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“How has the Internet affected the newspaper business?”
Between bites of hors d’oeuvres and sips of my soft drink during a business open house last week, that question was posed by a local businessman as several of us were chatting around one of those small, round, tall cocktail tables.
While small-talk is commonplace at business-after-hours types of events (“Who are you with? What do you do? How long have you been there?”), this serious question wasn’t particularly difficult to answer on the spot.
The short answer: Our business model has changed, and continues to change.
That’s been the case at The Republic and other publications within Home News Enterprises. That is also what’s going on at other well-managed publications across the industry.
Slightly longer answer: The Republic is in the news and information business, not just the newspaper business. While the ink-on-paper daily paper is still the biggest part of our business, we are working to provide information how and when our customers prefer to receive it.
We have glossy magazines, coupon books and other specific-topic niche publications.
But we, too, are in the Internet businesses. In fact, newspaper company websites typically rank high among the public’s most-trusted sources of digital information. Understandably, there’s a healthy skepticism about the reliability of some content discovered via search engines or items that have been forwarded by a friend or posted to social-media sites.
Supporting evidence of that trust is the growth in Internet activity at TheRepublic.com. Through the first eight months of this year, the number of unique visitors on our website increased 51 percent year over year with 6,067,725 vs. 4,020,000. No, that’s not a typo.
New viewers are discovering TheRepublic.com all of the time. A breakdown of the August online visits tells us that 58 percent of the visitors are new.
And one-fourth of our digital traffic comes through Facebook, the popular social-media site.
Much of the local content we gather is served up best in print, but other material is delivered most effectively online. Developing weather systems is one of those topics.
A week ago, there was much concern about the impact Hurricane Isaac would have on the area. In fact, the Sept. 1 Hospice of South Central Indiana concert, featuring Three Dog Night, was initially planned outdoors at Mill Race Park but moved inside when weather concerns arose.
When it comes to alerts from the National Weather Service, that type of content is custom-made for instant publishing online. The website has ozone alerts, thunderstorm alerts and fire-weather warnings.
“We will beat anyone to the Web on that,” said Scott Hardin, lead developer in our online media department, with postings generally published within seconds of an alert being issued.
It’s just one example of how our business model is changing by utilizing technology.
Another development, coming soon, will be enhancement of our e-edition. That’s the interactive digital version of the newspaper which allows readers to flip from one page to the next, just like with the printed newspaper.
Our online media department has been testing an upgraded e-edition service on desktop computers and tablets. We believe this will result in a better user experience. One important improvement is that it will take fewer clicks to view the information readers are interested in.
There are many more benefits, but we’ll give you more details when this upgrade is up and operational.
The Internet? It’s allowed the publishing industry to be even more effective than it was in the old days.
So, that’s my answer, and — like a damp napkin on a cocktail table — I’m sticking to it.
Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 379-5665 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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