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CDN’s take on NW Washington’s digital news future

A new website, and why it matters

By Ron Judd Executive Editor

“Facelift.”

Sharp-eyed readers who have poked around on the new Cascadia Daily News website this week will see that term used by that crazy uncle, B. Hammer, to describe the improved digital platform on which some readers will see this column. (For those of you who are print-focused, we salute you, and rest assured, we’re still here for you, as well.)

Hammer’s take is, as usual, superficial. It’s true that the CDN website that rolled out on Tuesday morning is just that: A better look, in our view. But its value in the way we’re able to better deliver news is much deeper. To understand why, a brief look back:

Like a good pair of worn-out running shoes, our initial site, launched two years ago, served its purpose, putting CDN on the digital boards. It backed up the “Daily” in our name, allowing us to publish stories 24/7, alongside a handsome print edition, now published on Fridays.

But it also came with significant limitations in what appeared on the site, when, and in what fashion. (Little of the site could be “curated,” or managed live; most sections of the site were automated in that new content appeared on top, pushing older content down — and, alas, out of sight.)

The rest of our products all flowed, to some extent, from that, making it more challenging to send news to the various platforms we employ, particularly the mobile/tablet version that a majority of our readers say they use most frequently to access CDN. (Our dedicated staff did so, anyway, but “workaround” became an office watchword.)

You spoke, we coded

Based on surveys and always-helpful public feedback, the previous site was frustrating to some readers; a common complaint was difficulty finding all of our work.

The new site, developed largely in-house over the last six months, was designed to address that concern — and move us forward in other ways. Fortunately, the expressed desires of our subscribers dovetailed with design features we had already been yearning for. The result feels like a true community effort.

A more robust site allows us to more efficiently deliver the news by every mode of publication we employ: desktop browser, mobile browser, email newsletters, print newspaper and print replica.

The hoped-for result: Our website is now a more accurate representation of what our newsroom feels is the most timely and most relevant content.

Early feedback has been positive, and we are grateful. But it will be a work in progress. Please bear with us in the short term as we work through little technical issues discovered daily.

The point is progress

Bigger issue: How will the new website make CDN better?

Bigger, more robust, clearinghouse: The new system gives us better control of the flow of news content to customers in the way they prefer to receive it — a challenge of any modern media outlet.

The new site is almost completely curateable, meaning editors have full control over what appears in each of the site’s “sections” — News, Sports, Opinion and Living. That makes it far more labor-intensive, an investment in time and focus we consider both worthy and necessary — and a stark contrast to the bot-style digital publication of others.

More visceral storytelling: The new digital infrastructure also allows us to add better multimedia features to any story — audio, video, photographs, supplemental documents, and graphics and other features. We’ve also introduced online advertising to support fellow local businesses.

Made for browsing: The site also provides far more effective visual cues to readers: What’s the latest story on our site, and when was it published? What are the top stories everyone else is reading? How do I quickly get to my favorite CDN material, whether that be book reviews, basketball games, bar trends or editorial bloviating?

Smart mixing of past and present: We’ll now have greater ability to “resurface” earlier news you might have missed, for timeliness — an example being a story about school levies updated and reappearing when it’s of most use, when ballots arrive in your mailbox.

All told, we hope it will provide a greatly enhanced “user experience.” And we see this as an ongoing process, aided significantly by your ongoing feedback.

Behind the scenes

The successful launch of a from-scratch website platform is complicated, expensive and time-consuming. To build digitally anew after only two years was an impressive undertaking by a publication of fewer than 20 employees. In our case, it meant publishing two websites simultaneously for multiple days before launch to try to make the transition as seamless as possible for readers.

The site is the result of an inspiring amount of work by a team of Cascadia Daily News employees working on the project in addition to an already substantial workload. CDN lives in Bellingham. It has no global tech support machine to spit out cookie-cutter sites into which local offices dump a few “local” items per day to maintain a literal façade of local news. We were born as the antidote to that, and that cause endures.

We think that in spite of those challenges, CDN web 2.0 is already a product of which we can be proud — and hope our supporters are, too. Please let us know how we might make it even better as we move forward.


Ron Judd's column appears weekly; ronjudd@cascadiadaily.com; @roncjudd.

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