Courant News: Issues?

Today’s post is about the optional use of issues in Courant News. I was originally going to write about articles, but the Flyers game went long and I’m running out of time in the day to do due justice to that topic. That will hopefully be tomorrow’s post, but now on to issues.

As much as some people would like to believe that the future is web-first, and possibly web-only, the reality is that, at least in the college news sphere, there are many news organizations which have and will continue to have print editions which dominate their organization’s practices. I’m rooting for small web-first news organizations as much as the next person, but I also realize that that just doesn’t make sense for some organizations.

In light of that fact, it was important for us on the Courant News team to make sure our system could support both scenarios. The way we have implemented this is by treating issues as an additional (optional) container type for articles and media items.

The data relationship is ultimately pretty simple and inconsequential, the more important part is what it means for how the site handles the homepage. Originally, we had the homepage represent the latest issue for sites configured to use issues, and to just represent the latest x items when not. However, upon further reflection recently, I realized that this is actually far from ideal in many respects.

The homepage is arguably the most important page on a news website, and it requires special treatment. News orgs need the ability to define and reconfigure the homepage on a daily basis to meet the ever changing nature of the news.

As I mentioned in one of my first posts, we already have an “issue display type” system, which allows you to define (in advance) a set of templates representing different issue layouts. This works well to a certainly extent, but it still doesn’t allow for easy layout on a rolling basis, as it requires new template work to change or add a new one.

What I’d like to see, and what I need some community input on, is a system that allows editors to arrange the homepage layout in a graphical manner in the admin, just like you’d rearrange a layout in InDesign or similar graphic tool. If anyone has ideas for how such a system should work, I’d really like to hear it so we can build in support in the code and start making UI mocks. I think this is a really fundamental bit for a news site, and I’d certainly like to hear the range of community input before we commit to any one path.

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