Planning your workflow
Newscoop users Nestan Tsetskhladze and Eteri Turadze of Netgazeti.ge in Batumi, Georgia. Photo by Douglas Arellanes (CC-BY)
Who is doing what? And when? What does it require and what depends on it? Who can do it? Who has to do it? And who signs off what's being done? All those questions can be grouped together into one concept: Workflow.
"Workflow" is one of those terms that gets discussed a lot among newsroom technology types, but workflow means many things to many people.
"A workflow consists of a sequence of connected steps. It is a depiction of a sequence of operations, declared as work of a person, a group of persons, an organization of staff, or one or more simple or complex mechanisms" is how Wikipedia describes it.
In Newscoop, workflow refers to the steps that must be taken in order to accomplish a certain task, usually related to publishing content on your site. Inside Newscoop there are three main milestones hardwired into the system which have proven to capture the essence of the article publishing process:
- New - the article has been generated, either by your staff or a citizen journalist
- Submitted - the article has been fact checked, images are added, the sub editor approves
- Published - either manually or automatically, the article goes live
You can fine tune this process in Newscoop with custom switches for Article Types. For more detailed technical information, please see the chapter on Topics, switches and keywords to structure content, as well as the chapter in the manual Newscoop 4 for Journalists and Editors titled Publishing Articles.
But publishing articles is only a small part of the overall workflow of running a site, in fact: Newscoop has built-in publishing automation to do the job for you, once you have lined up the articles. There are a lot more aspects that you will need to consider at the beginning of your site planning, such as:
What are the steps the editors will have to take in order to place an article in the top position on the site? The top position might be determined by most recently published, by having the editor click and drag items in the section, by assigning a topic to an article with a name of "top story", or maybe by attaching a custom switch. All of those approaches are valid and possible, but it's up to you (and your point of contact at the organization) to figure out what's best for their purposes.
Does the proposed workflow correspond to current staff levels? Does the functionality you're planning for the new site require a much larger staff? In other words, who's going to take and prepare all the photos for the very cool JQuery slideshow widget you want to implement? (What, you're a radio station and don't have too many photos in your archive?) Who's going to be in charge of monitoring site comments? Who's in charge of the overnight shift on the site? (Wait, you mean there's going to be an overnight shift?!?)
What are the issues that could lead to staff resistance to the project? While you may think that your slideshow widget is cool, the staff may say "this stupid slideshow widget means my workload is doubled!" The more you can anticipate issues with staffing and work with your point of contact to address them, the better off your project will be.
Who are the staff members capable of taking on the new roles your project introduces? For example, who are the avid social media advocates on the staff, and can they be brought in to take on the publication's social media tasks?
Where are the project's time and work savings for the staff, or will the project mean that everyone will have to stay late every day? Explaining time savings or additional burdens accurately and clearly will make you a lot of friends both on the staff and with the publisher.
Is your proposed workflow too complicated for non-technical staff? For example, when you have a dynamic page layout based on custom switches, are the steps clearly communicated to the staff, and are they clear on how to do it?
What are the ways your proposed workflow can fail? What can you do to simplify things without giving up basic functionality? Often, a proposed design and its accompanying workflow is too complicated for the staff to execute on a regular basis. If the staff can't do it, you'll need to make sure your design and approach doesn't fail.
Keep an open mind
Editors on tight deadlines love things that are simple to use. Well, as simple as possible, anyway. Such solutions never work on live sites!
Instead, try to solve undesired situations by fine-tuning your templates. Try to put yourself in the position of an editor, and predict the possible mistakes they'll make when they have to live with your work on a daily basis. Stay flexible and implement changes soon after the team agrees on them. A website is like a living organism; you'll have to look after it.