Friday Night Lights in a city known for a different kind of lights

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for high school football.

Back in Kansas, I covered the Osage City Indians for my high school newspaper, The Pow Wow. Yes, it’s still called that, and no, it doesn’t have a proper Web site. 😦

I helped put myself through college at Emporia State University while writing football gamers for the newspaper I had wanted to work at since I was in the third grade — The Topeka Capital-Journal.

And once I got into “new media,” that love of high school sports continued. Sometimes the high school sports coverage we produced found an audience. And sometimes it didn’t.

In our team’s first full year at the Las Vegas Sun, we probably went just about as all-out as you could possibly go in our coverage of Las Vegas-area high schools — live scoreboards available on the web and via text-messaging, gamers for nearly every local high school, big/cool photo galleries, a stats page updated weekly for nearly every varsity player and team in the area, and probably some of the slickest game-highlight videos produced on deadline by a local news organization.

When the season was over, as proud as we were of our efforts, we knew we had to do things differently in 2009 — our overkill high school coverage didn’t get nearly the traffic or the advertiser attention we had hoped it would.

We also knew that we hadn’t marketed it very well, as our newspaper’s president and editor Brian Greenspun has pointed out to us numerous times. (I also should note that because of our unique JOA here in Las Vegas, running lots of “house ads” in our newspaper isn’t an option, so marketing is a challenge for nearly everything we do.)

This summer, we continually talked about how we could/should do really spectacular coverage of the local high schools, but do it much more efficiently, with a bigger bang for our buck and in a way that people would notice.

We also knew we had a secret weapon: Ray Brewer. (BTW — check out this sweet caricature of Ray from Sun illustration god Chris Morris.)

Ray is a true Las Vegas local. He was born and raised in Las Vegas. He even graduated from UNLV.

Ray has been covering high school sports in Las Vegas since 1996.

When the editorial staffs for the Henderson Home News (a weekly newspaper owned by the Greenspun family) and Greenspun Interactive were merged earlier this year, Ray essentially became our team’s sports editor, and it was one of those moves that immediately made us better.

This guy has a true passion for high school sports. If you don’t believe me, just watch this video from Thursday night’s episode of

This finally gets me to the point of this post: The Las Vegas Sun released its 2009 high school football previews earlier this week, and I couldn’t have been more excited or proud for all of the great work done by our new-media, video and “traditional” newspaper staffs!

We posted nearly 40 preview stories — with Ray writing 12 of them — highlighted by the Sun’s 2009 preseason all-area team. We gave this content great play on our site, including a nice ride on our homepage.

Las Vegas Sun High School Football 09 coverage

And something is already different from last year — the content actually got some decent traffic. I’m not sure if it was because the content was played really well in the print edition of the Sun or because people now realize how committed we are to high school coverage. We did no outside marketing of the coverage, so I really don’t know why it got solid page-view numbers.

Our main high school football preseason story included a video package/interview with some of the area’s top players produced by Christine Killimayer, a gorgeous photo gallery shot specifically for the package by Sun staff photographer Sam Morris and profiles of each player on our preseason team that included video interviews produced by Katie Euphrat.

Our coverage also included:

* A cool look at local powerhouse Bishop Gorman, that included a great video on the team’s new coach from Alex Adeyanju and a great photo gallery of the coach from Greenspun Interactive photographer Justin Bowen.

* An audio podcast about the upcoming season from Ray and Greenspun Interactive sports journalist Steve Silver.

* Tons of text stories from Steve Silver, Case Keefer and, of course, Ray Brewer.

Packaging all of this goodness together was our team’s amazing utility infielder, Billy Steffens.

And once the season starts, things are really going to get good. I have always — and I mean *always* — hated the term “more with less,” but that’s exactly what we’re going to try to accomplish this fall. Well … kind of.

It won’t necessarily be more content than we produced last year, but I would totally be willing to bet that we generate substantially more web traffic on our high school content with substantially fewer resources than we used last year. We have torn through the traffic log files and have really focused in on what we feel will connect with our audience.

The only problem I see with content like this is that I always wish newspaper content could have been like this back when I was in high school. 😉

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Dad. Journalist. Nerd. Music lover. Baseball fan. Puckhead.