multiplatform devices network
Credit: Image by Thinkstock.
Australian Associated Press (AAP) is collaborating with open source software developer Sourcefabric to test and build a newsroom management system better suited to the digital age.

One of Superdesk's main aims is to remove repetitive technical tasks such as tagging stories and multimedia elements from a journalist's workload.

Brook Thomas, AAP's chief technology officer, told Journalism.co.uk over email that the system would enable journalists to "dedicate their time to more important functions".

"There's also much room for improvement in communication among our newsroom staff," Thomas added, "and Superdesk will provide a more unified platform for our people to plan news coverage, set agendas, share information and follow through."

He said Superdesk, once up and running, will provide the tools AAP's reporters need to create, produce, and deliver news more efficiently.

superdesk screenshot
Screenshot of Superdesk model by Sourcefabric. Some rights reserved.

"We expect that our reporters and journalists will be more focused on what they are doing, not how they are doing it."

The collaboration was announced last week, although Sourcefabric and AAP have been in talks for the past year with Vince Ryan, project manager at Sourcefabric, embedded in the newsroom for part of that time.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, Ryan said "non-journalistic" tasks like tagging were taking up around a fifth of a reporter's time at AAP.

With Superdesk, the goal is to build a system that handles information coming in from every type of platform, allows journalists to produce the stories, and then export them in any format required.

"You have complexity at both ends really, with ingesting from many sources, many contributors in whatever format you can come up with," said Ryan.

He said AAP currently works with three systems to manage all of its content.

Sava Tatić, Sourcefabric managing director, explained further: "The content is all produced in Superdesk, and then can be infinitely packaged and repackaged into whatever shape or form."

Testing and further developing Superdesk in a news agency environment means the software is being built to take on vast amounts of content at a fast pace.

"I have seen people pour money down the drain repeatedly to get systems that never quite work for them and almost never work for the journalists.Vince Ryan, Sourcefabric
The collaboration is planned over eight to 10 months, and Tatić hopes a "presentable" version will be ready in the spring.

"It won't be production ready," he said, adding that it would be useful for smaller newsrooms at that stage.

"The main deal is newsroom management, content moving back and forth from desk to desk and then to output channels. People will be able to see that this spring."

Superdesk is already available on GitHub, but needs a "guided tour of what works" at the moment, said Tatić.

A live blogging tool has already been built based on Superdesk and is currently being used by German news outlet Zeit Online and Finnish news agency STT-Lehtikuva among others.

He added that open source software "is not a scarecrow anymore" for media organisations, and its appeal comes from the degree of control a publisher has. "You can actually contribute, you are customising as you go."

Ryan, who has been working in online newsrooms since the mid-90s, said most content management systems cannot keep up with the latest technology and formats, and require complex and expensive rebuilding to accommodate change.

"I have seen people pour money down the drain repeatedly to get systems that never quite work for them and almost never work for the journalists," he said.

However, Superdesk is being built "module by module" and can be extended "as soon as a new output format comes along," he added.

Media organisations who would like to shape and contribute to Superdesk can join the Sourcefabric community.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).