PUBLISHING WORKFLOWS SPECIAL 

Content input

Welcome to our first publishing workflows special, an extended feature taking an in-depth look at all aspects of the content creation process. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers of publishing software and from senior editors at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Content input

This Publishing Workflows Special consists of nine separate sections:

Content: the broad trends

Content commissioning & creation

Content input

Content design / layout

Content editing & approval

Content publishing & distribution

Company / departmental structure

Editorial skill sets

Suppliers Spotlight

TRENDS

“There’s an increasing need for speed, so we need reliable platforms and tools which facilitate that,” says Geoff Marsh, online director, Daily Express.

Streamlining and greater automation

Edwin Bailey, director of marketing & research, Publish Interactive sees “streamlining content submission by automating processes” as a key trend.

William Buckingham, managing director, XChange UK.

William Buckingham, managing director, XChange UK, is also seeing “more and more companies anxious to streamline the process to allow greater volume and throughput with fewer manual touchpoints”.

Part of this is avoiding duplication of effort. Andy Kowl, senior vice president – publishing strategy, ePublishing: “The most common workflow we run across is publishers copying and pasting articles from their InDesign PDFs into their website. That is the definition of having two separate workflows, if copy-and-paste can be considered a workflow. Anything other than one unified workflow makes no sense in 2021.”

Rich Mansell, solutions manager, PCS Publishing, says: “With better technologies now available, content input no longer needs to be specific to a single channel. Instead, the industry is starting to shift towards inputting of content into a single source with automated distribution and layout for both print and digital channels.”

Yet, despite technical advances on the part of many suppliers, says Sean Briggs, managing director, Creative Workflows, content input is “still largely a manual process that is delegated to people with several other functions. The uptake of intelligent automated systems is slow or non-existent despite technical improvements in these areas.”

Easier access to existing assets

“It is very important to ensure that efficient and accurate search is available for all assets to reduce the amount of content that is created from scratch rather than repurposing what is already available,” says Phil Arnold, managing director, censhare (UK): “This requires complete visibility and accuracy of the rights and where assets have been previously used.”

Carsten Althaber, director of marketing, vjoon adds: “Systems that can manage a wide variety of content pieces and enrich them with metadata are becoming increasingly important. Being able to find and process content quickly is essential.”

And, says Ross Paterson, CEO, WoodWing, “Adding metadata to your assets doesn’t just make it faster to find content, but also to create content. For instance, when writing an article about David Beckham, AI can already suggest images that you can use in your article based on various meta information. For example, an up-to-date and approved image of David Beckham, images relating to football, Miami, family, Manchester, England and many more. It can also suggest previous content that could be relevant to your new piece. Reusing and repurposing content can represent a significant cost and time-saving.”

Using AI to create content

“More content is being generated by using various data sources in combination with AI technology,” says WoodWing’s Ross Paterson: “Robotic-generated content or content created by bots is currently producing simple articles such as regional weather forecasts and results from sporting events, such as a summary of the match from your local football club. AI will become more relevant and publishers need to look for the right data sources to create articles for their readers.”

Paul Driscoll, publishing director, Media Systems Limited also highlights the increased usage of AI: “as these tools are rapidly improving, they’re likely to become a source of content generation in their own right, plus they can of course help a user better identify existing content to be used as a starting point.”

COMMON AREAS OF INEFFICIENCY

Part of the challenge is making sense of the huge amount of content publishers handle. Ross Paterson calls it “content spaghetti”. He says: “Publishers sit on and generate a gigantic amount of content. Often this results in inferior workflows, avoidable manual work, and disorganised content and digital assets. They need to find better ways to orchestrate their content production.”

Duplication of effort

“One of the most common areas of inefficiency is the duplication of tasks in a CMS and the inability to reuse content in multiple places on a website,” says Jason Treloar, commercial director, Clock: “For example, when adding a story to a website, the same content, or some of it, may want to be lifted into an email for a newsletter. Often, the content has to be copied and pasted from the CMS to the Email Service Provider, adding an extra layer to the editing workflow.”

PCS Publishing’s Rich Mansell agrees that “duplication of effort when inputting content into any desired channels” is a concern – “Copy and paste will always be wasted time when there are so many tools available to enable multi-channel distribution. Channel specific formatting will always add levels of complexity into any content input process; addressing this can significantly increase efficiency.”

Not being able to find stuff

Journalists often spend an inordinate amount of time searching for previously used content so that they can reuse it in their current work.

censhare’s Phil Arnold: “Searching for existing content can often frustrate users if they are not able to quickly find out what already exists, where it has been used and where and when it is allowed to be used again. Fast and efficient search along with usage history, rights and relationships to other assets can greatly improve efficiency and help ensure that assets are not recommissioned and recreated unnecessarily.”

This is a system design issue says vjoon’s Carsten Althaber, which happens “when there is a lack of possibilities to centrally manage, search, and further utilise incoming content”.

Poorly designed UI

“The CMS user interface is one of the key aspects of under-performance. If a journalist is adding content directly into the CMS, our belief is that they should be able to upload a finished piece of content, edit, preview and publish content within ten minutes if they need to. Anything that gets in the way of uploading content should be stripped away,” says Clock’s Jason Treloar.

Often, this is due to the absence of an online editorial portal, says Rob van Dorp, director, AdFactory International: “When having external correspondents supplying copy via email, editors have to copy / paste articles, determine styles for headers, intros etc, find and assign photographs and do the editing / correction. This can be nearly a day’s work!”

Poorly conceived workflows

“Often a cause of inefficiency can be a marriage to unhelpful or longstanding editorial workflows. Adapting and reviewing the process to reduce the chaff is essential to streamlining the content upload process,” says Jason Treloar.

MSL’s Paul Driscoll highlights “a lack of coherent workflows, workflows that can deal with multiple sources, can automate the delivery of the content if externally sourced into the correct areas of the CMS, can notify the relevant people, and can carry out any required transformations as part of the ingestion process. Without such workflows, and easy methods of finding out what content is available and at what status it is, the initial input of content must be by definition inefficient. Allied to this is the fact that many input sources are not properly integrated into the CMS and this too makes for less than optimum processes.”

Publish Interactive’s Edwin Bailey points to the “the legacy of MS Word,” which he says “is still the first choice for many analysts and journalists and they are loath to move from it to a digital-first platform. It could be more pragmatic to invest in technology that embraces Word and makes it compatible with publishing delivery systems.”

Wrongly thinking everything’s ok…

ePublishing’s Andy Kowl: “If we are not missing deadlines, what’s the problem? This is a popular mindset among publishers when it comes to editorial workflow management. It can blind you to the advantages you may be missing with a truly efficient workflow.”

“The predominant workflow problem,” says Kowl, “is not knowing that yours could be so much better.”

THINGS TO WORK ON

1. Adopt clearly defined and streamlined workflows

“A clearly defined workflow, kept as simple as possible,” should be a priority says the Daily Express’ Geoff Marsh.

Paul Driscoll agrees: “Highly efficient and flexible workflows are needed. All content sources should be easily accessible. Users should be able to create content from scratch, be able to access internal sources such as a DAM, external sources such as image repositories and contributions, from one GUI, not have to jump from one system to another. Everything should be connected and transparent, ensuring that the days of people creating ‘new’ versions of content that already exist are confined to history.”

Andy Kowl says that publishers should look to “unify systems to remove process, create editorial discipline, and drive more revenue to afford more resource.”

Rob van Dorp, director, AdFactory International.

A well designed editorial system will, says AdFactory International’s Rob van Dorp avoid the need for journalists to “copy / paste texts and pictures” from one output to another. Instead, they will be able to input the content once, and then “simply select the print titles and websites where the content needs to be published”. Furthermore, the system should allow for the “easy cropping of photos to match the difference between online and print usage”.

When redesigning your workflow, says XChange UK’s William Buckingham, “don’t skip over relatively simple and fundamental processes when evaluating the efficiency of your workflow. Often the most problematic and time-wasting choke points exist in these seemingly innocuous areas.”

2. Adopt a more intuitive and tailored user interface

“I would hope that tech companies who are devising CMS systems are constantly looking at their products and figuring out how to make them quicker and more intuitive to use, rather than just seeing customer value in adding more features,” says Adrian Barrick, group editorial director, Incisive Media.

“Having an interface that is tailored to the user’s needs might sound obvious,” adds Jason Treloar: “but often content editors are faced with a plethora of features and functionality that are often superfluous to their needs and simply get in the way of the basic task of inputting content quickly and efficiently. Knowing who the users are, how they work, and the specific types of content they need to input is vital to crafting a user interface and workflow that works for them.”

3. Use more automation

“Where possible,” says Catherine Westwood, group editor-in-chief, Future, “as much automation should be built into content management systems to facilitate and reduce the admin for content creators. We want content creators to spend as little time as possible on administrative tasks so they can concentrate their energy into the ‘day job’.”

Edwin Bailey advises publishers to “adopt compatible technology that takes Word generated content and delivers it as interactive HTML”.

Automation is invaluable at all stages of the content creation process, from input to output.

According to Paul Driscoll, “further improvements can be had by automating content transformations into the formats needed for whatever output channels the content is destined for.”

4. Sort out your rights management processes

Future’s Catherine Westwood points to the admin overhead of “capturing rights and permissions, raising POs etc,” which can “all add to the content creators’ workload before they even start writing or creating images”.

According to Phil Arnold, this situation “can be improved by having a publisher-wide rather than publication-only rights process to ensure that content created for one title can be reused. Publishers with multiple titles can work within content hubs to create new assets that can be repurposed more easily across titles and between partners.”

In Creative Workflows’ Sean Briggs’ opinion, “rights management and syndication potential are still overly complex. Knowing when to pay extra for full copyright versus lower single use is a skill few have mastered.”

5. Embrace AI

“Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are making their way into many publishing areas. These solutions should be seen as welcome aids to removing some of the drudgery and more mundane and repetitive tasks, saving time and enhancing our human skills,” says Sean Briggs.

Ross Paterson adds that “AI can help you find existing content faster that you can reuse for a new story, which is consistent with former content pieces. This can free up time for more in-depth high-quality content.”

Paul Driscoll agrees: “If all the existing and newly incoming content is cost effectively tagged, then it offers huge potential for easily finding and repurposing material that would otherwise likely remained buried and unknown. AI, offering the benefits of things such as facial, object and topic recognition plus ‘find me similar’ functionality, should ensure all content is exploited to its full potential. AI-generated content ought to form part of the mix too.”

6. Other good things to do:

  • Set up anywhere, anytime access to the CMS: Jason Treloar: “Give editors alternative options for inputting content. This may be through a CMS accessed via a browser or even a mobile app that allows journalists / editors to seamlessly upload content while on the hoof, with the ability to access native features such as camera, for occasions when getting a laptop out is just not an option. Content can then be synced to the main CMS and submitted for approval.”
  • Be channel agnostic: Rich Mansell: “Generation of more channel agnostic content should organically grow the quantity of content available across the whole portfolio.”
  • Facilitate API integrations: Carsten Althaber: “No single system can meet all requirements. Therefore, systems that provide efficient APIs make content input much easier. The integrations based on this can be optimally adapted to deliver seamless transitions.”
  • b Jason Treloar: “Integrating your Email Service Provider with your chosen CMS can streamline the inputting of content in two places when it can all be done in the one system.”

WHAT BEST PRACTICE LOOKS LIKE

Paul Driscoll defines it as follows: “The deployment of efficient workflows inclusive of AI for connected sources, a content-neutral approach and ease of use via one GUI.”

Catherine Westwood, group editor-in-chief, Future.

Freeing up journalists’ time is important, says Catherine Westwood, who envisions “a seamless data capture process that aids the content creator to swiftly move onto their primary role”. Geoff Marsh agrees. He wants a “smooth system which makes the publishing process as simple as possible”. For Edwin Bailey, “inputting content should be a joy not a chore!”

This can be achieved, says Phil Arnold, through “standardised taxonomy that allows for efficient searching and templating to drive more efficient reuse either for different outputs or titles.”

For Andy Kowl, best practice is summed up as, “Enter-once, distribute anywhere. Unless that is the foundation of your workflow, someone is wasting time. Likely many people are.”

Similarly for Rich Mansell: “Write once and publish everywhere! Always look to produce the most complex piece of media first and then work down into less demanding channels, with the aid of modern technologies.”

This is only possible, says Carsten Althaber, if you “start from a central content pool and use it as a content hub, … with efficient integrations to the surrounding systems.”

Ross Paterson says best practice is “finding the right balance of content generated by people and AI-generated content to minimise production costs without negatively impacting customer satisfaction.”

And, of course, for real success, people and processes need to work in harmony: “Bringing skilled people and intelligent systems together willingly will result in the best workflows,” says Sean Briggs.

TOP TIPS

  • “Whilst any changes to the content creation process must always be driven by business needs, any standardisation for process, templates and automation can reap huge benefits.” Phil Arnold, managing director, censhare (UK)
  • “Be open to the evolution of your process.” Jason Treloar, commercial director, Clock
  • “Always look for new ways to remove mundane, laborious and repetitive tasks from people. Technological change is rapid and should be assessed regularly to take full advantage of new efficiencies offered. Also, be cautious about implementing any solutions that cannot be quickly and affordably replaced. Build with constant change and system redundancy in mind.” Sean Briggs, managing director, Creative Workflows
  • “Agree the best workflow, communicate it effectively and stick to it.” Geoff Marsh, online director, Daily Express
  • “If any piece of content has to be handled by anyone or copied-and-pasted after it’s approved, you are doing something wrong. Also, because WordPress is so popular, and is called a CMS even though all it does is put content on a website, many people have no expectation for a CMS to actually manage content. That dumbs down their list of needs when shopping for a CMS. A modern CMS designed for publishers enables collaboration, allows you to use and sell your content any way you want, and quickly adapts to opportunities you can’t foresee.” Andy Kowl, senior vice president – publishing strategy, ePublishing
  • “Ensure you have all your assets ready for input alongside all the supporting information to enable a linear approach to the process.” Catherine Westwood, group editor-in-chief, Future
  • “Constantly ask… what am I missing? And what can I cut?” Adrian Barrick, group editorial director, Incisive Media
  • “Always work from complexity to simplicity, using the right tools to reduce the manual tasks.” Rich Mansell, solutions manager, PCS Publishing
  • “Use automation to reduce the administrative burden on writers so they remain focused on their core tasks of creating quality content.” Edwin Bailey, director of marketing & research, Publish Interactive
  • “Fully analyse your needs and the integrations offered to you.” Carsten Althaber, director of marketing, vjoon
  • “Don’t focus all of your efforts on creating new content from scratch. Look for ways to improve the discoverability and reuse of existing content.” Ross Paterson, CEO, WoodWing
  • “Analyse your existing submission processes, and ahead of any automation, begin the standardisation of how those processes operate.” William Buckingham, managing director, XChange UK

Interested in finding out more about any of the suppliers quoted in this article? Check out the Supplier Spotlight section.

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