Is Your CMS Really to Blame?
Recently former New York Daily News editor Jotham Sederstrom was fired from his job for not correctly attributing sources to published copy. He had edited two pieces by the writer Shaun King which included entire paragraphs copied from other sources. King provided emails with his original copy and it turns out that he did correctly attribute the quotes. He also explains that his CMS was to blame:
“In all honesty, the controversy — comes down to two unintentional, albeit inexcusable, instances of sloppy editing on my part and a formatting glitch that until Tuesday I had no idea was systematically stripping out large blocks of indented quotations each time I moved Shaun’s copy from an email to The News’ own Content Management System, or ‘CMS’ as it’s called in media parlance.”
Is this a valid excuse? It sounds like an architect pointing fingers at his drafting tools. If the correct governance process was in place and adhered, Sederstrom and King both should have been reviewing the final draft. But digital producers and editors have seen this scenario all too often. The only visual cue that King is quoting the source and not rephrasing it is within the indented block quote line. What this means: the line doesn't exist in the text as it was written, it is in the text FORMAT.
Digitally speaking, text isn’t static. When you type in a URL or visit a site, that site talks to the server to locate the page requested. You’re essentially waiting for a set of documents to load. These documents receive their “marching orders” from the content and programming language that tells it how to display. Bold, for instance, is a style of text. It’s not a character of text. Code is what tells your browser to make the text appear bold on the screen. It’s this instructional code which is formatting. If the formatting instructions within the code are askew or missing when copying and pasting text into a CMS article page, the bolded text appears as plain text.
To avoid this scenario, one trick is to take the road less traveled – write content as a draft within the CMS page. From ideation to assignment to publication, many companies use Google Docs, Word docs or other programs to vet content for publication through various compliance channels, approvals and so on. Often, each document contains fragments of code or tags <div> <href>, etc. while the document is being passed around so the final text becomes a written game of telephone.
Tags can’t pass as punctuation and editors can’t edit within the CMS. Word and Google Docs are the norms because the track changes feature doesn’t exist within a CMS. The moral of this story: Don’t blame your CMS for lack of governance. Put it back on your process. See my previous post on How to Craft a Killer CMS Workflow to avoid this all-too common scenario.