Blog-Publishing a Print Publication

In the next few months I will be trying to… ahem, dip into the cliche bag…. “walk some of the talk” (or maybe it is “jog some of the blog”). My colleagues and I concocted a plan last week to cease completely the print publication of our mcli Forum, a once a semester publication form our fofice on teaching, learning, and assessment.

The forum has been pumped out since 2001, and actually before that in a previous incarnation as the Labyrinth-Forum back to 1992 (for a trip down memory lane, see our August 1994 issue on “Mosaic of Internet”).

So yes, while we have been electronically publishing all along, the primary focus has been on the print version, resulting in these issues for us:

  • We spend a lot of money on print versions. A lot of bucks, although we use a reaonble priced paper, limited colors, grey scale photos… In the spirit of being more ‘fiscally responsible’ (I went to Managers Buzzword Day), we can provide more support through new programs if we can cut the money sent to the printers.
  • We spend a lot of time on the print version. It takes weeks to months to solicit drafts, pass around previews, edit, page format, etc. It is the bulk of our timeline in person hours spent on the paper version.
  • We have no idea if people are reading the articles. Sure, we get anecdotes and informal responses, but in actuality, we print up the nice paper versions, send it out to all 1200 full time faculty here plus more to administrators, and we have no idea how the content is used (or tossed).

So since we are supposed to be change agents and innovators, we are boldly going to start a communications patterns that let’s people know there will be no more paper version. We discussed whether we make it an option and let people choose, but in the end, we can “publish” it online, send a system-wide email, and let them know that a print version is available (as a PDF).

But in discussion I began thinking about our current electronic version- it is pretty much hand (and BBEdit) converted as static HTML. I proposed, only half thinking, that we try and use a blog software to actually draft, author, and publish the new version of the mcli Forum. The things we would gain are:

  • Create a workflow for external authors to compose content in the blogware
  • Built in search, syndication, archiving of artlcles
  • Add a component of discussion via comments
  • Free up the constraint of print limits for more in depth articles
  • Expand the type of article to include media such as mp3 (podcast), a lot more photos, interviews, digital video, etc

This is the sort of thing I was trying to propose in my June NMC session on “More Than Cat-Diaries”, where if you look at the notes on the section for Blogs For Newsletters there are a few found examples, notable what Tim Lauer’s Using a Weblog to Facilitate Paper Publishing recently shared as a comprehensive use of MovableType for his school’s information organizing and school news letter publishing.

So it’s really a matter of bending the blog’s templates and functions to do something beyond daily date stamped posts, with links on the left bar. It is do-able.

So now I am thinking about what I will use, most likely systems I have more experience in MovableType (2.661 the last widely open free version) or WordPress- my preference is WordPress for many reasons, a better WYSIWIG editor (works in FireFox on OS X), the notion of “page” types, lots of template flexibility, and I just love WordPress.

The main thing I am hoping to find is a way to allow some authors the ability to compose drafts and preview, but not necessarily publish. I think it is there in the user levels for multiple authors. The way I got around this in a similar movabletype effort for the LTA site was actually to create a parallel “draft version” of a site. That is a bit clumsy.

Well this is still up in the air thinking, but I am excited about trying to put this in motion. There are print publications, and pretty much paper-like versions online, what we’ve done so far with the mcli Forum or the new MERLOT JOLT — great articles, but really nothing more than the text, content and some links. I want to stretch or blow up publishing beyond the print-article mindset.

So I tossed out the idea, which my colleagues liked, and now I need to deliver by late November. Hopefully it won;t be one of those flying iron pigeons.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. This is precisely the kind of thing I was talking about recently in my blog as well. I was also thinking about taking what is our print newsletter, publishing it electronically as you discuss, but then porting it back into InDesign using XML and a little bit of scripting so that, once every two months, we can send out a print version to those who want it too…

  2. Thanks for the comment, Chris- send me a URL if it comes to life. Your approach would be much more sophisticated than what I had in mind, but makes sense if you can truly structure articles well… I found that many of our templates grew more exceptions than rules over year, and I did not even get it yanked out of HTML tables ;-)

    For that matter, it could even by dynamically generated as a PDF….

  3. Howdy! You might consider using Plone, a free open source solution, that enables user logins and passwords. Folks can share stuff but it doesn’t get published until you publish. It’s a very easy to use and setup content management system…we’re using it on our work web site at http://itls.saisd.net:8083 and are very happy with it since it enables non-technies to put stuff online. Our web site is actually http://itls.saisd.net

    Furthermore, it comes with an easy installer (Windows or Linux) and very customizable but not overwhelmingly so. Try it out!

  4. Thanks for the suggestion, Miguel… I’m aware and an admirer of plone as a group collaboration tool, and your school site uses it well for sharing information. I’ll keep it in mind as a possibility and will dig a bit to see if there are examples of using it as a “journal” like publisher.

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