Sherri Gardner Howell
When the concept for Blount Today first began, one of the original ideas was to put most of the stories, pictures, calendar items and community events on the web, then print a “Best of” paper each week.
The paper would have a designated number of pages for editorial with as many ad pages as were sold and would feature the favorites of the staff from the web each week. While the Blount Today web site might have 25 stories and community events, the printed paper would perhaps feature perhaps 8 to 10, with lists of all the great things that could be found on the website.
I balked at this concept for two reasons. The first was that I saw Blount Today as a newspaper that would appeal to those of us who wanted to “clip and save.” I believed there were a lot of us out there -- folks who didn’t get their pictures in the paper, their events covered and their triumphs celebrated in print. While many of those people did cruise the Internet, many did not. And even the many who did still liked being able to hold their news in their hands, clip it for their scrapbooks and mail it to grandparents and relatives.
The second was that I thought our advertising customers would be more open to a new venture if it was something with which they were familiar. In other words, although my sales experience was limited, I thought a new product that was print first/web second would sell better.
So we forged ahead, making Blount Today a print-based newspaper that also had a web presence, rather than the other way around. Everything we put in print went on our website. After a couple of years, we revamped our website to make it more interactive and give it more bells and whistles. I began to really like the look of it, and so did our readers, based on the number of hits we were getting each month. When we added Breaking News Alerts to the website, the jump in numbers was impressive.
Another thing that has happened in the almost five years Blount Today has been around is that more and more Blount Countians are talking about and enjoying time on the Internet. My Facebook list has tons of Blount County people of all ages and occupations and interests.
And we are getting response to ads on our website. I still believe the majority of our advertisers get more customers in their stores from their print ads, but we have had some pretty impressive testimonials from those who have also tried ads on our website.
So, are we changing the basic premise of Blount Today? No. What I still hear on the streets, in community meetings and from our readers and customers is that you like things the way they are. Let the national pundits say what they may, Blount Today readers still like to hold a newspaper in their hands and want a community newspaper that is print first.
The interest in and growth of our website, however, does give us some new possibilities that we want to take advantage of. Anyone who has seen my desk, or the “bible” that editor Lance Coleman and I haul around when we meet outside the office knows that we have much more to put in the paper each week than we have room for. Some things just seem to get pushed back each week until they are growing whiskers, waiting for their spot in the newspaper.
With that in mind, editorial assistant Emily Winsauer suggested we introduce Web Exclusives each week. I’m old enough to know that you should usually listen to smart young people, so we took Emily’s idea to heart and started last week with good results.
Each week we will offer you three to four new things that are only available on our website. We will highlight them on page A3 in print and in a special box and tab on www.BlountToday.com, so you can find them easily.
Check them out. We are choosing good things that we know you don’t want to miss. Highlights and photographs from Maryville College graduation and a story and photo layout about Christabel and the Jons were two of the features last week.
This week, we have added a feature about a young student who has had a paper accepted into a scholarly journal and a two-part look at the Appalachian Bear Rescue program and fundraising efforts by Pistol Creek Catch of the Day to help them, among other stories.
And don’t forget to continue to check out our website videos. We are having a good time with them, keeping them short so not to bore you and offering a good mix of music, politics and funny events.
We have quite a catalog of them now, including a new one featuring Dane Bradshaw. They are worth viewing.
Have a great week!