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Check out the new Las Vegas Sun site
January 16, 2008

First off, let me apologize for the lack of updates to my site.

For the last few months, things have been hopping around the Curley household and at the washingtonpost.com offices, and I haven’t had a lot of extra time. And when I have had some time, I’ve been going to Disney World and seeing some shows I’ve wanted to see.

(Betsy and I have a list of bands/artists we want to see before they die. Stevie Wonder, Genesis, Van Halen with David Lee Roth and Ozzy Osbourne are now no longer on that list.)

I do have to admit that I came dangerously close to posting something here about the Kansas Jayhawks’ win in the Orange Bowl, then decided it was probably better content for Facebook than here. Especially since I work with so many folks who went to Virginia Tech.

I’ve got three or four blogs close to being ready to post, but they all either are related directly to academia (which I’m waiting for college to get back into session before I post), or they are related to things that our team is working on at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.

I’m hoping to post a blog about some of the new The Washington Post stuff we’ve been working on by the end of this week or early next week.

Anyway, back to the point of today’s blog …

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I want to congratulate my friends over at The Las Vegas Sun for the release of that newspaper’s new site. It is awesome.

And I feel a bit of personal pride in it, as well.

You see, several months ago, I got a call from Drex Heikes, who is an editor at The Sun. He told me how the family-owned newspaper — which is in what has to be the strangest JOA in the country with its much-bigger rival, The Las Vegas Review-Journal — had by design essentially become a local daily magazine that is inserted into the Review-Journal each morning.

(If you don’t know what a JOA is, you should read this wikipedia entry for a good primer on the subject, along with this story from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for an overview of cities that still have JOA newspapers.)

The Las Vegas Sun isn’t like any local newspaper you’ve ever seen. There isn’t any news in it about shootings or the vote from the previous night’s city council meeting. And the newspaper has no ads in it.

Heikes told me that since the newspaper’s format change about two years ago, it had really begun to find its place and voice in print. And with things starting to click, the newsroom’s top editor — Mike Kelley (another Midwesterner from the Kansas City area who has made good) — and the newspaper’s editor/president Brian Greenspun, wanted to begin focusing on building a new type of local newspaper website.

So, after all of this was explained to me, I was asked if I knew of an online editor who could lead a local news site like that.

I didn’t even have to think about it. I told them they should hire Dave Toplikar immediately. Dave was the long-time online managing editor at The Lawrence Journal-World before I got there, including being our sites’ top editor for the three years while I was in Lawrence.

I loved working with Dave in Kansas.

Dave is smart, hard-working, understands the Internet, and is a real journalist. (I’ve blogged about Dave in the past.) Yet, some time after I had left lovely Lawrence for the sunny beaches of Naples, Dave had been transferred from being the new-media editor to being a regular reporter at the newspaper.

Believe it or not, I kind of understand this. When new leaders come in, they sometimes want change. Either way, Dave was now pretty unhappy in Lawrence.

The timing was perfect for him to make the jump from Lawrence to Las Vegas.

So he did.

For the first few months, Dave and I would talk on the phone at least once a week to chat about how things were going. At one point, both Dave and Mike Kelley asked me if I could come out to Las Vegas to give a talk about what a local news web site could be and where things might be headed.

I told them there was actually a weird time available in my schedule in mid-June right before my family headed to Scandinavia (which I blogged about here). So instead of flying to Europe from Washington, D.C., our family’s trip detoured through Las Vegas.

After speaking with the staff of The Las Vegas Sun and its sister publications (the company owns/operates several weekly newspapers and glossy magazines in the Vegas area), Brian Greenspun asked me who else he should hire to do the things I talked about in my presentation.

I gave The Sun several names. To my surprise, the newspaper hired every single person on the list. Not some of them. All of them. They even added a few folks to the list who I hadn’t thought of. This new-media team at The Las Vegas Sun is full of friends of mine, as well as several other folks whose work I’ve always admired.

Dave from Lawrence. Doug Twyman from the Hannibal Courier-Post. Josh Williams from the Smithsonian Institute. Zach Wise, who worked Brian Storm and a cast of others on the amazing Soul of Athens project. Trent Ogle, a video journalist from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Andy Samuelson from KUsports.com; as well as a handful of other really talented new-media journalists.

You gotta give the company credit for investing heavily in a new-media strategy in 2008. Lots of newspapers were investing (at least a little) back in 1998, but how many are still investing now? From an online perspective, this newspaper seems to be going from zero to 100 miles-per-hour almost overnight. It’s impressive and refreshing to see in this time of doom and gloom in our industry.

The Sun’s new site was designed by former LA Times’ers Bill Gaspard and Tyson Evans, who were already on The Sun’s staff. (Yes, that Bill Gaspard — the former president of SND.) These guys have done something that I’m not sure I’ve seen another news site do — the area for the lead story changes design everyday.

I don’t mean the lead art changes. I mean the whole area changes everyday. It is designed to be “designed” everyday.

Will that work? I don’t know.

Is it cool? Damn cool.

Here are screenshots of how the lead story has looked on homepage for the first four days of the site:

The site has features that work well despite being in a JOA that forbids The Sun from posting any of its content online before it appears in the print edition of the newspaper: lots of web-only blogs produced by the newsroom; emphasis on local opinion, with the ability for readers to comment on everything; a ton of slickly produced local multimedia content.

I love the full-screen video and photo galleries. And it’s not just the technology that powers these features that impresses me. The actual videos and multimedia on the site look great and are about interesting things that the people who visit the site might actually want to watch.

(BTW — Zach Wise is going to be the next online newspaper rock star.)

I love how it seems like everything can be downloaded. I totally love the crazy 360-degree steerable photographs that also include 360-degree audio captured at the same moment as the image.

Some of the little attentions to detail on the site are really cool, as well. Check out the current-weather conditions graphic that is in the header of every page. Now look really closely at it. There are airplanes taking off and landing in the skyline.

The whole thing just feels very fresh to me, kind of like a local version of Slate.

While I was in Las Vegas for CES last week, I got to spend some time with my friends on The Sun’s web staff on a couple of different evenings after the conference. I’ve seen some of the other new things they are building that will launch over the next few months, and it’s some of the coolest shit I’ve ever seen a “newspaper” do.

I put quotes around “newspaper” because these folks aren’t acting like any newspaper I’ve ever seen, and that’s pretty dang interesting.

For more information on the new Las Vegas Sun site, you should read Dave Toplikar’s note to readers.

Or read the story that ran in The Sun this weekend about the new site, complete with lots of quotes from Brian Greenspun — which I’m guessing will make it must-read material for a lot of Tribune employees around the country.

I’m mentioned in that story and don’t deserve it. I simply told them to hire great people and then stay the heck out of their way. Trust me, that’s harder to do than you think it might be, but this new site feels like they’ve done it.

Again, congratulations guys! I am proud of you!

And never, ever hit on a 17.

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