July 4, 2010 - a weekend in journalism history
Perhaps this weekend will be one of the times journalism historians will write about when they look back at significant changes.
Paywalls went up at the Times of London (with the expected debate about whether they will work) and at three Gannett newspapers (as I've written, I think the significance of that has not gotten quite the press because if big-G shows success, others will surely follow).
And the Journal Register Co., as part of its Ben Franklin Project, published all editions throughout its chain using only open-source software. That may sound geek-like, but the significance could be much greater if it breaks the industry's almost manic bias against open-source.
OK, not in all cases, but in too many. Here's an example: In working with a major media company to rebuild a site that had crashed, we had to change content management systems from Drupal to Expression Engine, the one favored by that company's IT management. Now, EE can build robust sites. But you'd be hard-pressed to see it from our rebuilt site.
Most of what you now see on our site has been a hack through yeoman's work done by a programmer at this media company. Gone, however, are the community calendar, the polling, the aggregator of other feeds - all things integral to Drupal or easily obtained from its robust development community.
Those things may exist in EE, too. I haven't had the time to dig deeply into its modules. But here's the thing, it does have useful modules, but I'm told they have not been approved by this big company's IT procedure, which apparently makes government paperwork look tame.
It is one reason I have become convinced that when the history of this tectonic shift in journalism and media is written, someone needs to hold the proprietary publishing system companies to account. They can scream foul all they want, but I know from personal experience dealing with editors and others in many newsrooms as an AP editor that for many of those publishing systems, online - and the idea of easily integrating content across platforms - was a dream at best until the middle of this past decade. (Oh, the systems supposedly could do it, but ask anyone who had to work with one about the internal workarounds.) And the idea of integrating or even managing user-generated content definitely was not part of most systems until recently.
Yet, it's hard to get a publisher or vice president to give up a system in which the company has invested perhaps millions and which it had expected to depreciate over a certain number of years.
Is it any wonder the pure-play online sites, willing as many are to work with as much open-source software out there as possible, run rings around traditional media in flexibility?
More commentary on the Journal-Register project from Jeff Jarvis (who had a hand in it) and Terry Heaton.