Screens, Research and Hypertext

Powered by 🌱Roam Garden

The State of Think Tank CMSs

Think tanks have (mostly) moved beyond relying on default WordPress "post" content types. But there's still a long way to go.

It’s been nearly seven years—an entire generation in Internet Time—since Jeff Eaton published “The Battle for the Body Field.” The post beautifully sums up the central problem in producing online narrative content:

This fields-and-templates approach works great for content that follows predictable patterns, like product information sheets, photo galleries, and podcasts. It’s at the heart of NPR’s successful “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” system, and it’s hard to find a CMS or web publishing tool that doesn’t offer some way to model different types of content.

But Team Chunk has a deadly weakness. When narrative text is mixed with embedded media, complex call-outs, or other rich supporting material, structured templates have trouble keeping up.

Content strategists have solved a lot of problems since Jeff’s article. Quickly and easily producing clean, reusable narrative content isn’t one of them.

Thankfully, the days of think tanks relying on default WordPress content types are mostly past. Open up the hood of a think tank CMS and you’ll probably see content types like publication, article, event, news, project and person.

On newer sites, you might also see a content type called longform or featured that include some sort of page builder-y components built with things like Gutenberg (WordPress) or Paragraphs (Drupal).

For more context

What's the current state of think tank publishing?

What to read next

What does the move to bespoke content types mean for research content?

Other items of interest

What does it mean to talk about modeling different types of content?

What does create once, publish everywhere look like for research organizations?

What's wrong with my CMS, anyway?