Cloud-based products help small South African publishers with content, ads

byJessica Weiss
Apr 3, 2014 in Journalism Basics

An African News Innovation Challenge-winning project is helping 18 local newspapers in South Africa handle content management and advertising sales without investing in expensive information systems.

The web-based Impreshin offers an alternative to clunkier ways of managing ads and developing content, such as sending documents or spreadsheets back and forth via email or over a shared hard drive.

The tools are designed especially for small publishers, who often don’t have the means to fund research and development projects. At the Free State Issue and Mangaung Issue newspapers in Eastern South Africa, for instance, Impreshin’s AdBooker tool for managing advertisements replaced an Excel spreadsheet system that was confusing and unreliable, said Issue Manager Martin Shepherd.

Now, the Issue newspapers use AdBooker to generate ad rates and manage bookings, artwork production and ad placements. The system is browser-based, meaning that it can be used on different platforms and interfaces by different advertising salespeople. It tracks all activity, providing a layer of transparency.

“Now each marketer is responsible for loading their own ads,” Shepherd told IJNet. “We still have errors [missed ads] but we know exactly whose error it was.” The system is also used for tracking sales by person, week or paper.

Anton van Zyl, the manager of newspaper publisher Zoutnet, and web developer William Stam founded AdBooker, which was one of 20 winners of the 2012 African News Innovation Challenge contest (ANIC). The contest encourages experimentation in digital technologies and supports the best innovations designed to strengthen African news organizations.

The contest, modeled on the Knight News Challenge, was launched by the African Media Initiative under the leadership of ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow Justin Arenstein.

AdBooker first launched as a web-based program in 2004, well before the cloud became a common place to store and access content. The program was revamped in 2012 (with 46,000 lines of code), and became part of the newly formed Impreshin company. The ANIC award helped the firm roll out its tools to more publishers, including training and mentoring for staff at the papers using the system.

Last year, Impreshin launched a second app, Newsfiler, a product easily integrated with AdBooker, that deals with the content side of news. Newsfiler provides an online space for editors to share comments and questions with writers, document a running list of changes and collect story elements, among other features.

“What really helps is that it is entirely web-based,” Shepherd said. “So journalists can log on from an Internet cafe and load their stories.”

Impreshin currently offers two versions: A cloud-based version, accessible by logging into the Impreshin homepage, which is useful for smaller offices with far-flung teams. The other option is a dedicated server box, which plugs into an existing intranet network and runs from a flash drive. With better speeds, this version is useful for bigger offices and allows access even if the internet connection is down. The server is configured to be accessible from outside the office, making it possible for journalists to post stories from a variety of locations.

In both systems, accountability is a core goal.

“No more dropped adverts or ‘I told xyz about those changes,” Stam said. “No more articles appearing in the paper that haven't been fully proofread because of different word file versions floating around a Dropbox folder.”

Future plans involve implementing the tools into a global package (think Microsoft Office), as well as the launch of Distribooker, a distribution management tool, and more.

To learn more, visit Impreshin.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Manchester-Monkey under a Creative Commons license.

Jessica Weiss, a former IJNet managing editor, is a Bogota-based freelancer.