Is it Eish or is it Eidos?

2009-05-13 00:00

THERE’S a murmur of hysteria around here. Everyone’s being very decent about it, but when you’re hurtling into the future at full steam it takes an effort to hold on to the social graces you’re accustomed to.

For the past number of weeks, we’ve been producing our community papers — Echo, Mirror, Village Talk, Greytown Gazette — using a new computer system called, in politer moments, Eidos. Eish for short. And now we’ve “gone live” with Eidos on The Witness and the Weekend Witness.

It’s only Eish for now, really, because once we’ve all got the hang of it we’ll be working in a more logical and efficient way. Bless technology.

It’s the third big wave of change of this kind in 30 years. First there was the changeover from “hot metal” and typewriters to a room-size mainframe computer that allowed us to write and edit (but not design) on screen. For all its size, it only had a 32 kB brain, compared with the 80 GB hard drive of the PC I’m writing this on. Then there was the switch to PCs for reporters, and Macs for the designers. The two don’t generally speak the same language, and unwieldy procedures meant things got “lost” in the system from time to time, among other frustrations. Quite often actually. And then came Eidos, the system of choice for the Media24 group of newspapers, to which we belong. Eidos does one great thing: it’s one system. We all work on PCs that work the same way. It does another great thing: it’s a content management system, so we get to keep track of what’s going on all the time: how the writing of a story is progressing, how the page design is flowing and how the editing is going. It banishes confusion at the press of a button or two. Sounds like Big Brother has taken over, but it’ll feel like a liberation from the guess chambers.

There are some whizz-bang things on the horizon: for example, we’ll be able to design and edit pages in Durban for The Witness and in Maritzburg for our coastal publications. But that’s jumping the gun. Other Media24 newspapers, and papers in other newspaper groups, are already working off a virtual production hub that allows a central team to write, design and edit for a range of titles by eliminating duplication of effort. We’ll get there in good time.

How does all this affect you, the reader? It shouldn’t. Design stays the same: we had an overhaul recently and apart from some tweaking there won’t be any change. Print quality should remain excellent thanks to our fancy press. Writing and editing work to the same rules. But by giving the editor greater control over all aspects of the editorial production process, we should be able to put out what the marketing people call a more focused product. And boy do we need to focus to keep you guys interested. You’ve probably noticed the turmoil in the industry, with papers shedding readers faster than leaves in autumn. And with fewer ads leading to fewer pages and ever fewer stories, who can blame you. The task facing journalists in all media is how to reinvent both the way we do things and the things we do so that they meet your needs the way you want them met. Eidos provides a technological basis to work from, but the real work, many journalists say, lies in providing good content.

But let that be the subject for another day. In the meantime, you may see some funny typefaces or lines where they don’t belong or strange colours. We’ll blame it all on Eidos, of course, even the spelling mistakes. Please bear with us while we enter our brave new world.

• Yves Vanderhaeghen is acting editor while John Conyngham completes a fellowship at Oxford University.

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