First of all, plugins are not hacks. Plugins are modular. That’s what extensibility means. You should know that as an IT journalist. If you use BuddyPress, then, yes, it’s the standard. It’s what your whole site is based on. Use something different if that fits your needs better.
WordPress was for managing posts on a blog
The key word here is ‘was’. If you know anything about WP, then you should know that by now it’s one of the most versatile CMS around.
The Zenphoto solution, not cramming everything into one plugin, is more solid and versatile.
Is it just me, or does that not make much sense? You can build plugins that are applications in their own right (except that they need WP). There’s no cramming going on, mate. Only extending…