2018 Gannett Foundation Award for Technical Innovation in the Service of Digital Journalism finalist

Washington Post ARC Publishing


About the Project

It was, admittedly, a cautious first step, clearly labeled as an experiment. The Washington Post, having begun to build its own custom publishing platform, announced on Oct. 1, 2015 that it had licensed the software to the Willamette Week in Portland. In dipping its toe into the software-as-a-service business, The Post was betting that a traditional newspaper company could provide the digital engineering knowledge needed to power a small publisher on the other side of the country. The actual bet was on something bigger: The Post had begun to invest in the idea of embedding dozens of engineers in the newsroom so they could sit alongside reporters and editors. The goal was that this partnership could result in superior tools that better fulfill any newsroom’s needs. The Willamette test had its difficult moments—customer support consisted of a single employee who slept with his iPhone next to his ear–but each new challenge helped make the software better. The next test was with a small digital startup focused on business coverage in Argentina, InfoBae. All the while, those engineers and editors in The Post’s newsroom kept improving the existing products and building new ones. In the final test of the concept, the Toronto Globe and Mail came on board in 2016 as the first major publisher to try the software. By 2017, the software platform, called Arc, was turned from an experiment into a fullfledged business.

But please don’t call it a content management system. Arc is a suite of more than a dozen individual products needed for digital publishing, from photo and video asset management to analytics to personalization technology. It was born out of a newsroom’s need to replace a host of CMSes that too often failed on deadline. In fact, general frustration with almost all Post vendors led to the angry awakening. Engineers replaced the external CMSes and every vendor component piece by piece, starting with the creation of a new publishing engine called PageBuilder.

When the newsroom needed a planning tool to both keep track of all the digital content it was publishing during the day while also planning better for print, the engineers and editors built Websked. It allows editors to create assignments, pitch stories to alternative platforms like Snapchat and eliminates the need to email homepage editors with updates. When the video asset-management system The Post bought from a
trendy startup failed shortly after launch, the Post ditched it once its own product, Goldfish, was ready.