New Spokesman.com launches

New Spokesman.com

New Spokesman.com

It’s been a long time coming, but today we launched the brand spankin’ new Spokesman.com cue angelic music.) This often-delayed website forced us poor multimedia content producers to use an antiquated CMS that was held together for way too long with bailing wire and twine. So what arrives in its place? Let’s just say the proof is in the code. This may be the most modern content management system deployed at newspaper today. Built from the ground up using the latest version of Django, our new CMS will allow us to display, create, and search content in ways we never could before.

My last year as multimedia editor allowed me to give input into how video and multimedia is showcased on the site. All I can say is WOW. One of my long time beefs with newspaper websites is that they hide their best web-only content in a sea of links on their homepages. The new Spokesman.com uses an innovative way to get to any content quickly. Ryan Pitts, Spokesman.com’s managing editor and uber-developer, explains it better than me:

“Goal No. 1 in the redesign was to make the Web site cleaner and easier to use. Our top-level navigation reflects a fundamental move in that direction. Our print newspaper is organized into sections, based on geography (the Northwest) or general topic (Sports). People seek information online differently, though, so the navigation at Spokesman.com is different. You’ll have quick access to information based on not only what it’s about (Topics), but also when it happened (Times), where it happened (Places), and what kind of storytelling was used (Media). Switching among the browsing systems should be seamless. You can click on Times > Today to check out a “day page”; click on the calendar icon to find any day in our archive; toggle among media types; click on an item to view it; click on that item’s tags to see related content, and much more. No matter what you’re looking for or how you’re looking for it, we’ve made navigation – and exploration – easier.”

bar

The multimedia capabilities of this site are stellar. Former S-R developer Brian Immel built a new in-house video player that takes advantage of Adobe Flash Player’s built in hardware acceleration. Video, audio slideshows, photography is accessible on almost every page of our website. On the Media>Video page, you can search for content by tag, producers, time, indexed search,related content or category. This, I hope, will really drive the viewing numbers up on our videos and slideshows.

Now that the CMS is done, the fun stuff will begin to roll out over time. We’ll add geographic capabilities to Spokesman.com that will let you map the news – and see everything going on down to individual neighborhoods. We will increase the visual content with more photos built into a “big photo” format. Other specialized mini-sites are in development.

Check it out and let me know what you think. There are still some kinks to be ironed out, but I think you will be surprised at what you see.

What if you had a website like this?

What if all your multimedia were instantly findable on your newspaper’s website? What if the video player on your site was built for speed, incorporating the latest Adobe Flash technology?  What if that player was large enough to showcase your video and had a full-screen mode that actually worked without stuttering? What if all your multimedia and stories had tags to help viewers narrow and refine their searches? What if your newspaper website didn’t have 300 links on the home page, but instead offered a better way to get to the content inside? What if, on a story page, you could instantly see how many photos, videos, audio clips and documents were associated with the story? What if all your stories and photos were geo-coded and you had the ability to build Google-style maps on the fly? What if you let viewers embed your videos into their blogs and websites knowing that the player will call back allowing you to track and count the clicks as your own?

Has a newspaper website like this ever been built? Why not? Anybody who produces multimedia for newspapers knows the dirty little secret of low viewership on video and audio slideshows. Could it be that most of these websites hide their multimedia content in a sea of story links? And when the link is discovered, it takes you to a crappy 320 pixels wide video player that doesn’t support full screen.  Is it any wonder why many viewers don’t bother with multimedia?

As newspapers transition to producing more multimedia, they need to address these shortcomings.  I have heard too many horror stories from dedicated online producers whose audience is severely limited by bad website content management systems. I should know. I’m one of them. In a month, all this will change with the debut of our ground up redesign. As the finishing touches on our new Spokesman.com website are applied, the usability roadblocks viewers face accessing multimedia will be removed for good.