When our publisher, Dan Alexander, told his editors that life in the newsroom would change dramatically when we launched our new websites — all 24 of them — he wasn’t kidding.
And then he said something that didn’t quite sink in until the switchover finally took place Aug. 26, just in time for two historic news events, the Lake Champlain Bridge arch-lift and Tropical Storm Irene. He said, “We are no longer a newspaper organization, we are a news organization.”
Daily newspapers are already in “news organization” mode, as are radio and television stations, and they have known for years the importance of uploading breaking news to their websites as it happens. And the public — with an ever-growing appetite for digital news — expects the most up-to-date news on demand.
If people feel an earthquake, for example, people want to log on to their local news website and find out what has just happened, ASAP. And if the story is not there, they’ll move on to another news website until they find the story. The goal of a news organization today is to be the first website people turn to for news of importance to them.
For weekly newspapers, like we publish, the news pace has traditionally been much different. We’ve had a week to report and publish the news, not hours or minutes. Weekly newspaper editors and publishers have been trying to set their products apart from dailies for well over 100 years. Then radio edged into the news market, television followed, along with 24-hour cable news channels, and the Internet blew the news business wide open. Our society now demands instant gratification.
For weeklies to remain in business, they must continue to be relevant to their readers, in print and online. That’s a delicate balance, and it’s an ongoing struggle between the online-savvy cub reporter — who grew up with a Bluetooth device in his ear — and the hard-nosed news veteran — who banged out stories on typewriters with a cigarette behind his ear. The bottom line is both products have to be special enough to attract readers and consumers.
Yes, in today’s news organization, it’s not enough to attract readers to a news website. Today’s news consumers want a multimedia approach to storytelling. That means words, photos, video and audio. Luckily, our new websites have these features, and we are taking full advantage of them with our storytelling.
When our reporters cover events, we now try to get photos for slide shows and video. We also have the opportunity to put streaming audio files and podcasts on the sites.
We’ve recently been having great fun trying to get breaking news online before our competitors. We want to be “online first” or “first online” because we want you to know you can rely on Denton Publications and our sister news groups — New Market Press in Vermont, Eagle News Group in Central New York, and the Spotlight Newspaper Group in the Capital District — to bring you breaking news that is important to you.
Here is a sampling of recent news stories posted on our websites before anyone else:
•At 6:00 a.m. Aug. 26, two minutes after the Lake Champlain Bridge arch began leaving Port Henry for Crown Point, we had the story online. Within an hour, we had a photograph uploaded. By the end of the day, we had a video online and another story. The next day, we had a 10-photo slide show of the move and another story. We couldn’t print the stories and photos until the following week, but we were able to bring you the latest news with our websites, before anyone else.
•On the morning of Aug. 29, minutes after State Police said they had found another woman’s body in the Great Chazy River, we had the news online. Plus we had video of an eyewitness.
•At 10:52 a.m. Aug. 26, we posted the story of Sophie Clarke, a Willsboro High School graduate who is on the new cast of the “Survivor” television show. (It’s a mystery why the Press-Republican printed, “We had this first online at 5:30 p.m. yesterday,” in its Sept. 13 edition.) We even had the story in two Valley News editions before the PR had it “first online.”
•At 11:29 a.m. Sept. 12, while Gov. Cuomo’s press conference was still in progress, we were the first to post news online that Route 73 between Keene Valley and the Northway was open.
We take pride in giving you the news in print and online and tell those stories in a variety of ways. And we are confident more people will notice our transition from a weekly community newspaper group to a multimedia news organization that continues to focus on local news.