The Metropolitan’s Web Editor, Joseph Parsons, sat down with his predecessor Levi King to talk about the history and development of The Metropolitan website. King graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Technology, and now works as a coursework editor for Capella University.
How did you get involved with The Metropolitan?
Originally it was because I had a class in my Technical Writing major where we were basically required to finish an article in the class and then submit it to a real publication. A lot of people were going to places like City Pages and whatnot, but I didn’t feel like I was ready to jump straight into something that was distributed on newsstands on the street.
I had never really thought about the actual paper at Metro until that point. I saw [the Metropolitan] at the newsstands around campus and got involved. And it turned out they ended up needing someone to do the web design aspect of it. So I submitted two or three articles before joining the staff proper, and then it became a monthly article on staff and went from there.
When you started going into the web design, how long did that take?
Immediately after I joined, they only had a very simple placeholder website. It was unfortunately complicated. They had very limited functionality and essentially were only able to provide a link to a PDF. And I did the small upgrade. I found a work-around where I could use Mozilla’s PDF.js library to embed the PDF so it was viewable on the page and didn’t have to be downloaded. Which was a step up. But still a far cry from what they wanted it to be.
Originally it was really difficult to trace the history of what happened to the original site. But the short of it was that whoever had been running the site before had chafed at the requirements where Metro State requires student organizations who are going to run a website on the Metro State server — it has to be straight HTML, nothing else.
So whoever had been doing the web design before I was on had done their own solution on their own host and had paid for it themself. And when they graduated they quit paying for it and it disappeared. So we had a gap in the archives. It was really unfortunate. I repaired what I could, but I was never able to figure out how to get in contact with that person. I think I found them on LinkedIn but they didn’t reply to my messages. And that was at that point I just said “Okay, we’re going to be building a new site, I’m going to try to make this thing future-proof.”
So you made sure the school paid for the web hosting?
That was the really hard part. That was multiple meetings with the student council. I was just going for a standards-based approach to everything. I chose a very cooperative web hosting company. Not a huge operation. I picked them because they complied with the way the school pays, through purchase orders.
I know you worked with two other students on the website. How did you collaborate with them?
When I started the capstone [ICS 499, Software Engineering and Capstone Project], very early on there was the pitch process. Essentially the instructor tells you “come up with a project or I’m going to give you one.” And I had made sure in advance to tell him “I’ve got a project, I wanna find classmates who’re going to help me with this project.” And I had the fortune of finding two guys in the same class who were willing and able to help me out with the heavy-lifting, because that’s not my strong suit. I hadn’t had that bad of a time with the broad strokes of it, but that’s why I wanted someone more technical.
Were they computer science students?
Yeah. Ben, he was the real fortunate one for me. He had experience with pretty much the same kind of thing, making custom parsers. He just figured out how to make it function the way that I envisioned it. And then Seth, he did the UI [user interface]. We all shared the tasks equally, but Ben did the core functionality, Seth did the UI, and I did most of the rest of the project.
Did you look at other options for the website, like WordPress?
I don’t like WordPress, and I don’t like it because it would eventually be a problem. There was going to be a time when someone argues “Let’s do a plug-in!”
And then you’ve got security issues up the wazoo?
Security issues, and you’ve got the obsolescence issues where: “Oh, the comments thing that we decided to do, they stopped supporting it! We’ve got to migrate to a new comments system or we’re going to lose all our comments.”
The one time that there was a serious discussion of doing comments, I proposed a library that was strictly local, where the user could leave a comment and see the comment under the article but it didn’t actually post to a server. So it just like… a dummy to serve that urge to comment.
At the time, it was due to our Black Lives Matter edition. There was hate mail being shoved under the door of the office. It was just a situation where, “Do we want to provide the voice [for online comments]? If we do provide the voice, maybe we can just make it a fake voice.” And nobody had patience to ever moderate that. So I was always very much of the “no comments” position. If they ever do, woe betide the student who manages it.
Internet comments are just the worst part of the internet, so why would you even wanna have to deal with it? We post articles on Facebook, if people really want to send us hate mail, they can hate the posts on Facebook.
And then at least it’s attached to a real identity. Or you can just block them from the page. It’s a lot easier because Facebook is going to give you these consistent tools. You’re not always going to want to use the Facebook tools, but at least they are a consistent set of tools that any editor can come in and work with.