Bravo to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on the makeover of their website, www.arkansasonline.com, which went hot on Feb. 1. Much more user-friendly and generous with content — maybe a sign that the D-G is finally losing some of its old-fogey reluctance about putting perfectly good information on the Internet for free — the new website makes for a nice electronic bookend to the paper-and-ink version.
The old D-G website was definitely stuck in the ’90s — full of clunky interfaces and a so-last-century drawer-style format on the homepage. The new D-G website has the look of a major metropolitan daily.
The first thing you notice is that you don’t have to be a subscriber anymore to get some news. Unlike the old website — which seemed to treat everyone who hadn’t ponied up for the print edition subscription as some kind of news poacher — the new D-G homepage is chock full of national and international news, including a colorful slide show of photos from news events from around the world, a scrolling list of recent wire-service stories and headlines, a three-item “Top Stories” window featuring a sample of Arkansas news, and access to at least five different stock tickers. The website offers video from the Associated Press, KTHV Ch. 11, and stuff shot by the D-G’s own cameras. The site also links to the D-G’s Razorbacks site and religion editor Frank Lockwood’s “Bible Belt Blogger” blog.
The bad news — at least for those who don’t subscribe to the D-G at home — is that if you want to look at stories from today’s edition of the paper or dig through their online archive, you still have to be either a print subscriber or cough up $4.95 per month and become a web subscriber.
Once you do, however, it opens doors to some really nifty features. While the full text of the day’s paper is available to signed-in surfers through a list of tabbed folders — including all their reviews and in-house musers like Jay “Sweet Tea” Grelen — those who like the idea of flipping pages and studying the layout can opt for the “standard edition” of the paper. Clicking a button at the top of the homepage leads you to a one-for-one digital reproduction of the day’s paper.
An awkward scene — at least from a reporter’s standpoint — at last week’s meeting of the volunteer committee looking into the finances of the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: During the Friday meeting, held in the basement of Robinson Auditorium, committee member John Steuri put Arkansas Democrat Gazette reporter C.S. Murphy unexpectedly on the spot, asking what sparked the series of articles she wrote about questionable practices at the LRCVB. Murphy’s stories led directly to the formation of the review committee, and featured some fairly damning details — including several thousand dollars in bureau money spent at businesses and restaurants owned by members of the Advertising and Promotions Commission, which oversees the LRCVB.
At the time of the brief exchange between Murphy and Steuri, the seven-member review board was speculating as to whether questions about the LRCVB’s use of historic Curran Hall as a visitor’s center might have started Murphy down the road which eventually led to her broader investigation of the LRCVB books. Mid-conversation, Steuri spotted Murphy in the sparse audience and asked her point-blank if Curran Hall had indeed been the source of her original interest.
In case you didn’t know: Becoming part of the story you’re reporting on is pretty much the nightmare of every journalist on earth.
After a few seconds of silence as the spotlight of attention creaked around and centered on her, Murphy said, “I’d rather not become part of the meeting” and added that she’d be happy to talk about it with Steuri afterward. Steuri muttered a good-natured apology, and the meeting went on. Ink-stained nightmare avoided.
Be my valentine?