Our Drupal site management system jumps a version

After more delays than I liked, we're rolling out -- in beta form -- the Drupal 6 version of our news site management system this week at the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark.

Our experiences with Jacksonville.com and CJOnline.com, which both were built on a Drupal 5 base, persuaded us to rebuild everything from scratch in an attempt to "get it right" before rolling the system out to 11 more daily newspapers.

The part you can see is an easily skinnable, mutable design. The Panels 3 layout module lets the presentation vary quite a bit from site to site, page to page, and even minute by minute if the news requires it. Structural details and ad geometries are standardized, supporting network sales, but sites don't have to look alike.

Colors and logos are applied in a single large sprite that you can see here:


CSS is used to clip and position components where they belong. The use of a single large graphic cuts total page size and eliminates many HTTP round-trips to the server, improving page rendering performance.

Under the hood, Views are heavily recycled. At the top of the page, a single View is used four times with different arguments (limits and offsets), and different styles: Big picture, big head + summary, three medium headlines with optional thumbnail images, 10 bullet headlines.

The ability to select a prebuilt style with Views 3 means it's easy to create a new page component, drawing from the database, without ever writing a single line of SQL or touching a PHP template.

When I get a chance, I'll do a writeup for the Newspapers on Drupal group, illustrated with some screenshots, explaining how all this is done.

Later this week I'll be heading down to SavannahNow.com to show the folks there how all this hangs together. Their site has been running for a long time on a very old Drupal version with none of these new features, and it's next up on our transformation agenda.


Gratz! We're also migrating to D6 right now. Fortunately it's just one site and not that much work. But it's still a kind of adventure. :)

Congrats on the new system. Looks very promising. We, are currently in process of developing a Drupal 6 news site, and having big time problems with Panels 3, and how to theme custom layouts for them. I would appreciate a lot if you could guide us somehow. Thanks, and again congrats on nice system.

Congrats and thank you so much for sharing this, Steve! Funny, how Internet years are so much like dog years. I remember your team showing off the brand-spanking-new SavannahNow.com site back in late 2006. My UNLV students thought it was the hottest-looking local news site on the planet! The world keeps turning and you keep raising the bar. Thanks again, C~A

HI, I'm getting ready for a short session on the next DrupalCon in Paris about bussiness cas for newspaper and media organisation using Drupal. I was considering your case for local newspapers sort of website. Could you tell me a little more about the architecture behind the new http://beta.thecabin.net ? Panel Ok what else ? Is there any deployment and versioning mechanism? Could you please tell me a little more about the number of site in total you are running : 11 or more ? What size is your team and the local teams for each newspaper ? What sort of figures in term on budget and number of comment/blog/news from print ? What would be the main advantage to works with Drupal ? Main pitfall ? Thanks Jean-Baptiste + 33 6 24 78 29 22

Jean-Baptiste, I wish I could be there for Drupalcon, but I am scheduled to do some training for France24 the following week and I can't afford the time away from work to spend TWO weeks in Paris... .although that does sound good!

As you can tell, we make great use of Panels and Views. We have probably a dozen custom modules, of which some already are released on Drupal.org. http://drupal.org/project/casaa, which manages all our ad calls (Yahoo APT, Yahoo Content Match) and metrics calls (Omniture and Google Analytics) is an example. We have special modules to integrate Drupal with our Spotted photo-sharing system as well.

We use Perforce internally to manage code versioning, and to deploy code from internal development servers to external webservers. Data is migrated once during the "great leap" into production. After that point, when it comes to configurable tools like Views, we're stuck with either dual implementation for dev/test purposes, or migration tools such as Views exporter. We're just beginning to look at http://drupal.org/project/features, which may prove useful in the future.

We have several sites running Drupal as their core systems. Our original Drupal project was BlufftonToday.com, a hyperlocal blog-centered community website paired with a new tabloid daily newspaper, originally free and designed for a quick read along the lines of 20minutes. We will upgrade Bluffton, which is running 5.19, to our new standard platform in a few weeks.

Our second was SavannahNow.com, which is at the moment trapped in a very old Drupal 4.6 installation but will be relaunched in a couple of weeks on our Drupal 6.13-based standard platform.

CJOnline.com and Jacksonville.com were launched on Drupal 5 about six months ago. We are beginning to plan for their upgrades but have not yet done much work.

The rest of our daily newspapers -- St. Augustine, Augusta, Athens, Brainerd, Amarillo, Lubbock, Juneau and Kenai -- will be brought up on the Drupal platform in coming months.

I have been meaning to write a more thorough walkthrough of our project for http://groups.drupal.org/newspapers-on-drupal ....

Hi Steve, Are you guys reselling the platform to other local newspapers? We have been looking around to relaunch a spanish local newspaper but do not find the right solution. I love your platform focus and this can be appliable to other local newspapers (like ellington cms, but no so expensive). Pablo Muzás-lavozdelanzarote.com

Pablo, feel free to contact me via email (steve at yelvington dot com). The basic pieces of our system are all free/open-source, and we're releasing much of our custom work as well. There remains quite a bit of configuration for each newspaper, though.