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Building a better Web site

Alex Miller

Since the mid-1990s, we in the newspaper business have been repeatedly told that we’re being creamed or will be creamed by the Internet, that newspapers will all die, and before long everyone will get their news on their wireless Blackberry thing and forget papers ever existed.So to stave off assured destruction, we all have Web sites, some better than others. At the Daily, we’ve tweaked ours a number of times, but it’d be a stretch to say that we’re completely thrilled with vaildaily.com. There’s a lot that needs to be done to it to make it more efficient, user-friendly and, well, cool. Big-time newspaper Web sites have all kinds of features we currently lack, such as video, audio and “multimedia” (um, slideshows) components. But we are beginning to look into those and other things.It won’t happen tomorrow, though. Like many smaller publications, our online wish list is greater than the revenue stream to support it. Not to make excuses – we do OK for the under-15,000-circulation set – but simply getting a reporter and a photographer to an event is hard enough without adding video or audio duties on top – not to mention the editing afterward. So we’re looking at simpler approaches. Right now, we’re experimenting with the notion of adding a “Podcast” feature, which is something other papers – including the Denver Post – are already experimenting with.What the devil is a Podcast, you may ask? Simply put, it’s a way to add some radio-like material to our Web site without sucking up a ton of staff time or space on our site. With a Podcast, we can digitally record, say, an interview or a discussion and post it to our site. Readers can then either listen to it online or download it and listen to it whenever they want, either on their computer or on an iPod or other mp3 player. (Check out ipodder.org for more info.)When Gov. Bill Owens was in town recently, we digitally recorded the interview with him, then spent what seemed liked the better part of the day trying to figure out how to post it online. It was just more technologically challenging than we thought it would be, and what ultimately made it on there was about a 30-second snippet that wasn’t especially thrilling.But we’re learning. We want to improve not only the ability of our Web site to deliver news, photos and other information electronically, but also the mix of features available. It’d be neat, we keep thinking, to have the ability to listen to entire interviews, or host small roundtable discussions on hot local topics that people could hear online or download for later. Also intriguing is the notion of posting some video of big events, like the recent Teva Mountain Games or upcoming ski race action.Unlike the content of our news pages, however, what’s on the Web isn’t entirely under the control of the newsroom. As part of a small group of newspapers, we really have only one person dedicated to making Web upgrades and changes, and he’s got a bunch of different editors with urgent wish lists. Any big reformatting means a “global” change to all our daily sites, and thus subject to buy-in from the whole gang.Frustrating? Yep. But it’s not insurmountable, and we plan to be making some nifty changes in the coming year. If you’ve got anything you’d like to see, let us know at editor@vaildaily.com.Now if we can just figure out this Podcasting thing …Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or amiller@vaildaily.com Vail, Colorado


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