WordPress as your Web authoring tool
I’ve been pimping free WordPress blogs as the way to get started online for journalist bloggers, journalism educators, and students for months now (ever since I migrated this blog to WordPress, in fact). Most people will be content (even happy) with a free blog hosted at WordPress.com. (Real geeks, on the other hand, can download and install WordPress on their own Web server.)
Recently I have started recommending that folks look at WordPress as their first CMS (content management system) for an online publication. Not big daily newspapers, mind you! But for a lot of smaller and less demanding publications, as well as micro sites, having a free and open-source CMS (with a dependable MySQL back-end) has a lot of benefits. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel — you can get a fully functioning wheel, with extras, for free!
Having done the wrangling and since forgotten all about it, I’m recommending WordPress.
So, more to the point — which WordPress theme works best for a publication site?
Themes are like templates — ready-made designs that you can choose and use for your WordPress site. You don’t have to roll your own, like I did — in fact, most people select a ready-made theme from the huge online repository. Most themes are free, just like WordPress itself. If you get tired of the one you’ve got, you can quickly switch to a new one.
Some themes, however, have been developed for professional use. The most popular of these for commercial publishing are the Revolution themes by Brian Gardner. Prices range from $80 (for use of one theme on a single Web site) to $400 (for all-you-can-eat and all seven variants of the Revolution theme). To install a theme like Revolution, you must install WordPress on your own server (you cannot use the version hosted at WordPress.com).
If you’re wondering why I am touting WordPress and not Drupal or Django, read this earlier post. People I respect hugely (such as Matt Waite) swear by Django. If you want to totally roll your own application, go for it. But if you merely want to launch a frequently updated publication (or any other kind of informational Web site), at least give WordPress a fair look. (As I said, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!)
You can read about how the j-school at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada, adopted the Revolution news theme for its student publications, including The Thunderbird. The Cal State Fresno student newspaper, The Collegian Online, is also in WordPress.
- For a free WordPress theme designed for publications, see The Morning After, by Arun Kale.
- There is a list of WordPress themes suitable for use by an online magazine.
- To browse screenshots of 100 WP themes organized by type (e.g., magazine themes), see the post at Smashing Magazine.
- You can view all of my del.icio.us bookmarks tagged WordPress and CMS.
Benefits for journalism educators
If you assign each student to set up and use a free WordPress blog, the students will get experience using a CMS that’s not radically different from those used in most newspaper newsrooms today.
You can also assign some enhancements or additional tasks to get the students to conquer their fear of scripting and software.
For teachers and professors, starting up your own blog can be a great way to organize your communications with students. No more lost e-mails! Some educators are publishing their full syllabus and all assignments on WordPress (or Blogger) blogs. You don’t need to wait for someone to show you how to do it. Honestly, it’s self-explanatory once you click the “Get Started” button.