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Crunching the numbers with Newscoop's accounting widget

Save valuable time and increase efficiency and accountability with the new Newscoop accounting widget | Photo by Sonja Landford (CC BY 1.0)
Save valuable time and increase efficiency and accountability with the new Newscoop accounting widget | Photo by Sonja Landford (CC BY 1.0)

Last summer we received an unusual request, not from the editors or tech staff of one of our clients, but from their accounting department. Our client is a Germany-based medium composed of a group of journalists in exile that was looking for a way to optimise their monthly accounting procedures.

Their head of business informed us that they spent a substantial amount of time digging into Newscoop each month to figure out how many articles each contributor wrote, and what kind of articles. They did this because the remuneration each contributor received depended on the article type. Thus, she explained further, for the accounting department, it is important to know whether an author should receive the appropriate high remuneration reflective of an extensive investigative feature or the lower amount for a short opinion piece. The accountants wanted to extract this information from the Newscoop database, and then transfer this information to their weapon of choice, Excel, in a quick way.

But Newscoop obviously was developed for publishing, not for accounting and Excel number crunching. Could it be done?

Fortunately, Newscoop not only offers the option to extend its feature-set through dashboard widgets and plug-ins, but also through its switches functionality, it offers another means for project-specific customisation.

After a brainstorming session with developers, we came to the conclusion that the best approach to satisfy the accountants’ request was to develop a widget (with a plugin working under the hood) which would display all relevant information in the dashboard. This way the accountants would not need to dig any deeper into Newscoop than opening the start page after logging in. This is important because accountants are not technically supposed to interact with the articles. This widget is able to solve that problem by getting the relevant article meta-data from Newscoop and displaying it in a nice table view.

Download the accounting widget on GitHub

While our developers are experienced in implementing new features for journalistic websites, the process of conceptualising and implementing the accounting widget turned out to be more complicated than it was initially expected:

  • How can the additional meta-data be stored in the Newscoop system?

  • How and where should it be handled in the Newscoop user interface?

  • Which (meta-) information needs to be visible, which should be hidden to avoid confusion?

  • How are articles handled which have multiple authors (which accounting-wise means split reimbursement)?

Those were only a few of the questions that turned up during the process. Often there was not only one question, but many possible solutions to these problems for which there was no pre-existing workflow. Once we worked through a number of the problems that arose, we determined that the way to develop this widget turned out to be through “switches”, a Newscoop feature which makes adding certain attributes and meta-data to articles easy. It scales well and is flexible enough to adapt to changing needs.

“This is exactly the thing the switches concept was developed for” commented Sourcefabric’s Mischa Gorinskat, one of Newscoop’s core developer.

When asking Mischa about his experience developing the widget in one word, his answer was “Joyful?”. But then he explained to me that there is an unhearable punctuation mark at the end of his exclamation to express irony or sarcasm. Indeed, he spent a few more hours than he had estimated on the widget because some features turned out to be more difficult to implement than expected.

The accounting widget in action

The accounting widget in action

But in the end it is clear that the effort and extra hours will not only make our client whom we developed the widget for happy, but it will most certainly come in handy for other Newscoop users around the world.

To those people, we have a recommendation from our client’s Organizational Development Manager: “If accountability, transparency and efficiency of your program are among your priorities, the accounting widget is a perfect tool. For a growing media outlet, funded by different donors, it is important to attribute accurately content to its funding source. The widget allows us to collect this information with just a couple clicks. At the end of any given reporting period, we have an overview of our deliverables neatly organized by donor and type of content in just a few minutes. This is an enormous time-saver which allows us to focus on other important elements of our work.”

The accounting widget is now on Github, available freely under the terms of the GNU General Public License. The readme file contains more information on features, installation and configuration.