The Daily Emerald has its blogs back

The Daily Emerald is working hard on moving its web presence forward. Largely, it’s me setting up the technology and implementing design, but the rest of the newsroom understands imperative to innovate quickly and start transitioning to a better digital product. The result of about five hours hacking a WordPress template yesterday is ODE Blogs, an aggregator for the current four Daily Emerald blogs launched at the moment: Press Pass from the sports desk, Pizazz from Pulse, Our Words from Opinion, and Up Close from the photo team.

As always, open source technology is at the heart of these cool updates. We’re using separate instances of WordPress for each blog, which makes user administration a lot easier and the ability to sandbox the layouts. The aggregator serving as the blog landing page is a semi-custom WordPress theme with a slightly hacked SimplePie plugin that allows us to merge the RSS feeds and order them by publish date (hat tip to Jenn Vargas for that lead).

This design isn’t stay static, though. What you see now will change in the coming weeks as we work to unify the user experience of the paper, the WordPress blogs, and (keep your fingers crossed) the main College Publisher 4 site. Our hope is to have visual cues across all products which make navigation common, intuitive, and simple.

Up Close, the ODE Photo blog

I’m proud to announce the Oregon Daily Emerald now has one more online property: Up Close, the Photo blog. To the tune of Boston.com’s The Big Picture and the Seattle Times’ Best Seat in the House, we’ll be expanding upon the number of images traditionally available in print and on our website by publishing the good ones that don’t make the cut (including the foul which granted Oregon a game-winning penalty kick last week).

Personally, I think this makes a lot of sense. Daily Emerald photographers, including myself, shoot hundreds of images each week. Many of the good ones don’t make it to print, as we obviously have limited space to run content. Having a team photo blog, however, will be an excellent forum for all of us to showcase our work, as well as highlight some of the challenges we face making excellent images. As a kicker, the images will be a full, gorgeous 900 pixels wide.

Furthermore, this is the first of many upgrades I hope we’ll be making this fall. Everyone in the newsroom is already in love with Google Apps, and I hope the other digital upgrades I’ve got in mind are just as well received (although I got the classic, “Twitter is so stupid,” comment a few days back).

Gauging the state of the ecosystem

Just a gentle reminder that the first ever CoPress survey is online and looking for respondents. We want input preferably from the online editors at student news organizations, although others are welcome to contribute if the online editor has not been hired yet.

This first survey is to gauge the current state of the ecosystem. We want to know how what CMS you’re running, how many developers you have, and what languages they know, among other things. The survey will be open until 5 PM PST on 10 October. After we’ve spent time creating bar graphs and geo-mashups, we’ll release our first report. It should answer questions such as, “What is the average satisfaction with College Publisher 4 versus Drupal?” As far as we can tell, this hasn’t ever been done in our sector.

Along with the release of the report, we’ll be announcing our second CoPress survey. Our intent with this follow up survey will be to have a better understanding of what people want from a digital distribution platform. We truly value your input.

Also, props to Bryan Murley of Innovation in College Media for pointing out that it is not, in fact, September 2009. Not to be too stuck in the future, we’ve updated the survey title and links accordingly.

Introducing CoPress

One of the rather positive outcomes of my case against College Publisher from a few weeks back has been the formation of a diverse group of people around a new project to provide an alternative: CoPress. A product of the sudden realization that many online editors across the country have many of the same opinions I do, CoPress is an initiative to build a technical eco-system of student newspapers working together and supporting each other on a common, open source content management system. Until this point, it has been largely the case that, when building and maintaining digital platforms, student newspapers have found only success on their own, with their own developers, creativity, and fortitude.

We hope to change things up. 

Together we have strength. I think I can speak for everyone involved when I say that the collective vision of CoPress emphasizes the community, and how the community can work in harmony. Innovative, standards-compliant software is one immediate issue we’re trying to solve, but it isn’t the only one. Brian Murley, of the Center for Innovation in College Media, forwards that hosting is also an issue. From that discussion, we’ve also learned that supporting a piece of software with the technical expertise to keep it updated is critical. These problems will have to be addressed in order for any student newspaper to survive. It’s more powerful to work together than individually. We’re not profit driven, although the consortium will need to be financially sustainable. We’re driven by a genuine interest to work together because, when we do, we can create beautiful ways for student newspapers to flourish in the digital age. 

In the interest of radical collaborative openness, we’re doing as many things as transparently as possible. The motivation for this comes from a concept I call an “open source organization,” although I’m well aware “open source” has become a buzzword for many recent projects. It started with Whitman Direct Action, I’m evolving it with Oregon Direct Action, and I think is applicable here, too. The idea is simple: put all of the data about what you’re doing online, and structure the data such that your audience, let it be the team, the partners, or the community, can follow along to the degree they would like to participate. Clay Shirky says we have a lot of cognitive surplus floating around. It’s time we put it to use.

Our conference calls are recorded and available as a MP3 download, with near future plans to create a podcast that will make listening in even easier. We synthesize research and coordinate efforts on our wiki. Information is also expressed with Twitter, delicious, and Flickr. We connect via a Google Group and, if you don’t find a piece of information you need, you’re more than welcome to contact CoPress.

At the moment, we’re working on a few things. First, we’re beginning to research the software options we’re most interested in: WordPress, Drupal, and the Populous Project (built on Django). CoPress would love to support the Populous Project, another student project, and eagerly awaits their alpha release in the coming weeks. WordPress and Drupal, however, have deployability and hackability characteristics that will be hard to match. Second, we’re compiling the names of online editors, webmasters, and internet geeks at student newspapers around the country who might have interest in what CoPress will have to offer. From this, our hope is to do a series of surveys gauging the technical expertise in today’s newsroom. We want to make sure as best we can that we’re serving the needs of everyone, not just ourselves. Last but not least, we’re continually evolving our web presence as a tool to help better achieve our aims.

And this is just the beginning. Thanks to Adam Hemphill, Greg Linch, Kevin Koehler, Joey Baker, Bryan Murley, Jared Silfies, Albert Sun, the Populous Team, and anyone I’ve missed. I look forward to working closely with you and others in the coming months to make all of these ideas and more our collective reality.

ColaLife

Reach

ColaLife is a “campaign to try and leverage the distribution muscle of a multi-national corporate institution to get life saving medicines to children in developing countries.” In short, to convince the Coca-Cola Corporation that it is worthwhile to distribute rehydration salts through their robust and well-developed delivery network, apparently a weakness of most non-governmental organizations. Those spearheading the ColaLife campaign, to my understanding, have focused their advocacy efforts largely online, using a Flickr Group, a Facebook Group, and a Twitter account to raise awareness, organize people, and spread the word. Coverage in traditional media is also a goal, obviously, but it’s interesting for me to watch, among with other reasons, because I think this “social internet” now has the critical mass necessary to be used as catalyst for a singular goal. ColaLife, in my opinion, could be a ground breaking test case.

As a plus, I’ve finally found a good cause for a random series of images I took while in Peru last summer. Sweet, huh?

The plot thickens

On my argument against College Publisher, and for an open source coalition of student newspapers, Brad Arendt of The Arbiter presents several good points about the advantages of using College Publisher.  Considering the time he took writing a well-detailed comment, I thought I would clarify on a several things I think he missed.

First, I think student newspapers should actively work on developing 1 or 2 alternatives to CP. This may not mean collaboratively building a CMS from scratch, rather it’s more likely to be facilitating a developer ecosystem specific to our needs around common platforms. For anyone familiar with WordPress, which I’ve helped implement for the Whitman Pioneer and most recently, Oregon Direct Action (which is a work in progress), it’s strength is an abundance of plugins and themes you can add to your install. A developer ecosystem is important for continued innovation and, as far as I can tell, CP doesn’t have one.

Cost is certainly an issue. Both CP and WordPress, Django, or Drupal are “free,” but the critical difference is that CP comes working out of the box for student newspapers and the others require a developer. One stated goal is to have an open source alternative that can be quickly up and running with full functionality. If the paper has resources to develop their platform beyond point, they would be able to do so with the support of other developers across the country. This platform would also be available to local papers, although that is not the intended market. Furthermore, I do see a business model in this, in a very Ubuntu and WordPress-esque fashion.

Quoting Brad,

There are some rather innovative and creative things which the CP4.0 system does offer. I would not say it limits creativity, rather it is the students you have on staff who know what to do with the tools that limits your creativity more than CP4.0. The Daily Pennsylvanian has done some very creative stuff in the LAMP environment, which is open source. The Daily Tar Heel has also figured out an interesting work around for blogs, granted done via WordPress but the 4.0 system and the students figured out how to “fit” it in.

Personally, I think arguing that College Publisher allows for innovation is completely erroneous. LAMP, which means Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, is an open source stack and doesn’t stand for anything specific. I don’t mean to discount your example, I’m just not sure how you mean to imply CP is innovative by allowing hacking outside the platform. Furthermore, any server environment should allow working with and around the software running on it. Allowing WordPress to be installed as a blogging platform is not a sellable strength of College Publisher

Brian also mentions that CP does provide backups of your site for the scenario in which it disappears.  Unfortunately, these, I imagine, are only backups of your data, not the content management system your data is living in. If your site were to go down, you would have to install and develop an alternative CMS, as well as port your database, before you have a live site.  You shouldn’t have to completely rebuild your website if College Publisher disappears.  When the web presence becomes the only presence, having your site suddenly not exist would have very real consequences.