For an industry where content is king, choosing the right content management system is a pretty important one for news websites.
So important, in fact, that today we thought it would be a great idea to look at the data and peak behind the headlines to discover the tech stacks of the world’s top news sites.
Recently, the British media trade magazine Press Gazette partnered with everyone’s favorite website intelligence tool BuiltWith to build a picture of the tech that underpins more than 2,000 of the world’s leading news sites.
While newsrooms experiment with different technologies, they are more alike when it comes to their choice of content management system.
Through the analysis done by Press Gazette and BuiltWith, they found that around 4 in 10 news sites are using WordPress for at least part of their site.
“You want the best tools for your business but, secondly, stakeholders – the editorial team, the commercial teams, the management – all need to be confident in the solution that you’re proposing,” said Sanjay Ravindran, the CIO of British political magazine the New Statesman.
“And, more and more, it’s the modularity and ability to change – not necessarily very quickly, but efficiently.”
The journalism industry is currently undergoing major shifts in its financial infrastructure, with revenues leaking out of papers plus the absence of subscription models on the majority of digital news sites making content free.
“There are some industry standards but where the variation happens is really around how you intend to monetize your audience or if a particular site has a specific USP [unique selling proposition] that needs something that isn’t available in the standards solutions,” added Sanjay.
“The thing is really,” he added, “to understand what your USP is and then build a technology stack that fits that USP.” The parent company of the Press Gazette, Sanjay added, is spending huge amounts of time investing and building to integrate more specific products.
One of these avenues of investment has been through its choice of content management system. It doesn’t only host a news organization’s content but also has to integrate with multiple data tools, social media sharing tools, monetization platforms, and very importantly, it has to provide a great user experience.
New Statesman uses WordPress, however, it’s not that simple. It hosts and manages a suite of websites that had to be customized yet built from a central publishing platform using other digital tools.
The New Statesman is not the only one to use WordPress. In fact, 44% of all sites that were analyzed were built on the open-source content management system. These organizations include:
- Al Jazeera
- News UK
Second up was the customizable – and also open-source – Drupal, yet by some margin. It powers 5% of the news sites that were analyzed, which included:
- The Economist
Third up was HubSpot CMS Hub, followed by Unbounce, then the wonderfully named Wehaa, and then Squarespace.
Those news sites whose content management systems are unknown were grouped together. These represented 600 of the analyzed sites (around 27%). This suggests that these news organizations are using tailor-made systems, including:
- The New York Times
WordPress has lost a bit of love over these last few years, as competitors innovate and close the gap on the world’s most popular CMS.
Globally, the CMS market share of WordPress is 65%, followed by Drupal on 6.6%. As we can see from the stats, it’s a similar story of WordPress dominance yet its share is lower.
One of the reasons why news organizations go with WordPress is because it is a well-established platform that many journalists already know how to navigate.
That was the reason given by Al Jazeera, according to Gabriel Karp, part of the digital agency that works with the news agency. “From my perspective, the key purpose of a CMS is to ensure that the newsroom or the editorial team can do the job that they’re there to do,” said Gabriel, “and they can do it efficiently. And they have all of the kind of features that they need from a fund management perspective.”
Sanjay would nod in agreement. “That is where your content is generated and making that a good experience for editors and journalists is paramount,” he said. “Just as important is the ability to satisfy all the commercial requirements and the commercial team.”
Despite WordPress being the most used CMS by news organizations, that doesn’t mean it’s one size fits all.
“We use WordPress a lot,” added Gabriel, “but it is not always the right answer. We start with what are the requirements of that newsroom both as we think about the front-end and the back-end? Do you need different architecture for it from a technology standpoint? Are you just using the product out of the box or are you really customizing the product? Are you using a hosted product? What are the implications of that?”
That’s plenty of questions to get stuck into. And one of the answers that has been increasingly found in the last couple of years is headless CMS: a content management system that decouples the back-end content section from the front-end presentation cover.
This makes it easier to use content for use across multiple digital platforms. News organizations that use headless content management systems include:
- The New York Times
“Using a headless CMS or WordPress as a headless CMS,” said Gabriel with particular emphasis on newsrooms, “you can create whatever business model and structure on the front-end that you need to. All of those tools exist and are at your disposal.”