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Technology changing the way news covered in Mississippi communities

Newspapers enhancing coverage with the Web

Mississippi newspaper Web sites are improving on a near daily basis, providing readers with an electronic version of news that can include archives for catching up on an issue and even more in-depth stories than there is space to print in the newspaper.

The Sun Herald in Biloxi has long had one of the best daily newspaper Web sites in the state.

Besides an almost complete Web-based version of the paper, The Sun Herald has an archive system that allows researching back issue articles for a small fee. Accessing the most current edition and editions for the past week is free. The Sun Herald also has AP articles online while some daily newspapers have only local news on their Web site.

The Clarion-Ledger recently started its Web-based newspaper, and while it isn’t nearly as complete as the Sun Herald’s, clarionledger.com does have a useful archive of legislative stories plus links to legislative sites.

Surprisingly, one of the best Web newspapers in the state is a weekly, the Madison County Journal in Ridgeland. Besides having AP stories and even stories from The New York Times on its Web site, the Madison County Journal updates its site daily and posts breaking news on their Web site before it appears in the print edition.

For example, James E. Prince III, editor and publisher of the Madison County Journal and technology committee chairman for the Mississippi Press Association, said there was a bus wreck by the Reservoir a few months ago. Within an hour a picture and article about the wreck was up on the Web site.

Weeklies often suffer competitively on breaking news because they publish only once a week. If a big story breaks right after the weekly edition hits the streets, then it is old news by the time the weekly publishes again. But by updating the Web site for breaking news, the Madison County Journal can beat the dailies and television news in being the first to break a story.

“It is a whole new approach, and it has been well received,” Prince said. “People are getting in the habit of knowing to check the Journal site when something happens. Of course, we want them to think of us as their news source. It may be a brief picture of what has happened as compared to what will be in the print edition on Thursday. It has really not changed the print edition that much except we have a section called ‘Web only.’ If there is not room in the print edition for the entire story, we put it on the Web and tease it in the print edition by saying there is more online.”

The Web site, madisoncountyjournal.com, includes an archive of the hottest local topics such as the $68-million school bond issue and the Annandale annexation. It also includes the 1999 county year in review, Mississippi perspectives 2000 and state legislative news.

After important local news events, reporters will post an update on the Web with the full story printed later in the newspaper.

“Being a weekly, it changes the whole way you approach the news,” Prince said. “We don’t purport to be a daily news source for every single thing that happens. But we closely follow issues such as the Madison County School bond trial in court by updating the Web sit daily with a thorough report. We also provide pretty thorough coverage of the Legislature online. Anyone who really wants to know what is going on in the Legislature can hit our site, and have a pretty good feel for what is happening.”

Prince said they aren’t necessarily trying to compete with The Clarion-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper. The Journal’s news is more slanted towards the suburban market interested in issues such as local education.

Web sites like those provided by the Madison County Journal provide a great service. But how do newspapers justify the expense? Most have some form of Web-based advertising, and provide advertising such as classifieds. But that rarely covers all the costs.

Prince said there are also business advantages as Web sites improve a newspaper’s brand recognition and their reputation for being a high-quality source of news.

“Our job is to inform, and we can do that across the different mediums whether the Internet or print edition,” Prince said. “The advantage is it is just one more way we can provide news not just to our readers, but also other people. It is just another avenue by which we can inform. It is another way that we can establish ourselves as an authority and source on news. “

Few weeklies have a Web-based newspaper. The Madison County Journal is a special case because it is next to the Capital City where there is more market for the enhanced news coverage offered on its Web site. And since the Madison County Journal is only 18 years old, it isn’t as entrenched in tradition as most weekly newspapers that have been around a century or longer.

“We are evolving, and the Internet is part of our evolution,” Prince said. “We have embraced it. We feel there are far more advantages than disadvantages to the Internet. We’re doing new and innovative things we couldn’t do in the print edition. The Web allows us to bring it all to one place. It is primarily a service to the readers. That is the core of what we are doing, providing service. As a result we hope to become a better community because people are better informed. “

The Web version of the paper also serves as an electronic archive for reporters and editors to use for background when writing an article.

Prince said interest in the site is picking up with an average of 60 to 100 people accessing the site daily site. That number is expected to increase as more and more people get Internet access, and into the habit of using the Web regularly. Interestingly, the paper is finding the Web site gets the most “hits” during the week from professionals accessing the site from their offices.

Prince is not worried that he will lose subscribers to the Web version. His paper just finished a circulation drive that added 1,000 subscribers, and out of all the people asked to subscribe, only two said they get everything they want online.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

About Becky Gillette

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