Setting up a university news site using Joomla! CMS

I’ve been busy attempting to create a university news site using Joomla! CMS. The budget: zero. The aim is to teach online journalism students about the workings of an open source CMS and how to upload content. The focus is on online editorial skills, so we don’t want them spending ages learning loads of code.


If you’ve not seen the previous post, the story so far is that I went with a cheap hosting provider in the US – ZZHosting. I liked the name. It reminded me of those bearded Texans, ZZ Top.  Ironically, the drummer Frank Beard was the only one in the band that didn’t sport one.

Back to the point, ZZ Hosting offers all the scary stuff that your host must provide, like PHP and MySQL. It also offers Joomla! pre-installed (part of the Fantastico list of software). You install Joomla! at a click of a button with Fantastico. Creating a site takes ages, so you might as well save time at the start (well, that’s my theory). But Fantastico has its critics and it’s worth reading-up about it. 

ZZ Hosting’s uptime has been excellent – not that we’re doing anything particularly "mission critical".

A quick review: Beginning Joomla! From Novice To Professional by Rahmel

I got hold of Beginning Joomla!: From Novice To Professional by Dan Rahmel. The reviews on pretty bad – just 2.5 stars out of 5. Reviews on the US site,, are a lot better (4.5 out of 5). But the book rightly tops the chart of best selling Joomla! books on both sites.

A criticism of the book was that the chapter on Setting up a Joomla! site in 20 minutes focuses mainly on hosting it using GoDaddy, a large US provider. But if you use a host which offers Fantastico (such as ZZ Hosting) you can skip all this.

Half the battle with any CMS is understanding its organisation. In the case of Joomla! you need to get your head around things like ‘categories’, ‘sections’ and ‘modules’. This is an area where Rahmel really excels. He advises the reader to plan the various sections of your site before uploading any content. In some respects you are being forced to put the proverbial ‘cart’ before the ‘horse’ – but the guy is certainly right. Uploading content is pretty easy when you’ve got the basics in place.   

I was less impressed with the chapter on creating your own template. It’s a lovely idea, but the explanations made zero sense to me. This was really something for the professional end of the readership. You could write a whole book on creating your own templates – I wish someone would!

Even if you take the time to create a template from scratch using Rahmel’s methods, I have a feeling the results would still not be as good as if you spent five minutes downloading one of the numerous free template available at Joomla24 (easily the best Joomla! template site). Call me lazy, but you can customise the free templates to get them looking how you want.

The version of Joomla! you download is pretty basic. You can really improve it’s functionality and make your own life easier as an administrator by ‘pimping your ride’ with some extensions. In fact I would make it compulsory to download them early on – some are pretty essential.

Extensions come in a number of different flavors – ‘components’, ‘modules’ and ‘plug-ins’ and Rahmel provides a good explanation here. He recommends a few decent ones, but I didn’t bother with them. I just read a load of the reviews on the excellent Joomla! Extensions directory and took my pick. I will write a post about the extensions I’ve personally enjoyed very shortly.

All in all, Rahmel provides a good beginners guide to the CMS. He has a companion site (created using Joomla!, of course) at Joomla! JumpStart. Within an hour of sitting down with the book, it all starts to look a lot more user-friendly.

Creating a news site using WordPress (yep! – that’s the blogging tool)

Something different. Andy Dickinson has written a fantastic post about creating a similar thing to what I’m doing using WordPress. I thought that WordPress was just a humble bit of blogging software, but it turns out you can create a good looking news site as well. The results are impressive. WordPress is certainly far more user-friendly than Joomla!

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2 Responses to Setting up a university news site using Joomla! CMS

  1. ANdy January 2, 2008 at 4:57 pm #

    Hi Steve
    Thanks for the mention. You’re right, wordpress is pretty user friendly but lacks collaborative posting tools in terms of staging articles, subbing etc.
    Joomla offers a bit more out of the box but hey, neither of them are that friendly to tweak. 🙂

  2. Perth Website Design March 26, 2009 at 11:35 am #

    For something simple like a news site that would only ever require core functionality, WordPress is the go. Especially if you’re a CMS novice. However when it comes time to add in some more advanced functionality, you will then wish you started out with Joomla from the beginning. But hey, that shouldn’t be problem – you _do_ have a long term plan, right? 🙂
    – Brent