Intro: The Fix is launching a series on digital tools used by publishers across Europe.
Before jumping in we had a long discussion about how to approach this issue. The way we see it, there’s a bunch of lists of tools out there, but rarely is there any practical information about their usefulness and practical application. That’s not very helpful to readers.
Our approach is different. We have selected different media from across Europe, both big and small, and asked them what kind of tools they actually use.
The aim of this series is to help you pick a series of tools rather than throwing a bunch of “best newsroom tools” for this and that at you.
[If your newsroom wants to participate, let us know, we are also building a database we will publish later on. Subscribe to our newsletter and you won’t miss it. Our email: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Toolset by Dennik SME, Slovakia
|Country (population)||Slovakia (5.4 million)|
|Readership (MAU)||2.5 million (IAB monitor data)|
|No. of paying subscribers||50 000+ (source)|
|History and presence||SME or Denník SME (in English: WE ARE Daily) is one of the most widely read mainstream broadsheets in Slovakia. SME.sk, the website, remains one of the most visited online news portals in Slovakia. SME was founded in mid-January 1993. Petit Press, the publisher of SME, also maintains various regional titles and the English newspaper The Slovak Spectator. In 2014 Penta Investments, a financial group SME had regularly reported on, announced the purchase of 45% shares of Petit Press. In reaction, a major part of the editorial board, including the editor-in-chief, announced their resignation. In the beginning of 2015, they started a new newspaper, Denník N. The current editor-in-chief of Denník SME is Beata Balogova.|
[For the complete list of the tools with pricing and links scroll at the end of this article.]
Open source subscription tool – REMP
REMP stands for Readers’ Engagement and Monetization Platform. It’s an open-source tool for publishers and includes the following: monetization-focused analytics, A/B testing for publishers, e-mail marketing and on-site marketing.
REMP is developed by the independent Slovak publisher behind DennikN.sk, founded by the former members of the editorial board of SME. Now SME is using the platform.
As REMP is still being developed there is an ongoing transition from tools used before, such as the Piano Software suite (a paywall management tool). The promise of REMP is that it covers everything a publisher needs to build a successful subscription business. In the case of Dennik N it seems to be working out.
A long journey to the dataviz tool of happiness
Data visualisation was one of the trickiest areas in terms of tools, as the newsroom has used half a dozen tools at different points in time: Knight Lab tools for interactives; Infogram, DataWapper and Google Sheets to create charts; Carto and Datamatic for building maps; VIS for mapping networks.
On one hand, this gave people a lot of freedom to pick the tools they liked best for their stories. On the other hand, it was hard to explain to new colleagues which tools to use. Moreover, keeping every tool up to date and integrated in the custom CMS was the bane of developers.
This all changed once the newsroom introduced Flourish.studio, a powerful data visualization & storytelling tool. Flourish has partnered with Google News Lab to make the tool available for teams in qualifying newsrooms (they had to be public-facing mainstream news outlets).
The newsroom of SME.sk set up a shared account where all the visualisations “lived”, this way anyone can browse the archive and build upon previous work and not start from scratch. This happened a lot previously as the plethora of tools and apps was usually linked to personal profiles or Gmail accounts of reporters.
The takeaway here is that the newsroom not only has a centralised account, there are rules for keeping everything nice and tidy. It actually works out even with dozens of people having active access.
The first simple rule: when you create a new chart, give it an easily searchable title. Second: if you are going to build upon an existing chart, make a copy of it (usually the chart is tied to a story, or several of them, and those stories are mostly “frozen in time” and not being updated). Some online editors keep longtail stories and come back to update them with new data.
So far the newsroom has been happy with Flourish, especially given that the team behind the tool keeps adding useful templates for the newsroom.
Office 365 vs. G-Suite
A few years ago Petit Press decided to buy into the Microsoft Office 365 Suite of apps and services. This meant Outlook mail and probably the second most (after email of course) used communication app – Teams.
As Ondrej Podstupka, deputy editor of SME, noted “maybe this is a too huge set of apps” for anyone to use. The staff of Petit Press counts up to 500 employees with journalists in different divisions (national & regional operations) accounting for around 200. If being pushed for a straight answer, he would have probably opted for the G-Suite of apps. His reasoning being “there are better analytics and web tool integrations available”. SME has been using Google Analytics forever, as well as Google Tag Manager and even tested Google Optimize.
Podstupka is also a big fan of Google Data Studio, an easy to use data dashboarding tool. You can set up public and private dashboards and he explains there is also the option to schedule a regular email delivery of dashboards.
Nonetheless, newsroom leaders seem happy with the Office 365 setup – one identity, one database, one shared space with documents and files. Although there is still room to capture the full potential of what Office 365 has to offer, Podstupka emphasized it was key to get the whole publishing house, all the divisions onto one platform.
Tools for podcasting and online video
Since 2017 SME.sk has built a significant podcasting operation with almost 20 shows under its brand (not all of them are produced in-house).
The podcast team has two full time employees working only on podcasts – recording, editing, producing and even hosting some of them. They use Audacity for recording because of the wide range of useful plug-ins. VEGAS Movie Studio is used to edit the shows.
Podbean and Anchor.fm are used for hosting. At first, podcasts were uploaded to SoundCloud and distributed over RSS to Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts and others. It turned out SoundCloud wasn’t reliable enough, with the RSS lacked some features like https protocol.
The podcast team also uses Zencastr for remote recording and Headliner.app for creating audiograms – video generated from audio. Headliner has become a kind of a go to tool regarding audio to video transformation among podcasters. SME is using it to upload podcast episodes to YouTube, to reach new audiences (something Tom Webster of Edison Research also recommends). Clips from shows are also being used as social video on Instagram and Facebook.
Regarding social video production, Podstupka said the newsroom started producing short video clips aimed at both Facebook and YouTube with the help of the Lumen5 video maker platform. You can create a video from scratch in a matter of minutes and it looks good. If you do not mind the watermark, you can use Lumen5 forever for free with the limitations of 5 videos per month per one account.
|Type||Tool / App||Description||Pricing|
|Analytics||Google Analytics||Analytics makes it easy to understand how your site and app users are engaging with your content, so you know what’s working and what’s not.||Free|
|Google Data Studio||Regardless of the data source, Data Studio handles the data authentication, access rights, and structure for use in calculations, transformations, and data visualizations.||Free|
|Deep.bi||AI Powered Predictive Analytics Platform for Enterprises.||N/A|
|Hotjar||Website heatmaps & behavior analytics tools.||Free or From €29 / month|
|CrazyEgg||Website optimization tools, heatmaps & A/B testing.||From $24 / month|
|Communications||Microsoft Teams (Office 365)||A unified communication and collaboration platform that combines continuous workplace chat, video meetings, file storage…||From $5.00 user / month|
|Facebook groups||Basically Facebook’s take on online forums for discussions on specific topics.||Free|
|Emails||For emailing 😉||Free|
|Workflow/Project management||Microsoft To Do (Office 365)||ex-Wunderlist. Tool for managing tasks.||From $5.00 user / month|
|CMS||Custom built (Artemis)||Like WordPress, but custom built.||N/A|
|Subscription||REMP||A set of open-source tools to help publishers understand and monetize their audience better, market their content and sell their services.||Open source (Github)|
|Visualization||Flourish.studio||A powerful data visualization & storytelling tool with many usefull templates for jounralists and newsrooms.||Free for newsrooms|
|Newsletter||REMP||–||Open source (Github)|
|Substack||Email newsletter platform.||Free / Paid newsletter 10%|
|Social media||CrowdTangle||A public insights tool from Facebook that makes it easy to follow, analyze, and report on what’s happening with public content on social media.||Free|
|Video||Lumen5||An easy video maker for social media marketing, creates impactful, engaging videos from your existing content.||Free (5 videos / month)|
|Headliner.app||Headliner makes it easy to create social media videos from your existing audio, video, text, or you can even start from scratch.||Free|
|VEGAS Movie Studio||An advanced video editor.||From $49.99|
|Audio||Podbean||Podcast hosting platform.||Free (5 hrs) / From $9 unlimited|
|Anchor.fm||Podcast hosting platform.||Free|
|Zencastr||Web based application for recording your remote interviews in studio quality.||Free|
|Audacity||Free, open source, cross-platform audio software.||Free|
|HR||Office 365||Subscription to Microsoft suite of productivity and communication apps.||From $5.00 user / month|
DISCLAIMER: The author works for SME.sk.