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Interview: Why Poynter redesigned its website on WordPress, open source

Poynter Website RedesignIn January of 2010 when the Poynter Institute began intensively looking at rebuilding its website, the school was in the same situation as many of the news organizations and journalists it serves.

Its website was powered by a limiting proprietary content management system that controlled publishing and a variety of other processes, including the school’s online training and store. Meanwhile, on the publishing side contributors complained about the difficulties of using the CMS.

Less than a year later, Poynter.org relaunched with a modern design powered by a combination of WordPress and Drupal.

“I think the end result,” says Julie Moos, editor of Poynter Online, “is a CMS that is very easy to use.”

The publishing end of the site, including Jim Romenesko’s authoritative journalism blog, is controlled by WordPress while News University and Poynter’s store, for example, are published with Drupal.

The Open Source Choice

Moos told me it made sense for Poynter to move to open source and WordPress because:

  • Deployment was very fast and less expensive with WP and Drupal than with other systems. It took six to eight weeks of development for the redesign and relaunch.
  • WordPress and Drupal supported the custom needs of the organization while being “more flexible and open in the future” than other systems, Moos said.
  • WordPress is much easier to troubleshoot and allows Moos and her staff to make on-the-fly adjustments of the basics on the website.
  • Poynter can benefit from and contribute to WordPress’ thriving community.
  • Drupal, Django and WordPress were the open source platforms that Poynter considered. Moos steered clear of Django because Poynter would need a full-time developer.

Design Strengths

As with any redesign, there are a fair amount of complaints and critics, especially among readers of Romenesko, though Moos says the overall reaction has been positive. As a reader of Romenesko (though mostly via RSS) and a weekly visitor to Poynter, in my book this constitutes a definite design improvement and a step in the right direction philosophically.

The new Poynter is more social; it brings more blogs into the stable, encourages reaction and conversation via Disqus comments and places related info(including tweets from journalism loudmouths and rock stars like Jay Rosen and Brian Stelter) next to content with a double right column.

The navigation is clear and the design clean, with ample whitespace. I especially like how the strong Poynter logo separates the top navigation, which leads to pages about and services of the organization, and the lower navigation, which is all about blog and training content. From a WordPress implementation standpoint, I might have favored using custom post types and custom taxonomies rather than categories to separate the blogs and landing pages but the overall architecture is seamless.

Poynter.org's redesign makes use of a strong navigational scheme.

Using Lauren Rabaino’s four major sins of news website design as a measure, I think Poynter does better than most of its journalism counterparts by keeping the navigation logical, utilizing a simple set of share buttons in a consistent location, and making the sidebars unintrusive and the homepage well organized and concise.

I’d like to see more blogs and publications follow Poynter’s open source decision and design approach. What do you think?

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