Monitor changes: What's a Content Management System anyway?

More changes here at the Monitor? You bet.

But not every change will be apparent to the average visitor (if there is such a thing).

Sure, we'll have more content (a.k.a., journalism), more timely updates, increased interactivity, and longer "open for business hours."

In order for us to provide all of the above (and more), we need the technology to get us there. It's coming. And getting from Point A to Point B is a bumpy ride.

Anyone logging onto the Monitor's website early this morning saw evidence of the bumps.

There was a gaping hole right in the middle of our home page. Nothing. Just white space. To use a radio analogy, dead air.

In radio, dead air is a bad thing. It makes you wonder if anyone's paying attention. Maybe the DJ took a break.

The same thing goes for a website. If there's a prominent error, it makes you wonder if anyone's home.

We weren't rolling out an encryption strategy or anything. What you saw, depending on what browser you use, was a problem that can be encountered when you hand code the home page -- in other words, manually placing content on that page.

Enter what's called a content management system (CMS). Ask anyone in the industry about their CMS and you'll hear horror stories, angst, and a lot of frustration.

And occasionally, you'll run into folks who love their CMS. They're easy to spot. They've got a crowd following them.

Basically, the CMS is the tool that organizes the content (articles, photos, etc.) and allows you to place it on different sections of the website.

A good content management system is worth its weight in gold.

Because the Internet is still young and evolving, there's not a perfect tool out there yet. You go with one and hope it stands the test of time. When you decide to update, not only is it very costly but the complexities are immense. You don't want to lose content. Or links to that content.

And since we've got live content going back to 1980, there's a lot at stake for us.

Ever since content management systems were created, there's been a struggle between flexibility and automation.

For the person running the website, flexibility is paramount. You want to be able to showcase your content in the most aesthetically pleasing way.

As with anything, there's always the other side of the coin. It takes resources to have this freedom. And in this industry, you really have to choose: flexibility or automation?

What you want is a CMS that gives you both. Or as our tech staff has called it: "auto-magic."

Regardless, we're moving away from the hand-coded model. Although it has provided us with flexibility, it is extremely resource dependent, takes a lot of time -- and, as we've proven (we're not the only ones), it is subject to human error.

Other than a moderately updated design, you won't see big change when we implement our new CMS over the next month.

The crucial difference is that it will enable our journalists to work faster and more directly on They won't need strong technical knowledge to update the site. As a result, Monitor journalism will be published more quickly and with fewer production steps along the way.

That's good. It lets us do what we are best at: providing timely, humane, thoughtful journalism to our readers.

It's an exciting time to be at the Monitor. And it's an exciting time to be in the news industry.

We'll keep you updated.

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