A growing number of newspapers are turning to open-source software in the race to build engaging news websites.

Although in the world of print, high-end commercial production software like QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign reigns supreme, online a free content management system (CMS) called Drupal is gaining more and more ground.

Originally developed by Belgian programmer Dries Buytaert, the CMS is a favourite of web hacker geeks around the world, but has been currying increasing favour inside newsroom production offices, too.

Bluffton Today, an innovative printed newspaper that depends upon its online arm for local content, runs on Drupal, while the prominent New York Observer relaunched this month with a new site powered by the software; even America's Scripps newspaper company is a fan.

Nikolai Thyssen, online director of Denmark's national Dagbladet Information, which switched to Drupal in December, said the software's participatory features - it gives users blogs and is predicated on community responses to articles - are the key.

"We had been looking for an open-source solution for a while," Mr Thyssen told Journalism.co.uk. "The alternative was a commercial solution - our print edition is made with SaxoPress and QuarkXPress - but Saxo's web solution is not only expensive, it also has no blogging tools, no tools to work with a community of readers. We wanted more than that.

"We decided to go with Drupal for many reasons, one of them being SavannahNow.com - it was the only newspaper I found that was openly committed to an open-source solution. I spoke with the people at Morris, the owners, and they were very interested and have been amazingly sharing and helpful."

That sense of camaraderie and self-help, so common to the legions of regular Drupal users and to developers of other open-source projects, is now entering the newsroom, too. A dedicated Newspapers on Drupal group, created by Mr Thyssen, provides a discussion space for online news developers to exchange ideas and experiences on using the software.

"The group now has more the 150 members," Mr Thyssen said. "And, for us at least, it has been extremely helpful - we're releasing our main site on Drupal in a month or two, and many of the solutions we've chosen were introduced to us in the group.

"When the group started, only the rather small Morris group used Drupal. Now major newspapers like The New York Observer, Die Welt and Die Zeit have relaunched on Drupal, too."

That refreshing co-operation could be just the tonic for the industry - creating reader-participation opportunities using such web-native production tools "might be way for newspapers to come up with better answers to the challenges of the internet", Mr Thyssen said.

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