After two months of news production with my students at the Online Journalism course of URV, we have something to show and some tips to share. First impressions: WordPress makes publishing content very easy but makes consistency a hard task to achieve. So, you need to set very clear and detailed rules for format and style criteria and have to make the newsroom remember them. This is quite a burden in a journalistic environment, where a CMS should help reporters concentrate on content rather than give them too much flexibility.
Ironically enough, video was the easiest thing to deal with. We opted for Blip.tv as our host and followed their instructions for formatting, achieving very good technical quality. Having a single user at Blip.tv for the whole class actually works as an online TV channel for our magazine, which allows RSS sindication of the audiovisual material and adds visibility to our website.
Installing the Viper’s Video Quicktags plugin on WordPress we were able to use a very simple tag generated by Blip.tv (check for the “WordPress” option on the orange buttons on the right of the video page). Advantage is that the tag works both in the visual and HTML views of the CMS, which is crucial, as you’ll soon see.
We could not use Blip.tv for audio, as Viper’s plugin needs to set a video width and height and shows a black screen for the audios. Therefore we opted for a WordPress buit-in option. First, we needed to enable the upload of files to the server. Any FTP program should allow you to change the writing privileges of the folder you want to use to store your media (777 is the key you want to set) so that WP can send files from the post form without you having to use FTP everytime (which would be a burden for the reporters).
You upload MP3 files using the audio option of the “add media” icons at the top of the main text form in WP. One option is to embed the audio in the text, as a link. To do that you should use the word that acts as a link as the “title” of the audio in the audio form. A more elegant option is to embed a player between two paragraphs of text. To do that, you should have installed the WP-FLV plugin. Once you have uploaded the audio file, go to the HTML view of the post form and press the FLV button. You need the URL of the file (generated when you uploaded it), and should set the height to 0 so that only the player controls show. The downside of this option is that it generates html code that will be destroyed by WP if you switch back to visual view in the post form. Stupid but true.
This should be the easiest, but is actually the trickiest because WP is very flexible with photos. I have tried to convince my students to give photos the publication size (using a photo editor) before uploading them and then select “full size” in the upload options to guarantee that we control that aspect. Left and right alignment do not always work, may be a template issue.
In Mimbo (the one I opted to use), putting photos on the homepage requires adding a “Image” custom field with the name of the image file that you need to upload by FTP to a specific folder in the theme folder. Sounds cumbersome, but as the homepage is something that only one person at a given edition will be doing you can have the FTP set up in Dreamweaver on a specific computer and have the student-editor get there to upload the pictures, resized to fit the homepage requisites.
Students tend to write on MS Word and cut and paste their texts into the post form. I need to remind them all the time to switch to the HTML view before pasting, because the visual view keeps MS tags that alter the format of the text and end up being a mess.
Once all stories have been posted, it is time to generate the homepage. This is quite a bit of manual work, because we are trying to fool WP -designed to post stories in the homepage in inverted chronological order- to order the stories as we please. WP lets you edit the index.php template right from the CMS admin interface, and that’s what you do to get your customized homepage.
The key is knowing the id number of the categories of your publication (check them in the “Manage>Categories” page). To speed up production, you should create two “hidden” categories (use the Category Visibility-iPeat Rev plugin to hide them from the main website menu): “Main Story” and “Features”. You can asign these categories to the stories you want to show in the first position and the left column, respectively. Just need to make sure the ids in the template match the numbers of the categories you created. These are the stories where you will add the “Image” custom field with photos for the homepage.
For the right column, you may want to always keep the same sections/categories (this way you don’t need to edit the template everytime) or change them over time. Both left and right columns may be edited in the template to show more or less stories. They obviously pick up the latest published in the selected categories. The result is quite convincing and management can be reduced to a minimum.