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Our website is changing for the even better

September 04, 2010|By LIZ THOMPSON
  • Liz Thompson
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In the next few months, The Herald-Mail's online site will be changing.

Regular visitors to herald-mail.com probably already are rolling their eyes and muttering things like "Why? Why? Why?"

The site is easy to navigate. The site does look good. The feedback from users is predominantly positive.

So ... why, why, why?

We can make it even better.

The Herald-Mail launched its online site around 1996. It was a very simple website to visit, but a very complicated website to produce.

The site was hosted on HTML pages on our servers. Every day, the guys in the IT/web department would have to go through a time-consuming and fairly complicated process to post stories from that day's paper onto the pages.

There were few photos, no videos and only a handful of the stories in the paper made it online in the beginning. The website was a novelty then and the audience was small.

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About a year or so later, the website moved to a content management system (CMS) designed specifically to handle a larger volume of content that changed frequently.

The CMS made it easier to update the site with new stories and allowed for more stories, photos and, eventually, videos. We've taken it through a few upgrades and added some features over the years. It helped us deliver to an ever-growing audience.

In the early days of our website, it was a big deal the month we had 100,000 page views. Today, our website gets more than 4 million page views a month from more than 276,000 unique visitors.

It's time for another upgrade.

The parent company that owns The Herald-Mail -- Schurz Communications Inc. (SCI)-- has 11 daily newspapers and eight weekly newspapers, 10 television stations and 13 radio stations across the country. Besides The Herald-Mail, SCI has newspapers, radio stations and television stations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Virginia. SCI also owns our sister company in Hagerstown, Antietam Cable, another cable company in Florida, a phone directory and a printing company.

All of those properties have websites. All are hosted on at least a dozen different content management systems.

This year, all of the websites except those operated by the cable companies are moving to a CMS provided by Tribune Interactive, a division of Tribune Company.

Tribune Company owns television and radio stations and a number of newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun.

Tribune built its own CMS for all of its properties and it is that CMS that our newspaper will move to in October.

The new CMS -- called P2P, which stands for Power 2 Producers -- will be easier to update, has features that make creating specialty pages faster and will allow for the better display of photographs and videos.

The association with Tribune Interactive also means The Herald-Mail will have access to all of the stories, photos and videos produced by any of the Tribune companies.

That means we can bring you more stories about the Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles, more coverage of University of Maryland sports, more stories from the Maryland General Assembly and more in-depth coverage of state issues.

We'll beef up our entertainment news, bringing a bit of Hollywood gossip and celebrity photos to the website for people who are interested. We'll bring you a roundup of the most popular stories on dozens of news websites serving communities all over the country.

We'll also have access to provide the most up-to-date information about breaking news virtually anywhere in the country.

Over the coming weeks, we'll begin the process of building a new website. I'll keep you updated on the progress and begin introducing you to some of the new and/or improved features we hope you'll enjoy.

Liz Thompson is digital director of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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