Behind-the-Curtain Changes at A News Cafe.com

Today I talk with Joseph Domke of Ostrava, Czech Republic, where he’s lived for nine years with his delightful wife Marie and my three Ragdoll grandcats, Neffie, Apollo and the new cat, whose name I always forget.

Joe’s my son – the youngest – but he’s also A News Cafe.com’s webmaster; the guy who came up with the idea – and who created a “simple blog” for me after my abrupt “departure” from my newspaper job in 2007. My decade-old newspaper job ended on a Wednesday, and by that Sunday Joe had sent me a link to my new way to remain a journalist: online. Joe’s been with the site ever since.

Anyway, although Joe and I are on the other side of the world from one another, he and I Skype frequently to manage the site, and catch up on life; so often that it doesn’t feel as if he’s that far away. And besides, he’s so happy there. And like most mothers, if my kid’s happy, I’m happy.

Speaking of happy, I am sure he will tell you that one of the greatest joys of his life is to work with his mother — except when I pester him to write a food column … just a few words, a couple of pictures, a little recipe … which I try not to do more than about three or four times a year. Or seven.

But in the meantime, today he will talk about the changes you might have noticed here on your favorite online news magazine site since he flipped the switch – or whatever – early Saturday morning.

joe cropped

Q: Hi, Joe. I know your preference is to remain behind the curtain, so I appreciate you allowing me to drag you to center stage to explain the ways in which A News Cafe.com has changed lately.

Right away I can tell you that I’m extremely excited about having a recipe tab on the nav bar, and I like the little conversation bubbles at the top of each post that will show the number of comments. Very cool.

I’m glad you like the site so far and I’m relieved that the upgrade went without a hitch.

Q: Likewise. OK, first, what exactly happened Saturday?

We use a content management system called WordPress on anewscafe.com and Saturday morning I updated it to the newest version.

Q: Technically speaking  – well, it’s all technical – but we changed “themes” –  right? Why?

Right. Because our old theme wasn’t compatible with the newest version of WordPress, I had to install a new theme as well. Since I wanted to keep the same look of the old theme I had to customize an existing theme that was compatible with the newest WordPress.

Q: Will this improve A News Cafe.com?


Q: Can you list some examples of how?

The improvements are mostly to the backend of the site that we use for publishing articles. It has a better interface and is faster and more secure.

Q: I’ll take your word for it. Now, how will the change affect readers’ experience with A News Cafe.com, or will it?

Readers will find that the site looks much better on mobile devices and tablets. The old site had a very basic mobile theme that looked nothing like the desktop version. The new theme is what’s called mobile responsive, which means that the layout changes dynamically depending on the size of the screen that you’re viewing it on.

So when viewing the site on a tablet-sized screen the right sidebar – that contains Photo Cafe, ads and other things – is collapsed to make room for the articles. You can pop it back up by pressing the “<<” icon on the right, below the navigation bar.

When viewing on a smart phone-sized screen the right sidebar is moved to the bottom of the page, the articles are moved into a single column and the navigation menu bar is collapsed as well. You can expand the navigation menu by pressing the icon with the three horizontal lines on the right, below the anewscafe.com logo.

Q: All righty. Sounds good. And advertisers? What will this change mean for them?

One of the main reasons that I wanted to upgrade the site was I wanted to install a new advertising management system that couldn’t be installed on the old version of WordPress that we were using.

The new ad system has better click and view tracking with interactive graphs and better support for flash-based ads. I think advertisers will like being able to see all the stats change on a day-to-day basis. The old ad system just kept an ongoing record, so you couldn’t look back at see the stats for a specific time period.

Q: That makes me happy, because it should make advertisers happy. How long has this been in the works?

I’ve been working on it for about a month. Most of that time was spent customizing the new theme and getting things to work properly… and worrying that I’d break the site while performing the upgrade.

Q: I never doubted you, but I’m glad you didn’t break the site. On another note, is it my imagination or does the site – I don’t know – pop more?

The design is a little cleaned up. Since I was starting with a clean slate I was able to make sure that things like layout, element spacing and font colors were consistent throughout the site.

Q: Have you moved all the furniture back in place after the new installation – if that’s the correct word – or are some things still in transition as we move to the new theme? Will there be glitches?

I’m still working on some things. Mostly small layout and design bugs whenever I find them. But there shouldn’t be any major glitches now.

Q: That’s a relief. Back to this whole process, we give a heartfelt, enthusiastic shout-out to Jim Gore (thank you, Jim!), the retired programmer/genius/friend who’s been with A News Cafe.com since its inception, who was so gracious to lend a hand with this project, right?

Jim’s my hero! I really couldn’t have done this without him. He found solutions to some big problems that I just couldn’t figure out and was great at catching anything I might have forgotten.

Jim Gore (left) and Joe Domke actually got to work in the same time zone recently when Joe flew from the Czech Republic to consult with Jim about the upcoming redesign.

Jim Gore (left) and Joe Domke actually got to work in the same time zone a few years ago when Joe flew from the Czech Republic to consult with Jim about the last redesign.

Q: Is there anything else I should have asked?

How about why I wanted to upgrade the site?

Q: Why did you want to upgrade the site?

I’ll be in Italy for a week in July and I realized it would be hard for me to put up and take down ads,  so I wanted a new ad system that has scheduling built-in. That’s when I discovered our old theme didn’t work with the new version of WordPress (after seven stressful hours of site downtime and frustrating IM chats with our webhost’s tech support when a backup restore went wrong) and I’d have to make an all new theme.

Q: How frustrating that must have been. I had no idea, though I do remember a few unstable moments when the site was down unexpectedly. Readers were troopers about it.

But hey, you’re going to Italy! What fun! Have a cannoli for me.

Before we wrap this up, is this the part where you say how much fun it is to work with your mother?

It is very fun working with my mother. Can you pay me now, please?

Joe and his mom, Doni Chamberlain, in the Beskydy mountains for Christmas 2014.

Joe and his mom, Doni Chamberlain, in the Beskydy mountains for Christmas 2014.

Q: You bet. Tomorrow.

Well, thank goodness we got all that business stuff out of the way. Now, for other important news, how are my grandcats, what’s the weather like in Ostrava, and do you have any new recipes you’d like to share with us, as long as you’re here? How about this one for the picture of your donuts I stole copied from your Facebook page?

Cats are good, weather’s fine, and here’s where I found the donut recipe.

joe's donuts

Q: You can’t blame me for trying.

Thanks, Joe, for indulging me with my questions, and thank you for all you do to keep A News Cafe.com running smoothly.

Readers and advertisers, on behalf of the team at A News Cafe.com we thank you for your patience during his upgrade. If you notice any glitches, or something amiss, please let us know, either in the comments section, or via email to me at donig.anewscafe@gmail.com

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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