It's not often that I write what amounts to a management piece outside the confines of the opinion page that we usually place in the paper on Tuesdays, but for various reasons I feel we need to address the growth and development of the web sites as well as our use of Facebook and Twitter for both the Sun Advocate and the Emery County Progress.
Tuesday's website was unusually late in getting updated due to some personnel changes we have made at the paper. The complaints about when it was available to users came to me through various channels from Facebook to a chance encounter at a gas station where one person asked me "Why can't you guys be like the Tribune and put your website up at 2 a.m.? "
First of all, on the comment boards on the Salt Lake Tribune I see a lot of complaints about how they handle their website at times too, so I don't feel so alone in getting criticism for what we sometimes do.
But secondly, I think people in our area don't even realize the quality of our website for what it is. I am not talking only about the amount of content, but all the features we offer for a paper our size, in a rural area of Utah.
Most of the small papers in this state and other places have outsourced all or most of their web work. There are a number of "canned" site companies that use basically the same format for every paper they service. Most of these sites only have two or three stories, the obituaries, social and maybe a little more. They feature the classified advertising of the area and are usually plastered with multiple banner, rectangle and box advertiser ads, some of which are not usually local. In my opinion, while many of these sites are profitable for the paper that is running them, they are ugly and with them being like many other papers they are not unique or valuable to readers in any way.
We have a one-of-a-kind website for a small paper, at least in Utah. We do very little outsourcing and almost everything we build is built right here. There are a number of features we have that even large papers don't have, but probably the best of those is our archive files. Our first web site went up in 1997; we were one of the first community papers in the state to have a real website. We began archiving the files from the website in 2001 and have done so since that time. These archives are presently available at no cost to anyone who logs onto our site. Check around and see if other small papers have as an extensive an archive that we do or even if they have one at all. The big papers have them, but when you go back more than a few days, it is a pay-for-play scenario.
I could point to other features but I don't want to take up too much space. After the concerns we heard from web readers the other day because we were a couple of hours late in getting the web up, we have to ask the question if we have actually spoiled people to the point that they think every paper operates like we do.
In the last 30 years, Americans have developed what I call the Microwave syndrome. Before about 30 something years ago the microwave oven was not common in American homes and people came home from work and often cooked dinners either from scratch or they had to wait 45 minutes while some tv frozen dinner defrosted in their regular oven and then cooked. Microwaves changed all that. But the fact we can now have a full meal out of a box in three to five minutes has done more than damage our nutrition, it has also damaged our propensity for patience. This is where we find ourselves today.
We have one of, if not the busiest website in southeastern Utah. In July we reached over 500,000 page views; not hits, page views. This month, up until August 16, we had 367,000. We must be doing something right and we have been recognized time and time again by various organizations for having one of the premier small newspaper websites.
In the days before the internet, even before TV and radio, people used to gather around small town newspaper offices in the morning or afternoon (depending on the publishing time) waiting to get their issue of that weeks or days paper. What you see in the old movies concerning people surrounding newsstands is true; it really was that way. We still do have those that literally wait at the door the mornings our paper product goes out on the stands, but they are not numerous.
However, we obviously do have a large clientele online that wait for the paper to go up as well. It is a virtual crowd, and cannot be seen, but it is still there. We just don't see them standing on the street waiting with change in hand. In fact, the virtual audience doesn't even need change or even a credit card to get the information. It is there for the taking.
In the next few months we will be announcing some new concepts on the web page; we will be introducing some new products and with the help of our Facebook page and Twitter we will bring the news to you in an ever more rapid fashion.
That will require some changes to our pages and the way we do news and business online. Our readership is growing, and that translates into web advertising revenue, but in reality it is hard to make enough money to support such a unique endeavor online. We could throw in the towel and go to one of the canned sites where the information given out would be very limited, but we see our charge as bringing you as much news and information about our communities as we can as fast as we can.
The web page we have is a one of a kind, made just for our readers, just as our paper product is. We appreciate your patience and loyalty through all the growing pains we have faced and will be facing in the future.