Where do they go from here?

Only a few days ago online newspaper guru Rob Curley announced he was departing the Washington Post company’s WPNI to take up residence at The Las Vegas Sun. This would be interesting enough to those of us watching with hope and fear what happens to newspapers online. What will Curley, who has arguably been successful at every stop on his newspaper journey, bring to The Sun and, possibly, the many other properties of the Greenspun Media Group.

Don’t go looking at this like the savior coming to Sin City. The LV Sun already has what many consider a top-notch web site. Less than a month ago the site won the EPPY (Editor & PUblisher award) for “Best Overall Newspaper-Affiliated Web Site” with fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors. The New York Times won the same award for newspapers with more than 1 million unique monthly visitors. The Sun’s recognition came only four months after launching its revamped news portal.

Curley played some role in the redesign. He recommended and used to work with the online editor who took over right before the re-vamping.

According to his blog, Curley was asked to recommend someone for what they were planning at The Sun. “I didn’t even have to think about it. I told them they should hire Dave Toplikar immediately. Dave was the long-time online managing editor at The Lawrence Journal-World before I got there, including being our sites’ top editor for the three years while I was in Lawrence.”

In fact, Curley appears to have recommended most of the new hires for the Sun’s new media team. Now that he has joined them it should be interesting to see what happens. Which makes this a great time to take a look at what is going on at The LV Sun web site.

However, all of this doesn’t necessarily mean there are lessons for us all in the LV Sun site. The reason for that lies in the story of the newspaper.

The LV Sun is in the third year of a JOA (joint operating agreement) with its larger rival, The Las Vegas Review-Journal. The rather odd arrangement has The Sun maintaining separate staff and content, but being delivered with the LVRJ. In order to make this work, The LV Sun has almost no “traditional” news and zero advertising. It serves as a sort of daily news magazine for the city of Las Vegas, with long, in-depth articles that lean more toward analysis.

The good of this is that the LV Sun is much freer to experiment than a paper that has to cost justify what it does. The bad is that is no business model from which others can glean clues about what may work in the online environment.

What about the web site, which comes off as almost an after-thought amidst all of the rest? It’s pretty, but probably not something that will change online newspapering as we know it.

It is clean, well-organized, and visually interesting. It is 100 percent local — you will have to drill down a ways for anything state, regional, national or beyond. It boasts lots of widets to elevate blogs and stories, a few tools to fuel reader interaction and great use of color. What’s more it has tons of useful evergreen stuff (Vegas History and Moving In, as two prime examples), and an easy to navigate multimedia section.

On the other hand, it isn’t a news site and Google is living proof that nice design means diddly online.

What may be brightest about the site, if it is true, is the statement from New Media Managing Editor Toplikar that the Web site is the result of a cooperative attitude between the Sun’s newsroom and the new media team. I’ve heard that before but never really seen it. Such a team approach is crucial to online success yet seldom occurs.

I am waiting to see what Curley will do there. The site isn’t shabby now, he has demonstrated some leadership ability in the past, and he is joining what may be the dreamiest team of his career. It’s a strong start — but where do they go from here?


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