A Northern Virginia Daily special anniversary section

Celebrating 75 years: Index of stories
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Daily excited to be part of the future

Newspaper business' vocabulary is always changing; Web use among readers up

By Elizabeth Smoot
General Manager

Elizabeth Smoot

General Manager Elizabeth Smoot

We proudly celebrate 75 years in business, taking seriously our role as community watchdog, information provider and champion of the principles of a free press.

However, critical decisions face the Daily's current management and staff if those who follow us here are to mark another 75 years, or even reach the century mark.

In the face of declining revenue, shrinking readership, disappearing classifieds, rapidly changing technology and fickle consumer habits, the newspaper industry faces a time of transformation unparalleled in its history. Never before have we faced such urgency to just remain in business.

Threats facing traditional print media these days are very real, yet we must not get caught up in the gloom and doom scenario that surrounds us. A time of opportunity is before us. The future depends upon our ability to reinvent ourselves through innovation and a new business model.

The Internet presents us with challenges to our very core. No matter how large or small, there are no easy answers to ensuring newspapers remain an indispensable source of news and information. But we don't lack in creativity. We're no longer in the news business; we're in the information business. We used to write news for readers; now we create content for an audience and put together a portfolio of niche products with the newspaper as the core — or maybe not the core.

We don't know what the future will look like, but we know we won't continue to deliver news the way we have for the past 75 years. Our new vocabulary includes phrases and words such as vodcasts, podcasts downloaded to iPods, blogs, forums, user-generated content, convergence and citizen journalism.

The Daily is currently engaged in a project that is all about our future. We are partners in the Newspaper Association of America's yearlong Digital Media Fellowship Program. Ten talented Web employees from newspapers all across the country have studied our Web site, nvdaily.com, for the past year, as they've learned more about the best approaches for Web sites in today's ever-changing environment. The fellows, divided into three teams, are creating three strategic business plans for our site. We will receive those plans in October and will begin implementing changes shortly.

We're excited about this project and what it means for our future. We have no intention of abandoning readers who prefer the print-and-ink newspaper, but our survival depends upon our ability to reach new consumers in a new way.

Fortunately, there is good news. The Web audience for newspapers is growing at nearly twice the rate of the overall online audience. An average of more than 59 million people, or 37.6 percent of all active Internet users, visited newspaper Web sites each month during the first quarter of 2007, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings NetView custom analysis.

Despite these encouraging signs, the only certainty in this climate is uncertainty. Change is rapid, and what is true today may be obsolete in a matter of only months. What won't change, however, are the principles that got us to our 75th anniversary. We continue to draw upon the philosophy and integrity of those who came before us — an unwavering dedication to watchdog journalism, a pledge to link the communities that make up this region and commitment to high standards of fairness and balanced reporting.

We may leave for those who follow us a different delivery system, but we will remain the Northern Shenandoah Valley's most vital source for news and information -- whatever form they take.

Related story: Web site keeps readers near, far informed

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