Vernacular dailies have successfully engendered complex local solutions

Indian language content management systems

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Indian newspapers are probably one of the most complex products to design and produce, and this also applies to their newsrooms. The Indian constitution recognizes 22 regional languages, as scheduled languages. This group includes Hindi but excludes innumerable dialects as well as English.

Each of the Indian languages has a distinct script. Typesetting any language and its script requires a unique character set. Each character set includes half characters, conjuncts, and modifiers placed before, after, above, below, and at times in a place that is unique to the character. English and most European or Roman languages are relatively easy to typeset in comparison since they usually contain about 26 distinct characters that are used in upper and lower case, requiring 52 letterforms with an additional half a dozen modifiers or accents in some of them.

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The medium and large Indian newspapers tend to have a print and distribute model. Since they are produced at multiple centers, considerable local content and relevance are required. This causes a large cross-flow of content, and digital pages exchanged between the numerous bureaus, stringers, regional offices, and the main editorial center.

Role of CMS vendor

Most of the larger Indian daily newspapers are printed in multiple languages. Then there are numerous editions in each of the languages, multiple column sizes, variable advertisement sizes, multiple color pages, and add-on products. The content has to be output and broadcast as an ePaper, a web edition, radio and TV stations, and content syndication modules. 

Multiple formats and versions from various sources have to be converted into one usable format to make the pages. An almost impossible MENU to serve unless the Content Management System (CMS) vendor understands and digests the Indian ethos. Perhaps this is one reason that the international CMS systems are restricted to a few large English newspapers and serving a more limited purpose menu.

Multiple formats and countless applications have contributed to the exponential growth in the size of data over the years. Before the 1970s, there was no data for a newspaper to be stored. The printed copy was the only reference kept in the record room, and at most, some of the wealthier English dailies invested in microfiche archives. 

Storage devices

In the 70s and 80s, with the arrival of tape drives and floppies, newspaper archival processes began and started to talk about kilobytes and megabytes. At the Times of India, one first saw disk drives for data storage connected online to the composing system, kept in a strict environment-controlled room accessible only to the trained electronic engineers. The drive had a massive storage capacity of 15 megabytes – good enough to store digital pages for a month at that time. Today one photograph on our smartphones would take up the entire space of the disk of those days.

A modern newsroom is generally designed to bring all the resources into a central area and to break the silos and walls that have traditionally grown in publishing just for print over time. News, content, technology, and people come together to produce stories that are up-to-date, comprehensive, and media agnostic. A CMS is the most critical part of the newsroom, which seamlessly brings resources and users together. 

The challenge of data management

The 90s were a period of immense change. With the rapid development of personal computers and the Apple Macintosh, exciting applications in fonts, page-making, and graphics emerged. Data management started to become a big challenge for newspapers. New problems like missing stories, duplication, spelling mistakes, wrong and multiple formats were the order of the day – most of the discussion in the morning meetings related more to the IT department than to editorial misses and mistakes.

The late 90s and early 2000s were the most exciting phase for the newspapers and the emergence of the present-day newsroom. There was an all-sided development with the opening up of the economy; color newspapers became the new standard. Infographics, much experimentation, and new standards were in vogue. There was excitement all around.

Indian content management systems emerged. A group of four persons – Angelo, Nehchelraj, Ajay, and Ravinder Dugal – started working together at Insight Communications to develop solutions for the classified advertising market, which was a significant source of revenue for print media in those days.

Rakesh Kapoor and Yashpal Bindra were working together to develop vernacular fonts for the PCs and Macs, and every newspaper group bought their fonts. They were well known for their hardware offerings as well. Their organization, Summit, created a popular CMS that was used in quite a few newspapers like the Maharastra Times, Amar Ujala and Dinamalar. Summit’s publishing software was covered in our previous issue (pages 18 and 19 November 2019). 

NewsWrap — Indian language CMS

The other successful newspaper publishing product in the Indian market was NewsWrap. Sanjaya Gupta and Ashish Aron of 4Cplus developed NewsWrap along with Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar almost literally in the newsrooms of these organizations. Imagine testing and debugging your software on the fly. No wonder it is such a popular CMS in the industry, especially in the Indian language context. Having successfully addressed diversity and complexity, no language or terrain seems as challenging for the Indian developers of news media systems.

Smartphones and the Internet have redefined how newsrooms work. The digital or converged newsroom is no longer a choice; in fact, a newspaper cannot survive without it anymore. 

NewsWrap allows users the flexibility of scripting, editing, and approving content from the newsroom, web, or mobile phone. It is a platform-agnostic CMS that can be used as a workflow for publishing to social media, digital media, print as well as broadcast. 

NewsWrap, along with Layout-X, MediaEagle, and the CIO|365 as a package, can address the entire spectrum of a news organization’s requirements – not just the newsroom but the commercial operations as well. The recently announced merger of DOT1 Solutions and 4Cplus has brought in SAP system integration capabilities allowing publishers and broadcasters who have SAP as an ERP to seamlessly integrate it with NewsWrap – perhaps a unique first for any publishing system.

NewsWrap can support multimedia files (images, audio, and video) along with the text. This content can be shared by the print newsroom with radio and TV newsrooms as well. A TV-specific MOS-compliant newsroom computer system (NRCS) is also available. The final pages of the print edition are converted to ePaper using the 4Cplus ePaper solution.

NewsWrap supports primary international wire services such as AP, AFP, Reuters, and Bloomberg. The leading syndication providers are also supported in NewsWrap (NYT, Guardian, Washington Post, The Independent, and other syndicates). NewsWrap supports text, photos, graphics, and video services. The content is basketed automatically based on keywords and notations and sent to the respective desks or editors based on the predefined pathways to process the news.

The NewsWrap system supports both design-led and content-led styles of work. 

The workflow and the user rights, editions, and page levels are defined in the admin module of NewsWrap. Unlike other systems, rights can be assigned in a matrix format by the administrator when required. This becomes very important in the Indian context, where multi-tasking is common in the newsroom.

4Cplus is an authorized Quark XTensions developer and Adobe Solutions Network (ASN) member giving NewsWrap some distinct advantages compared to other CMS systems. Stories can be edited in the NewsWrap text editor. Moreover, NewsWrap also supports Adobe InCopy/Quark CopyDesk/MS Office as text composing and editing tools. The NewsWrap text editor helps reduce investment in third-party software and is capable of providing a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) preview of the article as it would appear on the page of the pagination software (Adobe InDesign/ Quark XPress). 

The NewsWrap text editor provides word count, and the style sheet of the pagination software template can be mapped to the text editors. This allows users to specify headlines, sub-headings, byline, intro/slug, and insert images. The images would then flow along with the story in the workflow. If the publication follows the content-led workflow, then the length of the story and the number of columns can be defined while the story is written. In all the text editor options, it is possible to apply the pagination style sheet. It is also possible to edit the same story for print, web, and mobile.

NewsWrap has a photo manager, video manager, and audio manager, where users can preview the multimedia input and search for the required data for the caption or description. The text with multimedia inputs can be edited in a variety of ways, depending on the output media. It is possible to have several versions of the same story not only for separate publications and editions but also unique versions for SMS, WAP sites, Internet, and other media. Multimedia files, if any, are routed to the web, and the article is published not only with the related pictures but also with associated videos/audio content.

At the time of page release for publishing, NewsWrap checks the content on the page for duplicate content either on the same page or pages of the same edition already released. Any duplicate content raises as an alert. The system also checks the jump page feature to ensure that both boxes of the story on two different pages are published. The final version of the copy on the page is reverse updated to the database so that changes made on the page are available as the latest version.

MediaEagle is the MIS module of the 4Cplus publishing solution. Its editorial dashboards provide information on news, pages, page preview, team, or employee performance. It tracks deadlines and allows management users to drill down to multiple versions of a story.

MediaEagle is browser-based and is deployed over the Internet or Intranet. Login rights and access are given only to the dashboards, which a user is allowed to see.

CMS in newsrooms create new possibilities

Content management systems can empower newsrooms from the technology perspective and create possibilities. Any integration is possible, and any format or platform can be provided if the user can define his requirements. It is estimated that a typical user uses hardly 20-25% of the system’s capability. Today’s newsrooms serve multiple media requirements. However, there is a strong need to integrate cross-functionality of the technology, HR, Finance, marketing, and distribution with the newsrooms to make the whole operation free of silos and bottlenecks. A system like 4Cplus is designed to serve the end to end requirements of a publishing house. It is for the user to exploit it to substantially reduce the cost of operations.

V Siva Raja works for Five-I Innovation Factory, a consultancy providing innovative solutions to the industry. For the past 40 years, he worked in the areas of innovation, projects, training, and development for some of the largest Indian dailies such as The Hindustan Times, Dainik Bhaskar, Indian Express, and The Times Of India. Instrumental in optimizing solutions and setting up newsrooms resulting in significant savings to these organizations, he can be contacted at fivei.innovationfactoryllp@gmail.com and +919818278760.