Hong Kong Paper Takes Multimedia Approach

By: Jim Rosenberg

The first newspaper companies to venture into all-new media-neutral publishing platforms are at it again. One has contracted with an established vendor for its next-generation system. Another is expected to announce as early as this week that it is at work with a name new to the industry.

Hong Kong’s English-language South China Morning Post reached agreement with CCI Europe, which has largely supplanted Atex at the high end of the editorial and pagination market, to implement a system for creating, processing, and delivering content destined for print and electronic outlets.

Joining new ad and business software and additional pressroom hardware, the NewsDesk rollout — slated to coincide with the SCMP‘s centenary next year — will require training more than 200 journalists working on products ranging from news to features, from a student tab to a Sunday magazine. It is the first East Asian site to contract for CCI NewsDesk Release 6, and the 10th to order it since the version launched at Nexpo last year.

While most sites use NewsDesk “to feed multiple media with almost-ready-to-publish content,” CCI Technical Account Manager Morten Schousen said, “some actually export content to Web products directly from NewsDesk without any intervening steps necessary.” Those include a Release 6 user in England and a daily in Norway. The Danish supplier developed a prototype of what it calls a “true content-management platform and integration architecture” in collaboration with USA Today and Norway’s Aftenposten and with periodic input from eight other dailies, including six of the United States’ largest.

Announcing SCMP‘s contract, Managing Editor Colin Kerr, who leads the systems project, said that, with publishers under great economic pressure, “tools used to produce their newspapers and online products must achieve very aggressive goals for cost savings and provide low long-term maintenance charges.” CCI said round-the-clock access to its engineers will provide emergency backup and support for SCMP.

CCI’s system relies on XML (extensible markup language), which enables use of content in any format, minimizing rehandling for print, for the Web, or for wireless channels.

The SCMP was one of three sites to have beta-tested the Omnex multichannel publishing system that Atex was developing with and for London’s Financial Times. Promising as it was, when development fell behind schedule, the project was aborted by Atex (E&P, July 3, 1999, Dec. 19, 2000). The SCMP still runs a J11-based Atex editorial system, with Atex EdPage pagination.

Kerr said the SCMP completed product definition and awaits this week’s arrival of CCI trainers for the core project team, after which the team will complete the product setup. User training is to start in October.

A progressive system rollout will start with general news, then business, features, etc., until the last section goes live in June of next year. “The idea is to migrate production and pagination staff to the new system first, processing copy produced by reporters on the old Atex system,” said Kerr. Reporters will be trained soon afterward, with the process repeated through the paper a section at a time, allowing the newly trained to almost immediately use (and remember) what they’ve learned.

Web work flow with “all bells and whistles for future use” was designed into the base system, although not all capabilities (such as letting editors produce stories and headlines for paper and screen simultaneously) will be exploited immediately.

The operation relies on separate, but co-located, print and Web staffs. But in the “news-content pod” approach, the Web editor does sit alongside the business, news, foreign, and other editors, said Kerr, “to create a close relationship … and to enhance early transfer of ideas and content among them.”

With the SCMP‘s Web site having its own system, however, print staffers do not work directly on its content. Now, “we throw everything over the wall,” said Kerr. “The CCI system will allow us to automate and deliver early anything that the Web editor wants. We have the vision of the newsroom staff working on content, without regard for where it will appear or in what format.”

Though Hong Kong has no digital ads yet, according to Kerr, the paper has planned for them. It already prepares PDF page files for NewspaperDirect remote editions and is developing a digital archive of historic images and pages.

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