How WordPress Saved The Spectator Tribune

It was supposed to be different. And it is. It was supposed to celebrate the Prairies in a way that hadn’t been done before. And it does.

…[A]d sales lagged, and writers unable to sustain a career in writing or journalism on the promise of payment sometime in the future began finding new, paid work. The site began to slow down… and for some readers using certain hardware it didn’t work at all. Expert coding needed to happen and immediately. It didn’t, and the site spent a few months limping along, unable to display ads, barely able to display stories.

That’s Toban Dyck, the Spectator Tribune’s founder, and editor-in-chief, in What once was old is new again about the re-launch of their prairie-focused site. Toban’s also an old friend who got in touch at the end of 2014, looking for advice on how to solve his site’s woes.

The site had been built by some folks he knew back when he lived in the Toronto area. It had been largely pro-bono and, as time passed, the site became less of a priority for them to the point of complete abandonment, falling into the disrepair described above.

It used to be that this guaranteed to be a fatal scenario. An underfunded publication can’t get its developers to fix its ailing site, so it just fades away into the ether. Since they’re the only ones who know how the damn thing works, you’d have to hire an expensive expert (that you can’t afford) to salvage your content and migrate to a (hopefully more open) system.

But, thankfully, the site was built on WordPress, the open source publishing platform chosen by 24% of the web. The only hard thing about finding a WordPress expert is deciding which one to work with. Just change the theme, change some plugins, and maybe change the web host,1 and you’ve got yourself a whole new site with all your old content.

I wasn’t able to be involved personally, but I did help Toban connect with a local WordPress developer, Ryan Santschi.2 He didn’t need to be local, but local was right for a locally-focused publication.

Our ad sales will now have a local focus, our writers, some who have stayed with us and others who have lay dormant until things smoothed out, are ready to contribute excellent content, and some of the features the site was exciting about at its conception, like events, videos, and its daily ticker, will now work and be able to adapt, thanks to an in-house web developer.

The new site looks great, loads in a heartbeat, and works well on a variety of devices. I really hope that this is the first step back towards the promise that the Spectator Trib showed in its early days. I’m glad that WordPress helped to give them their second shot.

  1. None of these things are necessarily easy, but in the WordPress world, they’re well-understood. 
  2. Ryan was also the lead organizer of WordCamp Winnipeg 2015

That 500 Posts Goal

When I relaunched this blog with its current design, I added post counts in an attempt to game myself into posting more often, with the goal of achieving 500 posts by the end of the year. That goal would have required posting in the neighbourhood of 2.5 times per week. I’ve posted only 15 times.

But, in conjunction with some newly available time, I idly wondered if that goal was even still feasible. Some quick math revealed that I needed 67 more posts to hit 500. I then discovered that there were 67 days left in 2011. Eerie.

So, I’m going for it. Not everything I post is going to be an essay, which was definitely the writing form that this design optimized itself for. That optimization has likely played a role in discouraging me from writing shorter-form posts. I might use this as an opportunity to play with post formats, especially now that there’s a usable UI.

The New

You might notice that things look a little different around here. Since business has picked up at Soma Design, I’ve been writing on this blog less and less. Over the last year I’ve been toying with the idea of a radical redesign to 1) amuse myself and 2) to hopefully prod myself into writing more–while I’ve only published 11 posts since the beginning of 2010, I have 22 draft posts in varying states of completeness. My favourite of the bunch is tentatively titled “Battlestar Galactica, Rationality, and Human Nature”–look for it soon.

I have more to say about the redesign on my Soma Design blog, but the short version is this: it’s all about the writing and not at all about anything else, like my WordPress theme. It’s also a responsive design that should adapt itself to a plethora of devices. It’s also a bit rough around the edges still.

Finally, I’ve now made the switch over to the domain. The old URLs will redirect to their counterparts on the new domain.