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Planning the Planning Component: How IPTC Standards Influence Our Software

While every newsroom operates differently, at its core, the news-making process can be codified. From writing a story’s name, or “slugline,” to adding a photographer’s “creditline,” steps in the news- and story-making workflow are near-identical around the world. For developers, those standardised bits of data are the equivalent of digital gold.

In 2011, when Sourcefabric started work on Superdesk, our newsroom management platform, we turned to the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) for inspiration. Through its News Architecture and NewsML projects, IPTC had already scripted the news-making process with industry-wide metadata “standards.” Designed to facilitate the sharing of content between news providers, the IPTC’s work also became the building blocks for our software.

“NewsML describes in detail how news is made, from the ingestion of content into a CMS to the publication of a news item,” says Sourcefabric’s Chief Technology Officer Holman Romero. “What is amazing about IPTC’s standards is that they apply metadata to every step of the news-creation process. This was eye-opening as we were planning Superdesk, because we were able to follow the NewsML methodology and essentially wrap that knowledge in code.”

Although Superdesk went live in 2016, Sourcefabric’s use of IPTC standards in software development has continued, most recently with our editorial Planning Component. The Planning Component, which was rolled out in 2018, was built to help news organisations incorporate editorial planning into newsroom workflows. And while the tool itself was co-developed in partnership with the Australian Associated Press (AAP), NTB, the news agency of Norway, and STT, the news agency of Finland, it was IPTC standards – NewsML and EventsML, in particular – that drove the project forward.

“When we first gathered the news agencies together to discuss the Planning Component, we could have easily had a hard time because everyone thinks in a different way and people tend to use different terminology to describe things,” says Romero. “For instance, some may call an article a ‘news item’ while others call it a ‘story item’ or a ‘content item,’ a subtle semantic difference that would normally have slowed down the development process. But with NewsML, we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel; the naming conventions were already at our disposal.”

Sourcefabric is not the only media technology company that has used metadata standards in its product development. In 2014, a consortium of British broadcasters called The DPP used standards as a blueprint to create a platform for the digital delivery of videos. Previously, when organisations wanted to share finished video files, they had to pass the material by hand, on tape. Using metadata roadmaps, the group devised a digitised file-delivery system that, in the process, saved broadcasters time and money.

More recently, The DPP used IPTC’s NewsML-G2 to build the Metadata Exchange for News, a common metadata framework to make it easier for video-news producers to manage their own production workflows and to collaborate with other news organizations.

Similar projects are being facilitated by the IPTC itself. Brendan Quinn, Managing Director of IPTC, says one of the best examples is the C-POP project, a consortium of European news agencies that is building tools to deliver “optimised stories” to publishers. The ultimate goal of C-POP, which is funded by a Google DNI grant, is to improve content performance and strengthen reader loyalty.

Just like Sourcefabric’s software, collaboration is the bedrock of IPTC’s process. “The beauty of the News Architecture and NewsML systems is that the more people use them, the better they become,” Quinn says. “It’s classic ‘coopetition.’ Even rival vendors want to use the same standards because it makes it easier for people to switch to their system in the future, to exchange content with another system, or even to just get their heads around things from a process and terminology standpoint.”

He adds: "Even though NewsML was created to make sharing of news content between agencies and publishers easier using existing technology, it's great that organisations working from the ground up can use our News Architecture and other standards to make their software design and development easier."

Romero agrees. “Some of the most fundamental decisions in our software-development process have been based on the concepts and ideas behind IPTC standards. In fact, the synergies between Sourcefabric and IPTC are, quite literally, hardwired.”


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