News at the crossroads

Any organisation with over 10,000 staff could safely say it has a significant enterprise content management challenge However for News Limited, one of Australia’s major publishers of national, metropolitan and regional newspapers and magazines and the name behind some of the most trafficked Web sites, that internal challenge is dwarfed by the task of delivering a constant stream of original content to an insatiable public.

Talk to Chief Information Officer John Pittard about content and it’s hard to get away from the bread and butter of a modern media company: the timely delivery of news, sports coverage and entertainment. 

Pittard has held the reins as CIO at News Limited since 2003, during a period of unprecedented change in media consumption.
The migration of readership online has forced a reevaluation of the backend infrastructure used to deliver text, image and video content on the Internet.

News Limited is in the midst of migrating from Vignette to the Fatwire CMS for all of its Australian Web properties. Web sites for the Daily Telegraph in Sydney and the Melbourne’s Herald-Sun are already running on the Fatwire platform, with other sites to follow.

 “We were a big Vignette user and we realised we had to invest in a new platform and began looking at it two years ago. We didn’t think Vignette was the right product,” said Pittard.

Prior to the rollout at News Limited, the Fatwire CMS had not been deployed by an Australian media organisation.

News Limited is a subsidiary of the News Corporation global empire however other subsidiaries in the UK (The Times, The Sun) and US (Dow Jones) have adopted different CMS platforms.

“News Corp is a bit of a loose federation,” said Pittard. “We are pretty happy with the Fatwire platform. It was a decision we made that we felt fitted what we needed to do in the online space.

“They weren’t operating in Australia and we are now one of their biggest implementations in the world. News Limited has quite a big network and part of the basis of the acquisition was that they would put a presence into Australia.“

The attraction for Pittard was the flexibility it provided Web production staff to assemble content from a wide array of sources and intuitively assemble text, images and video into a story template.

“Fatwire allows an editor to pull up stories from our wire feeds, our internal newspaper publishing systems, and stories which we may create ourselves that form a single content store. You can pull out stories and relate them to pictures or videos, and Fatwire automatically tags it for you and presents it in a template - it’s a really slick production process,” he said.

“We have done a lot of development around the Fatwire platform to allow us to manage our content internally in News Digital Media as well, and we are looking to see if we can’t use the technology we have developed there right back through our newspaper operations as well. I look at the way we manage content in our online business and I’m not sure why it needs to be different in the way we run our newspaper business. The publishing channel is different, but the way we manage content is not, so we are actually having a long hard look at that.

“We are looking at using some of the concepts and the technologies from our Fatwire CMS platform for newspaper production. We are also bringing our online and our print newsrooms together so the difference between print and online for content and content creation is becoming blurred.”

Organic growth over the past 50 years has left News Limited with the legacy of a fragmented approach to running the newspaper businesses across the country. Different systems are used for managing pictures, video, PDF and text. Other different asset management platforms are used to backend consumer sales with different systems again used at different masthead locations.

“One of the biggest challenges we’ve got and I think probably the same with most media companies, is getting our digital asset management strategies right. They’re not done well at the moment and we’ve got an enormous number of digital assets. Given the history of the company and the size of it it’s very hard to navigate your way through all of that content and get to a story you might want to research that was 20 years old and relate it to some pictures. It becomes a very difficult exercise,” said Pittard.

“The last thing a photographer usually thinks about when he or she brings in a digital camera in is to correctly tag each of the photographs so we end up with a difficult management exercise there. We also have fragmented platforms so they are different for each newspaper and bringing that together is quite difficult.”

While the implementation of the Fatwire platform is well underway for its online properties, News Limited does not have a centralised Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system for its corporate users.

Like most Office 2003/Windows XP environments, News Limited has begun deploying SharePoint for a range of different business units; however it is not an enterprise-wide deployment.

“People have just started using SharePoint and we are now starting to put some structure and strategies around its use at the moment. SharePoint is in place at every one of our divisions around Australia.

“We leave it to the business division to figure out what they want to do with it and then its configured for them centrally.”

Apart from standardised Office and Exchange email, there is a lot of diversity across the information systems environments that have evolved over the 50-year history of News Limited in Australia.

Enterprise applications in use at News Limited include JD Edwards financials, Siebel CRM, Aurion HR/Payroll and specialised systems for newspaper production and advertising management.

“We have some big decisions coming up in the next couple of years around content management. It will be one of the key decisions we need to make,” said Pittard.

“We could bring it together on a single centralised CMS or another way is to put in a separate search or content management layer across distributed content groupings across our operations. That’s what we are looking at.

“There are two ways to go with ECM, one is a very big project to build one big data store and run a search engine across the top, and I’m not sure that’s the path we would go down.

“The other way is to keep multiple data stores and put a search layer across the top, which is really the Google way. I feel much more comfortable with that strategy especially with a company like ours that has grown organically and you have a really dispersed management of assets.”

Advertisers range from the large agencies and multinational corporations to mum and dad classifieds advertisers. From top to bottom News Limited is moving to provide options for electronic booking and payment, via EDI and online portals. 

Centralising email management and archiving is a big priority for News Limited, which still faces the challenge of staff storing PST files on their desktop PCs.

“Any media company is subject to regular litigation so we have to be rigorous around what we do,” said Pittard.