PANORAMA - Online Services add Multi to the Media

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Hand-held video cameras and a laptop streaming Facebook, Twitter and Wine and Dine website updates sit on a table at Feast Walla Walla while Walla Walla Union-Bulletin online services manager Carlos Virgen (right) and online/social media coordinator Jeremy Gonzalez (left) enjoy glasses of hard cider together while waiting for participants to talk to about the website.

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Near walls and racks covered in print editions, Carlos Virgen edits video in the newsroom.

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Surrounded by the devices of a digital age, Carlos Virgen works to edit video clips.

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An on-camera interview conducted by Jeremy Gonzalez.

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Jeremy Gonzalez tours Feast Walla Walla, interviewing participants about the event.

For more than 140 years the Union-Bulletin and its ancestors have circulated local news the way you might be reading it today.

Reporters still write stories like this one, editors edit them and pressmen produce a newspaper, which is dropped off on your front porch to touch, hold, carry, clip and read.

But with rapid advances in technology the past couple of decades, less ink is being rubbed off on readers' fingers because more of them are logging onto websites.

Many people now want their news faster and complemented by video clips, photo galleries, blogs and interactive opportunities to comment or participate in polls.

While the U-B's primary mission remains publishing a six-day-a-week newspaper, it is taking larger strides to deliver content electronically to engage an audience that prefers to receive news in that form.

Selected stories have been posted on the U-B's website, union-bulletin.com, for years. But recently all of the paper's local news has been available to subscribers online, and alerts and links are being posted on other sites, as well. The "newspaper" is transforming into an information company, producing and distributing content in a multitude of ways.

"The Web is involved in everything (people) do," said Jeremy Gonzalez, the U-B's online/social media coordinator. "You do not not have an Internet presence if you're in the communications business."

That's because the tastes, standards and expectations of news consumers are rapidly evolving in this high-speed, multi-tasking world. Many readers want more immediate information, but continue to require accuracy, integrity and depth from a respected source.

As the U-B's online services manager, Carlos Virgen, puts it: "We need to balance how we give people breaking news and follow that up with a polished piece that gives more context and information."

In addition to stories, supportive material such as pictures, photo albums, video and audio clips, maps, charts and other data are displayed on the U-B's website. So you can see why Virgen and other U-B staffers find themselves "on call" 24/7.

Virgen posts stories to the website after the reporter and editor complete them weekday mornings. He then adds "off-cycle" stories that develop after the day's paper is printed, monitors weekend postings, and regularly updates story labels and placement.

That's all in addition to new ground the Union-Bulletin is breaking by digging into online social-media opportunities. The number of people signing onto Twitter and particularly Facebook has exploded in recent months, therefore Gonzalez and Virgen are utilizing the networks to spin a larger web for the Union-Bulletin.

"It's our job to look at how we can use those technologies in a more productive way," Gonzalez explained.

For example, Virgen posts story links and teasers on the U-B's fan accounts, and Gonzalez updates several other Facebook pages with tidbits, local entertainment information and conversation starters. The Union-Bulletin administers "Downtown Walla Walla," "Wine and Dine Walla Walla," "Walla Walla Lifestyles" and "Milton-Freewater, OR" to connect with hundreds of Facebook users who don't necessarily subscribe to the news product.

In addition, several advertisers pay the Union-Bulletin for messages and contest promotions Gonzalez posts on the various pages or on their individual Facebook business accounts.

"We let people buy space in the newspaper," Gonzalez said. "This is just the next logical step."

Acquiring additional revenue is important as more readers migrate to free Internet sites to sate their daily thirst for news. It's also the reason the Union-Bulletin last year decided to redesign its website and charge a monthly fee to nonsubscribers of the paper who want full access.

Virgen notes that movement of readers to online content is occurring more slowly in Walla Walla because of the population's older age demographic and a relative lack of competition from other media outlets. But charging nonsubscribers for premium online content "is a way to protect or stave off the decline in (newspaper) circulation," he said.

Virgen and Gonzalez believe that eventually local newspapers - including the Union-Bulletin - will not publish print editions every day and will produce the majority of their content in less expensive, more efficient formats.

Those may involve the Internet, portable reading devices or a breakthrough method that hasn't been invented yet. The staff members have to keep up with - or try to stay ahead of - current trends to ensure the Union-Bulletin remains the preeminent source of information in the Valley.

"We have to position ourselves for future readers and help traditional readers make that transition," Virgen said.

www.union-bulletin.com access

Subscribers to the Union-Bulletin's print edition may sign up for a free online account allowing full access to the newspaper's website, union-bulletin.com. Call the circulation department at 525-3300 for your account number, then follow the instructions on the site.

Nonsubscribers can sign up for complete access to the site. The cost for an online-only subscription is $1 a day, $6 a month or $65 for a full year.

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