Twenty years ago this month, The Kentucky Standard launched its first website.
Little did the decision-makers at the local community paper realize just how different this new era would be for the news industry, both on the national level and the local levels. The Standard was one of the earliest community newspapers to dip its toe online.
Those first Web editions barely resemble what online journalism has evolved into. There is no permanent record of the first online news edition that we can find, except an article about the new website that was published in the May 21, 1997, print edition. The print editions are saved and bound into books that reside in our “morgue.” There was no such mechanism for websites.
The closest we can come is through the WayBackMachine, an Internet archive that saves snapshots of Web pages. The earliest snapshot of kystandard.com it saved is from May 22, 1998, one year after the Web presence was established. It has two news headlines with summaries of the articles in the print edition and a sports headline with a summary.
“For more details, please see today’s issue of The Kentucky Standard,” it says at the bottom of the page.
At first, maintaining a local website meant just adding additional duties at the end of a long production day by posting a few stories and referencing the print edition. But over time, it meant a fundamental shift in the way we report the news, how our readers got their news and what our community expects.
There was a time not so long ago when if a significant event happened on Sunday, readers had to wait until Wednesday to read about it. The reporters working the story had until Tuesday to gather all the information, organize it, verify it and craft a written report.
That’s a far cry from how it works today. Take last week for instance. A teenager was shot and killed just after midnight last Monday. A reporter learned of it shortly after it had happened, grabbed his camera and notebook and headed to the scene, where he gathered the information that was available from the sources he could interview and then hurried back to the nearest computer. By a little after 3 a.m., he had the information online. He spent the next two days updating the story online as new facts and information became available. Then, for the print edition, a new version was written Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday’s print edition. But by the time that edition hit the streets, there had already been incremental updates to the story, which had to be updated online.
That is what readers expect, because we live in a news-by-the-moment era.
Maintaining a digital footprint is not just a luxury, but a necessity and one that this newspaper embraced 20 years ago, even though that online version did not even remotely resemble what is available now.
There are many people out there who predict online news will kill the print edition. They’ve been saying that for years. They are the same people who also thought radio would kill newspapers and then later that television would be our doom. Yet, we persist and change with the times and the technology, even as we grapple with the challenges that each new medium presents us.
Fortunately, we have found there is still demand, even love, for our printed newspaper edition. While 24/7 access to our website is included with a print subscription, over 50 percent of our readers still prefer to read the print edition only. Less than one percent have an online-only subscription and the remaining readers utilize both print and online to meet their needs.
While technology continues to evolve and real time news is expected, print editions are not dead. There is still room for both print and digital to co-exist, working together to bring readers what they want, when they want on the device they choose. And what they value is accuracy, accountability and fairness. Those are values that pre-date even print newspapers, and that is what the Standard will continue providing, no matter how the information is delivered.