The Boston Herald is ready to move from MS-DOS and homegrown integration to 21st century fusion as the daily prepares to deploy new print and Web content management software from Digital Technology International.
"We're always happy to prove to people that it's possible to produce a newspaper using 20th-century tools," Duncan Suss, director of publishing systems for the Herald, told News & Tech.
The Herald's newsroom is peppered with 27-year-old Atex J11 machines running software as old as MS-DOS 6.2.
"This is the first real upgrade since before I came to the Herald 15 years ago," Suss said. "Fundamentally, we are living with 1983 Atex systems with some pagination bolted on, a lot of homegrown glue holding the thing together and homegrown shovelware to get things into the Web universe."
The new platform - expected to be operational this spring - will be based on DTI's ContentPublisher and Lightning apps and will allow the newsroom more transparency and integration between print and Web. Among the benefits: editorial staff will be better able to track and use story assets, including elements like voice and video clips that could accompany a story online.
"Some of those assets get on BostonHerald.com but the editorial department doesn't always know those things exist," Suss said. "Now, even if something isn't in print, the editors will know it's there as part of a story package."
The goal isn't to become more Web-centric, Suss said, but more Web-enabled.
"The majority of our focus will continue to be on print, but there are so many things we would like to do to get material onto the Web that we can't currently do."
Suss is confident the DTI apps will result in fewer "gotchas" in the newsroom.
"We still have instances where a story gets a little mangled because something is paginated on a Mac, then it's exported to Atex and it can't be re-imported so some edits are lost," he explained. "Now the product will be better integrated."
The discovery and auditing phases of the project, which DTI began last month, will help determine the scope of what will be required by the Herald to use the DTI software. In addition to other aspects, DTI is evaluating such factors as the Herald's existing PC and Mac machines to determine whether or not they can adequately support the new apps.
"We're mainly looking at replacing the editorial system and QuarkXPress pagination stations, replacing the editorial news layout system that feeds Atex, replacing the Unix servers and our storage network," Suss said.
The Herald's impending move from its current South End offices to an as-yet undetermined location is a key factor behind the upgrade, Suss said. A major part of the project's ROI hinges on the Herald unloading real estate it no longer needs since it shifted printing of the paper to Dow Jones and Gannett Offset in September 2008.
"The intent is to relocate to an appropriately sized space vs. our existing space, which was based on the number of people we had five years ago," he said. "That, in and of itself, is going to produce an ROI."
Building a cloud
DTI's cloud-based architecture, in which the apps are accessible by redundant and remote servers, also allowed the Herald to forego building a new communications network.
"Because we are using this system as part of our relocation strategy, we will effectively build ourselves a cloud, which will allow us to access it remotely from here one day and from someplace else the next," Suss said.
To truly put the horse in front of the cart, the Herald will first upgrade its ad platform to a "newer old" version of Atex AdManager, version 4.55. Because the Herald is using an old version of code on the software, the biggest leap it could make was to the last version of AdManager that was issued before development was officially terminated.
"As with the editorial system, the driving motivation is to allow us to relocate seamlessly by creating a virtual environment," Suss said.
Although these upgrades have been a long time coming, the Herald's had its collective eye on new systems for some 12 years - long before relocation was a motivating factor. When the question of moving to new offices arose, however, the major goal was to choose a path that would enable the Herald to do so without a hiccup in production.
"I wrote a statement of intent, which said, we are going to be leaving this building, we will not lose a day of production - how can your system make that happen for us?"
The process narrowed the field to four vendors and eventually to two, although Suss admits DTI was a leading contender from the outset.
"We really felt that they hit the nail more squarely on the head," he said.
The printed product
The new upgrades will
have little impact on the Herald's printing arrangement. Currently, the paper prints two-up, six nights a week at the Dow Jones Chicopee, Mass., facility.
Gannett's Boston Offset prints the Herald's Saturday edition.
The Herald feeds PDFs to each site and Arkitex software double burns plates for pages containing editorial and advertising, pairs pages and ships out the plate information to the appropriate site for that day's production.
Suss said the Herald expects to run into some challenges as it transitions to the new software, but anticipates few major obstacles.
"It's an exciting time for us," he said. "The prospect of rejoining the world of current technology is so enticing that we're prepared to live with the pain that will surely be part of the process."
The Herald isn't the only paper making a dramatic transition in its content management. The San Diego Union-Tribune in January flipped the switch on its P-Series platform from Atex, ending 140 years of manual pagination (see News & Tech, September 2009). The daily is now producing more than 420 pages per week on the platform, Atex said.