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Norsk Telegrambyrå (NTB) gets Superdesk

Photo by Bench Accounting (CC BY 1.0)
Photo by Bench Accounting (CC BY 1.0)

“What sort of headline word is gets?” I hear the ghosts of revise and chief subs scream in my head and watch as they scribble more meaningful options - perhaps joins, partners, backs, or buys - across my copy. People who scream at me are often right, especially those such as senior journalists who know their field, but in this case, I exercise my right over my blog to demonstrate that gets is apposite.

I could cut this short for old-timers and say that, in this context, gets means groks. I’d ask them to hang on, though, perhaps make a cuppa, while I explain to everyone else that grok (coined by 60s’ sci-fi author Robert Heinlein and adopted by fans, and so geeks, hackers and the like) means to understand intuitively or empathetically.

Welcome back, old-timers. Let us continue.

Superdesk teams, from developers, UI and workflow designers, to production specialists, spend a lot of time in newsrooms side by side with host journalists. Superdesk projects give host developers what is sometimes their first chance to work in their organisation’s newsroom with the journalists who are their end users.

This supplements descriptions of a journalistic task and desired outcomes in a requirements list with live experience of what that actually means in production. This is often like experiencing two entirely different interpretations of a Shakespeare play, both valid but only one remotely suitable for the intended audience. What is merely explained, to developers or to anyone else, does not bestow complete and thorough understanding.

Our latest colleagues, at NTB, understand this and regard development of content tools as something that should start with their specific sets of journalistic/production needs. Working backwards from an imposed “solution” offered by vendors who’ll stretch the word configurable to disingenuity is just that: working backwards. We like to work forwards - mind you, we also ensure that Superdesk talks to as many of your existing systems as it helpfully can, ingesting and managing content - such as Outlook email, an essential at NTB as in many other places - or with user authentication/VPN infrastructure and across disparate repositories and archives. Superdesk’s modular make-up is also a boon in this regard; niche tools can flourish in diversity around a stable and powerful core.

Working forwards, if done collaboratively between developers and editorial users, allows us to start with the journalists and ask them what they want to achieve. They will describe the content/product types that they want to make and, working with the devs and UI people, workflows to handle that optimally will be built. It should be stressed here that no two workflows, even in the same organisation, are necessarily the same.

The bonus with collaborating so closely is that because we’re all working with visibility across everything we have available, we also see where we can add something to the party - and that includes for your customers. The frequency with which a journalist may be heard asking of a developer, “So if I can do this with Superdesk, does it mean I might also …” and then describe ways to create new products or to improve, enhance or extend existing services and output, affirms the benefits of this approach. Developers, too, often suggest workflow efficiencies derived from technology with capabilities unknown to a journalist. Search-leveraged functionality is a common example of this.

Again, try imagining such scenarios arising during “implementation” of a “solution”, often more an exercise in reverse-engineering than anything else, and one that, in turn, can lead to pain. Pain for journalists, pain for developers, pain for chief execs. Only the lawyers have fun.

So maybe we’re a little closer to “getting” Superdesk, beyond its meaning as end-to-end content creation/production/distribution/curation software. But the word community seems to be bandied about a lot, too, and that needs some explanation lest you start to think that this is a cult. Best to turn to our new colleagues at NTB, in particular Helen Vogt, head of innovations. She put it like this: “The professional development opportunities as more and more journalist organisations sign on are incredible.

“Sourcefabric is a vendor, but it’s providing a unique network for professional growth and refinement of the utilities we all need, hopefully accelerating our ability to adapt as an entire industry.”

Those words echo the hopes and aspirations of all of us in news media; as creators of tools and tech to enable journalism, or as journalists in newsrooms. We, as an industry, need to adapt and grow - not strap and squeeze ourselves into a succession of shells, each bulkier than the last, as we arm ourselves with the priciest zeitgeist solution - today’s when conceived, maybe, but yesterday’s already when implemented. Such is the pace of change in media industries and technologies, and in the habits, tastes and demands of consumers.

Developing with, for and in our partner and host organisations makes a lot of sense and creates pooled experience and expertise across development, business and editorial teams to inform individual Superdesk projects wherever they start. This is working forwards, and for potential partners out there it also means starting from a huge base of work completed by Superdesk teams elsewhere. You can look to the future instead of trying merely to update the past.

If you see how our industry is changing, you’ll understand the futility of trying to play catch-up while chained to a monolithic “content solution”. New products, channels and platforms evolve in the real and often online news world, which is where Superdesk lives; it is part of that environment and it is also shaping it, module by module. Titanic, stand-alone, inflexible systems have obsolescence built in to their very nature.

By the time ideas leave the software labs and newsrooms to find their way into other media-targeted solutions, the iterative process will have created a newer idea beyond the potential capability, or configurability, of said targeted solutions. Better, then, to be in the right tech environment, creating those ideas.

This is what media organisations get, when they get Superdesk.

For more information, view our press release or visit our press centre