We're Working On It

What's that you say?

The comics are fuzzy?

Th e wor ds areodd ly spa ced?

Articles from one part of the page are suddenly part of another unrelated idea of proposed fed­eral legislation that would re­quire chain restaurants such as Chick-fil-A , McDonald’s, and Burger King to list calorie con­tent on menus or on a large menu board article?

I know at this point many of our e-edition readers are waiting outside the building with torches and pitchforks and nasty computer viruses, but please, before you set the place ablaze, let me explain.

Yesterday marked the first day of a fresh new look for the ARN. I'm sure you've noticed the new layouts, clean lines, modern typefaces, rounded edges. Obviously, I'm rather partial to the new design. But it seems to have thrown our e-edition provider for a loop. This, however, is not entirely their fault.

The last two days have been a lesson in good communication due to the extraordinary lack of it in the days before the redesign. This is not because anyone was lazy or careless or forgetful. It simply never occurred to those behind (sounds conspiratorial) the new layout that it might affect the e-edition. So, no one thought to contact Tecnavia and prepare them for Monday morning. The system in place for pulling text off the page worked swimmingly for the old ARN, but the new one required some adaptation. Unfortunately, the PDFs were uploaded as usual and our readers woke up Monday morning to garbled text and fuzzy funnies.

Despite the mistake, several good things came from this.

One, (in my opinion, the best one), it's being resolved. Tecnavia and our e-edition team have been in constant contact since yesterday, combing every page for bugs and trouble spots. Our readers have been instrumental in finding the flaws and addressing them quickly.

Two, we now know better. The terrible, paradoxical thing about many mistakes is that you have to make them to know not to. The great thing about them is that
particular mistake will never happen again. Next redesign, we'll be prepared.

Three, our readers are paying attention. And now I know it. I was so excited when that first email rolled in, it didn't matter that it was negative. I know that sounds strange, but I love to see and hear people talking about the e-edition, no matter what they're saying. It means we're getting noticed. Flaws, I can fix; negative perceptions, I can change; praise, I can deal with; but silence is the least helpful, most depressing response I can think of. It was nice to know that not only were people noticing, but they trusted us to be able and willing to fix the problem.

I've read so many blogs by so many great people I can't remember them all about the correct relational response to consumers. This one from Seth Simonds on the Obsessed with Conformity blog does a great job of "summing up" (as he says, quoting the immortal Inigo Montoya) what companies should do when they make mistakes. And I'm proud to say, I think we did a darn good job this time around.

Even though the exact situation might not be pertinent, I think the lessons are relevant regardless of your line of work. If there's a problem, ignoring it won't make it go away. It also won't make your customers very happy. Neither will excuses. Surprisingly, it usually requires a quick and effective response to do that. Which requires listening to your customer to see the problem in the first place. A little forethought never hurt anyone, either.

So, for all you readers out there: We're sorry. We promise it won't happen again. I sincerely hope you'll put down the pitchforks and forgive us.

And anyway, if you burn down the newspaper, who'll tell everyone about your protest?


FAQ #3

As promised, I am delivering the actual FAQ for this week, to make up for missing last week. Again, I apologize to all disappointed persons harmed by my terrible memory. And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...

Q: I can't figure out the PDF files. How do I download the pages I want?

A: That is a very good question, but I'll need to do some explainin' before I give the simple answer. If you already know everything there is to know about PDFs, you can skip this next part.

The e-edition, while it does have a website and you do read it online, is actually made up of pictures of every page of the newspaper. These "pictures" are in what's called a portable document format, or a PDF. A PDF is a 2D image of all the text, images and graphics that are part of the original document you're trying to see. You most likely have Adobe Reader (Adobe Systems is the company that created PDFs) on your computer already, and you've probably opened a PDF, even if you didn't know what it was.

(In case you were wondering, the mythical "e-edition Reader's Guide" pictured here can be found by clicking on the "Help" link in the e-edition toolbar).

OK, so now you know what a PDF is, what do they have to do with the e-edition? For every issue we put online, we also make the PDF of each page available for download. This means that you can actually save the entire issue from that day to your computer. Once it's saved on your hard drive, you don't need to be connected to the internet to view it. You can open the files whenever you want, and they'll be there as long as your computer lives. Even though the archive lets you see 30 days of back issues, we thought people might be interested in saving obituaries or election results or pictures of their kids' band concert longer than that. Downloading the file lets you do that.

With all of that said, let's get down to the nitty gritty details. There are a few steps to the process, which I've numbered for convenience.

1. Log in

2. Still with me? Good.
Go to the main toolbar at the top of the screen. Right next to the ARN logo is a bulleted list of links. The second one should say PDF. Click on it, and the page that comes up should look like this.

3. Now, you'll notice you have the option to download the complete edition. That includes every page, including the classifieds, and it might take a few minutes. If that's what you want, click that link and go on to step 5. If you're just interested in, say, page 3B, go on to step 4.

4. To download a certain page, scroll down to the page you're looking for and check the box next to it. If you want multiple pages, check the box next to each one. That way, you can do this step only once, instead of having to repeat for every page.

5. Once you've clicked download, the thumbnails will disappear and the window will say "Generating Zip File." When it's done, one of two things will happen. In Firefox, a dialog box like the one on the left will pop up. Choose "Save File" and click OK. Internet Explorer will have a link that says "Click here to download it." Click the link and then choose "Save." It may give you the option to save to a particular folder. I chose the desktop, but it's up to you.

**EDIT: If you are using Internet Explorer, it may block you from downloading files. This means your security settings are too high. You can tell IE to let you download them anyway, but you'll have to log in to the e-edition again. To permanently change your settings, go to Internet Options, click on the Security tab, and bump the security level down to medium or so. That way, you won't have to log in multiple times.**

6. You're almost done. The zip file has now been saved either to your desktop or a folder of your choosing. All you have to do is double-click to open it. Here, you might run into a snag.

To open a zipped file, you need a program to unzip it. If you're running Windows XP, it has software installed that will unzip it automatically. Most Macs running OS X also come standard with StuffIt, which will do the same thing. If your operating system is older than that though, such as Windows 2000, you will need to download a program to do it. WinZip is the one I would recommend, as it's the most common, but there are others. It does cost about $30, but don't worry, you'll use it a lot. If you absolutely don't want to buy it, you can get a 45-day free trial of WinZip here.

7. Once the file is unzipped, you can do what you like with it. Double-click to open the PDFs and choose Save As to rename them or move them to different folders. Other than that, you're done.

Are we all here? I know that was lengthy, but I didn't want anyone to get lost on the way. If you have any other questions relating to this or some other topic, please feel free to leave me a note. I'll be happy to help. Until next week.

e-edition out.


FAQ #2

Oops. I forgot to post last week's FAQ. However, I didn't meet any angry mobs with torches and pitchforks, so I hope that means I'm forgiven. Just pretend this one is from last week, and I promise I'll have another up for this week. Sorry about that. This week's question is about switching from text to graphic mode.

Q: The e-edition puts pictures at the bottom of the page. Like on obituaries, you get the printed article up top and the photo of the people at the bottom. You have to figure out who is who.

A: For articles or sections with a lot of pictures and captions, such as the obituaries page, the visual mode should be set to "Graphic." The visual mode can be changed for each article by using the Graphic/Text button directly above the article. Text mode is the default option. If you prefer one mode over the other, you can set it permanently for all articles by using the drop-down menu.

In graphic mode, the entire article will appear as one picture, just as it looks on the page of the newspaper. Text mode separates the photo from the text, allowing for easier reading and manipulation of the text. For example, if you want to copy and paste, you must be in text mode, otherwise you'll only be able to select the entire "image" of the article.

Text Mode v. Graphic Mode
(See how I stretched the article on the bottom so I could see more of it? Check out last week's FAQ for details).

This feature is also useful for printing articles to mail or scrapbook because they'll look like you clipped them right out of the paper--aside from the fact that they're not on newsprint.

Again, if you have any questions or comments about the e-edition, let me know. I'd love to address those in future posts. Look for this week's FAQ on Wednesday or Thursday. See you then.

e-edition out.


The Legend of the Stupid Question

I made an important discovery today, but take care before you read it because it might rock your world. Be sure to cover the eyes and ears of any school-age bystanders. Ready? Here it is: There are stupid questions. There. I said it. Everybody knows the obnoxious guy on the conference call.

I understand why my mother and my 1st grade teacher told me stupid questions don't exist. They wanted to encourage my inquisitiveness and creativity. Sorry, Ma, not everyone who asks a question wants to learn something.

To be fair, a question in and of itself can't be wrong or inane--usually. (I am of the opinion, however, that one should always Google one's question before posing it to anyone. See www.lmgtfy.com for details). The context surrounding any question determines its level of stupidity. For example, a question about someone's genealogy, while interesting and timely at a family gathering, is irrelevant and inappropriate during a business meeting.

Context is everything. That includes the people involved, too. With millions of digital interactions going on every day, chances are you'll run across someone who hasn't the foggiest idea what you're talking about. They might ask you a question. It might be dumb. Answer it anyway.

Mark Olson's blog today examined the relationship of authority and authenticity. If you have authority, people will probably ask you questions. Authenticity shines through when you answer with civility, even kindness, regardless of the quality of the question. So if you know the answer, speak. If you do not, shut up and listen to someone who does. The ability to discern whether to speak or listen is a clear indicator of your character. Having the grace to speak with respect at all times is an even clearer one.

To those toward whom the above rant was directed. Do not under any circumstances ask things just to hear yourself talk. Self-service serves no one, least of all you. Social media is incisive in this regard. It will weed out those hungry for attention and acknowledgment of any sort from the sincerely ignorant. So please, do us all a favor. Don't be the conference call guy.


FAQ (With No "T") #1

Look at me posting daily. Isn't that exciting? Don't get used to it.

Today, we're adding a new segment to our show called Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQs. It's a newfangled term, but I think it's going to catch on soon. As a side note, I've always wished it were pronounced facue, but that sounds vaguely like you're wishing ill-will on someone.

FAQs will be a weekly installment in which I will answer the single most burning question I've received from e-edition readers in the last week. For all of you non-readers, feel free to skip these installments, as it will not negatively affect your blog-reading experience. Unless you want to offer advice or suggestions on how to avoid similar problems that arise in the future, then by all means, read and respond. Or just respond. I'm always excited about new ideas, or great old ideas or new spins on good old ideas.

And now, without further adieu, this week's FAQ:

Q: I don't really like the divided screen. The left side is too small. It would be better if the page displayed and then the articles could be viewed in a pop-up window.

(All right, so that's actually a sentence, not a question, but it's implied.)

A: There are two parts to this answer. First of all, you have to click on the article you want to read. You'll go blind if you try to read it on the left side. Once you click on the article, it will pop up on the right hand side. It's not exactly a pop-up window, but it's the same idea.

You can make the right-hand panel larger by holding the cursor over the center dividing line between the left and right panels. A two-headed arrow will appear and you can drag the dividing line where you want it. No, the arrow will not be orange. Or nearly that big. Sorry if I misled anyone.

Still too small? To make the text larger, use the text increase and decrease buttons located in the toolbar directly above the right-hand panel (above "George Will Washington Post Writers Group" in the above screen shot).

And that's it for this week. Pretty simple, right? Tune in next week for... something equally amazing that I'm sure I will discover in the myriad of comments just waiting to be written. Remember, you can always click on the "Help" link for step-by-step instructions on navigating the e-edition.

Was this helpful? It's my first time, so if it's not very good, let me know how I can do better next week. And if you have a story to share or a suggestion for next week's question, tell me that too.

e-edition out.


Tortoise and the Hare

I'm taking a leaf out of Chris Brogan's blog today and telling everyone what it is that I do. Yes, I do something besides blog and Twitter and blog about Twitter all day. I have a Facebook page, too. Oh, and a job.

My job has a very fancy title but it boils down to this: I am in charge of knowing everything there is to know about e-editions and then some. "Then some" is still in the works.

An e-edition, for all you shy folks out there who won't ask, is an online version of a newspaper. Unlike the websites most papers maintain, e-editions are simply digital copies (PDF files, actually) of the print paper. The benefit is getting all of the content from that day's paper in a comfortable, familiar (and let's not forget, environmentally friendly) format available from any computer. Pretty much the coolest thing ever. Back at the ranch...

I must have seen a hundred different e-editions advertised in the last month, but I can only see a demo for about half of them. Not to beat yesterday's dead horse, but consumers need quality time with the company and with the product. I don't want a month's subscription if I'm going to hate it after two days.

That was one of the lessons we learned pretty quickly when we launched the ARN e-edition. No matter how well you explain an e-edition, it just doesn't click until you actually see it. So, we did live demos of the e-edition in wi-fi hot spots all over town. Usually, I just had to get someone to look at it once, and they were hooked. The problem was getting people to stop and look. Even harder was getting someone to click through on a link in an email without someone standing there with it up and running. And if the link just went to a login screen with a link to subscribe? Forget it. No one wants to work that hard. Since we couldn't just be doing live demos all day, every day, we added a demo and a pretty intense (for me, the creator, not everyone else) step-by-step tutorial under the help menu.

And that helped. It's tough to sell die-hard newspaper readers, but once they saw it, they were some of our best subscribers. It's that good. 7-day print subscribers also get an e-edition subscription free, but let's just pretend that couldn't possibly be the reason.

It's not that it's the prettiest or the most convenient (although it is pretty and convenient). It's that this e-edition has the whole package. It's the newspaper, obviously, but subscribers also get the Sunday comics and local weekly publications like the Abilenian. It's also one of only about 10 e-editions nationwide that includes PARADE magazine on Sunday. But even that isn't enough to deserve much attention. The best thing about the online edition is the service, not the product. Subscribers get individual attention from Day 1. We keep adding features because our readers keep asking for them. It's been an awesome process, and I hope other people can learn from it.

With all of that said, we still need work. And help. I know we're making something we can be proud of (see yesterday's post for details) and that will eventually be rewarded. But slow and steady may not win this race. Outside of our subscribers, people don't know the e-edition exists. They also don't know the kind of service that comes with it. How do we spread our message in a town where change is a still a little bit scary? How can we find the tipping point*? Unlike before, these are not rhetorical questions. What do you think?

*It is not necessary to read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point in order to answer this question. However, it will increase your life expectancy by 15 years and your capacity for thought a thousand-fold. Moral: Please read it. (These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA).


Rhetorical Questions, or The Pinewood Derby Clunker

I've discovered that I'm not very good at being by myself. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's because I've never been without a parent, sibling or roommate living across the way. It might be my overactive imagination that creates monsters around every corner. Whatever it is, there's little hope for change now.

Besides making me a bit of an attention junkie, my lack of alone time makes me very good at quality time. I love to hang out with all kinds of people, whether in real-time or online. I actually like to devote my full attention to one person at a time, and I love community of any sort. Which means I'm a natural at social networking...

All right, so far, despite all of the wonderful advice that seems to come out hourly to retweet and reply to followers and followees , most of my interactions seem to be pretty one-sided. I have a mere 100 and a half followers, and I'm following only twice that many. I don't have many DMs or @ mentions. I'm no Twelebrity. (For the record, I think Twitterspeak is verging on ridiculous, but for that reason is humorous enough that I'll continue for the time being). Survey says: ARN e-edition is still a nobody as far as social media goes.

My revelation: Who cares? I like the people I'm associated with. More importantly, I'm learning a lot about the things it takes to be a good person, in addition to a good marketer or PR rep or social media, uh, media-er. And you know what? I can do those things. I am doing those things. And eventually, people will start to notice that we're doing things right and our product is great to boot.

I love the Subaru commercial with the little boy getting his car ready for a pinewood derby (model wooden cars, for those of you with little knowledge of the mystical world of Boy Scouts). "Just build something you're proud of," his dad says. That turns out to be a clunker, while his opponent's car is obviously not the original creation of a 6-year-old. Well, of course, it should be no surprise the "ugly" car takes the day. The tag line: "Isn't it nice when honest virtues win?"

Yes, of course it's nice. But how many people can say that and mean it? Is it really so important to make something we're proud of? And what is it we're proud of, exactly? Is it the money we've made or the relationships we've formed? The information we've capitalized on or the information we've shared? It certainly doesn't have to be one or the other, but is one more valuable simply because it's measurable? You can't have a good meal, a good story or a good friend without quality time. Why should a good business be any different?