We published our first review of newspaper CMS solutions in 2018 and in just two years, pandemic included, a lot has changed. Fast adoption of advanced analytics, the use of Artificial Intelligence and surprisingly, some integrations with the print side of production for laydown. So our top choice came as a bit of a surprise, but being a Canadian firm ourselves, we were rather happy.

We want to be clear at the outset that we did not do a deep evaluation of features for each solution for this review. We do have a deeper dive, but that is for our primary clients. Hey, we are a business after all.

Our goal was to look at newspaper CMS’ from the perspective of innovation, integration with other solutions in a technology stack and looking towards the future of newspapers. Some may opine that newspapers are dead or dying. We think exactly the opposite. Sure, in 15-20 years we may no longer have print newspapers, but we WILL have newspapers and they will continue to play a critical role in a democratic society.

We explain our approach, criteria and methodology below the rankings.

ONE: Naviga and Sophi.io

This company used to be called Newscycle, which was #3 on our list in 2018. To say the company underwent a radical digital transformation would be an understatement. Essentially, they went from Windows ’98 to macOS Big Sur in under two years. Hopefully they’ve given their staff some time off for catching up on sleep. One key interesting element of Naviga as a CMS is that you can implement the CMS behind your existing website infrastructure and this is very important. Secondly, with Naviga and Sophi.io (developed by the Globe & Mail in Canada), Naviga is the only solution we’ve found with a clear integration to InDesign for managing print laydown. The ability to have deeper integration between print and digital is just something we did not expect to see happen. But it did.

Naviga has worked closely with Sophi to develop backend integration of Sophi.io’s comprehensive analytics tools, which in part borrow from ARC Publishing tools. We’re not going to dive into that. There are still some UX aspects of Newscycle that permeate in Naviga, including what we find is a problem that needs to be addressed – no ability to autosave. So it may be better to write your content in a word processor and then upload into Naviga. We discuss Sophi in more detail below.

Naviga has also recognized that rich content is a key part of digital content today and enables easy ways to embed video content, whether that be in-house production or via YouTube or Vimeo. Where they lack? Podcast integration from any of the podcasting platforms. Our view is that podcasting can become even more important for newspapers than video.

The key advantage for us for Naviga is that they’re working towards true automated workflows including the print aspects of a newspaper. The UX is very good, but needs work. Overall, Naviga has definitely looked forward and become a highly adaptable company for newspaper CMS’ and leveraging Sophi as a part of their platform is the icing on the cake to bring them to first place in 2020 for a newspaper CMS.

TWO: ARC Publishing

Not much has changed. ARC was number 2 on our list in 2018 and remains there. Primarily because they have an excellent product. In 2018 we were concerned that there was no on-premise solution and it was strictly cloud based, but we’re good with that two years on.

ARC Publishing remains expensive and some larger newspapers have moved away from ARC (owned by The Washington Post) to develop their own solutions, such as the Globe & Mail did with Sophi, though they remain to some degree within the ARC CMS ecosystem. When it comes to understanding the complexity of newspaper publishing however, ARC is tops. Excellent UI/UX and easily adaptable for newsrooms that are coping with the pandemic.

If you need artificial intelligence and want to be at the forefront of data driven journalism, ARC is the platform you need. We keep it as second place largely due to costs and that they prefer buyers remain within their ecosystem…likely driven by the fact that Jeff Bezos owns them and they live on AWS so there’s all that. Setting all of that aside, their tools are easy to adopt and will mitigate disruption for your newsroom.

THREE: CUE / Escenic

Two years ago we were big on Escenic and CUE and from there it gets a bit confusing. CUE is part of CCI Europe or Stibo DX. It’s all a bit complicated, but CUE does offer a solid integration between print and digital, but you need to have a mix of on-premise and Cloud to leverage both and we think that’s just a problem as newspapers look to offload their on-premise investments in favour of Cloud-based solutions. In marketing terms, CUE, CCI Europe of Stibo DX or whomever, needs to align their marketing message. It’s just incredibly confusing.

All that said, CUE remains an excellent product with very good UX and UI and some excellent editorial controls, content management, tagging and so on. But it stops there. If you need or want Artificial Intelligence (AI) or advanced analytics for content analysis, paywall management and analysis, CUE is half-way there, which is why they’re #3 on our list now. They have built an open platform which means you CAN easily leverage their solution and plug in data analytics and AI solutions if you want to. But you’re going to pay for that development work. This has its advantages if you’re looking for a more open architecture approach to your IT infrastructure and strategy.

CUE calls themselves more of a publishing platform than a CMS and in a way, this is true, since CUE has a solid background in laydown and print to press capabilities. Something they’ve managed to keep and we think this is good. The upside of CUE (or whatever) is that they’re very much open to integrations and have an excellent development team, which of course, you pay for.

FOUR: Superdesk

While there have been some upgrades to Superdesk, it hasn’t innovated as aggressively as Newscycle (Naviga), ARC or CUE. It remains a largely digital CMS with some degree of integration for print, but nothing near to what Naviga offers in conjunction with Sophi. Superdesk is headquartered in Prague with its North American office in Toronto, but that is largely sales focused than service oriented. Superdesk is owned by Sourcefabric which supplies some backend automation tools to the journalism sector but is open source software.

One excellent feature of Superdesk is their knowledge management capability for images. They have an excellent search engine and can handle complex tagging, cataloguing and indexing of images and content.

Superdesk does offer decent workflow and publishing management features, but they service the corporate sector for CMS solutions, which is okay, but means they aren’t newspaper focused as a company like the others (although CUE isn’t solely news media anymore either.) If you’re a purely digital newspaper, Superdesk is a cost-effective and viable solution with over 8,000 (so they claim) implementations, but if you want a CMS that has integrations to print production such as InDesign, this application isn’t for you. Also lacking is analytics for content valuation, paywall analytics or well, pretty much any analytics and that’s why we put them in last place. For a pure digital CMS, Superdesk is great. If you need more then not so much.

Other Newspaper CMS Platforms
There are other CMS platforms to choose from; WordPress, Django, Drupal for example. These work well for small to mid-sized newspapers on even tighter budgets. In most cases, we have recommended WordPress as there are a vaster number of templates from which to build on and finding developers, front and back end and full stack for WordPress is easier and lest costly. All however, can be adapted. If you’re looking for subscription management solutions though, that can be tougher. We explore these options in another post.

Conclusion
For larger newspapers, the key is looking forward and having a very clear digital strategy, not in terms of marketing, but where you see your newspaper going in the next few years. Investing in a CMS platform is no small task. Editorial, sales, marketing, they all have requirements and specific goals. It can be helpful to engage an outside CIO to help and good project management is critical. You’ll also want to consider other ways your newspaper might monetize its data over time and of course, if you really want to host on-premise or in the Cloud.

Either way, analytics and Artificial Intelligence is going to play a major role for newspapers in the coming years. Be ready for it, or risk significant disruption from competitors.

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