With 82 daily newspapers, 23 television stations, and hundreds of magazines and websites, US media giant Gannett has an unquenchable appetite for news. Each of its media businesses, however, had evolved separate and distinct processes for capturing and developing story ideas. There was no easy way to share story and enable people within Gannett to see the full range of story ideas in the pipeline. This lack of transparency frequently led to duplication of effort among editorial teams and limited re-use of content. To eliminate these inefficiencies and to facilitate collaboration and re-use of content, the ContentOne group at Gannett turned to Microsoft® SharePoint® technologies and the skills of Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Atidan. The result of their collaboration is the Gannett ContentOne Dashboard, which delivers unprecedented levels of transparency and editorial planning efficiency.
Gannett is known for the information it delivers to audiences all over the world. The company owns more than 80 newspapers around the United States, including USA TODAY, as well as more than 20 television stations. It owns numerous popular websites—from usatoday.com to momslikeme.com and metromix.com—as well as hundreds of publications in the United Kingdom.
What Gannett needed was an efficient system for sharing information internally about story ideas and the resources assigned to develop those ideas. Each of its more than 100 media businesses had its own processes and procedures for editorial planning and for capturing and tracking story ideas. From Microsoft® Excel® spreadsheets to paper, e mail threads, and white boards, everything imaginable was in use. “There was simply no way to gain insight into all that information,” says Gary Gunnerson, the IT architect in the ContentOne group at Gannett who was tasked with developing a solution to foster greater visibility into the content creation process across the company.
Developing a solution that would achieve the desired level of transparency into the story pipeline and development process was a significant challenge in and of itself. But that was not the only challenge facing Mr. Gunnerson or Gannett as a whole. “We needed more than just a story database,” says Tara Connell, a Vice President of the ContentOne group at Gannett. “We needed a solution that would help change the culture around the planning process. Up to that point, we essentially had more than 100 autonomous organizations—and we needed these organizations to learn to share.”
“We needed a solution that would provide a unified and consistent data structure for all our media entities,” says Mr. Gunnerson. “We also needed a solution that we could adapt on the front end to meet the unique needs of each individual organization—and that we could evolve quickly and efficiently as those needs change over time. Finally, we had to do all of this using the least amount of capital.”
In November 2008, Mr. Gunnerson met with the Microsoft Media & Entertainment Industry Management team and learned about the Microsoft Solution Framework for Editorial Collaboration and Mobile Journalism, built on Microsoft SharePoint® technologies. “We already had experience with SharePoint in other contexts,” says Mr. Gunnerson, “but this inspired us to think about how we could use SharePoint for editorial planning. It made a lot of sense.”
Involving editors, journalists, and other users from the start, Mr. Gunnerson and Ms. Connell presented the idea for a unified editorial planning and collaboration system and gathered feedback. They identified the features and functionality this system required, and then they began working with Philadelphia-based Atidan, a Microsoft Gold Certified partner with deep expertise in the development and customization of Microsoft SharePoint-based solutions. Together, they began to develop a small-scale proof-of-concept (POC) deployment using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.
Designing a Solution for Editorial Planning
The editorial planning solution that Mr. Gunnerson and Ms. Connell envisioned needed to provide a way for any journalist or editor within Gannett to submit story proposals—whether those were proposals for newspaper stories, suggestions for accompanying photos or an independent photo essay, or ideas for video content that might be delivered online or through one of the Gannett TV stations. “We were not out to build a management solution for existing content,” Mr. Gunnerson explains. “Rather, we needed a solution supporting the processes prior to the content being created. We needed a system for capturing, sharing, and tracking story ideas.”
Practically speaking, the solution that Gannett set out to build needed to enable content owners at the local level to share their ideas with content managers at regional and national levels. At the same time, the solution needed to provide a mechanism that would enable a content owner to enter a story idea for discussion with local editors but mask or hide that same idea from other editors (either because of the sensitivity of the story idea or because it might be too tentative for broader dissemination). That requirement for story idea protection opened the door to still other requirements around system security and access control. Given the goal that media outlets throughout the Gannett company would eventually use this solution, the issue of security and access control was an important one.
Avoiding information overload was another important consideration. With thousands of story proposals being submitted every day, Mr. Gunnerson and Ms. Connell also knew that solution needed mechanisms for filtering content. They envisioned a dashboard-like interface that could automatically filter the presentation of information based on an individual’s role, their geographic location, even based on the topics they covered. Accordingly, the solution under development became known as the ContentOne Dashboard
And there were still other requirements:
- Content owners needed to be able to tag stories with relevant keywords for easy tracking and discovery.
- Editorial teams at all levels—local, regional, and national—needed the ability to use metadata to sort and filter story ideas.
- Users needed the ability to search for information within the entire system quickly.
- The system needed to accommodate wire service messages and make them available to all users.
- The system needed to present a calendar of national events to help users keep track of upcoming national events.
- The system had to perform certain garbage collection duties automatically, flushing from its data repository the story ideas that had already run or that reached an expiration date (even if they had not been developed beyond the idea stage).
Beyond all that, “it had to be intuitive and pleasant to use,” says Ms. Connell. “It also needed to enable the corporate demand for transparency into the story idea process across all the businesses using it.”
Developing a Microsoft SharePoint Application to Meet the Need
The PoC deployment that Gannett and Atidan built with Microsoft SharePoint proved promising enough for Gannett to give the go-ahead for Atidan to develop the PoC into a full-scale production system.
||SharePoint is very powerful and can perform very complex tasks … but we’ve made the experience of interacting with the ContentOne Dashboard quite simple and approachable for the users.
Vice President, ContentOne
“We reviewed the goals and business processes within Gannett using our own proprietary methodologies,” says David J. Rosenthal, President of Atidan. “Then we worked to translate those goals and business practices into web parts and workflows in SharePoint Server.”
In June of 2009, Atidan personnel began to develop the SharePoint application and tune the search capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint to deliver the functionality that the Gannett team had specified. They created and refined business rules for SharePoint to ensure data quality, eliminate duplicate entries, and purge the database automatically when story ideas reach their expiration date. They created a security solution that integrated with the Microsoft Active Directory® directory services solution already in place at Gannett and then created a streamlined, user-friendly interface that individual Gannett media outlets could customize and brand to meet the needs and expectations of local users.
By the end of the summer, after Atidan had testing the new solution extensively from all the different kinds of devices that end users within Gannett might use—from PCs to Macs to mobile devices—the initial version of the ContentOne Dashboard was ready for real-world use. Gannett opened up the ContentOne Dashboard for a select group of power users in the company. Among these users, the initial response was very positive. At the same time, these users identified areas where they wanted to see the functionality enhanced and generated a long wish list of features that had not been included in the initial release. From the perspective of the power users, says Mr. Rosenthal, “this release was about 80 percent there — and they wanted 110 percent.”
Gannett senior management considers the ContentOne Dashboard a key enabler of a future in which Gannett editorial teams share story ideas more openly, select the best of these ideas more effectively, and develop these stories more efficiently. These improvements will ensure the delivery of the highest quality content and maximize the revenue potential of this content across multiple delivery channels and formats. As such, the ContentOne Dashboard is a critical component of a broader vision for the future of this media giant.
And Gannett users are embracing the new solution with enthusiasm. Writers, editors, producers, and executives using the ContentOne Dashboard have far greater insight into the story idea pipeline than ever before. They can also manipulate story ideas in ways that had not always been possible. Experienced journalists such as Phil Pruitt, who was Deputy Managing Editor for News at USA TODAY during the Dashboard rollout, can point out those benefits very quickly.
“Before the ContentOne Dashboard, we had another in-house story proposal database,” says Mr. Pruitt, “so we had a frame of reference. The ContentOne Dashboard has duplicated all the things we liked about the older system and extended it with new features that make it much more versatile. For example, we were sitting in a news meeting for the ‘A’ section of USA Today this morning and looking at a story description that had been planned for page 2A in tomorrow's edition. The more we discussed the idea, the more it became clear that this story should be on page 1A. So, right there in the meeting we used the ContentOne Dashboard to move the story to the list of stories planned for page A1—and everyone using the system could see that. We could not have made that change, in that way, in real time, with the old system.
“At the end of the day,” Mr. Pruitt continues, “the ContentOne Dashboard gives us much better insight into what’s going on in the organization and much more flexibility behind the scenes. If you're in the room where the day’s critical stories are being prepared for presentation, that's important.”
User-Friendly Experience Speeds Adoption
Mr. Pruitt’s comment about duplicating the good features of the previous system touch even more deeply on the flexibility of SharePoint. Mr. Gunnerson’s team and Atidan had worked hard to create a solution that would offer different users, at different Gannett entities, a solution that worked in the ways they wanted it to work. While the same instance of Microsoft SharePoint resides behind the ContentOne Dashboard at USA TODAY, the Des Moines Register, and all the other media outlets where it has been adopted, the actual interface with which users in the different newspapers interact may not be identical. The user experience of the ContentOne Dashboard can be refined and branded on a site level, to meet the needs of the different users.
“SharePoint is very powerful and can perform very complex tasks,” says Ms. Connell, “but it has an adaptable interface. We have taken advantage of its sophistication to drive consistency across the sites and to deliver the functionality that we wanted
||At the end of the day, the ContentOne Dashboard gives us more transparency, better insight into what’s going on….If you're in the room where the day’s critical stories are being prepared for presentation, that's important.
Former Deputy Managing Editor for News,
incorporated—but we’ve made the experience of interacting with ContentOne Dashboard quite simple and approachable for the users. That’s one of the reasons why Microsoft SharePoint was the right solution: It is sophisticated but has a simple face. It drives consistency and structure but can be adapted to meet users’ needs. And it works the way we wanted it to.”
This user-friendly experience is having a positive impact on adoption. As of August 2010, more than 6,000 users at approximately 33 Gannett sites—including all the content developers and managers at the flagship Gannett newspaper, USA TODAY—are using the ContentOne Dashboard to submit, share, and view story ideas. Each day, more than 2,500 story proposals are submitted, and the national ContentOne Dashboard is visited 28,000 times. Adoption is steadily increasing and Gannett officials anticipate that all Gannett media properties will eventually be using the ContentOne Dashboard.
Improving Transparency and Resource Allocation
Gannett executives anticipate that the benefits of everyone using the same system for editorial planning will become more quantifiable as more editorial teams begin to rely on the system. Resource allocation is one area where Ms. Connell and others expect to see quantifiable improvements.
“When the bridge collapsed in Minnesota a few years ago,” Ms. Connell recalls, “we had a huge number of Gannett reporters and photographers on the scene. We had no way of knowing that so many different Gannett newspapers and TV stations would send people to the scene, so it became a cultural imperative for us to gain this insight into story planning and to use our resources optimally.”
By making story proposals accessible throughout the organization, Gannett anticipates avoiding the situation where too many reporters, photographers, and camera crews show up at the same event. Officials are hopeful that with better planning and transparency, the editorial teams can coordinate more effectively and send just one or two reporters and photographers to an event. They then create stories and content that all the interested newspapers, magazines, TV stations and Web sites within Gannett can use.
“Culture change is a key piece of all this,” Ms. Connell goes on to say. “We are using ContentOne to bring greater transparency to the planning process, and to build a culture of collaboration and sharing of ideas.
Ordering them to share would not be the best way to change the culture at Gannett. It doesn’t work—not with journalists. But if we lead the way, if we show them that this is a more effective way to cover the news and deliver the content that their audiences want, then our people will move in this direction.”
If Mr. Pruitt’s response to the notion of cultural change is any indicator, then the investment that Gannett has made in Microsoft SharePoint and ContentOne should pay off handsomely. “This is a cultural change,” says Mr. Pruitt, who was with Gannett for 25 years. “How is it being embraced? The spirit is there. Now everyone is working it out at a practical level.”
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