First off, disclosure. This website is offered by Camayak, a New York-based company working on a multi-platform publishing product, due for commercial release in October 2011. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s not unusual for us to field daily questions from college newspapers, who are looking to move to WordPress. We decided to make the information we give them as available as possible, to any student newspaper considering WordPress as a viable solution for displaying their online publication.
Our goal is to demystify the process of moving your student newspaper website to WordPress, to create a clear and reliable source of information, that publishers can trust.
We’d like to thank the attendees at the Spring 2011 New York CMA convention, for helping us create this page.
Why you should consider WordPress
WordPress is a highly flexible open source publishing platform written in PHP. It’s different than most other CMS options in the college market, in that it’s free to download, free to install, free to customize, and free to redistribute. Here are its important attributes:
- Open source – Free software gives you the freedom to use the software as you’d like. You can modify the software as you’d like, and distribute those improvements to others. This has really significant practical applications.
- User friendly – WordPress is incredibly easy to use. There’s extensive documentation on how to get started (books even), and your entire staff can have accounts for posting to the web.
- Strong community – Did you know WordPress powers over 10% of all websites? Millions of online publishers use WordPress which means lots of documentation, video examples and constant, new functionality in the form of plugins. WordPress is used by some of the most respected publishers out there, including: The New York Times, the BBC, The Wall Street Journal and Wired, as well as corporations like Sony, Ebay, Yahoo and even Ben and Jerry’s.
- Personalization with themes – Themes are how the design of your website is controlled. There are hundreds of free themes in the WordPress.org directory, and there are also premium theme providers like Pagelines, Gabfire and WooThemes who offer support in addition to a good-looking theme.
- Full control over advertising – An advantage to hosting your own content management system is that you have complete control over the advertising run on your website. Don’t want any advertising? Don’t install advertising software. Want to target the communication department’s alumni campaign to a specific state? Use Google Ad Manager for free and pick the state.
- Regularly updated with new features – WordPress 3.1, released on February 23rd, includes contributions from more than 180 developers and adds features like a new streamlined writing interface, post formats like Tumblr if your theme supports it, and better functionality for linking to past archives.
- Extend functionality with plugins – This means you can extend the standard functionality and add features like Twitter widgets, permissions management, Google Analytics integration, and guest content contribution.
It can be a bit unsettling to have so many options and to have to choose software instead of a vendor, but WordPress is a better option for the long-term because of its ease of use, power, cost-effectiveness and flexibility.
What you’ll need to do to move to WordPress
1. Assess CMS options
Although this informational website supports WordPress as a preferred method of publishing college news online, we want to frame WordPress in context of the other common options available to college media. When looking for a new content management system, you’ll probably want to consider:
- Feature set
- Ease of use
- Reliability and support
College Publisher (Access Network)
College Publisher is a Polopoly-based CMS resold through Access Network (formerly Viacom’s MTV). They offer a standard ($1,995/year for websites under 25,000 pageviews a month) and pro version, as well as WordPress hosting ($4,500/year). Unique in the market, Access Networks requires their advertising network to be run on all websites. Advertising revenue splits apply for college newspapers at both ends of the spectrum (i.e. under or over 25,000 website pageviews/month). For years, College Publisher was the go to option for college media because of their previously free offering; CICM has good details on their recent business model switch. Current clients include the Daily Orange, Boston College Heights and the Daily Emerald.
Gryphon (Detroit Softworks)
Gryphon was built from the ground-up at Michigan State University’s The State News. It offers batch upload text and media files via FTP, unlimited sections and pages, native support for audio, video, images, and soundslides, and group-based permissions structure. Costs are between $1,500 and $3,000 for setup, $2,000 to migrate your archives, plus between $250 and $375 per month to host the website. Current clients include New Mexico Daily Lobo, UNC Daily Tarheel, and MSU’s The State News.
BLOX (Town News)
BLOX is the latest version of Town News’ CMS and offers blogs, a calendar, polls, and integration with print subscriber services. Although Town News doesn’t advertise BLOX pricing on their website (as of March 10th, 2011), the set-up is understood to take 60 days and cost $1,500. Thereafter their monthly license fee is charged at $300 – $350. According to this Town News blog post, twenty student newspaper websites are launched or setting up BLOX-powered websites. These include The Orion (Chico State University), The Herald (Western Kentucky University), and the Independent Florida Aligator (University of Florida).
2. Purchase web hosting
Once you’ve made the decision to go with WordPress, you’ll want to purchase web hosting. Much like you run an application like Photoshop on your computer, WordPress needs server space for the application to run on.
When you’re debating which hosting service to go with, you should consider:
- Type of support you receive (email vs. phone vs. none) – This should match to your needs
- Performance – How many other websites will you share your server with? Are they high traffic, or do they have the potential to be?
- Storage – How much space do you get (usually measured in GB)? How does this compare to your current archives, and what do you think your growth rate will be?
- Bandwidth – How much traffic will you have? Are you delivering a lot of high-resolution images or audio?
All of these will factor into the price.
There’s an important distinction between the types of hosting, too. “Managed WordPress hosting” means you’ll pay a little bit more to have the hosting company keep WordPress up to date and running fast. Standard web hosting will generally cost less, but you miss out on regular, guaranteed maintenance.
Here are a few options with their pros and cons.
Page.ly is a newer entrant to the managed WordPress hosting space and starts at $19.95/month. Their offering includes: a two-minute setup process, automated WordPress and plugins upgrades, nightly backups, and the ability to install any plugin or theme. You can also purchase “power-ups” like email addresses (although you can easily use Google Apps for free) and full FTP access.
- Fully managed WordPress hosting means they install WordPress and keep it up-to-date
- Curated set of plugins installed by default
- Easy access to premium themes from Press75, StudioPress, and WooThemes
- Costs a little bit more than basic shared hosting
Best for: Small to medium-size student newspaper new to WordPress without any particularly tech-savvy students on staff.
School Newspapers Online
- Focused on set-up and support
- Affordable $200/year ongoing fee
- Plans to offer Colleger Publisher-to-WordPress archive migration
- Bandwidth scales, according to use
- $600 set-up fee
- Larger clients may out-grow the support requirements
Best for: small to medium-size newspapers looking for a good amount of support in getting set-up with WordPress.
Webfaction is a UK-based web hosting company that offers fast web hosting accounts at lower cost. It starts at $9.50/month and you can purchase upgrades like additional storage space.
- Faster than most “shared” hosting like GoDaddy or Hostgator.
- Install WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and other applications with a one-click installer
- 100 GB of storage and 500 GB of bandwidth with the base plan
- Free email inboxes
- Easily host more than one website
- Responsive 24/7 support via email
- Payment is by credit card or PayPal only
- Support is only via email and not necessarily for every question you have about WordPress
- No automated backup
Best for: small to medium-size student newspaper with someone on staff who’s already familiar with configuring WordPress or is ambitious and wants to learn.
- Focused on scalability and performance
- One-click “staging”, or a demo site where you can make CSS tweaks, install plugins, and experiment with a copy of your website
- 24x7x365 monitoring and response
- More expensive than other options
- Payment by Visa, American Express, Mastercard or PayPal
Best for: medium to large-size student newspaper with someone on staff who’s already familiar with configuring WordPress or is ambitious and wants to learn.
3. Set up the website
Depending on the hosting provider you chose, WordPress may already be installed for you. If it’s not, don’t worry; WordPress is known for its famous five minute install. You’ll need to follow these steps:
- Point your domain at a folder in your server space
- Download the latest copy of WordPress
- Create a MySQL database using your web host’s control panel and save the access credentials
- Upload your copy of WordPress to the folder you specified in step one
- Visit your domain in your browser. Go through WordPress’ quick install process and enter the database credentials when prompted.
You’re done and ready to publish!
4. Find a theme to fit your needs
WordPress themes give you the power to choose exactly how content is presented on your website. Basically, each theme is a collection of files WordPress uses to determine how to display a particular page (e.g. section page vs. single article page vs. homepage). There are thousands of themes you can select from, premium or free. Before starting the search, it’s greatly beneficial to set an budget and requirements.
First, brainstorm a list of features and functionality you want, as well as layout. Here’s a list of possibilities to get you started:
- Navigation position in the header, and whether it supports WordPress’ custom menus
- Media slideshow on the homepage
- Color scheme, and whether there are alternate options available
- Homepage layout (reverse chronological blog vs. magazine vs. others)
- Author profile pages listing most recent articles with bios and pictures
- Any widgets packaged with the theme
- Different types of custom page templates
These and other functional elements should be prioritized over design because aspects like color and masthead can easily be changed with CSS. Some premium themes also include options to change functional details, like switching the homepage from a blog format to a magazine-style format.
As for finding a theme, there are a couple of routes you can take.
One, you can purchase a premium theme from providers like Press75, Gabfire, WooThemes, Pagelines, and others. There’s an entire directory on WordPress.org. When purchasing a premium theme, you’re likely to get a well-maintained, open-source theme. What you’re actually paying for is ongoing support. If you have a question about options or customization, there will generally be a forum for you to ask it in. Investing in a flexible premium theme would be our recommendation.
Two, you can chose a theme from the WordPress.org theme directory. These are free to use, open source, and can provide a foundation for a more personalized style. They may or may not be supported by the author, may or may not be regularly updated, and generally have varying levels of code quality. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
5. Choose plugins to add functionality
WordPress plugins take an already powerful publishing platform and make infinitely extensible. WordPress comes with a base set of functionality by default, including the ability to assign authors to posts, change the permalink structure, embed videos, and schedule content to be published at a set time in the future. Plugins extend this base functionality, and allow you to tailor your website to your needs.
Here are several of our favorites specific to publishing:
- WordPress.com Custom CSS – Use your own CSS to tweak your website without modifying your theme’s files. Includes a revision history so you can always backtrack to prior versions.
- Co-Authors Plus – Assign multiple bylines to an article.
- W3 Total Cache – Speed up the load time of your website with caching. Caching takes a generated page of your website and stores it statically for future use.
- After the Deadline – Spelling, style, and grammar checker powered by artificial intelligence. Catches misused words, passive voice, and cliches.
- Embedly – Embed rich media from over 160 providers solely by copy and pasting the URL into the post box. Embedly fetches the embed code for you, and resizes it dynamically according to settings you specify.
- Post Author Box – Add an informational box about the author to the beginning or ending of every post (or page).
- Google Calendar Events – Parses Google Calendar feeds and displays the events as a calendar grid or list on a page, post or widget.
- JSON API – For the programatically-inclined, access all of your content through a JSON API. Useful for pulling content into your website with jQuery.
- Twitter Tools – Automatically publish your articles to Twitter, and pull in your most recent tweets into a widget area.
- Subscribe to Comments – Allow commenters to subscribe to email notifications on threads they’ve commented on. Increase enagement with your website with repeat visitors.
- Emphasis – Paragraph- and sentence-level linking and highlighting. Originally developed for nytimes.com, Michael Donohoe open-sourced the code and Ben Balter made it into a WordPress plugin. Every website should have emphasis.
Let us know of any plugins you think we’re missing by emailing email@example.com
6. Secure a line of support you can rely on
After you’ve set up your website, the greatest challenge you’ll have isn’t the day to day operation of your website, but getting it fixed when something goes screwy.
Depending on your hosting provider, you may have access to anything from basic to advanced WordPress support. Most hosting providers only take support questions by support ticketing or email, but have teams distributed around the world so they can take questions 24/7. Basic support could include troubleshooting why the site is running slow if it doesn’t have anything to do with WordPress, or diagnosing database issues. Advanced support could include assistance with upgrading WordPress or plugins, or figuring out why the PHP code snippet you copy and pasted into your theme doesn’t work. You’ll obviously pay more on a monthly basis ($50/month vs. $10/month) for greater WordPress expertise, but we’d recommend it if you can afford it.
We’d highly recommend that you look on your campus for technical expertise to bring on staff. “Web Editor” is an antiquated position, and everyone should have a role in bringing content to the web. Instead, hire a tech-savvy student and make their participation a key part of relaunching your website with WordPress. If you do that, they’ll gain enough familiarity to help train the rest of your staff and then be able to leverage the amazing amount of documentation on the web to continue to develop the website. Here’s another post on hiring on the CoPress website.
Lastly, for freelance development work, you can email the CoPress list serv with your project to see who might be the best fit. Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, also maintains an extensive listing of WordPress consultants. When contracting freelance work, whether it’s help with upgrading WordPress to the latest version or building new page templates, we’d encourage you to be as specific as possible with your requests. The project will be done quicker, cost less money, and better meet your specifications.