Disclaimer: This case study was created in cooperation with Erika Allen, as of April 2022, Erika Allen is no longer with VICE Digital.
Erika Allen, Executive Managing Editor at VICE Digital, tells us how Desk-Net helps keep a multi-channel, multilingual youth publishing platform ahead of the game.
Its youth focus may keep VICE eternally young, but it's over a quarter of a century now since the young adults' magazine launched in Montreal.
Since then, the brand has evolved into a mini media empire in its own right with a range of publications across a plethora of platforms. Erika Allen, Executive Managing Editor, Digital at VICE, explains.
"VICE Digital publishes in 26 languages across its websites, YouTube channels, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and other social platforms. VICE puts out a daily newsletter, as well as newsletters for its specialty brands, like Munchies, which is dedicated to food and recipes. In addition to the global websites, we publish a quarterly print magazine in North America."
"VICE also operates a translation hub, which is responsible for making sure that the stories of international interest are translated from their original language into English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Italian to ensure they reach the widest possible audience and reflect our global footprint."
Given the constant flow of content to feed those audiences, and the sheer number of language versions involved, there is always going to be an issue of managing the workflow.
Part of that is the job of making the right content available to different language versions while avoiding unwanted duplication, which is where Desk-Net comes in.
The editorial calendar tool for multilingual management
"Desk-Net is especially useful for our Translation Hub to be able to have a view of everything that is coming in all of our international offices, so they can see what may be a candidate for translation (translated stories become available for republishing on VICE sites in other languages/countries). It's also useful for our sites in different locales that publish in English to be able to see that they are not assigning competing or duplicative stories."
Erika explains that it's not just the translation hub but the full editorial team that uses the tool; "We have nearly our entire newsroom on Desk-Net, but I would say it's most regularly used by Editorial leadership through Senior Editor level staff."
In particular, Desk-Net helps keep a handle on the non-stop flow of digital publishing.
"Editorial Executives and Editorial Directors meet every Monday to review Desk-Net entries in a "Week Ahead" meeting, and Editorial Directors are entering, scheduling, updating, and moving stories as they are assigned and develop daily and even hourly."
Why choose Desk-Net as your content planning software?
Like most organizations, VICE Digital had previously explored other tools to manage the scheduling and content workflow before settling on Desk-Net.
"Prior to Desk-Net, there was some use of Airtable, but it was not as effective for our needs, and its use-protocol was never as clear as it needed to be to make it a useful tool. This calendar allows us to accomplish our needs in a way that isn't hacked together. We'd reviewed some other project management tools, but when we found Desk-Net, it became pretty clear that it would be the most useful option."
We initially intended to use it only for the North American newsroom, but expanded it globally very quickly, which was relatively simple to do."
Roll out and evolution of the editorial calendar tool Desk-Net
VICE Digital benefits from having a digital-friendly staff and few of the legacy issues other traditional publishers have to manage when moving to new platforms. Rolling out Desk-Net across the different countries proved relatively glitch-free.
"Like any new system, there have been some issues with compliance, but we've sent reminders and updates. We've focussed on the elements that we require, and some elements have ultimately proven less useful. Mostly though, I would say this has been a very smooth transition, particularly considering it's being used in several different languages and countries around the world."
Room for improvement?
Asked frankly about what worked and what sometimes didn't work out so well, Erika was candid about a room for improvement in the implementation of Desk-Net by her and the staff.
"Teams are very good at including headline and description information, but less consistent with some of the additional detail we initially requested (preview links, bylines, additional tasks). People seem to be happy to see their tasks and stories collated into one place."
Which doesn't mean there is no room to improve in the future.
"Partially, this is a flaw in the way we rolled Desk-Net out without onboarding the dozens of freelancers we work with, and perhaps we will revise this, but it would be useful to be able to see stories based on whether they were written by staff or freelancers.
"I didn't consider the utility of this when we introduced the platform, partly because we figured it would be a pain to onboard Freelancers to this tool since we work with so many, and some only once or twice. Initially, we were most concerned with knowing what editor is associated with what story, but it's now come to seem like another organizing method would be potentially useful. I am going to revisit it."
Visualizing the input of freelancers dovetails with the latest Desk-Net feature for Erika who is understandably keen to keep a close eye on costs; "I am interested in experimenting with the cost tracking feature, which relates to the use of seeing stories produced by staff as opposed to freelance separately, but may also assist in tracking other overhead costs."
Tracking contributor costs as a joined-up process within the workflow is a benefit to any publisher, even those without the number of language versions and freelancers involved in VICE. We'll be keeping in close touch with Erika to see how Desk-Net can continue to develop that and help to contribute to VICE Digital's formidable workflow now and in the future.