From Norfolk to Oz, the puppycam hits its mark

Web
manager Celia Sutton tells Sarah Lagan why the award-winning Eastern
Daily Press site has proved a hit with readers across the world

A TEAM that has walked away
with three regional website of the year awards since it launched four
years ago must be getting something right.

That’s exactly what Archant Norfolk’s EDP24, the website of the
Eastern Daily Press, has done – winning for the third time a Regional
Press Award that itself was introduced only six years ago.

Judges were impressed by the way EDP24 makes the most of opportunities offered by the internet.

They
liked the way it had built up a relationship with the community in
Norfolk, that it sought to bind the communities it served and actively
encourage debate.

Head of new services at the BBC, John Allen,
who was on the judging panel, says: “There’s a real sense that this is
a living and breathing product. It has soul, imagination and
personality and really understands its community.”

EDP24 is
intent on building up dialogue between journalists and visitors.
Readers can ask the staff about anything from how to deal with a family
crisis to where the nearest public conveniences are, and they always
endeavour to help.At the bottom of the Info Desk section it says: “If
you can’t find what you want – tell us. We’ll try and get you an
answer.” Next to this there is an email link to the web manager Celia
Sutton.

Sutton, formerly deputy editor at the Norwich Evening
News says: “We have a direct connection with our readers and will
always respond to the questions they ask. I helped a couple in
Australia find a shop that sold roofing materials they’d visited on
holiday in Norfolk. They couldn’t remember the name of the shop but I
managed to put them in contact with each other. We just do that little
bit more for our readers.”

If readers’ letters are an indication
of a thriving and robust newspaper then online message boards and
forums have the same importance. EDP24 and its football site, the Pink
‘Un, receive around 300 postings each day and there are numerous
threads running through them from the number of illegal immigrants in
the country and the latest on the G8 summit to family roots, local
ghost stories and community gossip.”One group of people who were
discussing events online organised a local evening in the pub to carry
on their debate,” says Sutton. “I think it’s wonderful that we are
providing them with the platform to do that. It’s giving them a voice
to debate the issues important to them.”

Just before the
election, the website came into its own as Charles Clarke, MP for
Norwich South, was among a number of local politicians who went into
the offices to answer readers’ questions online.

The level of
interactivity between journalists and readers impressed Ben Rooney, the
editorial director of firstpersonglobal.com, who was also on the
judging panel. In terms of interactivity, all it’s missing is a
blogger, he says.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world,” he adds.
“Like Video Nation on the BBC it works really well. Just 300 words from
a couple of bloggers every few days wouldn’t cost anything and people
would want to read it. It gives them more of a voice.”

Both
judges were impressed with EDP24’s dedication to breaking news,
believing a commitment to providing this gives a website the edge over
many of its competitors. Journalists upload information throughout the
day, although the headlines can vary in terms of how dramatic they are.
A recent story was headlined: “Pig seized from ASBO farmer”.

Breaking
news But websites are fast replacing the daily newspaper when it comes
to breaking news, says Sutton: “Thirty years ago it was down to the
local daily. But if you have the murder that happened on your doorstep
there’s no way that could be held until the following day. You can’t
keep a body quiet.

“We don’t expect journalists to give away the
crown jewels of their exclusives to the web at three o’clock the
previous day where it can be picked up by other media. There has to be
some common sense. It’s a balance between breaking news on the one hand
and exclusivity on the other.”

Rooney believes the way the newspaper and website work together demonstrates forward thinking.

“It’s
a huge vote of confidence,” he says. “They’re saying ‘readers will
still come back to us because this is where they saw it first’. They’ve
a strong commitment to their online audience and I definitely encourage
anybody to do it. In fact I’m worried about the number of newspapers
that don’t.”

However, Rooney was critical of EDP24 and many other
sites around the country that do not link up to related stories and
external sites.

“It’s not difficult,” he says. “A lot of the
sites don’t use some of the great strengths of the internet such as
linking things up. It adds more value to what you can get in print. You
can’t just think of websites in terms of newspaper presentation that
starts at page one and ends at page 48.”

One of the more popular
facets of EDP24 – a webcam, fixed on the puppies at a local dogs’ home
– demonstrates how websites can break away from traditional newspaper
content.

Readers can also talk online with a vet, post pictures
of their pets and swap stories and information about looking after
animals.

The judges said this summed up how EDP24 has taken
advantage of the internet and the technology that surrounds it while
maintaining a Norfolk feel and its relationship with readers.

Sutton
says: “People sometimes think that the internet has to be earth
shattering, and yes, you’ve got to be abreast of the technology, but
the basic principles apply for reaching your audience. It’s all about
making the most of what you can’t do in the newspaper and taking it to
a different dimension.

“The values are the same as in a local newspaper but we are just trying to expand upon those.”

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