Beating the CMS blues: Designing the next generation of publishing tools

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MIT Media Lab

75 Amherst Street

Cambridge, MA 02139

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Presented by the Knight Foundation, the Future of News Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, the Society for News Design, and TEN FWD.

It’s time to talk about Content Management Systems. All newsrooms use CMSs, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many organizations that are truly satisfied with current offerings. At its best, a modern CMS allows writers and editors to collaborate, quickly get multimedia content online, and provide readers with compelling visual experiences. Unfortunately, most newsrooms—particularly legacy organizations that still create a printed daily—are held back by outdated technologies that obstruct newsroom workflows and don't easily support new forms of rich media. And the workflows within news organizations are often so intertwined with the CMS that it’s hard to distinguish the technology problems from the human communication problems. While there has been an explosion of digital publishing tools in recent years, many of these offerings are proprietary and not designed for the specific and evolving needs of legacy newsrooms.

“Beating the CMS blues: Designing the next generation of publishing tools” is a two-day event at the MIT Media Lab focused on taking a human-centered approach to designing the next generation of tools to create, publish, and share news content. We believe newsroom technologies should be a pleasure to use and support existing workflows, rather than getting in the way.

This is an invitation-only event, bringing together a small group for two days of meaningful conversation, ideation, and prototyping. The first day will convene designers, developers, and publishers to discuss needs and challenges across the digital publishing space. The second day will be hands-on: participants will work in teams to prototype ideas for a modular, open-source CMS.

The event’s goals are as follows:

  • Bring together designers, software developers, and news producers to discuss digital publishing needs and how technologies can best support and improve existing newsroom workflows

  • Create a shared knowledge base of original/unusual approaches to content management challenges

  • Start an ongoing conversation about future collaborations and how the Knight Foundation can support legacy newsrooms with their digital publishing needs


"Beating the CMS Blues" will be held on the third floor of the MIT Media Lab.

When: 10am - 5pm on Tuesday July 12th & Wednesday July 13th, 2016.

Where: MIT Media Lab, Building E14. 75 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

Hotel: Hyatt Regency, Cambridge. Discount room rate: $244 a night. Reservations *must* be made by June 20. Reservation website here.

Travel/housing scholarships available: Contact Matt Carroll.

Directions from the Hyatt: MIT’s Tech shuttle is a bus that stops directly in front of the hotel and goes to the Media Lab, as well as other spots on campus. This is a bus that goes very frequently (every 10 min – 20 min depending on the time of day). The hotel also has a shuttle that is open to all hotel guests, first come first serve. If you prefer to walk, it will take you about 25 minutes from the hotel.


Monday Night:

  • 6pm: Informal dinner


  • 10am: Intros
  • 10:30 - 11:30am: What is the logic behind how a CMS is designed, selected, adapted, and used? How is it shaped by a publication’s measurement logics? By its balance between trying to entice unique viewers vs. loyal viewers that dig deeper into the site? By the increasing pressure on many publications to distribute content across a range of platforms? Moderator: Sam Ford, Fusion
  • 11:30 - 12:30pm: New storytelling formats: How do we create tools flexible enough to allow experimentation quickly and across multiple devices, like mobile? Can we build tools that allow the easy re-use of content?
  • 12:30 - 1:30pm: Lunch
  • 1:30pm - 2:30pm: Lightning talks
  • 2:30 - 3:30pm: Is it a CMS problem, a culture problem or a workflow problem? How do you diagnose what the problem is? How do our tools shape culture and workflow? Moderator: Matt Ericson, NYT
  • 3:30 - 4:30pm: How can we build a CMS that is adaptable enough for tomorrow’s needs? Should this even be a goal? Could we create open-source tools that many newsrooms could benefit from?
  • 5pm: Drinks and social hour


  • 10 - 11:30am: Group brainstorming how might we's
  • 11:30 - 12:30pm: Lunch and visit Electome team in the Media Lab
  • 12:45 - 1:15pm: Note + Vote on the how might we's (people silently vote with three to five stickers on the how might we's that are most promising)
  • 1:15 - 2:30pm: Teams will begin to work on paper prototypes around a chosen HMW
  • (30 minute break)
  • 3 - 3:30pm: Team report backs and group feedback
  • 3:30 - 4:45: Refine your idea, or explore a new one
  • (15 minute break)
  • 5 - 5:30pm: Final thoughts
  • 5:30pm: Head to happy hour, dismissal

Date and time


MIT Media Lab

75 Amherst Street

Cambridge, MA 02139

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Organizer The Knight Foundation

Organizer of Beating the CMS blues: Designing the next generation of publishing tools

Organizing team:

Matt Carroll, Future of News, MIT Media Lab
Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation
Sam Ford, Fusion
Federico Tarditi, Univision
Tyson Evans, Society for News Design
Kyle Ellis, Society for News Design
Alexis Hope, TEN FWD

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