Editor's Views: Website off to good start, but much work remains

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Gazette's revamped website, gazettextra.com, has been up for almost three weeks. It's a good time to share some of what we've learned:

-- Our plans for more and fresher content generally are working well. The site is newsier and more vibrant. The new design features more stories in more prominent places, and our schedule to post new stories throughout the day ensures visitors see something different on almost every visit.

As with the newspaper, some days are better than others. When news is happening, the site changes constantly throughout the day, and that's what we like. When things are slower, readers still see fresh stories posted at least a handful of times during the day. The addition of Opinion page content—editorials, letters to the editor, columns—and entertainment stories adds variety to the mix and gives us more options for livening up the homepage.

-- Our increased emphasis on timeliness, enhanced by our new content management system, means we'll build more stories online as they develop. We've had two good examples already: the initial breaking news Aug. 5 that authorities were searching in Janesville for the remains of a Fort Atkinson girl missing since 1947 and the release Wednesday of the finalists for Janesville's city manager position.

In both cases, we filed a few paragraphs immediately and then added details as we gathered them. That gave our readers the freshest information throughout the day, and gazettextra.com outpaced other media in covering both important stories.

-- We still have work to do, and we're making changes and improvements as we go along. We listened to concerns and complaints and took restrictions off obituaries so all visitors can view them. We worked through technical issues that shut down the site for short periods. We fixed a problem for people who wanted to comment on stories using nicknames.

Those types of glitches are sure to happen with such big changes. We've got a list of other items to address in the weeks ahead that will enhance the experiences of people who visit and improve the content.

-- Speaking of content, we plan to add more blogs, videos, photos, social media and other elements to make the site even stronger. Unlike with the newspaper, we're not limited to a set number of pages. We've got all the space we want. We do, though, have only so many people to create the content, and we need to work within the capabilities of our technical resources.

-- Some people get what we're trying to do. The vast majority of our subscribers have been supportive, and nearly all are sticking with us.

Some people, on the other hand, don't get it, and I doubt they ever will. We've received and seen complaints from folks who don't think we should charge for access to our best content. They are accustomed to getting that information for free, and they aren't about to pay for it. So be it. We'd like to have them as paying customers, but most have never contributed a cent to this company.

-- This is a never-ending project. We knew that going into the planning and launch of the site, but it's become more clear in the early going. Beyond addressing the glitches and fixes that remain on our to-do list, we must think creatively about how to take advantage of what the web allows, and we must continue to expand into mobile and other forms of delivery that are sure to dominate the not-so-distant future.

In all of it, we'll need your help. If you have ideas for how we can improve gazettextra.com now or in the future, send them our way.

Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is sangus@gazettextra.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.

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