optimise them with more content and links in order to engage the flyby visitors
  • Enriching every article with schema.org annotations that facilitate search engine indexing and classification of every piece of content
  • Generating real time sitemaps of all the content, including the specific sitemap for Google News

Beware free format

“Consistency is vital when it comes to article metadata or tagging,” advises Rob Corbidge: “so, generally we see it working best where there is absolute respect for the role of taxonomies and accurate content making within an organisation, and it is well managed.

“We don’t like free form tagging because it places such a critical functional element – where the content actually goes – into a scenario where a spelling mistake or casual use of language can accidentally send an article to an incorrect section, or into the ether. If, for example, your sports desk has managed to get ‘Man U’, ‘Man Utd’, ‘Manchester Utd’, ‘Manchester United’, and perhaps a ‘Machnester United’ all into your site structure, you’ll know what I mean.

“When the taxonomies and structural elements are closely maintained, and the writers know exactly what to add – and cannot get it wrong – it actually takes pressure off them to compensate by creating bad keyword-filled headlines just to solve other issues elsewhere.

“This kind of stuff – SEO, URLs, tagging, etc – has always been about creating content a machine can respond to and manage in the correct way for it to reach a human. So, why not let the machine handle it from the outset, and just focus on making good content.”

Managing multiple outputs

Content neutral

“Authoring content in a channel neutral way to avoid repurposing and ensuring consistency across all platforms,” is key, says Phil Arnold.

Tom Pijsel agrees. Publishers should invest in “an editorial system that is capable of doing channel neutral content production and that can be integrated with the various output channels.”

And, says Brian Alford, the workflow should be “digital-first”.

According to Rob van Dorp, your editorial system should allow “one piece of content to be used for print, online and social media, by simply ticking some boxes, thereby saving a lot of editorial time!”

Paul Driscoll says that a “system needs to be in place to make the transitions between formats as simple as possible, keeping the emphasis on the ‘story’ whilst obviating the need to deal with complex and manual transformations. The channels themselves should be as fully integrated as possible, meaning it’s not necessary for the users to understand the specifics of each channel but can let the workflow take care of the outputs.”

Automation is key, says Nigel Abbott: “Modern publishers should aim to automate as much of the publishing process as possible, for example by managing multiple outputs at once and automatically creating collections with the right image sizes, renditions, and rights, for example. If such automations are done through metadata-based workflows, you’ll always ensure a single source of truth and save a lot of time on selecting and publishing the right visuals.”

“In order for editorial teams to achieve operational efficiencies on a day-to-day basis,” adds Rich Cheary, “the following are recommended starting points to achieve multi-channel distribution:

  • Headless content management system (CMS)
  • Cloud based integrated media / digital asset management (MAM/DAM)
  • Video player that integrates with your DAM

Tailoring required

Russell Pierpoint points out that “often it’s a fallacy that the same piece of content is used the same in multiple channels. We see more often that one channel is the source and driver. But the content is then taken and adapted and optimised to better suit consumption in another channel. So, processes need to be flexible.”

David Coveney agrees: “The truth is, if you don’t stop and think about each channel you’re publishing to, at some point you’ll get caught out – people will notice eventually and that can be damaging. You see the same problem where people use a cross-posting tool across social media, so you get these truncated tweets or content designed for TikTok turning up in Instagram. People use different platforms for different reasons.”

Sign-off / approval process

Editorial “structures are flatter, devolved, agile – but there still need to be clear lines of accountability and responsibility,” says Martin Cloake.

“Flexible approval systems,” are needed says Tom Pijsel, “because content is produced by fluent teams.”

“There should be an efficient workflow in place that deploys statuses to ensure users are automatically updated about any task required of them,” adds Paul Driscoll: “In this way, content can be marked with, for example, a status of ‘awaiting approval’ and as soon as it’s done, the person or group responsible for approvals is notified, can access the content and reset the status accordingly. Should the content not be approved, the ‘approver’ should be able to apply a comment or sticky note and re-route the content back to the creator for further editing.”

As much of the approval process should be automated as possible, says Nigel Abbott: “Most of the quality assurance can be done automatically, for example, by checking things like user rights, image sizes and formats. However, most editors want to offer final approval, a process that is much simpler and more efficient when part of a metadata-driven workflow. Such a workflow will notify the editor when the files are ready, and would only require him / her to evaluate what is absolutely necessary.”


This special feature was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.