With coming redesign, a new era begins

Last week hell froze over at The Spokesman-Review. The long awaited redesign of our website is finally underway. Meetings are being held, code is being written and timelines have been set in stone.

One of my longtime frustrations as a multimedia producer is that my newspaper’s website is, well, a tad bit outdated. My only saving grace has been my vlog called Video Journal where I have been able to showcase the multimedia being done at my newspaper. It has not been an ideal solution though. So much has changed in the four years that I have been producing video and multimedia. The rise of social media sites like blogs, You Tube and MySpace have reinvigorated the Web by changing the way multimedia is distributed. Sharing, embedding, tagging, ranking, commenting — that Web 2.0 renaissance party pretty much passed Spokemanreview.com by.

But now that the seas have parted and everyone has got that old-time redesign religion, life is again full of possibilities. Our blank website canvas is being painted with broad strokes. Tattered notebooks full of cool ideas are now being put to code. A recently purchased content management system called Ellington has mostly been ditched in favor of writing a better CMS built on a newer version of the high-level Python Web framework called Django.

The first part of our new site to go live will be a brand spankin’ new multimedia container where, video, photos, audio slideshows, and other visual media will be showcased. The best part is we will provide all the cool tools for viewers to find share and redistribute most of the multimedia content we produce. Many people may yawn at my excitement, but for me this redesign has been nine years in the making. It will launch a new era for my newspaper that already has made the transition to being web-centric in the newsroom.

I think the success of our web team’s redesign effort will be judged by how well they implement the dozens of little features they plan to build in.

Our video player, built by Brian Immel, is going through its final tweaking and is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Check out the database driven menu at the end of the video. When it is hooked up the new media database it will really rock. The player is going through one more design version that will give it floating controls, and added hardware acceleration. Our video will soon be served out over brand new Flash Media 3 servers. Bottlenecks and stutters will hopefully be a thing of the past. The new custom CMS, affectingly called Cannonball, will allow us to embed videos into stories and blogs throughout the site with ease. The search feature should be the best in the industry.

A lot of work needs to be done over the next several months. For now I’ll keep my head down and let the folks with 10-pound brains pound out code… 

15 thoughts on “With coming redesign, a new era begins

  1. Multimedia is really a huge impact to our society because a lot of companies right now are investing businesses that involve multimedia and it is because they can get a huge benefit from it.

  2. Hi Colin – player looks great. I particularly like the opening Spokesman Review deal. Reminds me of the NYT, but classier!
    Just FYI…I have comcast – pretty fast — and there were a couple of little hiccups in the vid when I just played right from the top. No unexpected – just wanted you to know.
    Let me know and I can try again and do a little QA.

  3. Interesting. You ditched Ellington and decided to build on Django on your own?

    Ellington itself is built on Django, so are you modifying Ellington, or truly starting from scratch?

  4. Let me clarify a bit… We found in order to do new things like adding tags to stories, we needed to use the newest version of Django, which Ellington does not support at this time. Our development team felt it was more important to move the redesign forward instead of waiting for Ellington to be updated. We’ll still use parts of the framework of Ellington, but we’ll rewrite what we need to in the newer version of Django. It is more work on our part, but should give us a more flexible CMS that is cutting edge.

  5. Yessir, that menu at the end is a wonderful thing! Very sensible, the way you have used very brief, interesting text to promote the other videos on the site. Your newsroom is moving forward in a smart way, in my opinion.

    Have you given Brian Immel a raise yet?

  6. Hi -Nice job and I applaud your goals.

    Suggestions for you RE: the new player. People are used to seeing the runtime (The length of the clip) indicated before they click the play button for a video.

    For example if people can see that a film is 3:46 – they might just give it a go. Just a small behaviour, but one piece of metadata that can drive more clicks.

    Also, where is the embed code button the player? Are there other sharing tools? e-mail del.icio.us . . .

    Also, where are the user ratings and player views metadata displayed?

    Is there a way to put comments inline? Might generate more comments . . .

    I do like the other video thumbs scroller – that’s a nice pickup from the YouTube model. It’s those other things I mentioned that I think you will want to borrow as well – they are probably more important in the near and long term for building a habit.

    Q: How many original videos do you post each week?

  7. Hi Robb,

    All the above mentioned will be in the player. The version you see in Video Journal is built for our current crappy CMS. All the the sharing features will be including in the final version for our ground up redesign such as the ability to download a high-def versions for Apple TV and share embed code. The other cool feature will be the ability for the viewer to filter different feeds. Want to just see spot news videos? Then click the feed. In our development faze, we are trying to build in every feature we think could possible use.

    As for how many original videos do we post each week? Depends. Some weeks 3 to 6 Others weeks 2-4. We have a mobile journalist who shoots spot news. He can be pretty productive. I just got funding for three more MoJo kits (laptop, video camera Final Cut Express) Now we need to identify the right people in the newsroom willing to reinvent themselves. Video will play a bigger roll as I train more people to shoot. I also got capital funding for a boatload of other gear, software and hardware. This redesign will really help motivate those in the newsroom who are on the fence about new media. If their videos and multimedia are showcased and findable, then I believe I will get better buy in. This next year is going to be a turning point.

    Thanks for the other design tip, I will pass it on to Brian who is waist deep in Django code right now:)

  8. > A recently purchased content management system called Ellington has mostly been ditched in favor of writing a better CMS built on a newer version of the high-level Python Web framework called Django.

    When Scripps purchased Ellington it was running on Django version 0.91, which definitely lacks some attractive features in the present version.

    Needless to say, we’ve developed a healthy number of apps atop the standard instance of the CMS, which was already one of the best in the business.

    I’m very interested to see how you implement the new features.

    Are you out-sourcing the design to an agency, or assigning it to an internal team?

  9. @Patrick —

    Hopefully I can clear up a little confusion here (I do online development here in Spokane).

    It’s not true that we’ve ditched Ellington, or that we’re in the process of writing a better CMS. As you said, Ellington right out of the box is one of the best in the business. In fact, I’d argue that it is the best — I was part of the group that made the decision to buy it, and I didn’t see anything during our search that came even close to doing what we wanted to do.

    One of the reasons we bought Ellington is because we do like to do a lot of our own development work, and were/are really excited about getting to do that work in Django. But as you also noted, Ellington runs on Django 0.91, and that locks us out of a lot features that we really wanted. We’re pumped about GeoDjango, for instance, and the new forms system, and pluggable apps like django-tagging, and I could go on …

    As Django continues to grow, there are only going to be more features and apps that we know we’ll want to use. So we decided we’d rather just bite the bullet now and start building a system based on Ellington but running against Django trunk. For this first phase of our redesign we’re keeping a pretty tight focus, just working on the core content types we feel like we have to have.

    I guess the most accurate thing to say is that we’re using the Ellington source code we bought as a library/guide for the CMS we’ll end up with. We haven’t ditched the code at all — I refer to it every day, and much of the initial work we’re doing starts with looking at Ellington functionality, adjusting it for our local preferences, and then writing that code against trunk. (In sticking with Django tradition, we’ve given our project a jazz name: Ours is affectionately called “Cannonball.”)

    The more I dig into Ellington, the more I’m sure we made the right decision when we bought it — it really is awesome software. The guys in Kansas have their reputation for good reason, and by the time we wrap this first phase at the end of June, we’ll in no way be as fully featured as Ellington is. We’ll be in a position to develop along with Django’s evolution, though (I think GeoDjango is going to be a huge thing for us), and that was a tradeoff we were willing to make. Certainly not the right decision for everyone, and by all means I continue to recommend Ellington to anyone in the market for a kick-ass media CMS.

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