Blogs as a Student Content Management System

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Dec 8, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)

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Blogs as a Student Content Management System

Rick Musser and Staci Martin
-
Wolfe

Media Convergence: Cooperation, Collisions, and Change

October 13
-
15, 2005, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA



In the summer of 2004, as work crews began construction

on what would become the The Stan
and Madeline Stauffer Multimedia Newsroom, the University of Kansas School of Journalism
faced some tough technological decisions. By fall, our new newsroom needed to have a plan for
training students to produce web conte
nt. Our convergence
-
centered curriculum focused on
educating students about all aspects of multimedia. We wanted our graduates to have the skills
necessary to work in online media as well as print and broadcast.

Curriculum Challenge

Our
cross
-
platform
teac
hing strategy was
,

and is
,

an ambitious one. We
strive to prepare

every
news student in the basic skills of text, video and online reporting before they move on to
advanced media
classes
.

The faculty believe
s

that, at some point, our students will have to
work
with a variety of platforms, no matter what medium they choose as their primary emphasis. We
also believe they
need

to be prepared to switch

between

media.

Frankly, we had no really good way of making that happen

online
.

Not that we hadn’t been trying
. For at least two years, we had been teaching students to use
Dreamweaver in Multimedia Reporting, our intermediate class that all news majors


regardless
of media specialty


have to pass. In that class, we built on the newswriting and video skills
lear
ned in our introductory course. Online journalism was first introduced in the intermediate
class. The success of our web approach was, to be generous, mixed. After two hours of software
training, we turned students loose to do two online stories, first in
teams and later alone. We set
up templates for Dreamweaver and provided technical help in our labs. Some projects contained
online journalism that would make any teacher proud: well
-
sourced text stories accompanied by
well
-
edited video segments, rollover m
aps, graphics and links. Other projects, only a mother
could love: garish red type on black backgrounds, gothic sites with rambling, pointless stories
spiked with ugly video, bungled HTML code and links that led to 404 File Not Found error pages


all turn
ed in on CDs that wouldn’t play.

Blaming the students for their online shortcomings would be unfair. Dreamweaver had proved
too cumbersome for the average journalism student. We had developed student media web sites
before, and students with previously
-
de
veloped computer skills were doing fine, even enjoying
the chance to work with Dreamweaver. Advanced courses in online journalism had produced
web projects with only the usual teaching tussles. But if you assume, as KU does, that every
news student ought t
o have a basic introduction to web
-
based writing and reporting, then far too
many of our students experienced online journalism as a sweaty, late
-
night, bad dream of lost
files. Even with increased training and improved templates, learning basic skills was

too often an
experience of waiting for an already
-
on
-
overtime lab worker to fix your mysterious problems. It
also seemed as if some students spent more time picking their lime
-
green color scheme than
gathering, writing and editing the stories.

Clearly, we

needed another solution, and the most logical approach was to adopt a content
management system (CMS).

Finding a CMS

Journalism schools aren’t alone in the quest for a better way to manage content. Many media
organizations are struggling to catalog, maint
ain and archive the news. As creating multimedia
content becomes easier and audience demands for multimedia content increase, journalism
schools and media organizations face the daunting task of organizing all this new data and
making it available to repor
ters, producers and audiences.

Before the summer of 2004, the news faculty at KU probably had never used the term “CMS.”
Of course, we had been dealing with content management systems on student newspapers since
the days of paper
-
tape
-
loaded programs on ce
ntral processing units from Compugraphic. Our TV
newsroom had just purchased a CMS called “Newsroom” for its newscasts.
But

w
hat we needed
was a
system for
managing
class

content
, a system that could display text, video,
links, digital
pho
tography, slide shows and graphics while allowing us to manage them at minimal expense
with minimally
-
skilled content creators.

There is, of course, a whole industry out there willing to supply universities just that kind of
setup


for a price.

We quickl
y developed a set of requirements for such a system:



A system that was well documented and provided an infrastructure that could survive
administrator turnover.



A simple
-
to
-
maintain system with easy
-
to
-
update templates.



A system that was user
-
friendly.



A
stand
-
alone system that could survive the corporate demise of the vendor.



A professional support team available to assist with design, implementation and other issues
that might arise down the line (on
-
site support if possible).



Phone support (24
-
hour if p
ossible).



Support for both Macs and PCs.



Ability to communicate with multiple database types.



Consulting services for incorporating the CMS into our existing workflow.



Open
-
standards architecture.



Cross
-
browser support.



Reasonable cost upfront, reasonable
cost for maintenance and upgrades.


Then we started to price out the vendors. What we found was not pretty. The systems that could
meet our needs would have chewed through a quarter of our newsroom budget. Ingeniux
(ingeniux.com) was one of the final conte
nders.

Ingeniux

PROS

CONS

Use of content in raw form not limited to any
specific media technology

Not complete turn
-
key…Still needs template
programming

Load balancing architecture provides optimal speed

Requires Windows and IIS server, as well as a
sepa
rate Web server

Company has many news and university clients and
provides consultation for workflow


*Unlimited users and groups

Annual maintenance fee

Kansan, KUJH, School, and other users all can use
same content in their own custom templates

Student
s work experience would be on a proprietary
system.

Open standards architecture insures compatibility
with any future publishing platform.

Perpetuates multiple, separate systems

*Full support for Mac OS


Ability to preview page design

Ability to previ
ew pages in multiple output options
(IE. Different Web browsers, cell phones, PDAs, etc



Cost Analysis


1st year


$49,980

This includes technical support, upgrades, the server software for both the development
and deployment servers, unlimited users and

a week’s worth of training from their team.

2nd year
-

$5,000
-
6,000


This includes technical support and upgrades.

Nth year
-

$5,000
-
?

This includes technical support and upgrades.



Blogging software

Then a lightbulb turned on
. Weblogs
used the same kin
d of
small
, web
-
based

content
management system

that we needed
. Granted
,

blogs

usually

consis
t
ed

of periodic articles
that
were

more
like
journal entries than news stories
.
But

there was no reason
why

blogging software
couldn
’t be used
to p
ost

news

stories online
.
Media use of blogs in 2004 proved us more right
than we could have hoped.

The earliest

blogs were manually updated

and required a skilled webmaster to build and maintain
them. But in 1999, applications like Pitas
1

and Blogger
2

were

released. These tools allowed users
to easily create and maintain blogs, meaning that anyone could instantly become a blogger. Using
some sort of web
-
based software became a typical characteristic of blogging.

The more we thought about it, the more
w
e
al
so
saw the potential offered by blog
CMS
s,
technically speaking.
Besides offering a more painless way to publish news stories,

most
blogging systems

would
allow
students

to
do as little



or as much



HTML

and other such
web programming

wizardry
as
they

like
d



or
could

understand
.

Today’s blogging software is more multimedia
-
oriented
.
Blog developers are also experimenting
with cell phone

and email publishing tools
,

as well as advanced
ways to

search and syndicat
e

content.

Because blogging is so popular, developers are constantly releasing new features to meet
bloggers’ increasing demands.

After careful consideration, we choose Blogger, de
veloped by a small company in San Francisco
called Pyra and purchased by Google in 2002.
It was the easy
-
to
-
setup,
straightforward
-
to
-
teach,
and
simple
-
t
o
-
learn aspects of
Blogger
that convinced us that
it
c
ould be the answer to our CMS
prayers.

That
,

an
d the fact that we didn’t have to pay
a
dime
for it.

We already had resources, mostly in people, that we could draw on for our blog project. We had
a full
-
time multimedia coordinator who set up our blogs, wrote documentation and trained our
students to put

their stories online. In terms of salary, it cost about $8,500 for the first six months
and $1,500 for each following semester.




1

http://www.pitas.com

There were concerns among faculty

that students would
become


blog
gers

gone wild.


Visions
of obscenity, libel
or

worse made so
me faculty hesitant to adopt the class
room

blogging system.
Part

of the concern was salved by semantics. We never called the students
’ personal web space a
“blog”

in class. We called them
“personal web portfolios.”

W
hile have had to remove some
content whe
n we discovered plagiarism by a student, we

have yet to
experience

a single incident
of
renegade
blog
gers

crossing the line
.

W
hat we did find was

that blogging software allowed students, faculty and technical staff to
quickly and
easily

manage content onli
ne. By the end of a semester, virtually all students
could

post
could post multimedia stories online

with minimal training and lab time.
Now

all
multimedia reporting
assignments


from six
-
inch text stories to TV news packages


are
posted to the

class

blog.

B
logging software took
much of
the pain out of both training and
learning

online skills.
We found
that
students, when they were ready, would
actually
ask how to
code
new feature
s
.

For those who were challenged by merely posting text and video,
their work

still looked like a w
eb page and virtually every student could get to that skill level.
We also
found that

the

small rush of seeing their stories on the web
could

motivate students who may
never have considered online journalism to do more.

It
didn’t take

long for us to outgrow Blogger. This summer, we moved from Blogger to an open
-
source
CMS

called WordPress.
The

move from Blogger to WordPress
meant

more control over
the

back
-
end of the
CMS
. Students no longer publish individual blogs
.

I
nstead there is one class
blog for multimedia reporting.

WordPress

is

flexible enough to allow us to grow and change

as
both the technology and our needs mature
. According
to WordPress Blo
g Counter
, there are more

than 42,000 WordPress blogs registered with Weblogs.com.

Getting started with blogging

An overview of adopting a blog CMS for classroom use would skim over many technical details,
but still explains the steps and resources involve
d.

First,

you will need to c
hoose a blog
system

fr
o
m a wide variety of those available.

Asymptomatic.net’s Blog Software Breakdown
3

has a detailed chart comparing 15 popular blog
CMSs’ most important features.






2

http://www.blogger.com

3

http://www.asymptomatic.net/blogbreakdown.htm

Here are a few
considerations for choosing a C
MS:

1.
Do you want to spend any money at all? There are several systems that
charge for using them
but
are
still
far
less

expensive than a commercial content management system
.

F
or example
,

Movabl
e
Type
,
charges

a one
-
time educational license fee of a few
hundred dollars. Blogger and
WordPress are free, as are many others.

2.

Do
you
have any technical personnel
or

have a pretty good skill set yourself?

You might find
the
blogging skill
s you need
within your own student body. Many students have been
using

th
ese

systems since high school.

3. Do you have the necessary hardware to host the site on your own server?
If so,

do you want to
host the site and deal with upkeep and administration?

If you have no money,
no
technical skills
,
no technical help and no serve
r, you
r can still use a
simple CMS like
Blogger
, although
your ability to post multimedia content will be limited.
And
while

a
blog

CMS

may

the simplest
web publishing system
, there
still
is no turn
-
key
, free

web
-
site
-
in
-
a
-
box

that we hav
e

found
.
But

with
B
logger,
you can
actually have your students posting
content to the web
by

the end of the day.


If you
don’t have cash but
do have a server
and
some

technical support
,
setting up blogs is a
simple process.

1. Set up individual student accounts
with
FTP

ac
cess to individual web fo
l
ders for each student
on the server.
FTP is a protocol used to transfer files between computers and servers. We used a
OS X server to

create

Home


folders
that

have a

Sites

folder for hosting
web pages.
Blogger
publishes blog p
osts to your server via FTP.

2.
Activate the Apache web server (if it’s not already activated).

Apache
4

is an open
-
source web
server
with
versions for Unix, Linux, Windows

and OS X
.
A t
echnical
support person with
decent computing skills may

need

to tweak
the

configuration to
get Apache running.

3. Hold small
-
group orientation sessions for students and walk them through setting up their
blogs and posting text. Students will need the following information to publish their blogs:



FTP Server name: for example
, ftp.myserver.com




4

http://
www.apache.org



Blog URL: This is the web address for the blog. It is an absolute URL that points to the
individual student web site. For example, http://www.myserver.com/~username



FTP path: This is the relative location of the individual student web si
te. For example, on OS
X it would simply be Sites/



Blog filename: This is the default web page for the individual student web site. Most often it
will be index.htm or index.html



FTP username and password


4. After the students have configured their blogs a
nd successfully published their first text post,
you may want to create an index page on the web server to link to all of the individual blogs.
This is a reference point to manage and grade student assignments.

Because we believe that part of learning abou
t online journalism includes learning a little
HTML, we teach the students basic code for creating hyperlinks, adding images, embedding
video and formatting text.

The best way to teach the students how to use blogs is requiring them to publish their
assign
ments to the web and not grading an assignment until it is posted, starting with the very
first assignment. We assign a step
-
by
-
step series of assignments requiring more sophisticated
multimedia elements as the semester progressing. The final story must in
clude text, images,
audio and video. It’s overwhelming for the students to learn how to shoot, write scripts and post
video all at once, but breaking the objectives into smaller chunks helps them learn one skill at a
time.

We provide students with step
-
by
-
step documentation, complete with screenshots about how to
perform each of the basic functions. This documentation
5

is written, updated and maintained by
the more technically
-
oriented students and staff.

Some students want more control over the design and
layout of their blogs. We can teach our
students a little about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and HTML, giving them the opportunity to
experiment without having to build an entire web site from scratch.

Using blogs has quickly proved valuable to our student
s. Several have gone on to take job in the
field. One of our graduates, Meagan Kelleher, is now working as Internet Director for KPLC in



5

h
ttp://ehub.journalism.ku.edu/input

Lake Charles, La. She set up several blogs for the news station. The weather blog
6

and Meagan’s
Internet Director blog
7

served as important sources for news dissemination during Hurricane
Rita.

Assessing the options

The chart below outlines our experiences and the pros and cons of Dreamweaver, blogs,
traditional CMS and home
-
brewed systems. Blogs are not necessa
rily a solution for every content

management need. We have found them useful for basic education for large numbers of students
and as an introduction to online journalism. However, we do use other CMS, including one that
we designed and built for the KUJH
-
TV News web site
8
. The University Daily Kansan
9

purchased the CMS developed by The Lawrence Journal
-
World
10
. These systems fulfilled
functionality requirements that blogging software could not, and provided more robust content
management for these student m
edia web sites.

Comparing CMS options

Pros

No CMS (Dreamweaver)

Blog CMS

Traditional CMS

Home
-
brewed CMS



Not
restricted

by templates
(more room to be creative
with layout/design)



No server
installation/maintenance

required.



Potentially more private
(pro
jects don’t have to be
published to the Web)



Widely
-
used, industry
-
standard software



Some built
-
in multimedia
support



WYSIWYG interface



No programmers needed



Free

or
cheap



Learn in steps (text,
images, video)



Built
-
in i
ndex

and
archives

allow for
easier gr
ading and
assignment
management



Accessible from off
-
campus



Assignments are
p
ublished for the
world to see



Students can

to
receive feedback
from sources,
prof
essors and
other
students

through
comments



Functionality can be
added with third
-
party
plugins



Open
-
source



Support, upgrades



More like what’s
out there in the
“real world”



More sophisticated
user levels

and user
control



F
lexibility in
design and layout
of the site



Robust indexing

and
archiving




Build exactly what
you

want



Complete control
over back
-

and front
-
end

(p
rogramming
language
, l
ayout
,
design
, f
unctionality
)



Can change at will



S
tudents

can get

involved as
programmers



Train students at the
top level what it
means to be an online
journalist




6

http://www.kplctv.com/Global/link.asp?L=159592

7

http://kplcid.blogspot.com/

8

http://tv.ku.edu

9

http://www.kansan.com

10

http://www.ljworld.com

applications often
have
support
forums
and frequent
upgrades



Many CMSs to
choose from



Student
s

can focus
on
content

instead
technical details


Cons

No CMS (Dreamweaver)

Blog CMS

Traditional CMS

Homebrewed CMS



Interface is cumbersome
and offers more choices
than students need or can
handle



Steep learning curve
,

no
baby steps



Indexes and archives must
be build by hand



More
lab
support needed
for students



Software licensing

requires
maintenance and upgrades



Work

must be done
in the
labs or students must
purchase the software



Student
s

have to learn FTP

and

file

str
ucture basics



It’s not a basic program
and is not meant for
teaching students basic
web skills



Little

or
no design
customization



Software bugs

can
sometimes require
technical monitoring
and patching



More

administration
required

for faculty
and technical st
aff



Stigma of

Blog
ging” can
cause faculty
apprehension



No gatekeepers

for
student work. Stories
can be published
with typos and errors



Limited
formal or
consistent technical
support



Limited multimedia

support without
reliance on third
-
party plugins



Facult
y or staff is
r
esponsible for
installation

and
upgrades




B
ig

up
-
front and
maintenance costs



Inflexible

once the
design is up and
running



Cookie cutter look
with l
ittle

or
no
design
customization

for
individual s
tudents
or s
tories



Expensive
commitment, once

you pay for it you
may be stuck using
it long
-
term



Little

or
no
video
support or ability to
upload a variety of
multimedia formats



Expensive
to hire
and keep a full
-
time
programmer



Need your own
server, which you
must maintain (
takes
time
and

money)



Prog
rammers
can be

cranky



Takes time to
develop

and

development is never
complete



Probably buggy,
limited support,
possible security
flaws



If programmers are
students:
h
igh
turnover, evaporating
support, and less
reliable



Lack of
documentation



Over time, co
de
becomes more
disorganized

and

buggy