Stuff, Daily Maverick detail CMS selection strategies

By Mary Jackmann


Honolulu, Hawaii, United States


During the CMS Project Town Hall on Wednesday, two news media companies shared their experiences as case studies in CMS selection.

The joint project between INMA and Google News Initiative, came about in response to a growing need from news publishers for guidance in this most important decision. The partnership resulted in developing the CMS Vendor Selection Tool and the newest INMA strategic report, How News Media Companies Should Choose a CMS

Daily Maverick (South Africa)

The central theme of the discussion was how the content management systems (CMS) used in journalism often don’t align perfectly with the complex nature of journalistic processes.

According to Styli Charalambous, co-founder and CEO of media outlet Daily Maverick in South Africa, the phrase, “The problem with CMS is that the C is not a J,” suggests a traditional CMS might not always be tailored to the unique needs of journalism. 

The Daily Maverick serves as a case study.

Launched in 2009 with just five individuals, the publication has expanded significantly, employing 120 people by the time it launched a weekly print title in 2020. The Daily Maverick’s journey through various CMS platforms provides insights into the challenges and considerations publications might face when selecting a CMS. 

In its infancy, Daily Maverick relied on a custom CMS. As the operation matured, they transitioned to another bespoke system. However, with the need to rapidly launch new features and products as the organisation grew, they moved to WordPress. While this platform offered benefits, it also brought challenges, prompting the upgrade to WordPress VIP. 

Key considerations in their CMS journey included:

Costs: The financial implications of maintaining and scaling a CMS.

  1. Technology: The technological backbone of the CMS.
  2. Services: This encompassed service level agreements, hosting solutions, protection against DDoS attacks and other security concerns, as well as advisory services. 

Migration: The process of moving to a new system.

  1. Code audits being a particularly frustrating aspect.
  2. Experience: The overall user experience for both editors and readers.

Scalability: The ability of the CMS to grow with the organisation.

  1. Features and plugins: While plugins can significantly enhance a CMS’s functionality, they can also introduce complications and security vulnerabilities.

  2. Growth: Ensuring the CMS can handle an increase in traffic and users. 10x Test: A forward-thinking evaluation of whether the CMS would still be suitable if the organisation grew tenfold. 

The Daily Maverick’s experience with WordPress was a mixed bag.

“The best part of WordPress is all the plug-ins, the worst part is all the plug-ins, and all of the challenges and some of the security issues,”  Charalambous said. “But we also wanted something that would stand the test of time and the test of growth as a growing organisation.”

The organisation aimed for a system that would endure both time and growth. When evaluating their performance, the Daily Maverick’s shift to WordPress VIP in November 2021 marked a turning point. After activating its accompanying services, the outlet saw a dramatic increase in its audience, signaling that a robust and reliable CMS can significantly amplify other efforts.

Concluding insights comprised migration complexity likened to the operating room. “Open heart surgery is probably the best description I’ve heard of [in terms of] migrating one’s CMS,” Charalambous says.  

Other questions to ask when choosing a CMS were also outlined:

  1. What are they business priorities and editorial game plan?
  2. Do you have the fortitude for the move?
  3. How will you measure success?

Thus, it’s crucial to understand one’s editorial objectives, have the resolve for such a significant change, and establish metrics for success.

Stuff (New Zealand)

Andrew McPherson, the chief technology officer of Stuff New Zealand, detailed Stuff’s 2-year journey eplacing its CMS.

Stuff is a prominent news media entity in New Zealand, boasting the country’s largest news site,, numerous daily newspapers, the weekly TV Guide magazine, and the largest editorial team. The impetus for change came in 2021 when their then-CMS reached its end-of-life, became unsupported, difficult to maintain, and unstable.

A malfunctioning CMS posed several challenges for Stuff Limited. It hindered their business strategy, blocked transformation, offered a low ROI, and forced them to grapple with outdated systems and structures. 

“The core business objective really revolved around having a CMS that was really flexible and would enable and better the process of product development … to be more agile,” McPherson said. 

For their print business, the team prioritised solutions that were comprehensive, easy to implement, and scalable in terms of cost, favouring commercial off-the-shelf software. On the digital front, they leaned towards open-source platforms that offered flexibility, control, and low license costs. 

The outcomes of this rigorous selection process were notable.

For their print business, they settled on a proprietary solution that integrated seamlessly with the digital CMS, all under a scalable SaaS model. The digital segment got an open-source core CMS that could be enhanced as required. The commercial side benefited from a unified SaaS solution with streamlined workflows. 

McPherson shared some insights from this process. CMS selection can be overwhelming, often presenting more questions than answers. Internal teams might lack a comprehensive perspective on requirements, and the shift to a new CMS can be disruptive. Hence, external guidance from peers, vendors, and institutions proved invaluable. 

Key considerations for new CMS:


  • Prioritise comprehensive solutions, ease of implementation, and cost scalability.
  • Limit custom development and prefer commercial off-the-shelf software.
  • Seek well-defined business processes that can be configured.


  • Prioritise flexibility, control, and low license costs.
  • Favour open-source software with freedom of implementation.
  • Invest in custom development where no licensing costs apply.

Insights on the CMS selection process:

  • Requirements: CMS analysis can be daunting with more questions than answers.
  • Perspective: Internal teams might not see the full spectrum of needs.
  • Disruption: Changing CMS can be unsettling; engaging teams might be challenging.
  • External help: Essential to seek guidance from other organizations, vendors, and bodies like INMA.

A few key takeaways from their experience included the following top tips:  

  • Size: Don’t underestimate the project’s magnitude.
  • Stages: Pilots and trials are useful but avoid overcommitting.
  • Transition: “Transition States” are crucial but tricky. Consider incremental changes over a “Big Bang” approach. 

Their research ultimately led them to choose Drupal for their digital CMS and Naviga for print.

About Mary Jackmann

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