There are two crucial elements to every website: The front-end and the back-end. The front-end is the exterior of the website. It's what consumers see when they come to your site to check out your content.

The back-end is the engine that powers your website. It's the thing that helps you easily publish a story to the right part of your site. For most publishers, the back-end is controlled by a content management system (CMS).

There are many different CMS's out there. Take your time with this decision; it's the thing that allows you to publish your stories, and you'll want to pick the perfect CMS for your startup.

Here's how some of the big CMS's compare:


  • Cost: Free, open-source.
  • Who uses it: TechCrunch, Bangor Daily News, New York Times Lens blog
  • The good stuff: It's easy to install, there are thousands of community-generated plugins and widgets to help you customize your site, it's easy to integrate third-party services into your site, it can be easily tailored to match the type(s) of content you produce, powerful WYSIWYG editor.
  • Why it's so powerful: It's uncomplicated and easy to learn. But if you'd like it to do something complicated, it's easy to customize. There's a plugin for nearly every purpose.


  • Cost: Free, open source.
  • Who uses it: Popular Science, New York Observer
  • The good stuff: It's easy to integrate third-party services into site, there thousands of community-contributed modules (add-ons) that add functionality to your site, it works well with lots of content (text, images, video, audio).
  • Why it's so powerful: Much like WordPress, it's easy to learn and easy to customize. Picking between Drupal and WordPress is really just a matter of personal preference. Both are incredibly powerful. (Here's a good look at Drupal vs. WordPress from a news developer's perspective.)

Expression Engine

  • Cost: $299
  • Who uses it: ReadyMade, Zocalo
  • The good stuff: It's commercial software built on top of open source software, it's very customizable, it's popular among designers due to its flexibility, it makes add-ons available to customize your site (some are free, some require purchase).
  • Why it's so powerful: Unlike some CMS's that were designed to be blog-first, Expression Engine was built to manage content first. It's very professional, very flexible and very easy to use.

Movable Type

  • Cost: Free for one user (people publishing/working within the CMS), $395 for a site with five users, $995 for unlimited users.
  • Who uses it: The Washington Post's blogs,
  • The good stuff: It's easy to customize, it features hundreds of plugins to allow for customization, it's professionally developed (not open source)
  • Why it's so powerful: There's a reason so many publishers use Movable Type. It's professional software that's user-friendly. Movable Type also offer actual customer service options, unlike open-source CMS's, which offer customer help forums.


  • Cost: Free.
  • Who uses it: Newsweek, The Washington Post (but neither uses it as their main CMS)
  • The good stuff: It's simple to set up, it's easy to sync the CMS with your custom domain, setting up a new theme is a one-click process.
  • Why it's so powerful: It's incredibly easy software for publishing, and the CMS makes it easy to share great content across the Tumblr community. But it's primarily blogging software, not a do-it-all CMS.
  • Recommended Readings:

Other CMS Options

Recommended Reading