Newscoop 4 Cookbook

Turning your idea into a publication

While it's a natural impulse to want to jump right into the more hands-on chapters of the Newscoop Cookbook, you'll save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you approach your Newscoop implementation project in the way we recommend here. These recommendations represent consensus among our community on best practices for Newscoop implementations.

One very important initial step is to understand the human element to the technology you're about to implement - who is involved in the project? You can benefit a lot from understanding who fulfils the following:

  • Who makes decisions? Who makes decisions on the site project? Who makes decisions on coverage, articles and resource allocation?
  • Who is the technical person? Who's the person in charge of the operation of the site, e-mail accounts and the like?
  • Who has which role in the current workflow? How do things get done now, and who does it?
  • What is the expected new workflow? How will things work for the staff after the new site project is finished?
  • What are the current and expected visitation patterns for readers of your publication?

Being thorough at this stage helps to avoid making incorrect decisions or getting your decisions overturned at a later stage. In the worst case, you could end up with a dysfunctional design, and quite likely a dysfunctional project.

Draft a site specification that goes into as much detail as possible for the implementation, but remains flexible enough in the event of inevitable changes. This site specification, essentially the project's blueprint, should especially take into consideration the following:

When is this project considered a success?

What are the criteria for considering the project a success? For example, is the goal to increase page views or decrease the bounce rate? Is the goal to increase readership among a certain demographic or country?

Does the project do enough to make sure those goals are met?

Are the solutions you're proposing appropriate for the task at hand? If increasing reader time on site is a goal, does the site display enough "additional stories" links?

Do you know enough about the organisation?

Make sure you get as much information as possible on the following:

What do you know about your audience? Has market research been conducted? If so, what does it say? If your publication is using the Google Analytics tool, what does it say? What are the audience's needs, interests and technical capabilities? Needs and interests can also be things that the team can provide, but your users' technical capabilities (especially as delivered by Google Analytics) can help you determine the optimal design and level of interactivity for the project, affecting everything from font size to browser compatibility.

What is the functionality required? As much as you can, list and describe the functionality required in the project. Brief descriptions should suffice, but if you're thorough enough, you'll minimize the inevitable "Uh-oh, we forgot about <$fill_in_the_blank>" moments.

Which functionality is top priority? Which things are "nice-to-have," as opposed to "must-have?" When the success criteria are clear, the answers to these questions should get a lot clearer too. Limited budgets also work pretty well to force clearer prioritization.

Sitemap and features

Get or produce a site map of the existing content structure. What content does the site have, and how is it arranged? How often is the site currently updated? Is there content being created that is going underutilized?

For example, the current site may be a blog publishing 10 items per day, and because it's a blog, items are published in a reverse chronological order with newest articles first. But major stories are getting buried by newer, less-important entries. This would be something to address with the new site structure.

Discuss the proposed new site structure. Does the new site involve multiple languages? Issues and sections, or topics? How often will the site be updated? Will you create a new issue every day/week/month? How many sections will the new site have, and what are their names?

Subscriptions or no subscriptions?

If you plan to use subscriptions on your site, find out as much as you can about the subscription and paywall mechanisms involved. What are the revenue expectations for the new subscription-based site? What are those expectations based on (market research or a snowball's chance in hell)? Are there markets for the content that have not previously been considered? For example, many countries have significant diasporas interested in getting news from home, and they're often willing to pay for quality news. For more on this, see the chapter about contemplating Subscriptions and revenue.

Workflow

What is the content workflow? Who on the staff is responsible for which content? You'll find a lot more on this in the chapter on Planning your workflow.

Mashups, social media and other third-party services

What third party services are involved? List the intended integration with third-party services (if any). Social media, video, audio, comments and other widgets would count here. How complicated will the envisioned integration be?

This Cookbook includes examples and code snippets for Soundcloud, Disqus, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Gravatar and others.

Custom development to set you apart

What additional custom development is required (if any)? Are you going to do any of this custom development yourself, or will there be another contractor to handle it? If your project requires custom development, it's very important to clearly specify not only the functionality required, but also the ways it will extend or interact with Newscoop's APIs. Also, it's helpful to work closely with the Newscoop core developers, so that they can provide advice and feedback, as well as including any plugins or add-ons in future Newscoop releases.

Final steps and time table

Once the draft of the specification is ready, have all team members go over it and comment, and then when everybody's OK with it, finalize it. If you're in an organization with one or more big bosses, get them to sign off on it. Then your team can make binding time/work estimates for the project.

While such a specification might seem like a lot of work (it usually is), it will give you a much better idea of the overall scope of the project, and will also help you to make a more realistic estimate of the time and labor involved.