DAM Champ: Annette Feldman

DAM champ Annette Feldman is the information management architect at The Associated Press. She is a part of the Information Management team and has been working at AP for 11 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in linguistics from Brandeis University, a Master of Business Administration from Simmons College, and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Rutgers University. She has worked in libraries throughout her life and owned her own database consulting company for 13 years.

DAM champ: Someone who supports finding, setting up, or maintaining a DAM system. There’s a wide variety of DAM champions who come from positions in production, creative, management, IT, and marketing.


Annette Feldman digital asset managementCan you tell me more about the Information Management department?

We are part of the AP’s Technology department. Our work is at the intersection of editorial and business and technology, but organizationally at AP we fit within technology.

Our group has been around for about 15 years and has changed shape over that time, but we generally encompass the areas of taxonomy development and classification for descriptive metadata and schema management, which touches all kinds of metadata, search, and productization. One way I like to think about it is that we manage tools that turn the editorial creations into what the business sells.

That’s awesome. You’re a librarian, correct?

Yes, I am a librarian and I have an MLIS degree. I have worked in libraries throughout my life and I see information management as using a lot of the same kinds of thought processes and tools. I think people are or are not librarians by nature, whether they go to school for it or not. It’s a way of thinking and approaching information and the world, and I am definitely a librarian.

What is your day-to-day involvement with the digital asset management system?

We don’t have just one DAM system; we have many. AP’s core business is distributing digital assets. Our systems manage those from the time that they are created in our newsrooms or ingested from our partners and our members.

My day-to-day role is to make sure that asset metadata is captured from our editorial and ingestion systems, gets enriched correctly, and then is delivered to our customers and members through our portals, feeds, and APIs. When there is a need, we define new metadata structures. We make sure that anything that we ever knew or wanted to know about the asset makes it through all the channels to the end user.

“Our customers may not know anything about metadata, but they know that when they do a search, they get the right stuff — in the right format, on the right topic, from the right time period, and with the right permissions.”

We handle every kind of news media format. We deal with stories, photos and graphics, videos, audio, interactives, and are getting into new kinds of media, such as 360 photos and video. We make sure that it gets where it needs to be and does not get to where it needs to not be.

Why do you think DAM is important?

Our journalists do their amazing world-class job collecting and telling news stories in every format, and that’s very obviously what we’re known for. But, if we can’t get the digital assets into the systems of customers who want to buy it and sell it, then we have not done our jobs. We produce a huge volume of content every day. If people can’t find what they need, they can’t buy it. Managing digital assets is what makes our business run.

What aspect of DAM do you geek out about the most? And if I had to guess for you, it would be metadata, but I’ll let you answer that.

Yeah, absolutely. Metadata, and that includes organizing information, seeing patterns and structures. We have metadata from every media type and lots of different pieces of the business. In order to make sense of it all, we find the commonalities that pull content together. That’s something I think is very powerful and very cool.

I try to build relationships with my colleagues in different areas, like those in editorial and those who work with customers to integrate our content into their systems. I think it is important to understand what’s important to different stakeholders. And to acknowledge that there are different things that are important to different groups within the organization. Everybody is moving in the same direction, but we all have different specific goals that we need to achieve. The more you work with people and the more you understand what it is that drives them, the easier it is to have those kind of conversations. There is a lot of negotiation and compromise, and hopefully at the end of the day, everyone gets most of what they need.

Yeah, that’s the ultimate goal. What does DAM help you accomplish? And that could be you personally, your team, or your business.

It’s really the center of our universe, because otherwise what we’ve done is taken all this great journalism and thrown it into a big digital box. And we can’t find it, we can’t parse it out, and we can’t give it to the right people.

“So, having the right tags on content and being able to access it in specific ways, it makes our business run. It lets us be able to sell what we create.”

Another area that we’re doing more of is supporting AP’s Data Analytic team with data to drive strategic decisions. The news business is in a state of disruption, simultaneously collapsing and expanding and becoming much more than it was. Parts of it are going away and parts of it are just coming into bloom. As a result, there’s a lot of experimentation and investigation, with our top management looking for answers to questions like, “How can we make the best use of our resources?” Experimentation is wonderful, but you need to be able to observe and measure the results of your experimentation.

If you zoom out from the metadata from each particular asset and you look at all of the data about all of your assets, you get a high-level enterprise view of the business to help answer those questions. This is something we’ve been working in partnership with our analytics group to help grow.

How do you manage different types of assets?

We have a central metadata schema that we’ve been using for about 15 years, so any piece of news content, whether it’s a story, a photo, or a video, has a core metadata record. We capture the same kinds of information about every asset, as much as possible.

It seems you really have DAM together at AP, so I’m wondering if you have a problem of people not wanting to participate in it? Do you have to promote your DAM system throughout your company in order to get more people to use it?

It’s not really something that you can opt out of because we move hundreds of thousands of news items every day. It’s not just getting people to use it, but to acknowledge that we’re all playing in the same sandbox. Part of that is making sure people are communicating about what they’re doing with metadata. A lot of that involves bringing my group into the conversation about new business areas and new projects early enough in the game that we can say, “Okay, to group content into the product set you want, you’re going to need to collect this kind of information. Here is how we suggest you do it so that it will match up with the other things that other groups are doing.” And that’s a challenge. When I talk to other people who do metadata in other places, governance is always a touchy subject, but it’s a very basic part of being able to use what you’re creating. Governance is hugely important because so much of our business depends on metadata.

So, would you say governance is your biggest challenge or do you have other challenges working with DAM?

Governance is a very big challenge. People will “play nice” in the governance sphere when they feel it’s of value to them. And communication of that value has been a big piece of the puzzle — constantly reminding our colleagues of the value we have as a company with a common vocabulary and a common schema.

Another big challenge again for AP simply is the fact that we’ve been around for 170 years. We’ve been digital since about the mid 80s, so we have customers and systems that span the age gamut. We have a lot of legacy systems we support, and being forward thinking and forward developing with our systems and with the metadata that goes along with it, as well as supporting the legacy systems when we have to, is a very big challenge for us.

I can imagine. I’m curious: Do you know how many people use the DAM system at AP?

Directly or indirectly, anybody who’s creating, ingesting, publishing, or selling content. It’s basically everybody. As a publisher, digital asset management is important to every person in the company, whether they’re filing stories or billing for them.

How do you know that DAM at your company is successful?

I think it’s reflected in the engagement of our staffers; the more that people see the value, the more they want to be a part of it.

For instance, in our newsrooms, we ask our writers and editors to add certain metadata about content. We work hard to make sure we don’t ask them to add metadata that can be captured automatically.

“The better we are at communicating that their metadata additions add value, the less pushback there is.”

When people see that adding metadata, just those extra few clicks, gets the story or photo to the right audience, they are more inclined to continue to play along and to add that information. That buy-in snowballs. The more successful you are, the more successful you will be.

What advice would you give to other people that are working in DAM?

The advice that I give, and this is true in the world of libraries as well, is you have to know your content and you have to know your stakeholders, both inside and outside of your organization. The more you understand what it is that people are looking for in the content and what they want to do with it, the better you can give them access points to find and properly handle the content. And if you don’t understand what the content is, why it is that they’re interested in it, and what they’re doing with it, you won’t understand how to get it in their hands.

“So, know your content and know your users.”

Additionally, you should know what standards exist within your industry. We haven’t really talked about standards, but they are important. News is an area that happens to have a lot of standards; we like to joke that standards are great because there are so many to choose from.

I’d also say that you have to know when to insist on sticking to standards and when you have to be flexible. And that goes back to knowing your users. You have to make sure that your content is accessible to the people who need it. Sometimes that means bending a standard, sometimes it means training users to follow a standard, and sometimes it means working with standards bodies to get standards changed.

Do you have any resources, conferences, or new sources that you’d recommend to people that are looking to learn more about DAM?

I don’t have any specific ones to recommend, but I do suggest attending conferences and other kinds of meetups, in general. I think getting out and talking to other people who are doing what you do in all kinds of different organizations and operations is a very educational and energizing activity. I also think getting out and talking to people who geek out about metadata is a lot of fun.

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