Beyond Print Toolkit: Technology

How to use the moment of print-to-digital transition to revisit your overall technology strategy

By Adam Schweigert

June 27, 2024

A pair of hands types at a laptop, which is surrounded by a yellow circle on a blue background.
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A news organization’s decision to reduce reliance on print revenue and focus on developing new and more diverse revenue streams is a major step on the road to sustainability. The changes this shift requires can be stressful for the organization and the people who work within it as they often require letting go of, or dramatically altering, products and processes that are deeply rooted in tradition. As you make these changes, remember to take the time to celebrate all that you’ve accomplished and use the opportunity to take stock and move forward with a strategy that will serve your organization and your community for years to come.

Specifically as it relates to technology, remember that your audience always comes first. Technology exists to support humans, and while the specific products you develop and tools you use may change, technology solutions should always be chosen and implemented with an eye towards the human needs of serving your community and furthering your organization’s long-term sustainability. Also remember that technology can’t provide a silver bullet to solve all of your problems, the people who implement and use these tools are a critical piece of the puzzle.

In this section I’ll cover some ways you can use this moment of transition to revisit your overall technology strategy, including how to take stock of what you’re doing now and make necessary adjustments, how to think about staffing, and some specific guidance around the elements of a typical news organization’s tech stack that are directly relevant to this shift.

Take stock

Shifting your priorities away from print will almost certainly involve changes to your technology stack, the tools and vendors you use, and even the organization of the teams that support these tools within your organization. These changes present an excellent opportunity to take stock of your technology strategy and re-prioritize your investments in tools and people in order to better support your new goals.

A great way to start this process is to audit all of your technology expenditures. If you don’t already have it, make a list of the platforms and tools you use with their associated costs and any contract details. This list might include things like web hosting, infrastructure costs, and licenses for third-party software, tools, or platforms. It’s important to note when contracts are up for renewal so you have time to plan should you decide to make any changes.

Also include any costs associated with vendors or contractors you pay to implement and maintain your tech stack as well as the salary and benefits for any full- or part-time staff dedicated to supporting the elements of your current technology strategy. To get a sense of the cost of supporting the tools you use, it’s often helpful to look at each role on your team and come up with a rough percentage of the time that person spends supporting any given element of your tech stack.

Consider new opportunities

Once you’ve completed this audit and have a list of your current technology-related expenditures that is as comprehensive as possible, you also need to look at what new expenditures might be needed as you consider new revenue and distribution opportunities. 

The Opportunity Solution Trees framework developed by Teresa Torres and shared in her book Continuous Discovery Habits can be a useful tool for discovering and validating new opportunities to drive the business outcomes you want to see. To briefly summarize this process, you need to have an idea of who your target audience is and the value you plan to offer them. You then articulate a number of business outcomes and opportunities that could drive these outcomes, and finally you create a list of assumptions for each opportunity to validate by talking with members of the target audience. I recommend reading up on the entire process and thinking about how your organization might put it to work to help sharpen your ideas (and discover new ones) by interacting more regularly with your audience to decide which opportunities are most worth pursuing.

For each new opportunity you want to move forward with, try to also get a sense of the cost involved. As with your audit of current expenditures, consider whether you’ll need to spend more on infrastructure, software licenses, third-party tools, etc. and whether you might need to re-train existing staff or hire new team members to support the initiative.

Once you’ve done that, you should have a good sense of what you’re currently doing and the costs involved, as well as any new opportunities and an estimate of their associated costs. You might find it helpful to add a few additional data points to each expenditure to group them into categories like essential or non-essential, or high/medium/low cost.

Make adjustments

Now you want to consider changes you might make in light of the new opportunities created by your shift away from print. A simple exercise that can be helpful as you consider these changes is one borrowed from Agile software development called Start, Stop, Continue. The name sort of gives it away, but in short, the exercise involves going through the list you just created and figuring out what you’ll continue doing after your print transition, what you’ll stop doing because it’s either no longer necessary or not worth the investment given the shift in priorities, and what you’ll start doing as you reallocate resources and evaluate new business opportunities.

Go through the list you made item by item and decide which category any given expenditure falls into — is this something you’ll continue because it’s needed for a critical business or editorial function that will be unchanged by your print transition? Or is it something that will no longer be needed post-transition or an opportunity to make adjustments to save money that can potentially be reinvested in new initiatives? 

For example, you’ll likely need to maintain some essential services like your content management system or email provider, but you might discover that, in light of your changing priorities, you seem to be overpaying relative to the value you’re getting. This could present the opportunity to dig more into these expenditures and potentially shop around for other vendors, tools, or platforms. Also try to identify any expenditures that are not mission-critical but high cost and/or no longer needed post-transition so you can plan to eliminate these and think about how to reallocate those funds.

As you’re thinking about these changes, also consider the timeframe for implementing them. Are there high-value new opportunities that are low-risk and low-cost that you can move on right away? Conversely, are you spending too much on services that are providing little value? As you shift your reliance on print, how do your priorities change and when does it become feasible to stop or start different services, products, or initiatives. Finally, be aware of contract end and renewal dates so you can plan well in advance. It’s a common mistake to run out of time when you’re migrating to a new platform and to be forced to renew a contract with an old vendor for another year out of necessity. Try to plan as far ahead for services you plan to eliminate or contracts you plan to cancel so you don’t get caught in this trap!

Finally, consider the cost of switching. Changing out elements of your tech stack can be time-consuming and expensive, so make sure to factor this into your planning and vendor evaluation. When you consider these sorts of changes make sure to ask new vendors about the timeline and process for migrations, and make sure you’re clear on roles and responsibilities so you know what elements of that process they’ll handle and what you’ll be responsible for. 

How change affects your team

There are also human elements to making these changes, and some of these can be tricky to manage. Particularly if you’ve decided to eliminate products that people have worked hard on and are very attached to, need to significantly restructure roles or teams, or, unfortunately, let some team members go, you’ll have to manage the effects of these changes on your team and help them to embrace the new products, tools, and ways of working necessitated by your shift away from print.

A helpful framework for managing the human side of these sorts of changes is the Bridges Transition Model as developed by William Bridges in his excellent book on the subject, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. An element of this framework that I’ve found particularly helpful is taking the time to prepare for transitions and understand how people will be affected by what you’re choosing to leave behind. There’s much more detail in the book, but at least familiarize yourself with the stages of transition and try your best to anticipate how the changes you’re making will affect your team.

Training staff on new tools and workflows can take some time, so make sure to factor that into your planning so that staff aren’t caught off guard by the introduction of a new tool. The last thing you want is to have spent a lot of time and money on a new tool that’s intended to make peoples’ jobs easier, only for it to have the opposite effect and breed resentment and opposition because the introduction of the tool didn’t include enough time for them to become familiar with it and training to ensure they understand how it fits into their workflow.

Build vs. buy

As you build new products or introduce new tools, be sure to consider whether you have the expertise to implement, maintain, and use them effectively. In some cases you can rely on contractors or agencies to provide specialized help in your time of transition (or perhaps even on an ongoing basis), but think carefully about the pros and cons of building in-house vs. hiring experts or paying for off-the-shelf solutions — what are typically referred to as Build vs Buy decisions.

In general it’s best to build (or develop in-house expertise) when the tool or service is core to your business and where no existing off-the-shelf solutions exist, or if the existing solutions are not very good, lack customization, or are too expensive. You might also consider building an in-house tool or capability if you think this tool or skill set is a potential differentiator that will set you apart from your competition.

It’s better to buy (usually from a third-party vendor or consultant) when the tool or service is less core to the business, where a solution already exists at a cost you can afford, or where you need hard to find or expensive specialized skill sets that you likely won’t need on an ongoing basis. An example might be things like web hosting and infrastructure where good solutions that employ best practices already exist, particularly if you lack the specialized expertise or resources to develop, deploy, and maintain the solution in-house.

Finally, look for efficiency wherever possible. Technology is rarely a strategic differentiator for news organizations – particularly at the local level. Organizations share many of the same problems and there’s usually an opportunity to collaborate, share knowledge, and contribute to projects that already exist instead of trying to build something from scratch and risk potentially reinventing the wheel. When you’re thinking about any new technology initiative, do a bit of research to see if a solution already exists. If not, ask around and see if you might be able to collaborate with other organizations to bring it to life. You might uncover a similar project that will save you a lot of time and money or find a way to share the cost burden for developing a new tool with one or more partners.

Planning for the future

Regardless of whether you build or buy the elements of your tech stack or your digital products, the work and costs involved in keeping them running likely won’t stop once the new tool is implemented or the product is launched. As you make technology decisions, make sure to think about the long-term cost of ownership for any new tool you implement or product you develop.

Anticipate change by asking questions like: What improvements will you need to make over time, how frequently, and what will they cost? How will costs change if your needs change or your audience grows, and can you afford those changes? What happens if a key member of your team leaves (and they were the one who built your custom CMS)? If you’re working with a vendor or third-party tool, has their pricing remained stable over time or are you likely to see a big price increase when it’s time to renew your contract?

As mentioned above, the cost of switching out elements of your tech stack can sometimes be significant, so ensuring you understand the long-term cost of ownership up front will help you make decisions that save you the cost and hassle of frequent migrations or disruptions to your workflow.

Tech stack elements and resources

To wrap up this section, we’ll take a look at some of the common elements of a news organization’s tech stack that might be in flux as you negotiate the shift away from print and consider some of the questions you might ask as you consider changes to your technology strategy and the vendors and tools you use.

Content management systems

One of the most critical pieces of a news organization’s tech stack is the content management system (CMS). Some older news CMSs were designed with print workflow as a given and the necessity to support these workflows and to integrate with often clunky antiquated systems has made them slower to adapt to rapidly evolving digital publishing workflows. 

With a reduced reliance on print, you may find an opportunity to consider a migration to a more modern CMS. This is a big decision and there’s a lot to think about, fortunately there are plenty of resources available to help, including a recent effort by the International News Media Association and Google News Initiative to develop a CMS Vendor Selection Tool to help publishers explore different CMSs and choose one that best fits their needs.

There are many factors that go into this decision, and it’s rare to find a perfect solution. In weighing your options here are a couple of key areas to focus on:

Monolithic vs. decoupled

You can think of a monolithic CMS as an “all-in-one” solution that encompasses (or at least tries to) every aspect of your content creation, publishing, and distribution workflow. This sounds great, but in reality all-in-one solutions often come at the expense of being slightly less good at everything or they feel difficult to use because they cram a lot of features into the same interface. These systems also tend to be quite expensive and that can make them not viable for smaller publications.

A decoupled approach often has an open-source CMS like WordPress at the core, but relies on integrations with third-party services or plugins to provide additional functionality. The advantage to this approach is that it provides more flexibility to choose best-in-class solutions for each element of your workflow. In this scenario you might have different systems for newsletters, paywall, analytics, editorial workflow, etc. instead of having a CMS that attempts to encompass all of these features. When selecting these third-party tools, ideally you want to choose vendors and products that all integrate with your primary CMS and play nicely together. In reality, this can become complicated quickly and maintaining these integrations can be time-consuming and expensive (particularly if you have to build and maintain integrations for tools that don’t already exist).

Open-source vs. proprietary

Open-source CMSs (WordPress, Ghost, and others) have source code that is publicly available and “free” to use. They are typically developed, maintained, and improved by a community of developers. This can be a really good thing if the community is large and active, but can be problematic if only a small number of organizations are using and contributing to the project. When you’re considering an open-source CMS, it’s generally best to choose one that has a large and active community because you can feel relatively secure knowing that the project will be regularly updated and improved, and that it will be easier to find developers and agencies who are familiar with the CMS who can help you to work on it and customize it to meet your needs. 

Proprietary CMSs are often more expensive and can be less flexible, but the cost usually includes setup, maintenance, and support. Depending on the platform, developers might also be less familiar with these proprietary tools so it can be harder to find help or it may be more expensive than an open-source option.

A word of caution: be careful with the assumption that open-source CMSs are necessarily cheaper than their proprietary counterparts. While the code itself is free to use and modify, there’s often still significant costs involved in setting up the CMS, hosting, and customizing it. Open-source solutions generally do tend to be less expensive, but it’s important to consider all of the costs involved in setup and ongoing hosting and maintenance as you weigh your options.

Integrations with print workflow, layout, and production

For organizations that plan to maintain a print product, it may make sense to stick with a more established CMS that has well-supported workflow tools or integrations with the platforms and tools that support this work. These tend to be monolithic proprietary CMSs that are designed specifically for this purpose and this often comes at higher cost with less flexibility to support more agile digital workflows.

If print is no longer necessary (or has become less of a priority), you might consider using this opportunity to move to a more modern CMS. This may require changes to your current workflow and tools, but is likely worth it if you want to modernize your tech stack and remain agile as digital publishing continues to rapidly change and evolve.

Data collection, processing and storage

The prioritization of digital platforms over print also enables the collection of much more data about your readers. As you shift your priorities and resources, you’ll likely implement a variety of tools to help you understand your readers and support various digital revenue streams. This constellation of tools covers things like customer relationship management systems (CRM), customer data platforms (CDP), paywall and registration systems, analytics tools, advertising technology, and more. 

Open-source options do exist for some of these tools, but most publishers rely on third-party vendors and tools because they tend to have more features, are easier to use, and have more options for integrating with other elements in your tech stack. 

With any tools that collect and store user data, remember to keep privacy considerations top of mind. Not only are there legal restrictions such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU that restrict what you can collect and how you can use it if, but there are also ethical considerations to keep in mind as you work to build trust with your readers. Many tools will happily collect a lot more data than you actually need to deliver your services, so try to be thoughtful about what you need and limit data collection to the essentials wherever possible. As you bring more third-party tools and vendors into the mix, make sure to also ask them about their privacy protections and how they secure user data to avoid potential breaches.

As you transition away from reliance on print revenue, it becomes increasingly important to optimize the tools you use to collect and process user data. Many publishers are also recognizing the need to collect more first-party data about readers as Google aims to phase out third-party cookies in their Chrome browser later in 2024. Registration and login systems, in particular, allow you to better understand reader preferences to serve targeted advertising, and more importantly, provide appropriate prompts and nudges to help move readers through the funnel from casual reader to subscriber. With so many publishers focusing more on growing digital revenue, there are quite a few resources available to help you implement best practices, including:

Distribution channels and platforms

As print becomes just one of many distribution channels for your content, this creates the opportunity (and necessity) to consider other ways of getting your content to readers. To help print subscribers make the transition to digital, if they haven’t already, many publishers are focusing on e-editions and mobile apps that replicate some elements of the print experience. An example of this strategy is what is doing by using a platform called Twipe to create subscriber-only, market-specific e-editions, called The Lede, for a number of the markets they serve. The hope is that this will help retain subscribers who prefer a more print-like experience over what they would receive through the organization’s digital properties.

In addition to e-editions, the move away from print is an excellent time to consider other ways to get your content to readers. As with any such change, it’s worth taking the time to talk to readers and understand their preferences to help you develop new products or decide which platforms to invest your time and energy in. As you scale up new distribution efforts, make sure to prioritize projects that allow you to rapidly experiment and learn from new approaches to see what works best. Among the things you might consider as you reduce your reliance on print include: distributing your content on more third-party platforms, exploring more social channels, applying SEO best practices for your website, building out new email newsletters, and developing or investing more in a strategy for push notifications via text or mobile apps.

Editorial workflow and project management

If you make the decision to change to a new CMS, you might find that some of the more popular modern options have fewer story budgeting and planning tools built-in or that the plugins and integrations to support these workflows are a bit lacking compared to legacy print CMSs.

As a result, many organizations are choosing to use different third-party tools like Airtable, Asana, Notion, or Trello, to handle editorial planning and project management. When implementing any of these tools, it’s helpful to think through and document the workflows you need them to support before you start shopping around so you can identify a tool that best fits your needs. Also consider whether your chosen tool integrates well with your CMS and other tools you use for things like team communication, document storage, and digital asset management. Here are a few examples to help you get started:

Security, reliability and backup

A final note that as you consider any changes to your technology stack, make sure to think about security and reliability. You want to ensure that your systems remain available, that your data is safe, and that you have a plan should anything go wrong. As with many of the changes we’ve discussed in this guide, this involves careful evaluation of the tools you choose to use, but human factors are also very important to ensure your systems remain secure. Many security breaches can be avoided by employing best practices around access management such as the principle of least privilege, requiring strong passwords and implementing two factor authentication, training your staff in security best practices and making sure they know how to recognize and avoid phishing attacks, and having a well-documented process for reviewing and removing access to your systems as roles change or when someone leaves your organization.

A comprehensive guide to security is beyond our scope here, but the Society of Professional Journalists maintains an extensive list of security resources that you might find helpful as you think through your strategy.


As you develop and refine your technology strategy in this moment of transition, remember that the only constant is change. Try to choose the tools you use, the workflows you develop to manage them, and the digital products you build to serve your readers with an eye towards agility and flexibility. Today it’s AI and tomorrow it may well be something else. Technology moves rapidly and if you remain flexible and open to change, learning, and growth you’ll be well-positioned to take advantage of new opportunities as they emerge.

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