CalPress in the wild

The local community websites we run at the UC Berkeley journalism school use a custom WordPress theme called CalPress. It was constructed by former UC Berkeley instructor Josh Williams, who is now a multimedia producer at the New York Times.


CalPress was one of the first major innovations we designed to cater to hyperlocal news websites. It uses advanced features for displaying multimedia like videos, slideshows and photos. It also has a mechanism built in that allows editors to change the layout of the front page based on the day’s news. This idea of news-driven design was a throwback from the days Josh worked at the Las Vegas Sun.

Side by side comparisons of Calpress front page layouts

Depending on the day’s news, the front page layout can be changed to feature artwork predominantly, or instead a longer list of stories. There is also a setting to override the front page lead story with custom HTML, which could be used to create large dominant headline for breaking news.

While CalPress is free and available for anyone to download and use, it’s primarily designed as a blank template for theme developers to use as a starting base for constructing their own custom “child theme.” The New York Times recently used CalPress to host their Student Journalism Institute project in New Orleans.

Keeping CalPress generic was intentional. We are currently using the theme to run three hyperlocal news websites from the school: MissionLocal.org, OaklandNorth.net and RichmondConfidential.org. While it would be efficient to run all three sites from a single template, we learned that each community had different needs.

For example, the Mission District is a very close-knit community, and features a widget called Today’s Mission, designed to aggregate news and information about the Mission from sources around the Web. Oakland North has has unexpected success with an animal adoption feature on their site. We’re also finding the Richmond is a very neighborhood oriented city, as this 10-part series shows. The three sites continually use different layouts for their front pages, and we’re finding that the types of stories that are often most popular on the sites vary greatly. Food stories are big in the Mission, while crime stories get the highest traffic on the Richmond site.

We are continuing to learn from this experiment, and we hope to share more information about our analytics in future posts.

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