College Publisher / Websites / Wordpress

Ready to leave College Publisher? Here's how

Update II: here is College Publisher’s response – ed.

Update: Full disclosure – Lauren’s newspaper, the Mustang Daily, is partnered with CoPress and after her CICM internship, she will join the CoPress team. 

Since the Mustang Daily switched from College Publisher to WordPress two weeks ago (through CoPress), my inbox has been flooded with questions about the process. For all of you out there who still have lingering questions, this guide should provide all the answers .

The decision: Should you or shouldn’t you?

If you answer “yes” to one or more of the following, then you’re ready for the switch:

  • Tired of not controlling your primary advertising spots?
  • Wish you had an intuitive, user-friendly interface to work with?
  • Ready for your site to not look like the hundreds of others in the college media world?
  • Want it to be quick and easy to change the look, feel and content of your site?

A CoPress post entitled Can WordPress solve our College Publisher woes? from late September summarizes it nicely:

It (College Publisher) hasn’t been an open, adaptable system that allows students to truly innovate. You can’t open up the hood and fiddle around, or even replace the tires, because you don’t own the car. CP just lets you borrow it, in exchange for taking the profits from those gargantuan ads. That’s their business model, not necessarily a bad one for all customers, but inherently limiting.

If you’re in the same boat — and sorry for making assumptions, but you probably are in that boat — then now’s as good a time as ever to move on to a better system.

(If not, then I’ll quote an old inspirational poster cliché: “Change is not necessary. Survival is not mandatory.”)

Which option is best?

The open-source content management systems getting the most attention in the college media world right now are WordPress and Drupal. There’s also some talk about creation of a Django-based CMS specifically for newsrooms.There are many more options, but again, these are just the most popular.

At the Mustang Daily, we chose to go with WordPress mainly because it’s primarily blogging software and our reporters/editors are familiar with that. Not to mention, it’s clean, user-friendly and ridiculously simple to manage. But really, it’s up to you to decide what works best with your resources and staff.

A few features Drupal boasts:

  • Blogs
  • Collaborative authoring environments
  • Forums
  • Peer-to-peer networking
  • Newsletters
  • Podcasting
  • Photo galleries
  • File uploads and downloads
  • Modules

Although I’ve never personally used Drupal, my understanding is that it takes a little more web geekiness to maintain (i.e. it’s less intuitive and simple than WordPress).
Example news sites using Drupal: Daily Illini, Minnesota Daily. Listen to a CoPress podcast here about college newspapers and the switch to Drupal. 

Features WordPress boasts:

  • Full standards compliance (cross-browser compatibility)
  • Customizable pages
  • Links (blogrolls)
  • Easy-to-use themes
  • Cross-blog communication tools
  • Multiple authors
  • Intelligent text formatting
  • Easy installation and upgrades
  • Spam protection
  • Full user registration
  • Hundreds of free plugins

Example news sites using WordPress: The Miami Hurricane, The Whit Online, Mustang Daily, The Recorder

The process

In a CICM guest post far more informative than anything I could ever hope to provide, The Miami Hurricane‘s former webmaster Brian Schlansky described the transition his staff undertook in Sept. 2008. You should read it to get full details of how a switch functions.

I didn’t take the arduous steps Schlansky did to create the new Mustang Daily site– it what was perhaps the easy way out, I enlisted the help of CoPress to do the dirty work. That process was relatively simple on my end (handing over FTP access to the database files, followed by customizing design/pages).

The following are a few questions I’ve received most often about the process:

Q: How long did it take to get access to your College Publisher archives?

A: Short answer: About a month and a half.

Longer answer: After our first attempt to obtain archives from College Publisher, we were informed we’d need 90 days’ written notice from the editor in chief or the publisher consenting our desire to end our contract.

However, because we were not on a contract with them at the time, we were able to waive the 90 days (this is important for you, though, because you probably are on a contract). I requested access to our archive database the first week of January. We got the FTP login to access the files February 23. Had we been on a contract, we still wouldn’t even have archive access more than four months later.

I did learn from Emily Kostic, however, that when The Whit  made the request, they had access within two days. I don’t know how to account for that inconsistency, but I’d guess that they’re trying harder to hold onto customers now that more of us are eager to leave them behind.

Q: In what format did you receive your archives from College Publisher?

A: College Publisher gave us two CSV files that CoPress converted it into a MySQL database. (This part is over my head and a huge reason we reached out to CoPress instead of doing it ourselves).

Q: When should we tell College Publisher we’re ready to leave?

A: This is somewhat of a subjective response, but I’d say to do is as soon as you’re sure. There’s no use in waiting. The sooner you let them know, the better… especially if you’re locked into one of those handy contracts.

Q: Anything about WordPress you’re unhappy with so far? 

A:  Not really. Most of the problems we’ve had are in logistics of going web-first, although tweaks on WordPress’ admin end would make those logistics a lot simpler — and I’m not the only one who thinks it. For examples (WP chat, admin newsfeed + more), read a post by Daniel Bachhuber and listen to the podcast which hits it head on:  Improving WordPress’s admin for newsrooms.

You have the site. Now transition the staff.

A new site means a new workflow and a new workflow means a new mindset for your staff. But it’s easier said than done. My advice is to start early.

The biggest change we’ve made is going “web-first,” meaning we post to the web before stories go to print. Print is no longer the priority. (Read more about the structural changes here). In summary, we:

  • Hired an additional copy editor
  • Rescheduled the copy editors to work day shifts (and shorter night shifts) so we can post web-first
  • Trained all reporters and editors to post straight to WordPress (instead of e-mailing articles and saving them on our server)

As soon as your new CMS functioning — even minimally — start training reporters and editors to use the system. Training is the key! They won’t get how simple it is until you show them.

But don’t take my work for it. It’s your turn.