Help me stop my paper from regressing to CP5

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Matthew Gerring

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Nov 29, 2010, 8:14:30 PM11/29/10
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Hi all.

The editors at my school's paper, at San Jose State of all places, are considering going back from WordPress to CP5. 

I know this is a terrible idea from experience, especially when we have a massive amount of capable computer engineering students and one of the best CmpE programs at a public university. A dearth of good hackers is not a problem we have-- they're just not in the newsroom yet.

Can anyone offer me some advice about talking the editors out of this, and also some strategies for recruiting CS students into the newsroom?

-- 
Matthew Gerring

Miles Skorpen

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Nov 29, 2010, 8:38:26 PM11/29/10
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What are their reasons for wanting to switch back? Dearth of programming staff?

Miles

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Daniel Drake

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Nov 29, 2010, 8:47:46 PM11/29/10
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I'm also curious about the backstory on this. What brought this about?

- Daniel

On Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 5:14 PM, Matthew Gerring <beat...@gmail.com> wrote:

--

Daniel Bachhuber

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Nov 29, 2010, 8:52:11 PM11/29/10
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I feel like I might be a part of this. They came to me to have their archives imported into WordPress and the project has been stalled for a few weeks because they don't have SSH on the server. In order to enable it, either the newsroom or the IT staff has to purchase a license to WinSSH ($100). And there's debate over who's responsibility that is.

Matt, check out these links:

http://www.copress.org/forum/web-strategies/what-do-you-look-for-in-an-online-editor/
http://www.copress.org/forum/web-strategies/search-for-an-online-editor/

Matthew Gerring

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Nov 29, 2010, 9:02:43 PM11/29/10
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I'm uploading their archives to my hard drive right now, I'm going to go home and convert everything for them. I thought it was funny that they mentioned you by name.

We don't have a dearth of programmers at all. This is Silicon F***ing Valley. What we need is a way to get them in the newsroom.

-- 
Matthew Gerring

On Monday, November 29, 2010 at 5:52 PM, Daniel Bachhuber wrote:

I feel like I might be a part of this. They came to me to have their archives imported into WordPress and the project has been stalled for a few weeks because they don't have SSH on the server. In order to enable it, either the newsroom or the IT staff has to purchase a license to WinSSH ($100). And there's debate over who's responsibility that is.

Matt, check out these links:

http://www.copress.org/forum/web-strategies/what-do-you-look-for-in-an-online-editor/
http://www.copress.org/forum/web-strategies/search-for-an-online-editor/

On Nov 29, 2010, at 8:38 PM, Miles Skorpen <mi...@milesskorpen.com> wrote:

What are their reasons for wanting to switch back? Dearth of programming staff?

Miles

Daniel Bachhuber

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Nov 29, 2010, 9:17:07 PM11/29/10
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Cool. If you use the Python conversion script, I always welcome patches for anything that has broken between the last time it was used and now. Also, I highly recommend making a backup of the entire db before you start the process, and don't allow editing while the migration is taking place

Alex Vera

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Nov 29, 2010, 9:22:55 PM11/29/10
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Hi, 

Here are some disadvantages to going back to CP5:

1. Loss of control over web ads and layout personalization.
2. Wordpress has a higher search rank in google.
3. Wordpress can expand with the implementation of plug-ins while College Publisher is limited to its own proprietary widgets.
4. Server uptime: there are hundreds of college newspapers that use CP and with higher traffic can brink downtime on your own site.
5. Wordpress allows you to manipulate layout for posts.
6. Author indexing is available in Wordpress.

Etc. Need I go on?

ALEX VERA
Editor-in-Chief, The Minaret

Graphic Designer - Web Programmer - Journalist
mobile 813.401.1294office 813.257.3462





--

Matthew Gerring

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Nov 29, 2010, 9:23:39 PM11/29/10
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It sounds like the big reason they're thinking about switching back is that there's a vacancy in the Online Editor position, which I can't take until next Fall because of some goofy bureaucracy issues.

They're having scaling problems, and they haven't even thought about a solution- they didn't even have any kind of caching turned on when I looked at it just now. I got that going, but there's a lot more they could be doing.

Part of it is also the archives issue- they've been trying to get 10 semesters worth of stuff into the WordPress database and haven't been able to do it, but I should be able to take care of that.

They're also worried about sustainability and technical knowledge, but I feel like the right person would have an easy time recruiting CS and Computer Engineering students, since there's no other opportunity on campus to help run a high-load production website.

Do any of you have any stories or strategies about getting non-journalism people into the newsroom to do web stuff?

-- 
Matthew Gerring

Matthew Gerring

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Nov 29, 2010, 9:24:47 PM11/29/10
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Go on right ahead. Anything you've got. I have my own set of arguments, I'd like to augment them as much as possible.

-- 
Matthew Gerring
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Bryan Murley

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Nov 29, 2010, 9:36:28 PM11/29/10
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Just a thought, but how about abandoning a tradition of innovation as
a college newspaper in favor of what's easy for the current crew?

--
Bryan Murley
Director for Innovation
Center for Innovation in College Media
http://www.collegemediainnovation.org/blog
==========
Assistant Professor
Eastern Illinois University

twitter: @cicm

Greg Linch

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Nov 29, 2010, 10:03:33 PM11/29/10
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Some of these might be obvious, but I'll toss them all out:

- Recruit the technical people as *people.* People with valuable skills and perspectives, beyond just being techies. And..
- ...make sure they're more treated as more than just IT. 
- Ask why they as individuals are interested or not interested in the job and respond based on those specifics cases. You might be able to provide insights that change their mind if they didn't have a clear understanding before.
- Encourage and listen to their ideas when recruiting them.
- Pass along posts Brian Boyer, Ryan Mark and others who came to journalism with programmer backgrounds have written (check MediaShift IdeaLab and personal blogs).

Good luck!
Greg

Justin Taylor

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Nov 29, 2010, 10:29:43 PM11/29/10
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How strange. San Jose State just spent about a year making the transition from CP4 to WP as I understand. Please don't let them make the mistake of going back, College Publisher's "customer service" only seems appealing to everyone until they realize how terrible it is.

Matthew Gerring

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Nov 29, 2010, 10:41:41 PM11/29/10
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Nobody is thrilled with the prospect, there just aren't enough technical people on staff to deal with the existing issues of running the whole thing in-house yet.


-- 
Matthew Gerring
Sent with Sparrow

Andrew Spittle

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Nov 29, 2010, 11:09:45 PM11/29/10
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To play devil's advocate on CS students: This may sound kind of silly,
but how do you define "technical people?" Do you really need CS
students to run and manage the site or do you just need someone who is
inquisitive and willing to learn quickly?

If CS students aren't interested in working on the site perhaps you
don't really need CS students to run the site (we didn't have any when
I was in school). If the technical problems aren't compelling enough
to attract those students then maybe the position (and expectations of
who will apply for it) needs to be re-framed.

If the editors believe that a CS student is needed to maintain the
site then it might be best in the short-term to work on changing those
beliefs rather than trying to attract CS students.

--
Andrew Spittle | and...@gmail.com | http://andrewspittle.net/

Alex Vera

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Nov 29, 2010, 11:10:18 PM11/29/10
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Just a thought...Why is there this much debate over the topic of switching. Scaling is easy, in terms of getting more resources. Is the reason monetary?

Also, each section editor can upload articles online. Anyone can be taught to upload articles and media online. All you would need in turn would be one individual to publish the articles. That's one kind of structure we have been using at our paper and it seems to have worked for us.

I don't necessarily think you need an online team for maintenance and content. Also, what kind of maintenance needs to be done, if any?

ALEX VERA
Editor-in-Chief, The Minaret

Graphic Designer - Web Programmer - Journalist
mobile 813.401.1294office 813.257.3462





Joe Castelli

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Nov 29, 2010, 11:33:07 PM11/29/10
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Amen, Bryan Murley! Lots of great reasons not to revert.

Have the people advocating this ever used the old system? WordPress
and independent hosting blow the other stuff out of the water. I've
yet to see any downtime with The Northerner's new site. I had all
sorts of problems I could do nothing about while I was the Web EIC
using CP5. Lack of control and absolute helplessness were huge factors
for me.

I also quickly grew tired of seeing a screen full of Java exceptions.
CP5 is based on Polopoly, which was built in Java. Java is notoriously
slow. It's great for a lot of reasons, but I can't begin to reason why
it was deemed a good idea to host multiple school papers using the
same Java-based CMS, on God only knows how many servers. It was worse
for my small staff. I'd be helping with the print edition for much of
the day, then be doing the Web stuff far later — when every other
school sharing those same resources was doing the same thing. I once
waited something like 15 minutes for something to update only to watch
it blow lunch. And those exceptions did me no good, as I could do
nothing about it but call.

I'm pretty much preaching to the choir here, but WordPress is a quick,
efficient little bundle of PHP. Java's one of my favorite programming
languages, but it was originally meant for cross-platform
applications. PHP is a Web scripting language, by design, and that's
worth mentioning to the people who are trying to regress. On my
personal WebFaction account, I've got three completely separate WP
installs and one Drupal install, and have barely put a scratch in any
of my disk space. I can hop on any *nix-like box or PuTTY, SSH into my
server, run top and see that the processor on the machine is breezing
along without a blink. That alone is reason enough for me...

A couple of other points worth mentioning to the editors:

*Control of your content. Being able to back up your own stuff is
important, and easy. If they revert, then want to go back to an
independent solution, they're back to the same hell it was getting out
in the first place. I'm STILL finding that stories were flat out
missing from the archives they sent us. It's bad.

*Open source is a good thing. whitehouse.gov is using Drupal now.
Switching over added a small army of developers keeping the site
secure, and constantly working on improvements. You can't beat having
so many people there to help.

*There is no way of quantifying how much great info is out there to
help resolve any issues one encounters with a WP install. I'm sure any
of us would bet money that a given problem one is having has already
been encountered, solved, and documented for all to see.

On the getting-people-in-here note — You can't beat networking for
stuff like this (as opposed to just putting up a flyer or something).
Any time you're dealing with folks who just aren't all that proactive
about getting involved on campus, face time is a great strategy. I was
personally recruited when I joined the paper. I really didn't
understand how it'd affect my education for the better to get
involved, and had no sense of how badly they actually needed me. At
NKU, professors were always cool with us visiting and using a little
class time to talk to students about opportunities with us. I'd
definitely give that a go, if not at least making a few friends and
talking to 'em about it.

Kind of along the lines of what Greg said, I'd also get 'em thinking
about their resume. That experience can make a big difference coming
out of school.

Greg Linch

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Nov 29, 2010, 11:57:15 PM11/29/10
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Piggybacking on Andrew, I completely agree; thus, my use of technical instead of CS or something else. 

When I was editor of The Miami Hurricane from 07-08, the previous "webmaster" was a CS student and his hand-picked successor, who I hired to succeed him, was a computer engineering student. We were on CP4 and he basically still did the old shovelware workflow (before we switched to WP the next summer). Needless say, he was grossly over-qualified. Beyond that, he answered questions in the CP forums. 

He had to resign for personal reasons and I hired Brian Schlansky, a technically-inclined visual journalism student. It was probably the best hire I ever made of someone who I didn't already know well. When we moved from CP4 to WP, Brian had the foundation to do it and learned whatever he needed on the job. By the next school year, the School of Comm's engineering dept/IT was calling him to help with their server needs.

Also, another anecdote: we talked with a couple of CS students/PHP devs and decided to pass on their offer to help -- if they were paid thousands of dollars... They're both good guys, but weren't really into into the project beyond it being a paid job and, honestly, we realized we didn't really need them. (Brian and I are now re-reading the email thread that led up to our meeting with those devs, haha.) 

</reminiscing>

Best,
Greg 

Daniel Drake

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Nov 30, 2010, 3:59:53 AM11/30/10
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Matt,

My university just turned down my pitch for moving to WordPress.org, citing (a) lack of a real need and (b) technical challenges. Let me play devil's advocate and give you their take on it.

While you and me are both enthusiastic about what WP could potentially be used for, college newspapers may not be there mentally yet. I personally think ours shot itself in the leg by going with a boilerplate website, but sometimes we have to give these things time. Someday, the university told me, our media outlet will have developed to a point where it needs the power and control offered by WordPress.org. But for us, that day hasn't arrived yet. If you suspend your own assumptions about WP and talk to profs and editors about what they actually want and need from their online presence going forward, you may find desires or necessities that CP can not deliver.

The technological challenge we both face is legitimate. WordPress needs the occasional core upgrade, and plugins/themes must be installed, modified and updated. Can we guarantee that someone will always be there if something goes boom? Not right now, but you're working on it by asking around and hopefully talking to the right people in the university. You may actually want to concede this point and stand with your opponents on this one. If there is enough of a need for WP, you can then say: "OK, we all agree there are challenges to be overcome. Let's work together to solve them." Right now, people are looking to you alone for the answers.

In the short term, I think your best bet is to expose actual flaws in College Publisher, rather than promote the potential benefits of WordPress. Your university is concerned about sustainability, so bring a stack of articles/blog posts about CP being unsustainable, and evidence of how WP handles it better. Do the same for other concerns they might have. If you just get the newspaper to accept WP for its most basic features today, there will be plenty of time to explore the wonders of themes and plugins tomorrow.

To answer your question about ways to hire web developers, my best advice is to build political support. Talk to the right professors, staff and department chairs about what is needed, and ask for their advice. They'll know what strings to pull to make things happen.

- Daniel

Suzanne Yada

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Nov 30, 2010, 12:45:15 PM11/30/10
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*cracks knuckles* 
*ahem*

I was the online editor at SJSU two semesters ago when we switched from CP4 to WordPress. I was on campus just last week to help teach a class, and when I was done I was pulled into the newsroom and got their version of what's going on.

Here's the issues:

* The site went down for a day at the most horrendous time. They had a big breaking story, and as soon as they pressed the publish button, the server tanked. That rattled them A LOT. They realize they have better things to do than play IT on their own servers. (This is the whole reason CoPress exists, in its previous and current forms.)

* Going back to CP means the return of any sort of archive, complete or not. We've been trying to get 10 years' worth of archives up on the site for the past semester. I am partially responsible for this for handing that task off to the next guy, because by the time I graduated I was burned out and said "It's your problem now." (Wow, I'd be great at customer support.)

* The sales team at CP convinced some of the powers that be that the new Access Network acquisition has changed everything. The SJSU newsroom is under the impression that the next CP upgrade will include WordPress-like features AND control of design AND an iPhone/Android app AND having all their archives back AND the ability to call someone else in the middle of the night with site issues. In other words, baby, I didn't mean to hit you, I've changed, please come back to me, I'll give you flowers and roses for the rest of your life.

* Red tape. For example, I remember when I left there was a big argument with administration over whether we could host the site on the big powerful .edu server sitting empty and unused. Admins were really touchy over the prospect of just ANYONE being able to read/write to an .edu server.  So many hoops to jump through, because so many people are gatekeepers. I don't think that's unique to this school, but it's still a huge issue.


In any case, Matt, your name came up more than once in my conversations with them. Since I've only met you at the Hacks/Hackers event for about 10 minutes, I could only highly recommend you based on the company you keep, i.e. CoPressers. The staff is very interested in using your skills but are wary since you haven't been a reporter yet. (For everyone else: Every SJSU journalism student must be a reporter first before they're an editor on staff. Call me crazy, but I don't think that's bureaucracy, I think that's smart. I learned so much as a reporter at the Spartan Daily -- even though I don't want to be a reporter as a career anyway!)

Sal is the executive editor and he makes hiring decisions. He's given a pot of gold to divvy up among the editors for stipends. It's not difficult to convince him to spare some cash for a web dev. The problem is CS students are told to demand fair wages unless it's their own project. Fair wages in CS != fair wages in journalism != fair wages in school projects.

But try recruiting anyway. They can use this lack of online editor situation to finally -- FINALLY -- start talking to other departments. It's true that many schools don't need a CS student and can find someone in-house, but in San Jose it's stupid NOT to reach out.

But in the meantime, if you can't be that person this semester, do what you can to convince them to not switch back. Daniel D. makes a good point: Focus on CP's deficiencies, not WP's possibilities. Don't focus on the technical benefits of the switch, because that goes over everyone's heads. Focus on what they do know: People, time, content and money. 

Here's the arguments you should make:

MONEY MONEY MONEY. They're under the impression that CP takes 70% of the ad revenue. That is highway robbery. SJSU has its own advertising staff and degree program, they should know better than to accept that horrendous deal! Crunch the numbers and show the ad adviser Tim Hendrick. Keep in mind that staff time = money too, so the middle-of-the-night IT call is a cost that needs to be outweighed by the income you make. If you can finagle the numbers to show the income would support hiring a CS student, do it.

TRAINING. This is the main thing that is keeping them from immediately switching over. The advisers do realize that WordPress is a much better real-world learning environment, because the industry actually uses it. Give them credit where credit is due, then re-emphasize this over and over and over. And, yes, dealing with server issues adds to the students' education. (Richard Craig may make the argument that if no student will, he will, and he just doesn't have the time. It's a legitimate argument, so prepare to answer that with the idea of a CS student.)

SCALING. There are fixes you can do to prevent the possibility of server downtime again. It's a hard sell for this, because, like I said, they're very rattled from the first time it went down. But convince them that calling someone else gives a very false sense of security. I remember one night CP went down, we called support, the site was out because of a storm on the East Coast, and we just waited the whole night for them to fix it. To be honest, it's much less stress waiting around than running around trying to fix it yourself. But convince them that the site could have been up and running much, much sooner if we had the keys to the kingdom. Convince them that stress is good if it's educational. Which leads to the last point:

BEING GOOD MEANS SPENDING TIME AND EFFORT. How many hours do editors spend proofreading the copy, looking up every esoteric word, making the layout juuuust right, then proofing the printouts one more time for the hard copy edition? The website is more permanent than the paper and ink they print on. It will be seen 10 years from now. Print won't. This is exactly why site maintenance and quality and control are important. This is our legacy. It has to be done right. The past semester on our own wasn't done right, but there's a huge opportunity to fix it. Capitalize on it!

Matt, I'm in San Jose on Saturday to do a social media workshop. We really, really should meet up. I'll e-mail you privately.

-Suzanne
Twitter: @suzanneyada
Need to get a hold of me ASAP? Send me a text: http://awayfind.com/suzanneyada

Matthew Gerring

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Nov 30, 2010, 2:25:29 PM11/30/10
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I know this is inside baseball, but I've been everything from a reporter to editor-in-chief. The SJSU journalism advisers seem to have this idea that if you haven't done it for them, you've never done it, but that's total bullshit. I've been working for publications for 8 years and have the clip book to prove it.

Anyway. Thanks for the insight.

-- 
Matthew Gerring
Sent with Sparrow

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