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From the Publisher

Despite flaws, new Web sites are connecting

By: Tony Hazarian
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A week ago, I wrote how we had changed course on the Internet with the unveiling of Placeropolis.com and re-launch of AuburnJournal.com. Rather than follow the trade winds of replicating the daily print product online, we were sailing into the world of citizen journalism and breaking news online whenever possible. We knew the waters could be a little rough, and that the changes we made in approach and design wouldn't be accepted universally. Like snapping the Journal front page with the first cup of the day, dedicated online readers had gotten comfortable with the look, feel and use of AuburnJournal.com. The site was straightforward. It made sense. And with nearly 400,000 page views a month, AuburnJournal.com was getting a decent amount of traffic. So, why fix if it ain't broke? One longtime print subscriber and Web site reader wrote in to say that he was very unhappy with the makeover. He said the site was slow to load, he couldn't find Auburn news easily, and there wasn't enough information with the headlines to determine whether he should read the stories. I do keep track of several other communities with their online newspapers, and unfortunately my hometown paper has let me down, he wrote. The site was cumbersome and very difficult to navigate, wrote another, adding that columns and stories were not organized well. It's a confusing, unorganized mass. I certainly expected more ” much, much more, he wrote. But we received compliments, too. One devoted site user said the new AuburnJournal.com was cool and a lot of thought must have gone into the project. Another, a recent University of Missouri journalism graduate, said compliments to you on the great new look of AuburnJournal.com and for having the courage to leap into reader-generated content with Myopolis, the portion of the site devoted to your words, photos, videos and calendar entries. So, again, why fix something that ain't broke? Because we believe the direction we're headed is the right one. We know AuburnJournal.com can be better, much better. Stories can ” and will ” be organized more intuitively. We'll exterminate some of the bugs you've found in uploading your photos and videos. We're listening to our critics closely and working with our technology partner daily to improve the site and make it easier to read, easier to use, faster to navigate and more fun to hang around and play. We think we're on the right track, and we got a booster shot this week with a report released from the American Press Institute. Newspaper Next 2.0: Making the Leap Beyond Newspaper Companies, is the much-anticipated sequel to 2006's groundbreaking research piece, Blueprint for Transformation. Where Blueprint offered a wake-up call for multimedia transition, Making the Leap urges newspaper companies to become local information and connection utilities. The new AuburnJournal.com and the Myopolis portion of the site is one step toward this connection utility goal. And the numbers, so far, seem to back that up. As of Friday, more than 375 people have registered for the sites and are able to post their own words, pictures, videos or blogs. The sites have logged more than 300 story comments, hundreds of calendar events and several story submissions. In one case, a registered user posted a story and photo of the Folsom High School cheerleading squad's second-place finish in a national competition. Uploaded to four Placeropolis.com Web sites, the story has been seen by more than 4,700 people this week. The big new opportunity space that's opening in local markets is not in providing news, but in providing the many other kinds of local information and connection that people seek, the API report states. The Journal is not shying away from its responsibility as your community newspaper. But the Web is a different world, and offers unique ways to inform, entertain and connect than ink on paper. Let's explore those opportunities together.