College Media / Content Management Systems / Tech Talk / Websites

Web options for college publications, 2012 edition

UPDATE JULY 2012: Detroit Softworks is no longer in business.

It’s been two years since I did a round-up of hosting options for college news sites. In the wake of the recent discussion of the Online Pacemaker Finalists, I figured it was time to take another trip around the field to see what’s out there.

And, a disclaimer: This is not a “critical review” of the different options. Each option has its pros and cons, and every college media outlet has different needs and resources. If you want to know more about a particular option, contact the companies listed. I’d also encourage you to ask around at other college media outlets who are using these options.

I want to start off with the hosted options. All of these will cost money, usually a set-up fee (for training, design and database transfer) and then a monthly subscription fee (for maintenance, tech support and other costs of maintaining a server). The content management system (CMS)  is hosted on server space provided by the company. The other side of that coin is that they do not necessarily exercise any control over the ad spaces on the site, or the ad revenue.

Hosted Options

College Publisher: College Publisher just announced a new version of CP5 called CollegePublisher Pro. Since the last round-up, College Media Network changed ownership and updated its revenue sharing model for advertising. They will charge if you don’t have a certain amount of traffic to your web site. And they also offer a server option where you can park your WordPress install.

Detroit Softworks: Detroit Softworks hosts the Gryphon CMS, and has 15 client newspapers, according to a list on their website. There is a monthly subscription and a set-up fee for the service. It is a hosted solution, meaning the content is stored on DS servers. SEE THIS POST FOR UPDATED INFORMATION ABOUT GRYPHON CMS.

TownNews: TownNews  is the content management system company that runs the online sites for newspapers in the Lee Enterprises newspaper chain. The CMS itself is called Blox. It is a hosted solution. There is a one-time setup fee, and a monthly subscription. The subscription fee varies based on the size of the news outlet.

School Newspapers Online: SNO started out as a solution for scholastic (aka high school) newspaper sites, and has expanded into the college market rapidly since last I wrote about this topic. They now list 58 college newspapers as clients. They offer a hosted WordPress solution. The costs are spelled out on their site: $600 for first year (including set-up) and $300/year after that.

Ellington CMS: The Ellington CMS, originally created for the Lawrence Journal-World’s web offerings, is another hosted service. Its college media penetration is not sizable. The system is built on top of the Django web framework.


 When I wrote about this topic in 2010, Alloy, an advertising and marketing company that aims at the college market, had started providing a hosting solution similar to what CoPress provided. The set-up was much like what you would find on any commercial hosting service, except they hoped to offer some added benefits to college media in the future (like an ad network, for instance). The basic cost was $250/mo. plus a set-up fee. I am not certain that they are still providing this service, and my e-mail asking for further information has received no response yet. I will update as information is available.

That about covers the hosted solutions that are out there in the college media market. I know of a few college media outlets that have partnered with a local professional newspaper to host their sites. But that situation varies so widely that it’s probably not an option for the majority of news sites.

Host Your Own

The other option is to host your own content management system, whether using an off-campus server host, or an on-campus server. There are literally hundreds of hosting services out there, so I won’t even pretend to make a recommendation in that area. Most of them have a one-click install system for installing a variety of open-source software, for the less technically inclined.

The most commonly used open-source (i.e., free) CMS’s are:

 WordPress: This seems to be the most popular open source platform for college media outlets. It’s highly extendable, relatively easy to use admin area with lots of options, and a number of premium themes which break the traditional blog-style format. It’s based in php and (normally) MySQL database. There is an extensive community of developers to help out if you need technical support.

 Drupal: My impression is that Drupal has more popularity among professional news outlets. It’s also based in PHP and an SQL database, but has a steeper learning curve than WordPress. One of the things that makes this system popular is its emphasis on community site engagement, which it had long before WordPress incorporated those features. It also has a very active development community. The site has a list of case studies of web sites built on the platform.

Joomla!: Joomla! is a robust CMS that comes at site management from a different perspective than WordPress or Drupal, and it seems to have heavier adoption in other commercial arenas. At one time, the CMA web site ran on Mambo, the previous version of Joomla! and it was relatively easy to run the basic admin templates.


Finally, there is Django, which is a web framework and not specifically a CMS. Repeat, it’s not a CMS. It’s built on the Python programming language, and it is the framework that undergirds the Ellington CMS, for one. The framework is used to power a pretty impressive list of database-driven sites. It’s open source, but you’ll need a server space to host it


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