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Adventures in Wagtail

14 May 2021

New York Public Radio’s Wagtail-powered media publishing platform

NYPR chose Wagtail as a headless CMS to manage 150k pages (20 years of content!) on They're migrating all their brands (WNYC, WQXR, WNYC Studios, etc.) to a multi-tenant Wagtail platform, tightly integrated with core content publishing services like asset management and an audio CMS. We’re joined by Kate Statton, NYPR’s former Senior Product Manager for Core Platforms & Experiences, to hear the story so far.

a woman smiling for the camera

Kate Statton Harman

New York Public Radio, Senior Product Manager, Core Platforms & Experiences


Picking Wagtail as our new headless CMS

NYPR selected Wagtail after a multi-month investigation into open source and proprietary CMS options. We held a series of demos with media organizations across New York City to gain insight into the CMS platforms being used, the team sizes of groups building CMS internally, and pros and cons of open source vs. out of the box software. Additionally, we had a series of sales-type demos with CMS systems for purchase.

In the end, Wagtail best met our needs in terms of use cases addressed, estimated cost vs. speed to launch, codebase familiarity (our team was comfortable working on Django-based CMS systems), and mission alignment.

As a non-profit public media organization, Torchbox's mission and our ability to contribute back to it really resonated with our team and helped us to sell in our CMS recommendation to senior leadership and the broader organization.

Starting with a POC

Our team conducted two proof-of-concepts (POCs) with Wagtail – one with better success than the other. The first was done as a part-time pet project and while it was impressive, the work was overshadowed by our uncertainty of Wagtail's page tree structure and how this might work for NYPR's suite of brands.

While we knew the page tree would work for Gothamist, we were not sure how it would scale to onboard brands like WNYC and WNYC Studios and the audio-based shows that live within them. After dedicating more time and resources to restarting the POC, we were able to focus our use cases for Gothamist and saw much higher success in speed of development and user needs met. We were also able to better anticipate the show needs by imagining how we might create shortcuts across the CMS to better serve the show structure without being restricted by the page tree.

Pressing go

The Gothamist build was done as a close partnership between NYPR's Digital team and the team at Torchbox. In order to better facilitate our work and to more quickly achieve our goals, we chose to augment our regular scrum team with additional development and project management resources at Torchbox.

While the NYPR staff was in-office at the time (we are now all remote during the pandemic), we were able to blend our team to work with Torchbox remotely. We thoroughly enjoyed having Tom, Matt and Kevin join our team in office for a week and felt this really helped team members to bond as we kicked off the project.

What’s next for NYPR

Over the next 3-5 years, we hope to onboard an Audio CMS, Digital Asset Manager and a potential Taxonomy Service, in addition to our Wagtail build out, and to integrate these three systems closely. This means we can leverage Wagtail and other system's strengths without over bloating or overtaxing the CMS. The team hopes to build out Wagtail with clear, easy to use publishing workflows so that a CMS user can easily leverage those other systems through API push and pull, without having to log into each tool individually.

As this work is done, we will onboard additional sites/brands into Wagtail as a multi-tenant CMS until all of our teams across the organization are running from the same publishing systems.

At that point we will eagerly sunset our other CMS, a 15-year old tool also based in Django.

Would I recommend Wagtail to other media organizations?

Yes! Wagtail is a friendly, easy to use CMS system that is easy to work in from both an engineering and content production standpoint. Content teams find it incredibly intuitive, and we've seen training and support needs go way down for teams using Wagtail vs. our other publishing tools. In addition, we have found it incredibly cost effective to use an open source tool that is customizable vs. purchasing something off the shelf with minimal control.

The ultimate selling point for Wagtail is the strength and creativity of the team at Torchbox. While we have been able to see many cost savings in using open source software, leveraging the teams and knowledge at Torchbox has enabled the team to work at a much quicker pace and has built confidence within the group that we have support when and if we need it.