Sunday, June 29, 2008

Redesign Isn't Just for Newspapers

Everyone needs a new look sometimes. That applies to publications as well.

As a former editor for the largest newspaper company in the United States, I've done my fair share of redesigns. After 20 years in the industry, it was almost a given. Early in my career, it happened when new editors came into the room and decided their newspaper looked a little dated. Later, as circulation dropped steadily as readers moved online, it seemed they came with more frequency.

The big newspaper redesign news this week: an updated look at the Orlando, Fla., Sentinel, with another in September to follow at its sister paper, The Chicago Tribune. The idea is to re-engage readers in the print product as a way to maintain readership at a time when the industry is struggling nationwide.

In my career, I've helped or directed redesigns at newspapers like The Venice, Fla., Gondolier, The Tribune in Coshocton, Ohio, The Times Recorder in Zanesville, Ohio, and the News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla.

In the last year as an editor at an Internet startup, I've realized that similar redesign principles apply online. The only thing that's different is that you can use traffic as an indicator for what works for readers -- and what doesn't.

Since launching the web site in December, we have listened to reader comments about usability and watched the traffic ebb and flow and come up with ways to address any issues along the way. On Friday, after weeks of work behind the scenes, we relaunched with a new look for the home page.

It's cleaner, simpler and easier to understand. And finally, it's here, so I share. I'd love to hear your comments. So feel free to e-mail me at and let me know what you think.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What Works at a Startup

You gotta love working at an Internet startup. Some weeks -- no matter how many newspapers , hometown or otherwise, are laying off employees -- you wonder why you left the corporate bandwagon. And then there are weeks like this one, where you wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

This week what worked at a startup?

1. The Mice Played.
Waiting until the office coffee runs out and the boss is on vacation to order -- ohmygawd -- completely NEW coffee flavors like "Timothy's German Chocolate Cake" or "Gloria Jean's Swiss Chocolate Almond."

And then expanding into a whole new realm --- tea. My afternoons are now spent drinking "Timothy's Cranberry Twist Green Tea," or "Celestial Seasonings Mandarin Orange Spice" while some cranky guy with a Southern drawl stomps around in the background complaining, "It smells like a Baaa-k-ree in here."

2. Willie. Willie. Willie.

There's something about walking into a room every morning and having someone -- ok some dog -- so excited to see you that he almost knocks you to the floor. It's just plain good for the soul -- even if he is a trash picker.

3. Getting a Little Help from my (Old) Friends.
Signing a contract with McClatchy-Tribune (good old-fashioned newspaper companies) that allows your stories on the wire service and, within days, getting some play on newspaper sites all the way across the country.

Now, that's what I call the power of the press.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Positive about Newspapers

With all the bad news about the declining newspaper industry, it's tough to find something positive to say when you're wrapped up in it. Declining profits, buyouts, newsroom cutbacks. You name it, the industry has seen it all in the last few years.

But after about a decade as a Gannett newspaper editor, I've spent almost a year on the other side of that fence -- working for an Internet startup company, developing a Web site and assessing the content's connection to the readership.

Part of the job is to search for partnerships with other news organizations interested in offering our stories on their sites. The more partners, the more they use your content. The more they use your content, the more the traffic builds. It's a pretty basic way to build online readers.

While our stories routinely get picked up by (Yesterday, our content was on the home page.) and other online sites, we've been searching for another way to increase traffic online -- through a partnership with newspapers.

Why? The CEO of our company, Cotter Cunningham, explains it by using his previous experience at, which built its traffic not just through its online partnerships but also through its partnerships with traditional print products. The more newspapers picked up the content, the more the online traffic increased.

This week, we signed a contract with McClatchy-Tribune to provide relationship content on its wire service to newspapers around the country. For me, it's an interesting twist. After spending years in the newspaper industry moving from print to online, I now work for an organization that's moving from online to print.

Funny how the world works. For all the bad news about the newspaper industry's decline, it's still offers something of importance to other mediums. Newspapers provide readers. It's just that simple.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Learning More about your Readers

I'm not a natural to online social networking. To be honest, I was always too busy to connect with people online when I'd rather do it in person.

After leaving my traditional newspaper job, I realized I needed to learn more about it. Even though many of my responsibilities in print had turned digital, there's something about joining an Internet startup that will force you into learning the details of something you only know on the surface.

Almost a year later, I'm facebooked, linkedin and twittering away. Aside from the connections and reconnections, both personal and professional, it's become even more important to me as a the content manager. I'm using the social networking part of our site,, as a way to assign stories that readers are talking about in groups, writing about on their journals or asking about in our polls.

Also based on my experiences, I've been involved in the discussions about how to improve the social networking part of the site. We eventually came up with an easy-to-use question and answer format that allows readers to share the details of their personal relationship story with their friends in the community.

Last week, after some weeks of editorial and technical tweaking, we rolled out the latest addition to the site. We sent out a link to the site addition in late-week e-mail to users, who have been filling them out ever since.

In addition to their story, the new page also gives users a chance to offer relationship tips to others, which we'll eventually cull to use in another form to enhance the site's content.

As I wrote in the e-mail introduction: "No matter where you are in your relationship, you can also offer advice to others about what you've learned so far. And you can read what others have learned along the way as well. By sharing your story, you can help yourself to move forward to a new and better place. And your story can help others do the same."

And isn't that part of what social networking is all about?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Behind the Scenes in Newsrooms

What's happening behind the scenes in newsrooms around the country?

I can't speak to every one of them. But here's a snippet of a conversation from a recent meeting with several newspaper colleagues I used to work with several years ago.

"The newspaper just isn't what it used to be," said one woman, a mid-level editor at a metro, who went on to describe the uncertainties of working in a newsroom that's been decimated by a bad economy and a slow draining of resources over time.

Another person sitting at the table said he was returning to school to get a master's degree to "keep my options open."

A third person at the table thought I was smart to jump off the newspaper bandwagon and into an Internet startup, regardless of the risk. She'd recently been assigned another position in the newsroom because the beat she'd been covering simply wasn't important anymore to the paper.

Seems like a recurring theme.