High school + no CMS = learning experience?

The online newspaper at my old high school has a nationally award-winning site, although you probably can't tell from their newest design. Although they update daily, a surprising (and headache-causing) fact is that they don't use a content management system. It's all done by hand. I don't know whether it's a benefit or a drawback.

When I worked for my high school newspaper (from 2004-2007) we knew nothing of the advent of a CMS. My first year attending the NSPA conference in San Francisco though, I saw the back-end of the Paly Voice's CMS and immediately thought, "Hey, that's cheating."

We updated everything manually. We created templates in Dreamweaver, copied and pasted the new articles each day, changed all the font sizes and inserted a "print version" link at the bottom. We then pasted the article into a blank HTML page and linked the print version link to it. Then we added and linked the story to the front page again. It was surely and arduous process.

The benefits

  • I learned all the basics of Dreamweaver
  • I learned how to create a site
  • I learned basic HTML
  • I became familiar with using an FTP client

The drawbacks

  • I focused on the technical end more than the writing, video and multimedia
  • Most of my time was spent cleaning up little errors like broken links
  • It took at least 15-20 minutes to post one article (and it was much longer, near 50 minutes for others in the class)

Looking back, I think it was best that we didn't use a CMS in high school. Although I didn't get to focus as much on writing, I certainly would not know how to create a site from scratch had we been using a CMS.

The Grizzly Gazette launched its new site yesterday and I am starting to think maybe it's time to move on to a CMS.

As they start to get more content and features, the design starts getting sloppy. They don't have the time to make it look good when they're writing multiple articles each day along with slideshows and video (and all those are poorly produced too because of the lack of time, I'm assuming). Then, there are other mistakes that there are just no excuses for. How hard is it to take a photo in focus, really?

Each year, the Gazette launches a new design. The advisor says he does this so each new staff of students can "re-learn" the basics of HTML. One problem: only a handful of students are "page editors" who actually see Dreamwever, and even then, they're likely using design mode. Another student does all the uploads.

What I'm trying to figure out is:

  • When a publication should start using a CMS?
  • At would point is it more beneficial?
  • And do we need more high schoolers learning HTML basics so that they can catch on to the more complicated stuff by the time they get to college?

Let me know what you think. Let's interact.