I’m more and more convinced every day that the Las Vegas Sun is the most interesting local newspaper in the nation — both to read and to work at.
The Sun’s print edition — because of a very unique JOA with the other newspaper in town — doesn’t really act like a local newspaper of record, and instead acts much more like a daily magazine or a daily paperâ€™s Sunday newspaper. Every day, the Sun print edition is jammed to the gills with lots of thoughtful and very good journalism being crafted by thoughtful and very good journalists.
Eight pages with no ads Monday through Friday. Six pages on Saturday. Ten pages on Sunday.
A local newspaper filled with lots of local journalism that matters and no ads. Craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Hell, it’s probably the craziest thing any of us have seen in regards to local media.
One of the things that we’ve found since being at the Las Vegas Sun is that a lot of that amazing journalism that works so well in the print edition (it’s essentially a kick-ass “A” section of all-enterprise local and state stories) doesn’t always translate to big online traffic numbers.
Because of that, our new-media journalists and editors have a ton of focus on writing lots of breaking news stories and essentially the other sections of a typical newspaper (metro, sports, entertainment/lifestyle). Those are all stories that because of the JOA, the Sun just doesn’t cover in print like a typical newspaper.
What that means, with the exception of all of the crazy alternate delivery and multimedia we do, is our new-media news team is about as old school as it gets.
Our newspaper’s editor/president, Brian Greenspun, has said on more than one occasion that though his father, longtime Sun editor/publisher Hank Greenspun, likely wouldn’t recognize today’s Sun print edition, he would completely recognize the local journalism that our newspaper’s new-media team practices on a daily basis.
And when you layer on top of all of that the tremendous amount of help we get from the Sun’s traditional newsroom, it starts to become even more interesting. What happens when two very different mindsets work together to accomplish the same goal?
The Las Vegas Sun’s primary goal in print, online, in video, on mobile, whatever … is the same even though we go about it in different ways: Inform the people of Las Vegas.
To see all of this in living-and-breathing action, all you have to do is look at a few highlights from Wednesday, Sept. 17.
My guess is that this blog post is going to be a little “inside baseball,” but if you want to know how a newspaper’s traditional newsroom and its new-media team can work together, it seems like this day in particular was a textbook example.
The Sun print edition doesn’t cover UNLV athletics on a day-to-day basis, but the Rebels are one of our site’s biggest traffic draws. Because of that, our new-media team has two full-time UNLV beat journalists.
(Notice I didn’t say beat “writers?” Even though the majority of the content they produce is text, they also produce audio podcasts, appear on our weekly television show, help with video, shoot photos, edit outside blogs, etc…)
Our primary football writer for the Rebels, Ryan Greene, knew we needed to do the definitive story about a local kid playing for UNLV who, as a freshman, was making all of these big-league plays.
You know you’re reading a kick-ass story when it’s more than 2,000 words and it flies by like it only has 500 words. But this package had much more than Ryan’s great text.
It had this great accompanying video produced by our team’s lead sports video producer, Alex Adeyanju, along with footage from fellow Sun sports video producer Christine Killimayer and some assistance from our team’s kick-ass utility infielder, Billy Steffens.
And it had an old trick dating back to our days at Morris Digital Works: an animated playbook built in Flash — built by our team’s design god, Todd Soligo — that diagrams how the key play works that this freshman keeps using to score touchdown.
It had a killer online-only photo taken by Sun print shooter Leila Navidi that was totally what you’re not expecting from a local daily football photo. I loved it and was proud that it was on our newspaper’s website.
You know what’s really cool? This package was supposed to have more. Ryan called me as it was being put together to tell me that the audio interviews he hoped to embed in the package didn’t turn out as well as he had hoped, so those clips were being scratched.
It didn’t matter.
This was a great local package that worked on about 100 levels. I loved it. And I was proud of all of those who worked on it with an extremely quick turnaround.
Interesting sidenote: When journalism professors from across the nation have visited the Sun over the last few months and asked me what we’re looking for in recent grads, I introduce them to Ryan Greene. I then say, “Ryan, please explain to these folks what you do for a living.”
Our team has an amazingly talented entertainment editor, Sarah Feldberg, who has been working with us since our days in Naples. Sarah is one of those people who does just about everything really well, and she always works her backside off.
Here in Las Vegas, Sarah is primarily our team’s editor for the Las Vegas Weekly magazine website, which I can’t wait to write about a little later … once we get a few more things tweaked on the site.
Anyway, with the release of the Rock Band 2 video game this past week, and its inclusion for the second time of a Las Vegas band’s music (the first game had the Killers and this one has Panic at the Disco, both from Vegas), Sarah put together a great blog post about the game and its local ties.
Along with Sarah’s blog was a really fun video, which Sarah narrates and is in, that was produced by one of our team’s video journalists, Matt Toplikar.
Barack Obama was in Nevada on Wednesday. I probably should have made this the first item noted in this blog entry, but — let’s face it — I think every newspaper tries to do a great job when one of the presidential candidates comes to town. If your news organization isn’t pulling out all of the stops for something like this, then it’s probably time to just go ahead and shut ‘er down because you’re done.
Our new-media editors coordinated with our Carson City bureau on Tuesday to ask for web coverage of Obamaâ€™s speech, which was scheduled for early Wednesday. One of the Sun’s reporters, David McGrath Schwartz, sent us a short story to describe the scene when he arrived in Elko, followed by another story covering the speech shortly after it ended.
Meanwhile, we also worked closely with one of our Vegas-based reporters to cover Obamaâ€™s second Nevada speech of the day here in Las Vegas. The reporter, Michael Mishak, e-mailed a story immediately after the speech, quickly followed by video from our Web team.
Both the traditional newsroom and the Sun’s new-media journalists worked together to cover it with both accuracy and immediacy, setting the table for the type of story the Sun typically runs in its print edition.
Combined, here’s what our readers got:
Quick blog item before Obamaâ€™s Elko appearance:
This story was from one of our Carson City reporters who traveled to Elko for Obama’s first appearance of the day in Nevada.
This Obama story was from a newsroom reporter who sent in a story right after the Vegas speech (with video):
We also coordinated with our traditional newsroom’s photo staff to get photos up early (thank you, Sam Morris!), and had members of our new-media team — Denise Spidle and Ryan McAfee produce a video of Obama’s speech at Las Vegas’ minor-league baseball stadium.
(And while one Statehouse reporter was covering Obama, the other — Cy Ryan — was sending us three breaking news stories from Carson City.)
Since Nevada is one of the major battleground states in the presidential election, we made a decision early on to put some resources into this — and our traffic numbers show this was the right decision. A headline that includes any of these words: “Obama,” “McCain,” or “Palin,” is destined to be a most-read story on our site.
Before the Democratic National Convention, the traditional newsroom sent reporter J. Patrick Coolican and photographer Leila Navidi on the road throughout the Southwest U.S. to talk to real people about the concerns on their minds. New media videographer Matt Toplikar made trip and sent back several video reports from the road.
Coolican blogged constantly during the road trip, as well as during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. The result was a large package that consisted of Web-only blogs, photos and videos, combined with stories that appeared in the printed Las Vegas Sun.
In addition to our new-media news team and the print newsroom, we also get tons of help from the newsroom of our weekly Home News publications. They are providing us with local news stories that almost always jump into our most-read stories area.
Oh, I almost forgot … we’ve got the latest OJ Simpson trial happening in Las Vegas right now.
This is something that the Sun print edition isn’t coverage on a daily basis, so the majority of our news organization’s text coverage of the trial is being produced by our new-media journalists, in particular Melissa Arseniuk.
But even though the Sun newspaper isn’t doing much coverage of the Simpson trial in the print edition, we’re getting almost daily photos from the Sun’s photo staff that we post very quickly from longtime Las Vegas Sun shooter Steve Marcus.
Our coverage of the Simpson trial also includes constant updates via Twitter. Melissa also has become the go-to local journalist on the trial for CNN, and is on CNN or CNN Headline News all of the time, where she mentions that her coverage can be found on lasvegassun.com. She also is appearing on morning news radio shows across the country, where — you guessed it — she mentions our expanded and constantly updated coverage of the trial on lasvegassun.com.
Mary Manning is one of those longtime print reporters that every newspaper website in the world hopes to have on staff. Her institutional knowledge is amazing. Her work ethic is amazing. And she knows where all of the bodies are buried in the desert … which is helpful when you’re the Las Vegas Sun and there are likely bodies buried in the desert.
Even though Mary is on the traditional newsroom’s payroll, she writes almost 100 percent for our website. And, boy oh boy, does she write for our website. Typically, Mary will write at least six or seven breaking news stories a day. I think her record story count for a day is around 12 or 13 stories. She knows how to get ahold of everyone and at any time.
And her background knowledge of the community is an asset that is probably one of our site’s biggest intangibles.
But what’s really cool is not the volume she writes, but how often her stories fall right into lasvegassun.com’s sweet spot. She always has a story among our 10 most-read stories of the day, and has had as many as five or six in our 10 most-read.
So, of course, on Wednesday, Mary was doing her thing. Here are examples of a few of the stories she wrote Wednesday for our site:
Aryan Warrior prison gang leader sentenced to more than 16 years
Measurable rain falls in Henderson, downtown Las Vegas
As I’ve already written about, weather stories — even in Las Vegas — always get killer traffic.
And Mary wasn’t the only one writing online-only breaking news. Cydney Cappello — one of our newspaper’s new-media journalists — was at the Las Vegas City Council meeting on Wednesday for another story she was working on.
But as she was sitting through the meeting, she realized there was a newsworthy story unfolding. She then came back to the office and put together a web-only story about the councilâ€™s decision regarding a proposed development in Las Vegas .
So, what did all of this mean and how does it happen?
Wednesday’s traffic was one of the biggest days in lasvegassun.com history, all a part of one of the biggest overall traffic weeks in our site’s history.
The Sun’s new-media team has two very talented managing editors — Tim Richardson and Dave Toplikar. I’ve written about them before and they rock. Having respected journalists running your online news operation, and who also really understand the Internet, helps.
Another huge intangible is that we have great buy-in and support from Las Vegas Sun editor Mike Kelley and his AMEs. It’s one thing for folks like that to say they have buy-in for their newspaper’s website, and it’s another for them to have real skin in the game. Mike and the AMEs at the Sun have skin in the game.
Several key/senior editors and reporters have the ability to post directly to lasvegassun.com. And they do. They are always sending us (and having the Sun’s reporters create) stories that will never show up in the print edition of the newspaper. They edit lots of online content.
As I said earlier to open this post, Wednesday was a really fun day at the Las Vegas Sun because it really showcased just how deeply this organization is committed to serving its audience.
Viva Las Vegas.