CMS: separating authorship from layout

My first job in Switzerland was for a newspaper publisher, where I remained for seven years whilst co-developing a newspaper and website publishing system. Building on the basic experience I was gaining whilst making little blogs using b2/cafelog – on which WordPress was built – this phase of my career was where I learned to love working with content management systems (CMS).

Back then, one of the main development principles was that all of the content for the newspaper was created using the CMS we’d developed. From there, the articles were used to fill the website and also exported for use in Quark Express documents, which were, in turn, used to make the print version of the newspaper. A true cross-media platform, which I was proud to have co-developed.

The disadvantage of the system, though, was that authors tended to try and format their text and thereby play a part in how the text appeared: from adding bold and italic formatting, to defining where new lines began in the text.

The New York Times has taken a great step and began development of their own CMS in 2008, called Scoop. A recent article in their blog “Open” gives a few details: the most interesting of which is that their CMS is a pure content management system. That means that content creators work on the content alone, writing articles in Scoop with little ability to format the text.

Any developer will tell you that allowing authors direct access to formatting tools is the quickest way to ensure that a website design is weakened. By removing this possibility but allowing links to be set, the designer and typographers retain control over the output and stop articles from being cluttered by yellow highlighting, red text and unsuitable fonts.

By using a CMS which is completely separate from any layout tools, the content can be much more easily re-used for different output: from websites to blogs, InDesign templates, XML feeds, mobile appsĀ and more.

As Scoop doesn’t power the website directly, there is no distraction for the authors to try and get involved in how their work will appear on the website: the website pulls in the data from Scoop using an API and formats it according to the current style rules. This means that the job of an author is made simpler and more focused: the author can write, and the typographers, front end interface designers and coders can present the articles according to the company design.