Can WordPress solve our College Publisher woes?
For student newspaper Web sites, College Publisher is the big kahuna.
Most of the country’s collegiate publications use the service — more than 550, according to the MTV-owned company. It offers a content management system, prefab design templates and hosting, all free of charge. The other big selling point: It’s simplistic enough that no technical expertise is required.
It’s a good set-it-and-forget-it product. However, it’s not without its costs.
How do we dislike CP? Let me count the ways…
Large banners from national advertisers dominate the top and side of every page. Revenue sharing with papers for this ranges from nil to minuscule, if you’re lucky. Local ads can be added too, but the prime real estate belongs to CP.
Customization is a challenge, to put it mildly. That’s why CP sites look very similar in style and structure. Unfortunately, the standard isn’t a very good one — cluttered, outdated, clunky, often slow and hardly user-friendly.
If your publication is lucky enough to have a geek on staff, he or she will be limited in attempts to redesign, add new media or create outside-the-box features. Such efforts are either rendered impossible or made tedious. Though College Publisher is attempting to address this problem with a new version of its CMS, they’ve been behind the curve for years now.
It 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.
So online college media lags behind, with sites staid and shallow, standing in stark contrast to the ever-evolving, ever more dynamic Web at large.
The WordPress alternative
These complaints have been oft-repeated. Yet the few other options that do exist are daunting to most editors, those poor souls already short on time, money, and internet know-how. So they make do with CP for now.
However, several adventurous papers have recently turned to WordPress as an alternative. The popular open-source blogging software runs millions of blogs, including this one. It is endlessly customizable through a large number of themes and plugins offered by third parties.
Though not initially designed to be a full-fledged CMS, WordPress can be used as one with a little hacking. Both the Temple News and Miami Hurricane bought professional “premium” themes to do much of that work for them. You can read a report from Temple’s Sean Blanda on the process and get greater technical detail from Miami’s Brian Schlansky.
We’ll have more info on using WordPress for a college newspaper CMS in the days ahead.
WordPress is not alone. In the last few years, open-source CMSs have taken great leaps, making more power attainable and affordable to more people. Other quality tools we’re looking at include ExpressionEngine, Drupal and Django, the last of which is a Python-based framework more than a CMS.
Yet, to varying extents, all require coders and Web designers to build a site, including WordPress. That’s something few college publications have, or at least have much of. CoPress is trying to bridge that gap.
But how? What do you think? What are your priorities for your Web site? What must a viable College Publisher alternative offer? Take our brief first survey or let us know in the comments.