More than 15 years after first publishing online, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News recently launched new websites — inquirer.com and phillydailynews.com — with new looks and new strategies.
Members of the Philadelphia chapter of the Online News Association gathered last week at the headquarters of Interstate General Media, home to the newspapers and philly.com, for a presentation on the new sites and for a discussion of how all three sites will coordinate to serve readers.
Daily News digital editor Josh Cornfield opened the event, explaining that the team of owners who purchased the company last year had surveyed readers and concluded that the additional sites would help them to better leverage the value of all three brands.
Clicking beyond the home page of either new site requires a home delivery subscription or complimentary “promo codes,” which have frequently been shared across social media networks by newsroom staffers since the new sites launched last month. Several subscription tiers are available, beginning at $1.25 per week.
Cornfield described the new Daily News site as a bridge for readers who don’t buy the paper every day, said that the new Inquirer site would add value for the newspaper’s print subscribers, and that the new plan would afford Philly.com greater opportunity to advance their distinct voices, adding that the digital-only site now also has a “really strong newsroom” of its own.
The Daily News is “building on news as a stream,” according to Cornfield, with a heavy emphasis on politics, sports, crime coverage and neighborhoods.
The sports section at phillydailynews.com delivers more statistics than the print product, with interactive tools, a quiz and archive access. Some of the features are sold on Amazon but can be downloaded for free by subscribers, Cornfield said.
Supplementary news coverage includes “Under the Gun,” an ongoing report on gun violence in Philadelphia. “Tracing the damage of one gun” led to eight shooting in one section of the city.
A partnership with axisphilly.org led to sharing an AVI map to view the city’s program for re-evaluating all properties in the city with the intention to ensure that values are fair and accurate.
The experience at inquirer.com is distinctly different, according to Frank Wiese, senior editor for multimedia projects at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Look for “pure Inquirer content” to flow into the site, estimated at 200 items per day and updated to the minute, according to Wiese.
The ultimate goal, according to Wiese, is to provide a “seamless experience,” through which readers can start reading a story in print over breakfast, finish it on a tablet while on the train, and then stay updated at the office all day.
The new sites do not yet incorporate responsive mobile designs, but Wiese said that a mobile-optimized solution is “on our road map.”
The front page at inquirer.com is designed to give visitors a sense of what’s in the paper each day, and should feel “comfortable” to print readers, according to Wiese.
At the same time, the new Inquirer site is intended to “extend the experience” for print readers “not bound to the paper anymore.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish curates a slideshow of the best staff photos each day while another section features Instagram photos by David Maialetti of the Daily News.
Navigation at inquirer.com is designed to lead readers into deeper levels of content and into the archives, according to Wiese, who illustrated the path to two weeks of Montgomery County coverage, for example. Weiss promised “more data journalism” in the future as well.
Newspaper readers do not overlap with the Philly.com audience, according to Leah Kauffman, executive producer for the site’s entertainment and lifestyle section, who said that their readers are less interested in where content originates.
Kauffman explained that Philly.com staffers are producing more of their own content, including breaking news reports, while continuing to publish content from both newspapers.
Modules house content by category, such as news, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, according to Kauffman, and can be shifted across the home page as needed.
The lifestyle module, called “Nightcap,” was featured at the time of the presentation and included a review of the city’s rooftop bars.
Philly.com serves readers and advertisers, but Kauffman says she is “excited about all of the changes” and that the new strategy presents the opportunity to support the papers’ newsrooms.
“Our goal has never been so clear,” Kauffman said, adding that they have recently been hiring their own photographers.
A question from the audience led to a discussion of RSS readers, which Wiese said could not access the new site due to the subscription model.
Wiese said “Twitter is my news feed,” as the discussion turned to live consumption. But he noted that he likes how the new Inquirer site will provide a place that will be “trustworthy and less noisy.”
Cornfield added that he does not expect many Twitter users to become newspaper subscribers, but he said sharing promo codes on Twitter will make it possible for them to experience the new sites.
Wiese later added that responsive design would be a complex process due to the need to share content among all three sites, but promised a continually cohesive experience. He pointed out flaws in other news sites which have already adopted responsive platforms.
Meanwhile, Kauffman said that Philly.com will relaunch its mobile site at the end of this month.
Cornfield said that “something needs to be there soon” for mobile users, adding that the Daily News strategy will most likely follow Philly.com.
“Audience engagement is one of our key goals,” according to Cornfield. He pointed to red boxes on the Daily News site that ask the community, “What did we miss?”
Kauffman said that Philly.com uses polls and live chats to engage readers, and that they were “in the process of figuring out new comment solutions on all of our sites.”
Cornfield said to look for a “really big upgrade” in the comments process soon and Wiese pointed out that the Inquirer also looks to Twitter for audience reactions.
Looking forward, Wiese said that metrics from the new Inquirer site will “shape how we cover news.”
Cornfield said that the most important metric for success of the news sites will be print subscription growth, but that it was too soon for any estimate of success.
At Philly.com, Kauffman said it was a challenge to grow something that is already so large but she was excited about a New Voices platform for notable contributors.
Wiese concluded that risk is inherent in any strategic shift but said he was excited about creating content in a different way — with readers.
Wiese, Kauffman and Cornfield field questions.