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How To Run A News Site And Newspaper Using WordPress And Google Docs

A former colleague of mine, William Davis, understands what a “web first” workflow is, and has made it happen through software at his newspaper in Maine.  The Bangor Daily News announced this week that it completed its full transition to open source blogging software, WordPress. And get this: The workflow integrates seamlessly with InDesign, meaning the paper now has one content management system for both its web and print operations. And if you’re auspicious enough, you can do it too — he’s open-sourced all the code!

The video embedded above is a screencast from Davis, which outlines the new editorial workflow.

A truly web-first workflow

  1. Reporters and editors compose all stories in Google Docs. Using labels and native commenting, the stories get sent through the editing process.
  2. When a story is ready to publish, it gets sent from Google Docs to WordPress with one click.
  3. In WordPress, editors can publish the story to the web, then set up a print headline and print subhead.
  4. The story then appears in inDesign, where print designers can lay out the print newspaper.

“WordPress drives both our website and our print edition — you can’t put an article into the print edition of the paper unless it’s been put into WordPress,” Davis, the online editor of The Bangor Daily News, said.

No more copying and pasting, hallelujah!

Prior to implementing the new system, The BDN was using an ATEX system called Dewarview for print and a proprietary Web CMS called Creative Circle.

“We would have to copy and paste from Dewarview to Creative Circle, and our bureau reporters didn’t have access to Dewarview so they would have to e-mail their stories in,” Davis said of the clunky, disconnected workflow.

It’s basically free

Rather than having to pay a licensing fee to a company that runs your content management system, what The BDN has set up is essentially free to run. Of course, there were upfront costs involved with paying freelancers to help write the plugins, and each month the website has to pay hosting fees, but the rest of the tools they use are free for everyone. WordPress is open source software that anyone can download and use. Google Docs is also a free product if your organization is small enough.

You can do it, too!

The beauty of open source is that everyone can contribute freely to the source code, making it that much more stronger and useful. Because Davis understands this, he’s open-sourced all of the software he used to build the new system and documented most of the other processes involved (like transferring archives, for example). The only real hurdle goes beyond technology — you’ll have to get your whole newsroom to adopt the process.

“A lot of what took us so long to roll this out has been because of the complexity of the site, not the complexity of the setup. We started using the system in September and slowly moved over desks until they were all on Google Docs,” Davis said. “What was really time-consuming was rebuilding our site, which is incredibly expansive and has a lot of moving parts. We’re open-sourcing most of our work, so I really think it’d be pretty simple for another paper to adopt the same workflow.”

Davis said that for him, adoption was mostly pain-free.

“The reporters here understand what we’re trying to do and why it’s important to get the news out as quickly as possible,” he said.

Ready to get started?

If you want to take a stab at your own similar setup, here’s the baseline set of plugins to install:

  • The Zoninator, which allows you to order content on your website by hand instead of chronologically.
  • Edit Flow, which allows you to manage your workflow within WordPress through custom roles, statuses, and a ton of other features.
  • Co-Authors Plus, which allows you to set multiple authors per post.
  • Media Credit, which allows you to natively set the credit for images, instead of including the information in cutlines.
  • CP Redirect, which allows you to remap URLs from your old site.
  • XML import, for importing your archives into WordPress.
  • Docs to WordPress, which allows you to send your Google Docs to WordPress.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that advertising was integrated into the web system. In fact, that process is still in the works.

Full disclosure: As I mentioned at the start of this post, William Davis is a former colleague of mine from CoPress, where we worked together virtually in college to help transition college newspapers to open source software.

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