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News Tech Should be Open for Business

Superdesk interface
Superdesk interface

The economics of running a digital-era newsroom demand ever more value from the technologies that you deploy, even as the journalists using them are stretched ever more thinly on the ground. It is a business imperative, then, to choose your news management systems wisely.

Your technology choices are defined by required functionality, and probably constrained by budget, but that is only part of the story. The choice of technology licences, contracts that set limits on the practical ownership of what you think you own, will have a deeper, even fundamental, impact throughout your business - and for a long time. Herein lies the real business question:

Open source or proprietary software?

Let’s say you go down the proprietary route. You buy a licence for a content creation/management system from a big-name vendor, pay for integrations with your peripheral newsroom systems, and then hope that media technology stands still thereafter. Why? Because if someone invents the new YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google News - or anything in the digital media world - you will not be able to adapt your software to work with it. You can’t because:

  1. You don’t have the code.
  2. You don’t have developers who could understand the code even if you did have it.
  3. If you had developers who understood the code, you’d be in legal breach of contract if they so much as breathed on it.

This is what proprietary really means in business: being held to ransom by a licence that ties future development to one provider at a price of their choosing and a timescale that suits them, and that’s if they even deign to deliver what your business needs to stay relevant. The codebase is closed to you, whatever you paid for your system.

Open source
Open source makes sense for your business Copyrights Sourcefabic

Preparing for change with open source

The alternative is open source. You choose the system that best suits your current requirements, contract some developers to effect any custom tweaks and integrations you need, and once again wait for media tech’s next “new new thing”. (Michael Lewis’s 1999 classic, updated in 2014, about the online tech explosion is still relevant today; nothing ever stands still.) This time, however, when the masses move to the latest mobile must-have, you can ask your contractors to extend core functionality of your newsroom systems accordingly.

You’re not even limited to the developers you contracted originally: open code is just that, open to any developers. There’s no one to hold you to ransom, no one who can stop you controlling your own tools and through those the success or failure of your business. That is a sobering thought.

Another consideration is in-house development resource. In the case of proprietary software, your devs are excluded from all except integrations at the system fringes; core functionality and code are off-limits and, in any case, written in a closed, arcane language. Not so with an open system. Your developers can work in teams with your contractors on its very core, adding or extending functionality at will, and in the optimal way for your business.

Sometimes, choosing the open path offers further synergies still. Our own Superdesk newsroom tools are built by teams that have included developers from projects of our media clients adopting them. It so happens that our client portfolio includes a clutch of high-profile news agencies, which are all in the same line of business and so have similar needs.

An agency choosing Superdesk can rely on our development and integration expertise, which is extensive and varied, and rely also on guidance, advice and even working code from developers at other agencies with which we partner. Most problems that we encounter at one agency are usually broadly similar to others that we have already solved elsewhere.

Freedom and ownership of your code

So when you need some new tools for your media enterprise, you should factor into your considerations far more than functionality and visible price, you should also consider freedom and ownership. Does your outlay allow you the freedom to improve and extend the software when your business demands, using in-house developers or any contractor you like, or does your cash buy you obsolescence right out of the box, with any chance of evolution determined by the business agenda of a vendor you cannot replace?

Business-wise, it’s the difference between keeping your options open, and paying a supplier to close them.

Interested? Try Superdesk for yourself with a risk-free demo today.


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