News for Digital Journalists

January 24, 2012

NPR releases free Project Argo WordPress tools for topical news sites

When a news topic gets popular, it might make sense to give it some special online treatment. NPR recently published its Project Argo toolkit for creating topic-focused websites using the popular free open source content management system WordPress.

Matt Thompson, Editorial Product Manager for Project Argo, explained how news organizations and others can use these tools…

Project Argo is a collection of sites, each produced by a full-time journalist-blogger (or, in some cases, a blended teams of full- and part-time journalists). Examples include Ecotrope (Oregon Public Broadcasting), Mind/Shift (KQED) and DCentric (WAMU). Each site focuses on reporting and aggregating news about a single topic of ongoing interest in the host station’s city.

Stations feed their work into NPR’s application programming interface (API), through which all Project Argo reporter-editors can easily access each other’s work. This allows them to “inform, enrich and add context as they produce their stories.” Project Argo is funded by grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

According to Thompson, NPR hopes this collection of open source tools and best practices will be useful to anyone seeking tools, themes, lessons learned, or inspiration for:

  • Niche websites
  • Blogs
  • WordPress sites
  • Web reporting projects

...Or any combination of those types of projects.

Thompson explained the three main types of tools offered:

1. Code and plugins. Over the past year NPR developed several WordPress plugins to make blogging easier for Argo journalist-bloggers. These include:

  • Jiffy Post, which “allows people to quickly post links with a super-simple—almost Tumblrish—workflow.”
  • Slideshow, “a low-footprint, flexible photo gallery plugin that extends the functionality of the native WordPress gallery functionality.”
  • Audio player, “Built with HTML5 so it’s compatible with your iPad and your MacBook Air.”
  • Media credit, which provides extra options for metadata and rights management for images.

NPR also is working on two more Project Argo plugins: link roundup and a plugin to make it easier to embed DocumentCloud documents in WordPress.

2. Themes. Thompson said that NPR web designer Wes Lindamood developed a series of “gorgeous, robustly-featured themes for the Argo sites—with fresh typography, sophisticated content promotion, myriad formatting options, etc. For the open-source release, he prepared a highly extensible foundation theme and three child themes to demonstrate some of the different ways that foundation could be modified. All four of those themes are freely available for folks to use and customize.”

3. Lessons and documentation. “Even for folks who aren’t using WordPress, or aren’t developing a niche site, we’ve tried to share a lot of what we learned over the course of the Argo pilot. We’ve compiled pretty much everything we wrote or presented into the open source site, and bundled up our overall lessons into four wrap-up posts on the Argo blog.”

But wait, there’s more! Thompson noted that people in public media who are interested in creating an Argo-style site but who don’t want to take on the overhead of supporting it, “NPR Digital Services will be offering to host, support and train member stations to develop these sites. That training is coming in Spring 2012.”

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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