One of the things I wanted to do this summer was convert the college newspaper site from Joomla to Drupal. There’s nothing wrong with Joomla as a CMS, but I couldn’t make it work the way I wanted for a newspaper site, and I figured if I was going to have to learn something in depth, I might as well follow the herd to Drupal.

Turns out, I didn’t have enough time for a learning curve of any kind of steepness, so instead I’ve moved the online newspaper over to WordPress, which I know better and which, with each release, gets better and better as a CMS.

The site is up now and I’ve started tweaking and hacking. As I go along, I plan to pass along what I’ve done in the occasional blog post. If it’s of value to anyone, that’s great.

A note: the Kwantlen Chronicle is produced as part of second-year students’ coursework. As there are only 16 students, there’s a steady but small flow of articles to the site. I’m more likely to be dealing with a dozen pieces a week than a day. The online Chronicle also has nothing to do with the print edition, even though both are produced by the same students. The online version is the student newspaper; the print edition, produced four times a semester, is themed. (The goal of the split was to get students used to the 24/7 reality of an online newspaper, while using the print edition to encourage telling stories in depth. Since we made the move, I’ve learned there’s another Canadian j-school that’s adopted the same model.)

The online Chronicle runs on a bog-standard WP install (not WP-MU), using the Revolution News theme. I’ve made a few modifications to WP and the theme so far: minor stuff such as changing the default size for the thumbnails that WP creates, and creating Custom Field entries to attach the thumbnails to front page teasers.

I’ve also added a number of plug-ins and this is the part of the post that may be of some value to some of you.

Based on experience with attacks on my own blog, the first three plug-ins I added were preventative:

  • Bad Behavior, which blacklists and picks off spambots before they hit the site. In the last seven days, it’s blocked more than 5,700 attempts.
  • wp-cache, which serves up frequently requested pages from a cache it creates, speeding up page loads.
  • WP-reCAPTCHA, a captcha based verification system for comments. I know captchas are not the flavour of the moment, but it’s working.

I’ve been slowly adding other plugins as required:

  • Add to Any, which creates an Ajax-y “share/save this” button for each post, with links to all the popular services.
  • Audio player, a simple but configurable MP3 player that lets me insert audio with an tag.
  • Category Order, a drag-and-drop way to organize the order categories appear in, allowing me to set the order of the sections in the menu bar.
  • Contact Form 7, a really simple and easy way to get an email form into the site where ever I need. It’s configurable, too.
  • Events, an admin panel add-on for adding events that will (once I get it set up) feed a calendar of events page. Lots of options, including setting a kill date.
  • Stats, because everybody loves stats, and because I understand I will need this when I get around to finding plug-ins that will allow me to put up a most-viewed list.

I’ve also slapped a Flickr badge in one of the sidebars, which is reading a Flickr search for anything tagged “kwantlen.” At the site, there’s a Chronicle & You page that encourages readers to tag their photos. I did some hacking on the Flickr code to remove the box around the badge, align everything left (instead of centre), etc.

(Another note: I’ve been doing this hacking of the various code files despite having limited knowledge of PHP and Javascript. I do know how to find variables, though, and a little bit of experimentation usually gets me where I’m going. Eventually. And sometimes accompanied by loud, bad language.)

Finally, I’ve set up a Twitter feed and provided a link in the same page box that offers email updates. The fact I was able to get the Twitter name ChronicleOnline, must mean I’m running a little ahead of the newspaper pack in grabbing good names.

Much remains to be done, including figuring out how to bring in three years worth of archives.

I’ll keep you posted and, if you have questions, tips or suggestions, drop ’em into the comments.

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