By Karl Sickafus, Daily Local
With the Ben Franklin exercise came many questions and surprising answers. Can we do “what we do” with freeware? Well, the answer was a profound “yes-we-can”! We proved that we can both publish online and in print using nothing but freeware. Was this experiment honest or just a publicity stunt? It depends on whom you talk to. Some people took the challenge fully by the horns and answered a lot of questions. Others gave it very little thought and even less enthusiasm. The first group, hopefully, is the future of JRC and the second group will probably not be publishing newspapers much longer
Most of us know it is extremely expensive to publish a newspaper. The advertising revenue just isn’t there any more to support our publishing endeavors. So, we can either, not change a thing and publish our way into final bankruptcy. Or we can reinvent and retool every nook and cranny of this insane business.
Two groups need to take on the challenges of our future. One group needs to pave the way for our online publishing future. Anyone can publish a newspaper online – it’s a no-brainer. However, no one has figured out how to support it with ad dollars. Our online group needs to be staffed by fresh new young enterprising, innovative, inventive and creative (and any other clever adjective) people. They, somehow, are going to have to figure out how to keep our online publications fresh, informative and profitable. That is no short order. Without the success of that group our future is bleak at best. Literally, our best (open) minds need to be fully involved in that group.
The other group needs to take all that we have gleaned from the Ben Franklin project and figure out how to get hardcopy newsprint into the hands of our audience in a timely and less costly manner. Most of our information technology (IT) infrastructure costs go towards producing newsprint newspapers. We have systems for editorial, systems for advertising, systems for classifieds, systems for design, systems for financials, systems for systems, and other systems that no one even knows what they are for. With all of that said, we still have properties that have no systems at all. In a nutshell, our IT has been mismanaged into the patchwork shambles it is today.
Laying type and images on pages, transmitting them to printing facilities and delivering a printed product into the hands of our audience requires massive infrastructure and a lot of technology. That is “what we do”. We just have to do it better with less complexity and far fewer costs.
The second group needs to be made up of our most technically minded people. They will need to take the tools from the Ben Franklin project and hone them into workable solutions to our challenging IT environment. Arguably, the single most valuable find of the Ben Franklin project is the “open source” desktop publishing package (DTP) called Scribus. Collectively, we have easily invested hundreds of hours researching and learning how Scribus can be used in place of our various proprietary editorial and advertising systems. We know it can work, because it did work. We made it work! We published hundreds of pages and ads using nothing but this freeware.
We did it “manually” that is, without our content management systems (CMS) which control our off-the-shelf and proprietary DTP packages. With the amount of talent we have in JRC, we could easily replace our Alfa(s), Prestige(s), CNI(s), and BaseView(s) with Scribus and minimal homegrown programming.
Some sites went far and beyond using Scribus just to design ads and pages. They learned how to use the “open source” scripting and external programming that are compatible with Scribus. This DTP freeware could easily replace Quark, Muti-Ad and In-Design over-night. Those three packages alone amount to a lot of dollars for a lot of designers. Scripting for Scribus has proven to be extremely easy. This opens the door for our in-house programmers to develop our own CMS(s) to control and manage content used by Scribus. Google Docs and Google Forms proved to be useful and can easily be adapted for input into Scribus.
Content management systems were not investigated in depth for the Ben Franklin project due to our short turnaround time. However, CMS is just that, it is content m-a-n-a-g-e-m-e-n-t. JRC has cultivated intellectual property in the form of skills developed while programming “real world” database management, which easily could be redirected into designing viable database solutions for our CMS needs while incorporating the freeware we recently investigated. It’s going to take new thinking with fresh new management. If one were to replace the Alfa(s), Prestige(s), CNI(s), BaseView(s) and ATEX(s) with homegrown solutions using nothing but freeware, the amount of money saved would be staggering. We could devote less overhead to proprietary “software” and more “hard cash” to our ailing IT infrastructure.
We can literally do EVERYTHING we do using nothing but freeware. We just proved that. But, what are we going to do with than newly generated energy? Are we going to go back to doing the “things we do” the same way we are accustomed to, while reminiscing of the long forgotten Ben Franklin project? That would make absolutely no sense what so ever.
Some in our company are still wanting and researching new ad tracking, advertising and editorial system solutions for JRC. That seems like such a waste of time, energy, money and resources. We can solve our own needs using the tools we have just investigated with the Ben Franklin project. Using ten lines of code, one of our properties imported text from a database into a Scribus document. With 20 lines of code they could have imported an image as well. Text and images on a page — is that not what we do? Can you imagine if we consolidated our programming resources and wrote 200 lines of code? We would probably already have a finished ad tracking/ editorial system up and running. It really is “that” easy. But doing it, means “doing” it. We can talk it to death. The Ben Franklin project pretty much demonstrates our need to just “do it” and forget shopping for new proprietary systems.
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” — Benjamin Franklin