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As of yesterday evening, I am no longer an employee of the Oregon Daily Emerald.
My decision comes after two months of frustration trying to get the Daily Emerald off of College Publisher. College Publisher, for those who are unaware, is a proprietary, locked, and nearly obsolete content management system (CMS). In my opinion, the first step student newspapers must take to survive in this “digital era” is to invest significantly in adopting an open source platform for their web presence. Open source allows a student newspaper to truly evolve into a student news organization. It offers the ability for you to have the final say in how, where, and why you publish your content. In proprietary systems, you leave this technological innovation up to the company to whom you’ve contracted out the work.
A metaphor for the people who have grown up with print: open source means your newspaper design and layout can be just whatever the heck you want them to be. Proprietary code means that you only have a certain number of colors, fonts, and article lengths to work with. Your sections always stay in the same location, and you can only adjust the placement of the stories to the smallest degree. All of those innovative front page newspaper designs from last Wednesday? Those wouldn’t be possible with proprietary code.
At the Daily Emerald, however, I was told we must first hire a publisher before we can consider any changes to our CMS. On top of that, we have a contract with College Publisher for at least the next six months (although we receive very little money from the deal so I’m not exactly sure what the Daily Emerald would lose by breaking the contract). Furthermore, the board meetings are closed. This means that I, the guy with Google Doc upon Google Doc of ideas, have to be invited to participate in the decision making process. To me, this sounds completely illogical. Instead, I have to pester the already overworked EIC with the things I’d like to do, and then have those suggestions go up the “chain of command.” It’s not a functional system for the real change which needs to happen.
Although I completely understand how busy the Daily Emerald newsroom is in producing a daily paper, it is busy work distracting the organization from what really needs to be built: a strategic vision for what student news is in the coming years. If I were in charge, I’d call an emergency board weekend retreat that anyone with expertise would be invited to. Student newspapers, just like the traditional media giants, need to completely rethink themselves because, by not innovating on the web, they’re is making themselves completely vulnerable to one potentially huge problem:
Competition from the people who get it.