Media Makers Meet in Philadelphia

Liberty_Bell Publishers, Advertisers, and supporting vendors convened in Philadelphia, PA last week for the Suburban Newspapers of America (SNA) conference. I was among them as a speaker and representative of SAXOTECH to share ideas and discuss the future of media.

The backdrop of Philadelphia, and the symbolic nature of the city, was not lost on attendees. After all, this is the place where the power of media was used to establish independence a mere 234 years ago. 

What did media have to do it with the Declaration of Independence?

To bring the colonies together and establish unanimity in 1776 did not just require the eloquence of Jefferson and Franklin, or the intense debate of our Founding Fathers. It also required typesetting these great ideas to print. These revolutionary ideas were literally distributed as a press release to as many newspapers as possible. Printing and distributing the foundations of a new nation made them tangible, debatable, and viral.

Of course, now the digital age is upon us and media companies are wrestling with their influence in some cases, and their print product in most cases.

Publishers are asking themselves:

  • How should we properly align resources?
  • What is going to continue to attract and retain advertisers?
  • How do we meet the demands of varying consumer preferences?
  • Where can we find new sources of revenue?
  • Should we get rid of the print piece all together?
  • Is Steve Jobs right when he says it’s all about the application?

You may feel the answers to these questions are simple – streamline the organization; take advantage of new technologies for greater workflow management; get rid of disparate systems; outsource more; go completely digital; embrace open source; partner with citizen journalists. A publisher would probably nod and agree with you while they pictured their giant state-of-the-art printing press that runs millions of printed products in just days or weeks. People’s jobs and the future of the company are on the line.

Interestingly enough, despite being a blogger and online marketer of sorts, I still read newspapers and magazines just as much as I obtain information from my iPad or RSS feeds. I consume content in multiple forms with no specific alliances to any one channel. Take one away and I’ll go to the next. I want news. I need news. But I don’t really care how I get it. It just has to be convenient.

One thing is for sure: people are consuming more news than ever before.

CEO of Journal Register Company (JRC), John Paton has in fact put “digital first and print last.” During his keynote at SNA he detailed the steps taken to re-position the organization towards a digital future. He is not getting rid of the print piece, but he is embracing change. Some of these steps include hiring only those with digital backgrounds, pursuing open source projects, and operating with openness and transparency.

Benjamin Franklin Project

Another step has been their Benjamin Franklin Project.  The whole purpose of the project has been to take 30 days to identify and bring together only free web tools to produce both an online and print newspaper piece.

What did they use?


The staff at JRC succeeded in publishing the newspaper with these tools, but they admittedly returned to the previous system because of workflow issues. The fact is this process requires a lot of different systems that are not always going to work exactly as you want them to. Workflow management is key when it comes to running an efficient newsroom, and if one part of the process breaks down you have serious problems on your hands. These problems grow exponentially the larger the newsroom or the media organization is.

Open Source

Having used WordPress both personally and for clients over the course of many years, I was keenly aware that this was the content management system they used. I’ve always spoken very highly of WordPress (even sponsored and organized a couple of Word Camps) and continue to use it for this website. But would I recommend it for a large newspaper that is tasked with publishing content to multiple channels using staff with varying skill sets? No. In fact, I have seen newspapers who used to run WordPress go back to proprietary systems because it just wasn’t doing the job. It doesn’t mean that WordPress is not a good product, it just wasn’t built specifically for the demands of the ever-changing media industry.

WordPress, along with other open source and proprietary content management systems, are all built on the same basic languages. It is not the open source quotient alone that a publisher should be concerned with when it comes to distributing news. It is where the expertise, architecture of the system and the specific needs of the end user meet that matters most.  

Applied Expertise

There is no question that media organizations should continue to experiment with their products, develop new strategies, and take a hard look at their brand. But in my opinion they should leave the content management and delivery mechanisms, as well as hosting, to outside experts. This will free up the time and resources to focus on what is most important – delivering the right content, in the right channel, at the right time.

We have come a long way since the day our Declaration of Independence was announced. Much has changed, and yet, walking the streets of Philadelphia I found the basic formula for communication to be much the same. Media served an instrumental role in informing and shaping a nation of individuals then just as much as they do now. And I am confident they will in the next 200 years, even if they look a little different.  

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