Our new Web site launches

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As media consumption continues to evolve in this ever-changing world, the Union-Bulletin has worked hard to adapt. The U-B is much more than a newspaper these days with our growing Internet presence through union-bulletin.com and wineanddinewallawalla.com and our growing portfolio of niche products, including Lifestyles magazine and the newly launched Walla Walla Family Forum magazine.

One thing that will never change is our commitment to providing the Walla Walla Valley with high quality, community-service journalism, whatever platform that may involve.

For those who have not visited union-bulletin.com lately, it has become a vibrant, multimedia source of news, information and more, including local news, blogs, video, reader comments and twitter feeds. The Internet enables us to tell the stories of the Valley in a different way and to create a dialogue with readers that is not possible in the printed newspaper (although our strong letters page continues to regularly stir up discussion and remains as strong as ever).

Evidence of our online success is the nearly five million pages that will be viewed on union-bulletin.com this year. Combining this growing online audience -- 56 percent of which is not regular readers of the print newspaper -- with our newspaper circulation penetration of 54 percent of the homes in the Valley and we are reaching more people than ever.

Despite the success of union-bulletin.com, we have received feedback that the look and feel of our Web site is more late 1990s than coming up on 2010. Complaints -- including from our employees -- about navigation, limited content, layout and design have been common.

To move us into the future, I am excited to announce the launch of the new and improved union-bulletin.com effective today. The redesigned site is more robust, more user friendly, better organized and more pleasing to the eye. It will have significantly more content than before. The new content includes letters to the editor, full obituaries, more breaking news, news briefs, court and emergency service reports and more.

U-B subscribers will be able to enjoy all these changes for free. Nonsubscribers will also benefit from the increased content and different approaches, but will have to pay a small fee to access premium areas of union-bulletin.com. The premium content includes the new areas mentioned above and also access to complete local news stories and columns.

To recognize the value of this premium content and the considerable expense associated with creating it, nonsubscribers to the U-B will be asked to pay $6 a month. The price drops even more on a monthly basis if you choose a $65 annual online-only subscription. One day access primarily applicable to someone from out of town is available for $1. We believe readers will find the increased content worth the price of admission.

We have also modified the way local news stories and columns appear on the Web site for non-subscribers. When a non-subscriber clicks on the headlines for local news and local sports stories, they will now see a quick-read version that is accessible at no charge. Research has shown that many online readers prefer shorter stories due to the difficulty of reading large amounts of text on a computer screen. Our tracking has also shown that readers spend around three minutes on our site each visit, significantly less time than a reader spends with the printed newspaper. These readers seem to want to get in, get the news quickly and then get out. We think the shorter versions will help satisfy these preferences. Those who want a deeper dive into stories will still be able to do so -- free for U-B subscribers and with the minimal charge for nonsubscribers.

Other content that remains free to all users will include the home page, reader comments, blogs, video, AP stories, sports scores, classifieds and photo galleries.

If you are subscriber, the process is easy to log on in order to view the premium content. Simply create an account online at union-bulletin.com using your subscriber number and the last name of the subscriber in your household. Your subscriber number is on your statement. Realizing most of you don't save those we called all subscribing households with this number this morning. Once you log in the first time, you can select a username and password of your choosing. After this initial visit, you should not have to log in again from that computer, but will need to if you are at another computer (at work for example). This online username and password can be used by all members of your household.

If you are not a subscriber, you can sign up for an online only subscription at union-bulletin.com. Or, you are welcome to continue to use the free portions of the site without a subscription.

If you get stuck while signing up, there is a frequently asked questions page on the site that may be helpful -- union-bulletin.com/page/relaunch_faq.

There are numerous U-B employees who contributed to this effort, but I want to single out Online Services Manager Carlos Virgen and programmer Hermon Mike for their incredible efforts.

Check out the new site out and tell us what you think.

Rob Blethen can be reached at robblethen@wwub.com or 526-8331.

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