We are pretty excited around The Columbian about this coming Tuesday.
It is not about the primary election, although election night does make a journalist’s heart beat a little stronger. Plus, we get pizza.
This Tuesday, you see, is the scheduled launch of our newly redesigned website, www.columbian.com. We’ve spent well over a year updating the look and improving the features of our site and testing the results. The effort probably involved nearly everyone in the newsroom, advertising and IT departments, and was led by our web developers, Mike Rogers and Chris Bjerken.
It’s a little scary to mess with our website. Though we stay loyal to our newspapering roots, these days the internet is the main way we deliver our messages. And our digital audience continues to grow. So we must give our online customers — readers and advertisers — a great experience. After looking through the development site that we have had running for a few months, I am convinced the team has done it.
As of this writing, we haven’t set the magic hour to change over the site, but it will likely be sometime Tuesday morning. We want Mike and Chris to be available, along with our web editor, Amy Libby, who is the perfect blend of gracious host and traffic cop. Since she played a major role in the redesign, I asked her to highlight some of the changes that our readers will notice right away. Here’s what she said:
• New navigation and menus will make it easier to find local news and stories you are interested in. Since most of our audience now comes to us on smartphones, the navigation and menus are optimized for mobile devices.
• We’ve changed our commenting system to Disqus. We value reader interaction, but comments can be problematic. Good comments add context to a story or provoke a thoughtful discussion. But some comments are not welcome. Our solution has been to require commenters to log in using their Facebook accounts, but not everyone wants to be on that platform. Our new system also allows people to register and comment with an email address or their Twitter account. We hope commenters will continue to abide by our Terms of Service, so we don’t have to spend hours every day taking down inappropriate posts and banning repeat offenders. One final note: The commenting software switch will mean existing story comments will disappear.
• We’ve replaced the rotating stories on the home page with a more modern, mobile-friendly, easier-to-navigate layout. The design makes the photos bigger, so that even smartphone users can enjoy the award-winning work produced regularly by our three amazing photojournalists, Amanda Cowan, Alisha Jucevic and Nathan Howard.
• We’ve improved the search function, so it should be a lot easier to get accurate results, and the new tools will help you define your search. Frankly, this was a disappointing and subpar function on our current site.
• A map-based tool will allow you to search local movie times by theater. It’s interactive and even has a link to buy tickets.
• Advertising is displayed much better on the new site. We’ve tried hard to avoid the tacky ads that seem to fill other news sites, but we want to give our sponsors a chance to get their messages to our readers. Although we charge for unlimited access to our site, we need the financial support of advertisers to keep our business afloat. Good community journalism is expensive, though if you go to www.columbian.com/99 you can get your first month for 99 cents.
Here’s an even better deal: You can check out our site for free next week. To celebrate our launch, we are providing free unlimited access Tuesday through Thursday. Have a look, and send me an email letting me know what you think. I’ll share your comments with Mike, Chris, Amy and the rest of the team.