Change has certainly been the mantra at the Record this year. Those of us who work in the newspaper industry understand the inevitability of that. We are undergoing an occasionally painful but profound way in which information is delivered to consumers.
Ninety years ago, newspapers were supposed to be put out of business by radio. Sixty years ago, TV was supposed to do the same. Print media is still here because it remains the best way to saturate a given geographic market with advertising messages.
Then 20 years ago, the Internet reached the masses, and people have said the same thing. This technology is more disruptive than radio or TV because it changes how people “read” the news.
What’s difficult is the change is not happening overnight as some have predicted. Those of us in the business are now caught in between. In Morrison County, you may be surprised to know, thousands of people live perfectly happy lives without ever going on-line, while thousands of others can’t get along without a cell phone that allows them to read their e-mail, keep up on the news and text their friends no matter where they are.
Nobody knows exactly how this is going to shake out. On-line news is still in its very early stages. Even great Internet companies like Facebook struggle to make a profit. And skeptics within the newspaper industry accuse those of us investing time and resources in digital as “trading dollars for dimes,” suggesting that we have yet to find a business model that works.
At the Record, we’ve invested a lot in the Internet, and have found it challenging. When big news like the Thanksgiving Day murders a year ago broke, we struggled to keep up with our big city brethren in posting information as quickly as they did. In effect, we now have a 24/7 news operation, but with only four people in the news department and most evenings not much happening that can’t wait to be posted online, we continue to have challenges.
However, we must be doing a few things right here. Among the 51 publications owned by ECM Publishers, our website, mcrecord.com, has more traffic than any other website in the company. We’ve also trained our sales representatives to sell website development, and will be rolling that out to businesses this month.
Our first efforts at selling on-line advertising worked haltingly at first, but then became pretty good, at least within our company. But on-line is not something one ever gets comfortable with. Cutting edge technology means having to stay up on the next new thing.
For the first 20 years of online news, everybody read the news on a desktop computer. But now, as I mentioned, people have been going on-line through their cellphone or their iPad (also known as a tablet).
We have to figure out how to get the news to people in whatever form they want it.
So it was that the ECM Department of New Media came up with the new design for our Website. It’s compatible with whatever digital format readers use: desktop, tablet or phone.
What excites me is that, unlike previous attempts at Web design, where we tried to put out an array of stories just like in print, the new design is aimed to give you the latest news in a quick, easy-to-scroll-through format that even an ink-stained wretch like me can figure out.
Further, it includes a format that inserts ads into the middle of the scrolling, so that readers can’t miss them as they go through the news headlines.
In the first week after the latest redesign, traffic on mcrecord.com was up over 10 percent. While that isn’t long enough to pass judgment, it does suggest we may be on to something.
Even more interesting is that the use of mobile devices has shot upward. Before the redesign, 24 percent of visitors to the site were using cell phones and tablets. The following week, 45 percent were. coming to the site from mobile devices. In fact, on one day last week, more than 50 percent of the visits came from a mobile phone or tablet, a first for all of ECM. Those who think Morrison County is behind the times technologically are just plain wrong..
And so are the people who say young people don’t read anymore. Last week, 27 percent of the mcrecord.com audience was between the ages of 25-34, 29 percent between 35-44, 15 percent between 18-24, 13 percent 45-54, 12 percent 55-64 and only 4 percent over 65. That’s the youngest readership of any of ECM’s websites.
Every time we make a change, I get feedback from readers. Sometimes the feedback is critical, but almost always it is mixed between positive and negative. Hopefully everyone can make the adjustment. We don’t make any changes just for the sake of change, but to adjust to the rapidly changing way that people receive information, and to bring as many resources to news and ad gathering and dissemination that we can.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.