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‘Online first’ a news priority

Editorial

When our publisher, Dan Alexander, told his editors that life in the newsroom would change dramatically when we launched our new websites — all 24 of them — he wasn’t kidding.

And then he said something that didn’t quite sink in until the switchover finally took place Aug. 26, just in time for two historic news events, the Lake Champlain Bridge arch-lift and Tropical Storm Irene. He said, “We are no longer a newspaper organization, we are a news organization.”

Daily newspapers are already in “news organization” mode, as are radio and television stations, and they have known for years the importance of uploading breaking news to their websites as it happens. And the public — with an ever-growing appetite for digital news — expects the most up-to-date news on demand.

If people feel an earthquake, for example, people want to log on to their local news website and find out what has just happened, ASAP. And if the story is not there, they’ll move on to another news website until they find the story. The goal of a news organization today is to be the first website people turn to for news of importance to them.

For weekly newspapers, like we publish, the news pace has traditionally been much different. We’ve had a week to report and publish the news, not hours or minutes. Weekly newspaper editors and publishers have been trying to set their products apart from dailies for well over 100 years. Then radio edged into the news market, television followed, along with 24-hour cable news channels, and the Internet blew the news business wide open. Our society now demands instant gratification.

For weeklies to remain in business, they must continue to be relevant to their readers, in print and online. That’s a delicate balance, and it’s an ongoing struggle between the online-savvy cub reporter — who grew up with a Bluetooth device in his ear — and the hard-nosed news veteran — who banged out stories on typewriters with a cigarette behind his ear. The bottom line is both products have to be special enough to attract readers and consumers.

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