by Gregory Bruno | April 8, 2020
NTB: How a global crisis inspired publishing innovation
To cover rapidly changing events, news organizations must be nimble. For stories like the coronavirus, which is developing faster than any story in recent memory, they also need the right tools to satisfy readers’ insatiable demand for information.
At NTB, Norway’s leading news agency, the COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity to solve a long-standing problem: how to quickly and efficiently deliver news as it happens to news publisher clients. Integrating Live Blog, our professional live-blogging software, with Superdesk, NTB’s publishing platform and open-source headless CMS, was the solution.
While NTB had been a Live Blog client for years, they stopped using it regularly in 2019 due to a number of technical hurdles. Back then, the only way to populate Live Blog was to manually move published stories from Superdesk, a labourious process that made little financial sense. Although many NTB clients had requested a streamlined way to receive bulletins, short news items, and news briefs from the agency’s wire feed, there was no incentive to develop a solution.
The coronavirus crisis changed that calculus. Seemingly overnight, NTB clients were in desperate need of concise local and international coverage, what NTB technology and development editor Magnus Aabech calls “the type of wire copy that we specialise in.”
To meet this surge in demand, NTB needed to provide clients with a curated, consistent source of news that did not require them to go searching in the “normal wire, where it’s difficult,” Aabech says. Eventually, NTB realised the optimal solution was to offer live coverage by reviving its shelved Live Blog instance. “But, we didn’t want to actually produce this content in Live Blog,” says Aabech, “because then we would have to do double the work.”
Using a third-party tool called Integromat, Sourcefabric connected NTB’s Superdesk instance with the agency’s Live Blog feed, giving NTB a new distribution channel for its content. “Superdesk and Live Blog have their own APIs, but they don’t speak to each other directly,” says Renat Isch, Sourcefabric’s business development manager. “To address this, we created a dedicated integration module in Integromat that receives data from Superdesk with a webhook, transforms it, and then pushes it automatically to Live Blog.”
For NTB, the outcome was a highly efficient way to deliver content to clients that can be embedded directly on their own sites. The agency created two separate Live Blogs: one dedicated to the most important coronavirus stories of the day, and a second, more general news bulletin on coronavirus developments, which mirrors stories published on the agency’s news wire and is currently being used by about two dozen clients. “Live Blog in this sense works as a digital platform for us,” says Aabech. “We just offer the Live Blog embed code and clients use it as a story.” Moreover, when content in NTB’s Live Blog is updated, it is echoed on client sites because the embed code stays the same.
Since its relaunch in early 2020, NTB’s Live Blog service has been gaining in popularity. “As we’re seeing, local newspapers have a real need for national and international news at the moment,” says Aabech. “Big newspapers in Norway, as around the world, are offering real-time coverage of the COVID-19 crisis – showcasing graphics, photos, text, and bullet points in a news stream format. This is our way of being able to offer the same thing to all of our clients.”
NTB is even exploring ways to expand its offerings – from breaking news to sports. “In the past, our distribution system had limitations, but with this Superdesk-Live Blog integration, we can do it in a different way and get content to market faster and more efficiently.”
Aabech adds: “A lot of the potential of Superdesk isn’t being used by agencies or publishers; many of us are often stuck in our old production routines. To break free from that stuff we’ve got to play around, which is what we’re doing now.”