Positioning the Bay Area’s fastest growing news source for success
The San Francisco Standard is the Bay Area’s fastest growing source for news and information, proving that Americans do want high quality local news. Launched in 2021, The Standard now reaches over a million readers each month and boldly works “to create the future of local news.”
The Standard came to Alley with the primary goals of migrating to WordPress VIP and updating their technical architecture to improve both the editorial workflow and developer experience. We partnered with their engineering and editorial teams to identify existing roadblocks. This started with a comprehensive technical evaluation and product roadmap that we executed in an agile fashion in collaboration with their in-house team.
When The Standard approached us, their WordPress CMS implementation was slowing down their editors and developers alike. They were planning to migrate the site to WordPress VIP and saw this as an opportunity to address architectural improvements for greater stability, sustainability, and scalability.
On the editorial side, their team was hampered by a workflow that hopped between multiple platforms with extraneous steps to get a story from pitch to published. The editorial experience in WordPress was cluttered by visual noise that wasn’t relevant to most users. This made it difficult for the newsroom to clearly and quickly identify what was needed to complete a task.
They were also hampered by the slowness of the WordPress CMS. Routine maintenance and plugin management had been deferred for too long. Additionally, there was a collection of one-off features and fixes in the theme and plugin architecture rather than a cohesive, optimized codebase.
The site was in need of streamlining and standardization. The Standard’s planned migration to WordPress VIP was the perfect opportunity to revisit features and functionality and vastly improve the backend.
“Alley brought a level of rigor and thoughtfulness to our products and our process that was desperately needed. The team took a mess of hopes and frustrations and turned it into an actionable plan, then executed on that plan.”— James Tyner, senior product manager at The San Francisco Standard
Our comprehensive technical evaluation reviewed their plugin and theme architecture as well as their Node app for their decoupled frontend. This evaluation became the roadmap for this project.
We set our North Star as a successful migration to WordPress VIP and a positive transformation for the editorial experience. An emergent backlog was prioritized with both factors in mind: what would get us to WordPress VIP most efficiently and what delivers a better workflow for the newsroom?
To address the editorial challenges, we recommended that The Standard streamline their workflow by moving the entire editorial process into WordPress, leveraging PublishPress Pro and WordPress core functionality to reduce friction for the newsroom. We worked in partnership with their team to customize the post editor and fine-tune the CMS user interface to only display the relevant parts for each role.
In response to the technical challenges, we recommended a new governance process for their plugin library. We outlined a path to an optimized, organized codebase and a standardized deployment workflow that would pave the way for faster feature development and shorter backend load times.
As we migrated the site into the WordPress VIP infrastructure, we removed deprecated code, cleaned up legacy data, streamlined queries, and refactored as needed to meet a stringent set of security and performance standards.
It was also essential to define a shared workflow with The Standard’s internal development team, allowing us to collaborate and prioritize effectively. This was an agile process, grounded by our clearly defined goals. We listened and translated numerous requests into an actionable product backlog. We met weekly to demo progress and refine our understanding of the next phase of work, always based on what we had learned together. Throughout this process, we advocated for the North Star: will this get us closer to completing our migration? Will this transform the editorial experience? All decisions were considered through that filter, allowing us to rapidly prioritize for the success of the project.
Through careful review and optimization of the codebase and the data, we reduced the database size by 93% and the plugin library by 47%. We dramatically improved the editorial experience by removing dozens of plugins and post settings, unnecessary blocks, and deprecated post types. This resulted in a faster, visually streamlined editorial experience with a 55% gain in CMS performance. This improved workflow makes it easier for The Standard to create content and explore new opportunities for storytelling.
The editorial experience is now more intuitive, consistent, and tailored to each role in the newsroom. These changes reduced noise in the user interface and built confidence in the CMS.
The developer experience is now supported by more efficient debugging, easier updates, and consistent environments, which in turn supports a stronger overall tech stack. The developer team is empowered to manage customizations internally and comprehensively, and the overall time spent on site maintenance has been reduced.
The WordPress plugin collection is now performant, secure, standards-compliant, and aligned with business and editorial goals. With a streamlined collection of plugins and a new governance process for approving future plugins, the project is set up for success as the team continues feature development in the product roadmap.
WP Dashboard Menu
WP Dashboard Menu
The outcome of this work is a stable and sustainable foundation on which The Standard can grow and thrive as they seek to create the future of local news.
Finally, this project resulted in a trusting, long term partnership, where Alley continues to provide product support, software development, and strategic guidance to The Standard. We take pride in our contributions to this team and their ambitious goals.
Let’s talk about how we can put our talents to work for you.