New Internet site spinning attractive Web

Friday, August 2, 2002

A marriage of newspaper reporting and state-of-the-art technology is taking the Southeast Missourian into a new age of journalism.

It's the age of semissourian.com.

The Web site made deadlines obsolete several years ago, because it can be updated with breaking news at any time. But now semissourian.com is adding visual and audio elements so site visitors can get every detail of a story on demand and also see photographs, watch video and hear sound clips.

The redesigned site was launched July 15 to rave reviews, and improvements continue daily, said Jon Rust, co-president of Rust Communications. "We're excited about the new semissourian.com. We know our users are as well. We're getting a flood of e-mail thanking us for the changes."

Among them: East Prairie, Mo., subscriber Kathie Simpkins, who e-mailed to say she's a fan.

"I still check the Web site in the evenings to check out the breaking news," she wrote. "I like being able to read back issues of the paper online."

More praise came from Cape Girardeau native Skip Brown.

"I read the Missourian online every morning," he wrote. "This morning, I was surprised -- very pleasantly -- by the changes in your format and presentation. It is extremely well done, and I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate what you have done."

The site includes expanded photo galleries, audio clips on demand, hyperlinks to related stories and video. Semissourian.com is one of the first newspapers in the country working with The Associated Press to present national and international news through a 24-hour service called AP Customwire.

In addition, local content on the site has been upgraded and organized in a way to make it easy to find items of interest.

"We analyzed how people were using the previous site and made adjustments to make it more powerful," Rust said. "Now they can get more news faster, and the navigation is clearer."

The results have been staggering, with users logging on from all over the world. Rust said the site has seen a 77 percent increase in page views from the same time last year. So far this year, there have been about 200,000 unique visitors to semissourian.com, meaning many different computers had been used to log onto the site, Rust said.

There have been 62,000 regular visitors -- overwhelmingly from this region -- and a total of about 25 million hits in the first seven months of 2002. A hit is registered each time a different element of the site is loaded.

New hypertext links to on-site and off-site information is a major feature, explained Gary Rust Jr., director of new media for Rust Communications. With one click from the front page, users can visit local movies, TV schedules, photo galleries and area events as well as online classifieds and job listings.

"People will want to visit often as stories are updated throughout the day," Gary Rust Jr. said. "It all fits our company's mission to continue to be the premiere source for in-depth news and information, regardless of the medium. Our Web site gives us just another dynamic tool that offers smart news content."

Jon Rust stressed the site is a complement to -- not a replacement for -- the print version of the newspaper.

"Some people in the market want the news now, updated 24 hours, so we want to serve that group," Rust said. "Our goal is to take advantage of the strengths of each medium."

Rust has been particularly proud of the way the Web site has presented news stories since the redesign.

"According to a chart we keep, semissourian.com has broken almost all the major stories in the area in the past several months -- before broadcast TV, before radio," he said. "Now we're breaking the smaller stories too."

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