Paper launches revised website
WILMINGTON - A new era is upon The Deerfield Valley News. The newspaper debuted its new website last week. The website’s features include an e-edition and a new method for commenting on stories. And though the site is available in full for free for now, another new feature is that certain sections of the site will soon require a subscription. Publisher Randy Capitani says all of the changes came out of a need to modernize.
“We really needed to bring the website into the next generation,” says Capitani. “The provider we had been working with was limited in its offering. We couldn’t offer video or really redesign the site. They had really stopped supporting it. So really we had no choice.”
On why the website is switching from full free access to a subscriber system, Capitani says the paper needs to generate revenue from the website. “There’s a cost to produce news,” says Capitani. “There’s a cost to pay reporters, a cost to host websites. We have to do it; there’s just no other way around it. We hope readers will understand that we have to do that to keep the quality of our news content. We have to pay writers and we have to pass some of that on to our readers. It’s just where we’re going in the modern world.”
In his research for new providers, Capitani came across Surf New Media, which provides websites for a number of weekly papers similar to The Deerfield Valley News. And although Capitani didn’t know it when he first reached out to Surf New Media, which is based in Naples, FL, its owners have local roots. Before starting Surf New Media in Middlebury, co-owner John Sokolich was a Vermont newspaper reporter. “He was a reporter for the Reformer for a while and for the Addison Independent,” says Capitani. “And then he went into website development.”
At The Deerfield Valley News, much of the behind the scenes work on the new website was the effort of Sara Koelsch, who is the newspaper’s designer. Koelsch worked closely with Sokolich to fine-tune the website’s design and functionality. In addition to learning about how to manage the back end of the site, Koelsch acted as a liaison between Surf New Media and The Deerfield Valley News staff. For the months leading up to the site’s launch, Koelsch regularly met with staff members to brainstorm about working drafts of the site. From there, she’d take staff feedback to Sokolich to turn requests into reality.
“Sara deserves much of the credit for this new website,” says Capitani. “She did a ton of work to get it to where it is now.”
One feature on the new site is an e-edition, which is a PDF version of the print edition of the paper that hits newsstands each week. To showcase it, Capitani pulls the e-edition up on his computer and grabs last week’s paper, holding them next to one another. They’re identical. The e-edition’s PDF is generated from the same print files the newspaper’s production staff sends to the print press each week. “The e-edition will basically be the print edition digitized and online,” says Capitani.
The site also features a new method for commenting. On the new website, comments are tied to a Facebook account. Capitani says that he wants discourse among readers about what’s reported on in articles, but that it’s important to him that there’s transparency in that community conversation. “Using Facebook ties the comment to a person’s identity,” says Capitani, noting that in the past, the newspaper had problems with anonymous commenters harassing others. “We want transparency and civility.”
Capitani says he’s particularly excited about the new website’s ability to host video. He’s brainstorming on how to make the most use of the feature.
“Video is something we haven’t had in the past, and it’s something we’ll explore as we move forward,” says Capitani. With video and other features, Capitani says that in many ways the new website may be a jumping-off point. “It will always be a work in progress,” says Capitani. “It’s not the be all, end all. But we wanted to give people a more modern website, and give them more options.”
Learning to incorporate new functionality into a website is nothing new to the newspaper. Capitani says that in 1996, the newspaper launched what was to his knowledge the first newspaper website in the state of Vermont. “That first generation was pretty basic,” says Capitani. “You were dealing with dial-up. We’ve come a long way since then.”
The full version of the new website, including the e-edition, is currently available for everyone to peruse. In June, the e-edition and some content will be available to subscribers only. “What will be behind the paywall will probably be open to some experimentation,” says Capitani. “The electronic edition will be, and probably most of the news stories.”
Some information, such as leisure items and event listings, will still be available free of charge to anyone who visits the site.
All print subscribers will receive full digital access as part of their print subscription, and digital-only subscriptions will be available, too. Digital subscriptions will have a variety of options. Capitani says offerings are still being worked out, but will likely include weekly access, three-month access, six-month access or annual access. “Obviously annual access will have the best price,” says Capitani.
The new site is at dvalnews.com.