by Anita McSorley
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As the parent of two college students this year, I have more reason than most to appreciate Oscar Wilde’s famous line: “I am not young enough to know everything.”
But as the managing editor of The Leaven, I make a point of never underestimating the energy, enthusiasm and sheer unadulterated talent of the young Catholics of this archdiocese.
In fact, I can even be accused of banking on it.
When I proposed to editor Father Mark last spring that we bypass the usual process of constructing a new website — i.e., hiring it out to a third party — in favor of tackling it in-house, I’m sure his “gulp!” could be heard for miles.
But when I explained who I planned to tap to do the actual work, he gave a great big thumbs-up — then stayed as far away from the project as possible.
We always knew that longtime webmaster Darin Hansen (who doubles as the technology guru at St. Agnes School in Roeland Park) would be a big part of the makeover. Because we would be bringing the site over from an HTML environment to something more user- friendly, we knew we needed his knowledge of the current site and usage patterns, as well as his coding expertise, in on the ground level. But his full-time job didn’t allow him — or us, for that matter — the jillions of hours necessary to build an entire site.
As luck would have it, two sisters who had interned with us before — Katie and Libby Hyde of Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee — were both available for summer work. Although we had previously utilized their writing skills for The Leaven (both have won writing awards for the paper), they had many skills yet to tap.
And so, long before the official beginning of summer, we had decided to build a WordPress site, using the appropriately named theme “Fearless.”
The summer of the interns
The decision to go with a WordPress site was easy enough. We needed something that anyone in our office could post to — even reporters in the field.
But the number of decisions that followed the selection of our theme (a template that provides the basic architecture for a WordPress site) was truly staggering.
And there were the occasional dispiriting moments.
“It was pretty daunting,” admitted Katie. “We had less than four months to design a website, train the staff in how to use it and troubleshoot any technical issues before the interns all went back to college.”
“Honestly, the biggest problem to overcome with building the site was the sheer size of the project itself,” she said.
But working together helped.
“Libby actually brought more technical knowledge to the table,” said Katie, “because she is three years younger than me and just recently graduated [from] high school.
“We also had the help of three other interns — Jennie Littleton, Bridget McSorley and Mitchell Walters. They were instrumental in transferring our archives, word by word, as far back as 2009 to our new site.”
“It was deadly boring, I’m sure,” added Katie, “but it will be very useful for our readers.”
So what’s in it for me?
If you weren’t here to enjoy the cheerful company of bright and funny college kids all summer (in addition to the aging grumpy journalists that usually inhabit our office), you’re probably wondering by now what’s in this for you.
In a word, plenty. (For a list of the top 10 reasons to check out our new website, see sidebar.)
The new site enables The Leaven staff to post news anytime and from anywhere — and it’s stuffed to the gills with new content.
In the past, The Leaven website has pretty much been parts of the print product in a digital format that was updated once a week on the publishing date of the print Leaven.
But the new site allows the Web offering to be much more than a poor stepchild to the paper.
Leaven designer Todd Habiger describes it now as a “companion piece” instead.
“The website isn’t intended to replace the paper — only complement it,” said Habiger. “The paper is still the best way to get the news to the people of the archdiocese.
“But online we can offer our readers things that we can’t fit into our 16 pages of print: more photos, audio, video — things that don’t lend themselves to newspapers.
“With the new website, we hope to offer more of what people love about The Leaven — just online.”
Of course, there was one little hitch in our grand plan for the summer. Far too soon, it was over! The interns had to go back to college.
So the last few weeks of their time here was crammed with building, then training, then building some more.
“Training my coworkers to use WordPress was a really interesting experience for me because . . . I have rarely been responsible for teaching adults new skills,” said Libby, who started as a freshman at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in August.
“Being a student, I am so used to learning from others,” she said. “It was challenging in a new way for me to teach those older than me.”
Katie, finishing up at American University in Washington, D.C., this December, said it helped that she and Libby both already knew the staff — its strengths and its limitations.
“We understood that The Leaven has a small staff and is very busy with weekly deadlines. So we worked hard to create a site that could be maintained by the staff without too much outside support,” she said.
Just as it was hard for the regular Leaven staff — even with the help of Hansen and Katie remotely — to shoulder the site at the end of the summer, so, too, was it difficult for the interns to let it go.
“We both secretly refer to the website as ‘our baby,’” admitted Katie, “which I think best demonstrates how important this project was to us.”
Paper gets a new ’do
As if launching a new website this summer wasn’t challenging enough, Habiger decided that some design changes were in order to show both off to best effect.
Readers will notice new photos of our columnists, a newly designed calendar of events and a few tweaks in other places.
And, in case you missed him, Habiger and various photographers visited every parish this summer, so entire shoots of every church are available to any pastor who asks for them. Visitors to the website will also see those fresh photos pop up in the weekly video series “Holy Destinations,” which features a different church of the archdiocese each week.
There’s too much more in both the redesigned paper and on the website to cover here. But keep reading — and now visiting us at: www.theleaven.org — and give us a chance to impress you.
And before you leave the website, be sure and look for the feedback form. Feedback on the new site will be much appreciated, but we’d love even more to hear your story ideas.
When it comes right down to it, and despite all the new bells and whistles, at heart we are simply storytellers.
Give us the chance to spread His story by sharing yours.
Top ten reasons to check out The Leaven’s new website
- Email alerts
Want to be among the first to know when there is breaking news? (OK, we don’t get breaking news very often, but are you forgetting the day the pope announced he was stepping down?) Sign up for email alerts by putting your email alert in the form on the front page of the site.
Misplaced your print issue? No problem. The calendar of events is now online!
Whether Spanish is your first language or you’re learning it in the classroom, look for the complete coverage of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States to be available in Spanish as well.
Details on every parish in the archdiocese are yours with the click of a mouse — including Mass times.
Follow your favorite columnist — back through the years.
Online submission of wedding anniversaries, ads, story ideas and other feedback makes it easy for you to reach us.
Watch for short video clips accompanying our stories and Todd Habiger’s “Holy Destinations” video series, featuring a different church of the archdiocese each week.
Photo galleries of our major shoots will now go up when the accompanying story is posted.
- Faster, easier searching
The new site makes it easy to search for topics old and new. Just type in a search term and see what pops up! Our stories can also be searched by writer, columnist or category (youth, archdiocese, Vatican, etc.) as well.
- New content every day
In the past, The Leaven website was just much of the regular Leaven duplicated online. Now, not only will you be able to see far more pictures than can be fit into the print edition, but you will see other new content every day. Some will be Web exclusives from The Leaven staff. But the coverage of both national and world church news will be much more robust as well.
So check us out at www.theleaven.org and let us know what you think!