A modern day newspaper is where the old meets the new
Published 10/01/2014 | 09:30
A bloke in a pub last week asked me this question: "How is a newspaper put together?" I started talking about reporters, news agencies and sub-editors, but he held his hand up. "I know that," he said. "But how is it actually, physically, put together?"
I asked him precisely what he meant and he added: "I mean, I understand how it was in the old days, when compositors hammered lumps of cooled molten metal into moulds shaped for the press.
"And, also, that the technology changed some time in the 1980s and compositors pasted blocks of paper type on a large page and a kind of photographic image was taken and this was then placed on the press drums for the ink to make impressions of. That's physical. I can understand that. But how is it done nowadays?"
The answer is, of course, with computers and lots and lots of technology. Newspapers may be perceived as low-tech, but they actually use lots of technology.
True, the end product is largely of the physical world: the printing press (highly computerised, by the way), the paper it's printed on, the ink and the vehicles used for distribution.
But all the other bits either involve human beings, or digital technology.
Take photographs, for instance. We haven't used negatives, or darkrooms, since the mid-1990s. And the Belfast Telegraph was the first paper in Ireland to have a completely all-digital picture desk a few years after that.
At the heart of the matter, and what our bar-room friend was getting at, is a digital content management system. A CMS, as it's known, is a computer programme that allows people to create, edit and modify publications and websites.
The Belfast Telegraph's CMS specifically permits us to create individual pages, collate them into editions and transmit that information on to pre-press, where it joins with an advertising management programme before being sent in digital form on towards the printing presses.
Most content management systems these days are hosted on the internet and allow content to also be published on websites, or in apps. Sometimes, separate CMS, or plug-in programmes, are used for this and digital video.
Although integration of TV and websites, or printed products and websites, is common, no-one has yet really cracked a truly integrated, multi-platform CMS ('platform-agnostic' in the jargon) that allows editorial and advertising content to be seamlessly published to print, television (where required), website and apps. But these will come soon.
So, the beating heart of a newspaper is the newsroom, where the journalists work. But the arterial system that funnels all their work to the public is the computerised content management system. "Okay," said our bar-room friend. "So it's all computerised now. Lou Grant it ain't."
He was right. Low-tech it ain't, either. But at the heart of it is still people. Some things never change.
Am I the only person to be outraged by the BBC's faking of wildlife footage? At a time when news outlets are being pilloried over standards and accuracy, what gives the BBC the right to effectively sell a lie to viewers that a wildlife scene is real?
The latest issue surrounds 'dramatised' wildlife footage for next week's Hidden Kingdoms series. It follows a series of controversies – for example, the 'birth of a polar bear', which was actually filmed in controlled conditions in a Dutch animal park and not in the Arctic, as viewers were led to believe.
It really is not enough to place an obscure reference to 'dramatised scenes' in closing credits, or in a corner of the BBC's vast website. Honesty, integrity and trust are as critical a virtue in factual documentaries as they are in news reporting.