These days, I’ve heard a lot of bad talk about College Publisher (College Media Network). Although the platform is less than ideal, it’s a great place for student newspapers to be– and it is, in fact, where most newspapers are. It doesn’t require the need to know extensive HTML, CSS, PHP or other web languages that are the cause of many headaches in the world.
College Publisher offers a great service and as a starting point, it’s the platform I would recommend to any college newspaper getting its start on the Web. Because you’re working with a system that is proprietary, you’re going to have to work a little harder to get innovative. These are a few tips and notes about getting College Publisher to work the way you want it to.
1. It’s ok to mess with your page design, really
If you have a cookie cutter site that looks like every other College Publisher site out there, why haven’t you played with the templates!? It’s probably because they told you not to. Or maybe the fact that seeing all that code jumbled in there is terrifying. But, really, it’s easier than it seems.
College Publisher (remember, we’re talking 4.0 here) has 9 template options, none of them very appealing. You can build off a bland template to make it something spectacular (or at least spectacularish). It’s all about tweaking their coding system.
The harder way (stick with me, it’s not as bad as it looks):
The following is a very basic guide to CP coding. After you understand what each little slice of code means, it should be
easy easier for you to rearrange it into the order/design you want under the “Page Layout” option. And it’s ok if you mess up, you can always revert back to a template and start over!
(Tip: Keep saving backups in your e-mail or on a Word Doc if you don’t want to start from scratch if you mess up)
Linking to a section header:
List featured articles for a section:
[loop DATA=”DATA.FeaturedArticles” reference=”N”]
[if “[[N.sectionname]]” eq “NameOfSection”] <a href=”[[N.shtmllink]]”>[[N.headline]]</a></li>
List lead articles for a section:
[loop DATA=”DATA.AllIssueArticles” reference=”E” filterfieldname=”leadstory” filterfieldvalue=”1″] [if “[[E.sectionname]]” eq “NameOfSection”] <a href=”[[E.shtmllink]]”>[[E.headline]]</a> [/if] [/loop]
For example, the code:
[loop DATA=”DATA.AllIssueArticles” reference=”E” filterfieldname=”leadstory” filterfieldvalue=”1″] [if “[[E.sectionname]]” eq “Podcasts”] <a href=”[[E.shtmllink]]”>[[E.headline]]</h3> [/if] [/loop]
[loop DATA=”DATA.FeaturedArticles” reference=”N”] [if “[[N.sectionname]]” eq “Podcasts”] <a href=”[[N.shtmllink]]”>[[N.headline]]</a><br> [/if] [/loop]
Will yield something that looks like this on your page:
The Marquette Tribune from Marquette University in Milwaukee is a great example of using customization and some spiffy CSS to spice up a College Publisher site. Were it not for the give-away bar on the top that says “College Media Network,” I would have never guessed it was a CP site.
Really, it’s going to take a lot of trial and error to get it right, and some self-training in CSS.
Or the easier way:
If those chunks of code above give you a complete headache, there’s a simpler way to customize the look of your site (but there are more limitations). The “page designer” option can be a blessing when used correctly.
Using the “objects” feature, you can easily add elements to any column on your page in the following steps:
- Add a new object
- Type in your code (if you feel more comfortable creating the object in Dreamweaver and pasting the code from there, be sure to copy everything within <body> tags. You can also paste in an embed code from any widget site or video-sharing site)
- Insert your object from the library to a column
- Push update and refresh your browser!
2. You can get FTP and PHP server access
If you want to set up a blog or upload swfs and movie files, College Publisher can do that for you. Although it’s not a feature they offer by default, a quick e-mail to their CP support system can get it set up for you.The URL would be something like files.yourcollegenewspaper.com or apps.collegenewspaper.com.
Although you can upload .swf files with CP5, I’ve heard, it would probably still be great to get FTP access so you can upload .html files or any other big projects that wouldn’t fit within the scope of the the CMS.
3. All authors have a portfolio page
Did you know that when you click an author’s name on an article, it directs you to a list of all articles written by that author? This portfolio is great for students to pass on to employers or recruiters when looking for a job/internship.
Most newspapers I looked at on the College Publisher affiliate list don’t take advantage of this opportunity for reporters to create their own little portfolios.By going to the “accounts” tab and editing staff accounts, you can include a reporter biography, insert a photo and even include a downloadable resume. In the “bio” portion, you can include custom HTML to create links to the reporter’s blog, Twitter, Web site or e-mail.
Under the “manage accounts” tab, you can also use custom URLs so reporters can easily navigate to their portfolios, like: http://daird.portfolio.www.mustangdaily.net
It’s useful for both employers, students building a portfolio– or even readers. It’s a simple way to be more transparent about your staff and let your readers get to know who’s writing they’re reading.
4. With CP 4.0, you cannot embed iframes
So, you created a great mashup using Google maps, and you’d love to embed it with your article. One problem– it will conflict with CP advertisements.Even if you give your iframes names (i.e. <iframe id=”googlemap” name=”googlemap”>, no such luck.
Every few refreshes of the page reveal that the advertisement (either in the top bar or in right column) will be swapped. That’s no fun.The solution: Although not ideal, I’ve always taken a screenshot of the Google map, embedded it as an image, and then linked directly to the full-size map. This takes away some of the interactivity, it works every time.
5. If you ever want to leave, they need 90 days notice
If all this back-end manipulation to get a desired result is just too much, maybe you’ll consider an open source option. It’s somewhere hidden in the contract (or maybe they told you but you forgot), but if you do decide that you’re ready, be prepared to wait three months.
You have to send a written letter of consent, either from the publisher or the editor in chief, explaining that you’d like to leave and get access to your archives. Get that letter ready now, so you can waste as little time as possible when the time does come.