The Superdesk Wire Club: Turning newsroom software into a shared resource
For much of journalism's history, competition has been the defining relationship between – and even within – newsrooms. But as the industry has fallen on tough economic times, new forms of collaborative journalism have emerged to help media organisations share costs and improve the quality of the news they produce.
Readers can easily see the results with projects like the Panama Papers and Documenting Hate. Harder to spot, but no less important, are the partnerships in the digital trenches – the alliances forged to improve the tools and software that deliver journalists' work.
Facilitating technological collaborations has always been a Sourcefabric priority, and now we're solidifying this goal with the launch of the Superdesk Wire Club. This forum will give news organisations powered by Superdesk a conduit to engage in the planning, development, and maintenance of the software they use every day. Founding members of the Wire Club include Norwegian news agency NTB, Belgian news agency Belga, and the Australian Associated Press (AAP). Additional agencies are expected to join soon.
Since Superdesk’s public release in early 2016, nearly a dozen publishers have adopted the CMS or are transitioning to the software, including some of Europe’s leading news agencies. Every month, the platform delivers more than 300,000 news items to over 80 million readers on four continents. As a "headless CMS," in which the front end has been decoupled from the content processing interface on the back end, Superdesk is a more flexible digital publishing system. Superdesk is also built on open-source code base, which allows partner media organisations to collectively make improvements and share costs.
The Wire Club will facilitate these development efforts and give Superdesk’s clients a forum dedicated to ensuring that the system continues to meet the particular needs of major news agencies.
Tom Wuytack, Belga’s CIO, says that is precisely why his news agency is participating. "The Wire Club will allow us to sit in the driver’s seat to ensure that further evolution of the Superdesk software remains relevant for Belga. It will also give us direct insight into useful innovations and integrations from other agencies."
Geir Terje Ruud, NTB's chief development officer, said: "It's a good idea to build a system for cooperation between customers and users on systems like Superdesk. If we, as customers, can pull or push in the same direction, development will be faster, more efficient and definitely closer to the needs of the customers."
News agencies are already cooperating on technological innovation. For example, a group of six European news agencies – led by the Dutch agency, ANP – is working to develop a system for data-driven publishing, which will analyse and use data to determine what content users find most engaging. Another initiative, a collaboration between the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur and STT, the Finnish news agency, aims to help news agencies track and match content to reader preferences.
But the Superdesk Wire Club is one of the only forums in the world specially designed for news agencies to partner on the development of a common CMS. Participants of the Wire Club will pay an annual membership fee and have the opportunity to purchase discounted development coupons. Members will also be able to pool funding to jointly pay for Superdesk features, enhancements, and components.
"This is about people talking to each other, but it's also about coordinating solutions," says Karel Petrák, a Sourcefabric project manager and Wire Club organiser. "What do Superdesk users need and want most? The Wire Club will help us answer that question."
For instance, many news organisations are experimenting with "robo-journalism," algorithms to write stories, personalise content delivery and sift through reams of data in search of scoops. There is also a growing desire for mobile apps to facilitate on-the-go publishing. By bringing Superdesk users together in one place, these types of wish-list development items can be prioritised. "One of the first things we are going to do as part of the Club is to see what our members want and plan from there," Petrák says.
Aslan Aslanov, President of the News Agencies World Congress, says disruptive technologies – particularly social media and mobile platforms – have made technological cooperation among media organisations all the more vital. Any network that brings news agencies together "can help agencies find significant solutions to [shared] challenges," he said.
At the moment, Wire Club membership is open only to news agencies (although future clubs could cater to publishers). With many of the world's news agencies facing a variety of commercial, political, and technological challenges, the Wire Club's initial aim is to strengthen this key part of the media industry.
"Open-source software has its advantages, but no serious business can simply let an external developer run wild," Petrák says. "We want our news-agency partners to have a seat at the Superdesk development table, and the Wire Club is one way to do that."