(WIP) Morse WordPress Theme

A WordPress theme custom-made for small newspapers. Built with versatility, ease of use, and maintainability in mind.

Starting an online publication in 2020 should be easy.

Having rebuilt The Phillipian’s website as its Executive Digital Editor, I was often asked by members of other publications for advice on setting up a digital presence, or starting an online publication. I never had a good answer. My work on phillipian.net was that of salvaging a plugin-ladden, barely functional mess of a WordPress website; my solution was to strip away all the third-party solutions I could, implementing my own stripped-down theme with legacy support.

This worked great for us. WordPress, when used right, is incredibly powerful and user-friendly; phillipian.net supports an archive of 15,000+ articles, hundreds of writers, and endless photos and multimedia, with hundreds articles churned out each week during the year. WordPress handles it without a hitch. Its extensibility and powerful templating features allow me to make our content display exactly how we want it to, or how any editor wants it to through the dashboard without touching a single line of code.

But this only works because of all the effort I put into building things out from scratch, just the way they should be. If solutions are implemented with third-party templates and plugins, a WordPress website can quickly become a bogged-down and ugly nightmare.

So, my tenure with The Phillipian over but the interest in small online publications higher – and these publications more important – than ever, I thought, what if I applied everything I’ve learned from phillipian.net and built a WordPress template that any small publication could use, phillipian.net designed with visual quality, ease of use, technical sustainability and robust content management in mind?

This is the idea behind Morse.

(These are mockups, but only because The Phillipian’s fonts aren’t on Google Fonts; all the color and font changing features have been implemented, and the website looks basically exactly this way)

Some features

Morse is very WIP. I’m not working on it actively, but I absolutely would if there’s a publication that would make use of it. After having the idea for a while, I finally bashed out an 0.1.0 release after someone reached out to me directly about wanting to start an online publication. If you’re interested and want to see it built, definitely shoot a message to me on email (samsonzhang@samsonzhang.com), Instagram (@samsonzhangthesalmon), Twitter (@wwsalmon), Facebook Messenger (just search for my name), wherever!

The 0.1.0 release is what’s shown in screenshots on this page. It provides a set of very basic functionality so that you can just start publishing content; all the other features I have planned build on top of this foundation. Here are the features, as listed in the release notes:

If you want to use Morse and think you can figure everything out for yourself, just download it from GitHub – the zip file on the release page will give you everything you need. If you want to use Morse and aren’t as familiar with WordPress or the specific plugins being used, again, just get in touch with me!

(I’m also very proud of having figured out how to implement user-selected Google Fonts, check out my blog post about it: How to Support User-Selected Google Fonts in WordPress Themes & Plugins)

Other code & building projects

Auto Turner: A mechanical page turner for musicians. The final result of Cooper Union's 6 week product design and prototyping Makerspace class in the Summer STEM 2018 program.

Motorized Camera Gimbal: Building a motorized 3-axis gimbal to stabilize cameras for filmmaking using 3D printing and laser cutting. Personal project through the Phillips Academy Makerspace.

RL-Timeline: Esports is all about the storylines; but with team changes and roster shuffles several times a year, they're hard to follow. RL Timeline is a concept for a way to see Rocket League History in a whole new way.

Small Form Factor Ryzen PC Build: A custom PC the size of a shoebox, but with a beastly Ryzen R5 2600 and GTX 1060 for twice the power of my old build. I discuss the components I selected, the build process, and the final performance and cooling.

YouTube Liberation: Chrome extension to liberate you from the infinite distraction cycle of YouTube.

(WIP) Morse WordPress Theme: A WordPress theme custom-made for small newspapers. Built with versatility, ease of use, and maintainability in mind.

sota.js: An easy-to-use, beautiful, d3.js-based charting library. Originally built for The Phillipian's State of the Academy 2020 survey

SZ Project Tracker: App for effortlessly keeping project/learning/anything logs. Built in React with serverless AWS backend