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Guest Post: Hand-coding vs. CMS? Hand-coding gives essential experience

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Editor’s Note: I recently wrote a post about using a pre-made content management system vs. building one from the ground up (link). Madison McCord represents a different perspective on the debate. I asked him to share his thoughts on the blog. What follows are his thoughts.

It is safe to say that the landscape of college media has changed. Collegiate journalists are turning in their pencil and notepad for voice recorders and laptops. The reason for this change, a nationwide move to a web-first college news landscape.

Though the extinction of the classic college newspaper model of print first is coming soon, some college news organizations are still stuck in the starting gates when it comes to transitioning onto the World Wide Web. My suggestion to those organizations, or even those newspapers looking to revamp their online presence: Build your site using hand-coded HTML.

I know that the Content Management System (CMS) diehards will have jumped all over the comment boards by now, but it is important to understand my reasoning for supporting a hand-coded HTML-based Web site.

I am the web editor and co-designer of The Communicator Online, the student-ran news site at Spokane Falls Community College. This April, myself and our graphics editor, Marshall Moore, sat in our newsroom and – using a combination of TextEdit and Dreamweaver – built our Web site from the ground up, using no CMS. This means that when there is an update that needs to be made, or a new story that needs to be added, a staff member needs to open the .html page and make the changes by hand. This is a tedious process, but one that is vital to learning and understanding web design and management.

Before building the site, we had the discussion with our adviser about whether to look into using a CMS like WordPress or College Publisher to build the site, or to do it ourselves. Although the obvious answer was to use a CMS, it was also the easy answer. From this, our staff would learn nothing more than how to enter a story and headline into a form, and hit one button to have it magically appear on the site seconds later. What does a student learn from this? Nothing.

Yes, this gives the student more time to create a neat slideshow or tweet it to their followers, but if properly built, a hand-coded site offers you the same thing. What it does give the student that a CMS doesn’t is the knowledge of building and managing a Web site by hand.

I mean, what is the argument here? If you are looking for the easiest way to post your stories and videos, then this is not for you. But if you believe in being a true student and learning the process of how something not only comes together but is also managed, then there is no discussion, building a hand-coded site is the only way to give you that experience.

Some consider hand-coded, static Web sites a “step back” in the industry, but those are the people that have only used a CMS. It all comes down to dedication and the willingness to learn. There is no difference between a great CMS site and a great hand-coded site.

I am in no way making the claim that any Web site built using a hand-coded HTML is better than any CMS site. That is determined by the sites content, not its framework. I am, however, claiming is that the editor who takes the time to learn and understand the workings of a hand-coded site may have more knowledge on the subject, knowledge that could play into a future career in journalism or any other field.

I know that our site is one of the few which still uses a hand-made HTML site, but I hope that others will look at what we have done, and realize that all it takes is a little extra effort to gain the extra knowledge.

Feel free to e-mail me at madison.j.mccord -at-gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @madison_mccord

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