Feb 5th, 2008 @ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The new Temple-News.com: from College Publisher to WordPress

I’ve had a crazy day.

I awoke at 4 in the morning to my cat having is head stuck in a Campbell’s soup can, I had my car broken into (damn you Philadelphia), and our move to WordPress almost exploded. So much for class.

I’ve alluded to it several times, but as of Tuesday February 5th, The Temple News has moved its Web site to its own independent WordPress server from College Publisher. The move was the result of months of planning and work, and hope you all check it out!

t-n.gif

I know many colleges who have either thought about switching, or just completed the switch. In fact, the most recent post on the ICM blog is a video of the Miami Hurricane choosing Drupal. So part of the purpose of this post is to shine some light on how and why the Temple News did it.

Why Switch?

I suppose the first question on everyone’s mind is why we switched from CP. I want to state here that it had nothing to do with the quality of service those guys offered. Every time I called they always were extremely helpful and always found a solution. I would recommend CP to anyone else in a heartbeat. It just so happened that CP wasn’t the best for for the current direction of The Temple News.

One of the main reasons was the lack of independence. Because you are essentially getting a free CMS, you lose a bit of your autonomy. You are limited in the placement of your own ads, and even if your paper specifically needs a certain feature, it usually has to be rolled out through the whole system for it to be implemented. For example, we wanted a box that users could check to remove their article comment from print consideration, but such a change would need to be implemented on every site. Obviously it is not in CP’s best interest to work on a paper-to-paper basis as their staff is only so large.

The aforementioned lack of independence also made it hard to keep up technologically with competing Web sites. CP sites are written in CPML, a proprietary coding system that forces Web editors to learn an entire programming language to fiddle with certain aspects of their site. For a college student who will not use this language when they graduate, the motivation is just not there.

And lately, with the move to Viacom, many of CP’s servers became unstable. During one of our biggest stories of the year ( a student was sexually assaulted in a heavily trafficked hall) we had no service.

The Technical Stuff

The new Temple-News.com runs on a Media Temple gridserver and an instillation of WordPress MU (that’s multiple user). We ported our news blog broadandcecil.com over as well to have all of our online properties under one roof. When considering if WordPress could even handle a college newspaper I looked to The Collegian Online as proof of concept.

After the CMS was decided we had to port all of the old archives from CP to WordPress. This was by far the trickiest part, and one I couldn’t do with out the help of my father. CP was kind enough to give us our seven years of archives in a database. My dad and I spent the large part of Winter Break converting the database into a working WordPress table.

We ran into several snags as the WordPress tables have funny links, as well as information required that CP tables didn’t have (such as an article summary). We were able to transfer all of the archives with the exception of the latest semester. However, all of the archives permalinks did not work in WordPress unless we went in manually and assigned them a category (I believe only God knows why…). Also, we were unable to transfer authors. We were lucky enough that we had placed a “Sean Blanda can be contacted at …” so the user can find the author of articles even though there is no “official” author.

Therefore we are currently in the process recategorizing all of our archive links. I advise caution in directly editing the database, however we had no other option. The files did not play nice with the WP import/export feature and manually copy and pasting was out of the question.

After the database was transferred I installed the Premium News Theme from adii. From a quick browse I believe we are the largest publication to use this theme. The main reason we choose this theme was that it featured easy advertising, thumbnail management, and heavily featured multimedia. It was built for the forward thinking blogger crowd, and it was a crowd we wanted to attract and even emulate somewhat as we attempt to push our brand further towards modernity.

As mentioned before, we still had a whole semester gap in the archives so I spent the last week of my winter break manually cutting, pasting, tagging, and importing six months worth of content. It was a good dry run that allowed me to work out many kinks in the system while we still only on our access domain.

The one problem with having your own server is that the space is limited. Therefore we are cautiously using outside services for the hosting of our media. A Flickr Pro account will be our de-facto photo archive system and YouTube will handle videos.

There are several benefits to using these services:

  1. Low or no cost
  2. Saves server space
  3. Flickr allows users to purchase photos (indirectly)
  4. They give us a strong presence on two of the largest communities on the Web
  5. They teach our staff members Web 2.0 tools

The one downside of course is the very lack of independence we avoided in migrating from CP. What if Flickr and YouTube shut down tomorrow? We felt the rewards were worth the risk. And because Yahoo and Google back these products we felt reasonably secure. However this may be in doubt over as the future ownership of Yahoo! in is question.

After setting up the services, it was time to switch over the DNS to point to the new server.

Then something funny happened.

There was a WordPress rewrite in the database that forwarded all visits to temple-news.com to our access domain. This created a redirecting loop that was only solved by going in the database and editing the table. Funny thing was, I did not overlook this, however when I edited the domains, I left a trailing slash.

Thats right, a trailing slash had me awake until 4 am calling Media Temple, trying to figure out why it didn’t work.

I could honestly write a book on this whole process, but I just wanted to show not only what I have been doing (and why my posting has been sporadic) but to provide a blueprint of sorts to anyone thinking of moving there college newspaper either to or from College Publisher. I also plan on keeping all of you guys posted on the drawbacks and benefits of running a publication on WordPress. As of now, the Temple News is scheduled to speak at the upcoming conference in New York at the College Media Conference about alternatives to College Publisher, and I will most certainly be there to follow up on this.

I will say for the record that at the outset of this operation, WordPress MU seemed like the best choice. However there is a huge lack of community support (especially when you are used to WordPress ) and many Plugins that work for WP don’t work for WPMU. I don’t care what their site says.

As any new site, there are many bugs likely to pop up, but overall I’m proud of what we were able to do and now I can focus on creating content instead of managing it. And I will certainly be posting heavily about the transition in the weeks to come.

Discuss this post on Twitter.

Signup for Sean's newsletter. No spam, sent very sparingly.



Back home