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Newspaper goes multimedia to better serve our audience

March 11, 2007|by TERRY HEADLEE

I have been working at a newspaper of some sort since the fifth grade, but during the past year, I have never witnessed such a dramatic change in the industry - particularly from the standpoint of delivering information to readers.

For example, it was a year ago in January that we revamped the content and design of our Web site (www.herald-mail.com) to include the Associated Press wire service that continuously updates stories.

This really was a big step for us because prior to that, our Webmaster or librarian painstakingly posted many wire stories each morning, then never updated them because of time constraints - which many Web-savvy readers found laughable. Now, some of our state, national and international stories are updated every eight minutes, and some even include video.

Last April, we began sending out what we call "e-alerts" to notify readers about major breaking stories. When I checked earlier this week, more than 1,500 readers subscribe to this service. This is a big deal for breaking-news junkies because if something really big happens, such as a major fire, murder or when Washington County hired its new county administrator, the subscribers received an e-mail that gave them the news first.

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We also send out weekly "e-bulletins" to subscribers (about 1,100 have signed up for this service) that summarize the top news, sports and feature stories from the past week.

We also started selling our photos on our Web site through a service called Mycapture that allows readers to get photos of almost any size, as well as buying the photo on a coffee cup, soccer ball or T-shirt, among other things.

To interact more with readers, we began posting poll questions on a more regular basis, and at one point received more than 3,000 votes in less than a week for a question about who should stay and who should go on "American Idol." I'm not kidding.

A searchable calendar was developed allowing readers to do keyword searches for local places to go and things to do, and organizers also could begin posting their own event information.

By late summer, we started podcasting our top headlines on www.antpod.com in order to compete directly against radio. For this, we converted our Opinion Page editor's office into a makeshift studio using a microphone and software that cost about $120. We currently handle about a half-dozen podcasts right now, including one that our sports department started just two weeks ago. The newest podcast, called "Sports Hound," is a daily roundup of local scores and sports news, as well as news from regional college and professional sports teams.

A major piece of the so-called digital puzzle missing from our Web site was local video. But that problem was solved after we hired a reporter in January who had talked about how he used an inexpensive video camera at another newspaper he worked at in Ohio.

We purchased the same camera, and the results were stunning. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the camera was to use (the box boasted that a 5-year-old could use it, so that sold me) and the quality of the footage.

We also hired a videographer, which was noted in a column last week by City Editor Liz Thompson. This also is an important step because while the podcasts are a direct challenge to radio, the videos are a serious threat to local television because we will be getting our videos online soon after the news breaks. That means you won't need to wait around for their nightly newscasts.

Our goal in 2007 will be to post at least one local video each day, which just a year ago seemed almost crazy and impossible.

It will be interesting to see what the next 12 months will bring, but one thing is certain - we will continue to aggressively pursue readers through multiple platforms that include print, online, videos, podcasts and more.

I never thought I'd see the day when a newspaper newsroom would be producing radio-type broadcasts and shooting videos with their stories, but that day has come, It's hard to imagine what the next 12 months will be like.

Stay tuned - and I mean that literally.

Terry Headlee is executive editor of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7594, or by e-mail at terryh@herald-mail.com.

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