Build your own web design or individualize your WordPress or content management theme

After taking a weeklong seminar on web development with Dave Stanton and Sara Quinn at the Poynter Institute this summer in St. Petersburg, Fla., my brain was exploding with the amount of organization, detail, and knowledge web designers need.

I came home from the seminar both empowered and discouraged—empowered because I am now armed with data for writing code from a blank page, but discouraged at the amount of time, effort, expertise, and detail such website development involves.

How do I incorporate web development into an already existing newspaper production or beginning journalism curriculum?  That’s why I chose the picture of a brick in Poynter’s courtyard that displays a quote from the famous sports writer Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith. “Writing is easy.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

If you were like me before my having taken the Poynter seminar, you are using a WordPress theme or some other content management system (Drupal, Joomla, Tumblr, and so on).  Don’t get me wrong; they are great tools for high school journalism news sites, but my staff and I inevitably run into some dissatisfaction with our chosen theme and with which we end up living because we don’t know enough about the underlying code.

For example, the thought process behind either using and adapting a WordPress theme or building a website from scratch is similar to choosing between serving a cake baked from a store-bought mix or an original recipe.  It’s much easier to tweak anything to your liking when it’s made from a personal recipe.

One option for individualizing an existing WordPress theme or other content management theme is to adapt it by using child coding in css.  The philosophy behind using a child selector in the CSS is to preserve the original theme thereby eliminating an update snafu due to amateur personal tweaks.

Another option I found after attending the seminar and understanding the pain of building a website from scratch is to buy a relatively inexpensive program called Flux (I found it on sale for $47.50 through a trial version of MacUpdate, but it regularly sells for $119.99).

Flux is a web development program that gives the developer the best of either world, or rather every world:  (1) build from a blank page, (2) combine elements from an existing page with elements from templates, and (3) use a template.

My biggest concern was whether Flux is Lion compatible, and that I might be buying an already-outdated program for new machines in my lab (Why was it discounted so heavily?).  However, it is already Lion compatible.

When you get to the point that a content management system isn’t 100 percent meeting your newspaper staff’s needs, learning to look under the hoods of popular content management systems is essential.  First, you need to learn how to build and fix code from scratch; then, you need to offer the same opportunity to your students somewhere in your curriculum (I haven’t answered that question for myself yet).

After you and your students have some practice deconstructing a content management system (or, rather, the digital recipe for the theme), consider using other options–such as child coding in your theme’s css or Flux-friendly software–to make your high school news site your own.


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