Running a small to mid-size news site? Try this CMS

Steve Yelvington is one of my heroes. Last summer, we swapped stories over beer in Kuala Lumpur with Peter Ong after talking citizen media at an IFRA Asia workshop. Steve told me how he wrote a newsreader for the Atari ST in 1985 and how he got the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newsroom on the internet in 1993.

Now, Steve should be everyone’s hero. He’s working on a next-generation news site management system, and he and the folks at Morris Digital Works have pledged to release the code under the open-source GPL licence. Steve describes the design ethos of the system:

When we’re done, this will be an innovation platform, not just a content publishing and community platform. …

Open tools and open platforms are great for developers, but what we really want to do is place this kind of power directly in the hands of content producers. They won’t have to know a programming language, or how databases work, or even HTML to create special presentations based on database queries. Need a new XML feed? Point and click.

It’s based on the open-source Drupal platform, and he talks what is possible with the system.

We’re integrating a lot more social-networking functionality, which we think is an important tool for addressing the “low frequency” problem that most news sites face.

We’re going to be aggressive aggregators, pulling in RSS feeds from every community resource we can find, and giving our users the ability to vote the results up/down. We’ll link heavily to all the sources, including “competitors.”

Ranking/rating, commenting, and RSS feeds will be ubiquitous. Users of Twitter, Pownce and Friendfeed will be able to follow topics of interest.

I couldn’t agree with Steve more when he says that internet start-ups have been smart in adopting open-source tools while newspapers have failed to embrace them. That thinking has to change. Steve is looking for collaborators on the project, and I think this is a golden opportunity for news sites to work together to build a platform for their future.