0 comments Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So today we had a “soft launch” for MySLOCounty.com, which essentially means that we put a banner on the homepage and sent out an e-mail to our newsletter subscribers. Hopefully that will generate some new users and those users will generate some new content.

It appears that ninjas still have the edge on pirates, but only by a single vote. The discussion has been heating up, and has made for an interesting diversion from wrestling with all the little problems that have arisen since we started using the site. If you have an opinion and haven’t voiced it yet, now’s the time.

You may have noticed on Monday afternoon that the community site became unavailable, or that all the pictures disappeared. This was caused by some problems that our hard-working friends at McClatchy Interactive had when trying to move the site over to its official and final home. They got it fixed by Tuesday afternoon though, so no lasting harm was done.

In a classic display of great timing, our community evangelist, Kim, has gone in for surgery and will be out for at least the next week. Sally will be taking on her community site duties in her absence.

Last night I set up a private messaging system on the community site which allows users to send messages to one another. It works kind of like email, except you have to be signed into the site in order to use it. So, if you need to report any problems with the site, you can click here or you can visit my profile on the site and click the “Send a private message to Danny” link. Otherwise, you can still reach us via the “contact us” link.

Thanks to everyone who’s contributed to the site, and even bigger thanks to those who have given feedback.

1 comments Friday, January 25, 2008

While some people consider the new community site to be simply an area in which users can share photos, stories and opinions, I see it as something far more important. True, it is all those things previously mentioned, but chiefly it’s a place to have discussions about what’s most important to people in the community.

Right now, I am engaged in an engrossing discussion on “ninjas vs pirates”.

You can see that I have a keen awareness of what matters to people. It’s not the election, nor is it the war in Iraq – currently ninjas are just edging out pirates, and that’s what’s important. If you disagree, join in the discussion.

We’re still making small changes to www.myslocounty.com based on the feedback we’re getting. If you haven’t taken a look yet, try it out and let us know what you think.

0 comments Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We’re almost ready to launch the new community Website, but before we unleash it on an unsuspecting public, I want to give my loyal blog readers (I think there are about 5 of you) the opportunity to take a look at it and let us know what you think.

First order of business is the name. We’ve decided after much discussion to go with myslocounty.com. As names go, I think it works quite well.

On myslocounty.com you can post your own stories, pictures, blogs, or start some discussions in our new forums. You can log in using your existing sanluisobispo.com username and password, or if you don’t have one, you can sign up for one here. This new site is entirely dependent on user generated content, so we’re counting on you guys to participate.

We’ll hopefully be officially launching it in the next few days with some kind of marketing campaign. I’m hoping for a gala event with an aerobatic show, a parade, fireworks and live music, but we’ll probably just place some ads in the newspaper and on the Website. We just wanted to give anyone who’s interested an inside look at what we’re doing, and a chance to give us some feedback before anyone else.

Kim, our Night Web Producer, will be taking on the role of community evangelist, drumming up new users and thinking of ways to improve the site. I might pop my head up too from time to time, although it’s generally considered a good idea that I don’t talk to people all that often. So we’ll see.

If you do test out the new site, let us know what you think. It’s not too late to make changes.


5 comments Friday, January 18, 2008

Our annual Top 20 Under 40 feature published today, and I have to say that I am shocked and outraged to find that I wasn’t even nominated. Next year I’m going for top honours – make it happen people. If you happened to miss the feature in today’s Tribune, you can find the bios of the winners here. Congratulations to the award recipients.

The other day I received two interesting emails on the same topic. I’ll quote the first of them below:

Your Internet website poll is boloney. Everytime I go to your website I can vote in your poll. I can and did vote multiple times. Not an accurate way of running a poll. Someone should “fix” the ability of people to vote as many times that they want or do away with it. Just being honest. Kevin
He raises an interesting point — however, our polls are not designed to be a scientifically accurate method of gauging public opinion. They are just for fun.

Yes, there are ways to circumvent the system and vote multiple times on the same poll. You can’t, however, as Kevin suggests, simply revisit the page and vote again. At least not without messing around with some browser settings, the details of which I’m not going to go into. I am guessing that Kevin is using Firefox as his browser, which means that while technically he can vote as many times as he wants by revisiting the website, only his first vote will actually be counted.

The second email I got on this topic was forwarded to me by one of our editorial staff. It seems that someone called Kevin (this may or may not be the same Kevin) from an off-road enthusiast Web site was soliciting members of that site to vote in our poll on the Oceano Dunes. The email came from a reader who was concerned that the results of our poll did not reflect the opinions of local residents.

I can appreciate the concern of the reader.

As a county paper, we primarily serve residents of the county. On the web, however, we have a wider reach, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it reflects the interests of those who visit or have ties here. Plus, Kevin's solicitation of new users to our site gave us more visitors, which we’ll never argue with.

The other side is always welcome to marshal its supporters to vote in response. We welcome the site traffic.

So thanks for the traffic Kevin.

0 comments Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Today we launched a new movie widget on the Website. Now you can find your local movie listings, find a map of local theatres and search for specific movies all from one convenient little module. You can still get a synopsis of each movie, but now we’ve added a list of movies released this week. The new layout fits out site design better, which is nice.

The old movie tool was one of the last remnants from our former owners, Knight Ridder. We are gradually replacing all these old elements from our site and replacing them with what I’m sure will all be new and improved versions. This one certainly is anyway.

The people in charge of what’s really important have come to an agreement on the header for the community site, so we’re now one step closer to launching it. I’m not sure exactly when we plan to launch now; our resident ostrich-straddling scribe, Sally, is working hard to get the last few loose ends tied up.

Spidey is looking a little deflated. I guess that’s what working such long hours will do to you. He never leaves his desk, which shows a level of dedication that eclipses even mine. If he’s promoted ahead of me, I will not be impressed.

If we don’t manage to repair the puncture, I’ve been dared by the production department to “wear” Spider-Man. While that would provide me with some blog material, and some entertaining pictures, suffocation might hamper my productivity, so I’m hoping we can fix him.

Yesterday I was asked why we include an “I don’t know” option in many of our polls since the polls are voluntary, and why would we possibly care about the opinions of people who “don’t know”.

Since I’m not familiar with our editorial policy, I forwarded the question on to the far more qualified Larissa who provided the following response:

“There’s almost always some votes in the “I don’t know” section, so I keep it in there.

And I think we do care – it could be that people really don’t know what the best answer is. Others may just not care, but those are the ones who probably don’t vote. The I don’t knowers could not have enough information about the subject, or haven’t made their mind up yet.

I have also used “I don’t care” in the past. But I reserve that for special polls.“
I can see Larissa’s point here. If there are a significant number of “I don’t know” responses, we know that readers might want some additional information so that they can make an informed decision. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with an “I don’t care” option since being apathetic would suggest readers wouldn’t have even bothered to read the poll in the first place. But what do I know?

0 comments Friday, January 11, 2008

I am often criticized for using too much technical jargon when I explain how or why things happen with our website. With that in mind, let me quote an email I received yesterday from our corporate technology staff:

"Today at approximately 2:50 p.m. EST, McClatchy Interactive's production infrastructure experienced a service disruption that affected InSite and Site Manager.

Any user attempting to sign into Site Manager would have received a blank (white) screen. Additionally, any end users (consumers) who attempted to access pages behind InSite would have been asked to repeatedly login - even if they had previously done so.

We identified and resolved the problem by approximately 3:30 p.m. EST.

All applications and services were operating correctly at that time and we have experienced no further complications.

Consequently, we do believe this was an isolated incident and not a sign of an ongoing issue. However, we will conduct tests in our Q/A environment during the next few days to replicate the problem to determine if further action is required.

Please accept our apologies for today's disruption and any inconvenience it may have caused."

Now, allow me to translate that the way I think I’m supposed to:
"At 11:50 Thursday morning, our website broke. We’re not sure what happened to make it break, it just did. What we do know is that it wasn’t Danny’s fault, nor (surprisingly) was it Sally’s. We got it fixed by 12:30 though. Sorry about that."

Interestingly, I only got one angry email about it, so you guys must not be paying enough attention.

Sally is back from South Africa where she rode an ostrich. I don’t think that was the purpose of her trip, but it does appear to have been the highlight. She arrived back looking very tan, and exceptionally tired, which is what 40-something hours of non-stop travel will do to you.

We’re still working on putting the finishing touches to the community site and will soon debut it to our newsroom staff to build up more content. There’s still some additional stress testing that needs to be done and hopefully they can tax it sufficiently. If we break it, I’ll let you know next week.

1 comments Monday, January 7, 2008

At around 4:45 on Friday afternoon, the Tribune office filled with the high-pitched beeping sound made by the UPS devices that back up power to our most important computer systems. Around the building, computers suddenly went blank and cries of anguish could be heard from staffers who had failed to save recently.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that we’ve lost power here, but it’s the first time since I started working here that the emergency generator has failed to kick power into the main office.

Being a dutiful, dedicated former member of the IT staff, I immediately offered my services to IT to help them run power from the emergency outlets to the computers that would be needed to output the paper that night. We were fully confident that somehow, someone would get the generator running so that we could bring our servers back online, and maybe get some light into the office before it became too dark to see anything.

That didn’t happen.

As it got darker, I started to worry about what would happen when there was no more light. It was then that I had an epiphany. It was an idea of such magnitude that surely lesser minds would never have been able to comprehend it.

We needed flashlights.

So off I went, HR director’s company credit card in hand to look for flashlights. When I got to the store, I discovered that somehow, someone else had come up with the same genius idea as I had and purchased all of the flashlights in the lighting department. Not wanting to return empty-handed, I thought about where else I might find some, and then as I walked back through the store I noticed something in the toy department.

That’s right, because of my heroic act, the Tribune had at least a little illumination in the form of "Cars" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" flashlights.

Many others played their parts: copy editors Adrienne, Annie and Chrissy and our presentation editor, Joe, had to converge at the home of Jen Robillard, one of our copy editors, and her husband, Andrew. There they created the newspaper on laptops, getting local stories and photos via email. It should be noted that Jen wasn't even scheduled to work that night, so she truly went above and beyond the call of duty to allow such unsavory characters into her home. Meanwhile, our production department scrambled to find other options for printing the newspaper, including attempting to print in Santa Maria, Fresno and Atascadero. I feel confident, however, that my contribution eclipses that of any other.

In all seriousness though, it was really amazing to see how well our staff handled this difficult situation. Were it not for the hard work and dedication of our editorial, production and IT staff, we might not have been able to publish at all.

Well done guys.

3 comments Friday, January 4, 2008

Another week shortened by a holiday leaves me with little to report, but a little thing like having nothing to write about won’t stop me.

I made a correction to all three of our police reports when I discovered that they wouldn’t display any incidents that happened in 2008. For reasons you probably don’t care about, the database didn’t want to compare dates that spanned multiple years. Effectively this meant that none of the police reports displayed any results from January 1 to sometime on the second, when I fixed the problem. No one noticed though, so don’t tell anyone.

The rest of the week has mostly been spent working on the new community site that we hope to launch in a little over a week. It’s coming along nicely. Kim has been busy filling it with content and we’ve been making tweaks here and there. There are a few more issues we want to resolve and a few more features we want to add, but we’re pretty confident that it will be ready by launch date.

Finally, the other day I found this on my desk. It’s one of those little rubber bracelets that you wear to show support for some cause or another. This one is from the Maynard Institute. Now I always thought that the idea behind these was that because you support the given cause, say cancer research, you don’t mind wearing what is effectively a coloured rubber band around your wrist. It is in fact a kind of sacrifice that you are willing to make to show your support for that cause. Why then would the “institute for journalism education” think that I would want to tarnish my already rocky fashion sense with their hideous orange band?

Not clear on what cause I have been solicited to support, I did a little research. Apparently the Maynard Institute was founded to expand opportunities for minority journalists, which is noble enough, but not a cause I typically associate myself with. What confuses me even more is why I would be singled out as the recipient of this bracelet - I am neither a minority (despite being a foreigner), nor a journalist.

So I’m not going to wear the bracelet, but as a sign of my unwavering support of the Maynard Institute and all the hard work they do there, I will happily forward it on to anyone who wants it.

0 comments Wednesday, January 2, 2008

As most journalists can attest, it’s frustrating not knowing how many people are actually reading your stories. Sure, if it makes A1 “above the fold,” it’s probably going to get a lot more eye scans than inside a back section. But there’s no way to really know how many of those who pick up the paper read which stories.

That’s what makes the Internet so great.

Thanks to technology, it’s now easier to track visitors on Web sites. Part of my job as web producer at The Tribune is to keep track of “page views” on each story. Essentially, that counts how many times the story page is opened, clicked back to or refreshed. (I also see how many people visit our site each day, find out which outside sites have picked up our stories and more, but we can talk about that later).

I’ve gone back to mid-April, which is when we switched over to a new web analysis program, and found the 20 stories with the most page views. I plan on sharing it with our newsroom, and because everyone likes a “Top 20 list” (admit it – you’ve seen at least some of those VH1 shows), I thought I’d share it with you.

Some explanation: Sometimes our stories are picked up by outside Web sites, and linked back to us. For example, our No. 1 story this year – the photos of the troops being taken down at the Paso post office – was picked up by drudgereport.com, a new aggregation Web site made up mostly of links to mainstream media stories. Such a link gave us tens of thousands of page views – much higher than a story would normally get if placed solely on our site.

Also, a few of the stories on our list weren’t written locally. A continuous feed places national and international stories on the site each day. Sometimes, those versions of the story get picked up by an outside Web site (what a tangled World Wide Web it is). So even though no Tribune staff wrote the story, it still became one of the most-read items on sanluisobispo.com in 2007.

And though we can't know for sure if everyone who clicked on the story read it, it does give us a bit better measurement than we can get with the print edition.

But enough from me already. Sanluisobispo.com visitors, here’s what you looked at this year:

1. Photos of troops overseas are gone from Paso post office inspiring outrage (Oct. 20)
2. FBI surveillance: It's come a long way (Aug. 30)
3. The military telegram arrives and a marriage is forever changed (Nov. 10)
4. SLO girl, parents dead in apparent murder-suicide (Oct. 4)
5. More details released in last week's apparent murder-suicide in SLO (Oct. 9)
6. Woodland dentist says breast rubs were appropriate (Oct. 12)
7. Shooting victim 'was loved and admired by his many friends in San Luis Obispo' (Dec. 7)
8. ‘Drain’ is a drag (July 8)
9. Shark seen circling surfer in Cayucos (Oct. 5)
10. Paso: Cars still speed — just more loudly (Nov. 23)
11. NFL: Shotwell ‘still in shock’ (Sept. 5)
12. Jail officer allegedly flashed inmate (Oct. 21)
13. Five die in Christmas Day crash (Dec. 26)
14. Two-car collision kills one, injures five on Highway 1 (Nov. 13)
15. Teens in fatal Hwy. 41 crash identified (July 25)
16. Investment fund fails; locals lose millions (Oct. 28)
17. Family’s life marked by divorce filings, addiction (Oct. 4)
18. Vegas priest pleads guilty to battery (Sept. 21)
19. Hasay’s talent hits an international stage (July 11)
20. 4 p.m.: Police release names of three people found dead this morning; murder-suicide suspected (Oct. 3)

If you have any questions, or want more information, feel free to leave a comment here or e-mail me at ldoust@thetribunenews.com.