Courant News: A history and status update

This morning on Twitter I announced that the Yale Daily News would not be migrating to the Courant News platform this weekend as initially planned. That immediately prompted some questions about whether this meant that Courant was not going to be released until next fall when the YDN launches. The short answer: definitely not.  The long answer follows.

Sometime last summer, Robert Baskin (@rsbaskin), my former “boss” and mentor at the Yale Daily News, and I talked about an idea we had for a startup company: create an online publishing platform for college news organizations. The YDN has run on a custom CakePHP-based CMS since January 2007, which Rob built with Henry Corrigan-Gibbs from scratch. Last spring (April 2008), we held a web conference for the Ivy League newspapers, and the big takeaway was that open source solutions were not good enough; we needed a CMS designed for college news orgs, by college news orgs. College Publisher was a blight upon the college news landscape, and we thought we could create a viable alternative.

Fast forward a few months, and we brought Paul O’Shannessy on board. Paul was finishing his masters degree at CMU where he worked for the TCPulse. With dreams of a successful company that Paul and Rob could work for after graduating this year, we worked hard for several months, and even had a week-long meetup and code session in the Philadelphia area over our winter break. We courted a few clients, and started refining our marketing materials. We had designed and started building a hosted platform-as-a-service, which was designed to be fully managable through a web-based admin interface ,while still allowing programmers the ability to add new functionality thanks to Django‘s awesome app-based design.

And then we looked harder at the numbers, and thought about why we were doing this, and it all started to unravel. After some long discussions, we decided to abandon the business venture, and we all agreed to allow the code we had labored over to go into the open source realm. Around this time, in late January, I approached the YDN formally about switching to the new system. It had been built with the lessons-learned from the YDN’s existing CMS, and encompassed a number of improvements that the Editorial staff had requested. The decision was made to move forward with switching to the new platform, but only under the condition that it launched right after spring break to give time for our new blog to take off before the end of the semester.

With money no longer in the picture, and the reality of the senior essays and full time jobs coming to the fore, Rob and Paul had to step away from the project, leaving me to work on it mostly alone. I took some time off in February to focus on school, but returned and worked hard during March to get Courant and the new YDN site up to snuff for launch. As recently as last week, I thought I could maybe finish things in time for our planned April 5 transition. Once the YDN site was up, I’d focus on truly open sourcing Courant and getting the ball rolling on that front.

A few days ago, I realized that I wasn’t going to finish in time, and that I couldn’t, in good conscience, put the site out there in its current state. We have a working, stable website now, and there was no real reason to rush the launch other than for the sake of the new blog and some new features. As the sole active member of the YDN web staff, I had to make the hard decision to postpone the launch until later this summer to allow for finishing all the features and doing proper testing.

What this means for Courant is that we no longer have our pioneer site at release, but it means I can give the project more of my attention and get other people involved. I will be attending the BarCamp NewsInnovation in Philly this month, and my goal is to have the project site fully up by then, including posting all of the documentation and plans from when the project was in the commercial startup phase. Courant News isn’t quite ready to support a full site yet, but it’s close and just requires a few more weeks of work. Hopefully, if other developers and UX people get involved, the project can begin to generate a community of its own and gain some traction.  We’ve tried our best to make Courant customizable and suitable for just about any type of college news website, and have a few features that I’ve not seen elsewhere. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll begin posting about them here and on the official Courant News blog once I find time to set that up. Thanks to all who have expressed in interest in Courant, I’ll be sure to keep the news flowing on a regular basis from here on out.

Update (April 6, 2009): At the request of the YDN, I have removed some details about internal affairs.

One Response to Courant News: A history and status update
  1. [...] become involved. Join in at For a history of the project, check out my frie...

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