Streamline your technology so you can focus on news gathering, experts advise

By Tyree Worthy | Oct. 11, 2018

L to R: David Walsh, Jim Brady, and Merrill Brown discuss technology decisions — Tyree Worthy / LION Publishers

If we could optimize content management systems and revenue structures, we could make more time for journalism and the content our audiences want. That was the conclusion of three speakers — David Walsh of Web Publisher Pro, Jim Brady of Spirited Media and Merrill Brown of The News Project — who offered their outlooks and advice on how to invest in CMS and general tech options.

With many LION publishers being run by one or two people, the overarching premise was to make the digital product simpler and more cost-effective so publishers can invest more time on news coverage.

During the session, “Beyond the CMS: Shared Services and Tech Stacks,” Jim Brady suggested publishers find cost-effective options for web and content management, since they tend to want all the cool features they see. “You have to decide what to say no to,” he said, “so you only pay for what you’ll actually use.” His rule: If you describe a tool’s usefulness by saying “what if this low-probability thing happens,” it’s probably not worth the investment.

David Walsh said you need to diversify your revenue in any business. Reader revenue is the “hot thing” this year, with publications monetizing newsletters, direct sales and sponsored content. “Diversity is extremely important, no matter what the hot thing is,” he said. “You should never put all your eggs in one basket.”

Mobile-friendly content is the future, and your site’s user experience should reflect that, they all agreed. Merrill Brown said that user experience is more important than we like to think, and that it’s a driving force when developing reader revenue. There is commerce opportunity in setting up targeted ads via third-party services that use mobile ad options. Merrill added that “perfectly responsive is perfectly fine,” so there’s no need to overdevelop your site’s mobility.

The panel discussed simpler ways to optimize how publishers use their sites (and their time). Walsh said to avoid “bonehead moves” by hiring someone who knows what they’re doing and using a simple CMS like WordPress. Brown suggested thinking about the product from a revenue perspective. The language and tone publishers use should be based on who’s funding the site most. The product should carry the voice that matches the revenue model, with a shift from advertising businesses to one that is audience- and membership-based.

The final takeaway was that all markets are different. There’s a science in customizing and developing your website to fit your audience and its revenue model. And there’s no true pattern across affluence or demographics, and advertising works in some places and not in others. Publishers must develop custom solutions and narrow their needs to what appeals to their broad audience, to ensure they are paying only for what they use.

Check out more entries in our 2018 conference blog »