Behind the scenes: Building the OU Daily projects site

In February, we publicly launched our projects website for the OU Daily: projects.oudaily.com. Our main site is hosted through TownNews and uses a content management system called BLOX, but for the projects site, we decided to use WordPress.

BLOX is stable and trustworthy and simple to navigate, but we wanted a piece of the site to use WordPress because allows for some more flexible design options.

We’d talked at The Daily about wanting to create a “Snow Fall” type package — our staff uses “snowfall” as a verb now, referring to creating web presentations like the one the New York Times did in 2012 for its piece “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.”

Screengrab from the New York Times piece “Snow Fall.”

It’s an amazing example of multimedia journalism presented beautifully for the web, and we’ve wanted to emulate something like that at The Daily for a long time now.

I had the fortune of meeting Adam Croom, the director of digital learning at OU’s Center for Teaching Excellence, my sophomore year. He’s the brain behind OU Create — the initiative that gives OU students, faculty and staff access to free domains so they can have their own blogs and portfolio sites. (Side note: OU Create is how I started danabranham.com. It’s an awesome project.)

Adam and I met for coffee my sophomore year to talk about OU Create and what we were up to at The Daily, and I talked to him about how we wanted to create more immersive, beautiful web presentations. He met with my adviser, Seth Prince, in the fall of 2016 and they talked more about it. Adam agreed to take a story The Daily had already published, that was full of photos and tweets and video, and take a stab at presenting it like “Snow Fall.”

He took this:

Screen grab from an OU Daily story headlined: “How SAE fueled an OU turnaround.”

And showed us this:

Screen grab from Adam Croom’s redesign of an OU Daily story. Click through on the photo to scroll through it.

It was so exciting to see an OU Daily story presented in a much more compelling way than we’d ever been able to before. Adam made a clone site of the story he redesigned for us and let us log into the back end of it to play around and see how it was built.

He let us know what themes and plugins he used to build the awesome presentation he showed us, and with that, we had the keys to building our projects site. We didn’t host it through OU Create, but Adam showed us that building a “Snow Fall”-esque presentation wasn’t out of reach.

So, in February, we launched the projects site publicly with a story about how long OU students wait to get mental health care. We called it “Waiting Game.”

Leaning a lot on Adam’s example, I designed the presentation for this story, written by the incredibly talented Emma Keith. Here’s how it turned out:

Screen grab from OU Daily project “Waiting Game.” Click through on the photo to scroll through it.

When we hit publish, it was something the whole staff celebrated, and we got to have a really cool, important conversation with our readers about mental health care. Look out for a future post, where I’ll talk about how we thought up this story idea and how we found people to talk to about it.

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