Building a news website on a budget

The following email was a part of Poynter’s online news discussion list, and its author has graciously allowed me to republish it here. I do so, because it reveals the ease with which a high quality news website can be built on a dime. I know I sound like a friggin’ broken record sometimes, but if students can do this, why can’t we?

Follow the links, especially the one that leads to the author’s website.

I wanted to share our experiences at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism in creating a student journalism website on a tight budget. As most journalism educators will know, there are often few resources or the technical support to develop multimedia websites.

TheThunderbird.ca showcases the work of the students on the core Multiplatform Journalism course that I lead at the J-school.

The site is run on an installation of WordPress MU, the multiple user version of this versatile software. WordPress offers an easy to use content management system, making it simple for the students to learn how to post stories. WordPress MU can be a little temperamental, meaning that some plugins won’t work with it.

As WordPress was designed as blogging software, most of the designs, called themes, look like blogs. Our main challenge was finding a theme that looked more like a news website but was also easy to customize. We ended up going with Brian Gardner’s Revolution News theme, a bargain at US$99 for use on a single website. I was able to tweak the theme, even with a minimal of knowledge of PHP or CSS.

The Audio Player plugin by 1Pixelout makes it simple to insert audio into stories, creating a customizable Flash player.

The Video WordPress plugin by daburna works with just about every video hosting service under the sun and enables you to embed Flash video.

Other useful plugins include:

  • Share This to allow visitors to share content via social bookmarking sites
  • Shift This to create captions from the alt tag of an image
  • Simple Tagging to insert tags on posts

There are still many more things we hope to do with the site.

Alfred Hermida
Assistant Professor
The School of Journalism, University of British Columbia

I am not suggesting that a highly scalable site can be built for nothing, but there’s no reason we can’t use this software to build a host of verticals detached from our main Media 1.0 websites.

Frankly, I’m really impressed with what professor Hermida has done in BC, and I wish him and his students well.

Comments

  1. Terry:

    I can attest to the ability of WordPress to run a professional site. We’re a 9 year old pure Internet news publishing company, providing hyperlocal news in two Upstate New York communities, Fulton and Oswego (populations 12,000 and 25,000, respectively). We get between 12,000 and 17,000 visits a day between the two sites.

    For our first few years, we were hand-built and I did all the site work. We then worked with a packaged provider, but the limits were extreme. We then worked with some software partners to build a site on the ezPublish platform. Good, but still limiting, and with performance problems that grew with the size of our database.

    A few months ago, we turned on v4 of the Daily News, on WordPress. Count us thrilled.

    The role-based login system allows us to offer blogs to anyone in the community while preserving most functions for our journalists and key functions to me and my webmaster. The indispensable WP-Cache plugin removes all of the strain on the database by caching content. Other plugins allow us to run a cool looking photo gallery, to insert Ustream code for our live high school sports broadcasts, to insert spreadsheets into pages, and so much more.

    Our journalists find it easy enough to use. And the constant development of plugins (like a new one that works with a hosted audio service to allow audio comments on stories) means that we’ll only get better.

    You can run a student site on it, but you can also run a professional site on WordPress. It’s not perfect, but it’s more than good enough for us. In fact, it’s doggone close to perfect.

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