‘Charlotte Observer’ Relaunches Web Site After Seven Years

By: Jennifer Saba

It took several years, but The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer finally unveiled its redesigned Web site today. The last time the site was modified was in 2001.

The paper also jettisoned its Charlotte.com moniker and renamed the site CharlotteObserver.com.

When Charlotte.com was first launched in 1996, then under Knight Ridder, naming a newspaper’s site for the city was in vogue. Explained Dee-Dee Strickland, senior editor/online in Charlotte: “It really got people coming to Charlotte.com who may not have been coming for the newspaper.”

But the paper is going to take two directions, using CharlotteObserver.com for the daily’s content along with its sister publications in Columbia, S.C., and in Raleigh, N.C. while Charlotte.com will become a portal for the city. Charlotte.com’s relaunch is expected to take place in the upcoming months.

CharlotteObserver.com, designed with help of Washington D.C.-based Navigation Arts,boasts faster uploads, bigger images, a cleaner look, more comment features, forums, and staff blogs. The text is larger, and the site is using the color red to indicate when a story has been published within the last two hours.

Strickland said the Observer started working on the project last December as the paper underwent its own redesign, which included upgrading its front-end publishing system to CCI NewsGate. The new system allows editors to feed content directly to the Web site with, as Strickland noted with glee, photos attached. “We are able to do more packaging online,” she added, “whereas at Charlotte.com we had to manually upload every single photo.”

Jason Silverstein, director of interactive at the paper, said they learned a lot in the process. “Some of our assumptions are true — we are good at organizing content,” he said. “The main hierarchy remained the same. It was at the very detailed level where we made adjustments.”

Another discovery: The top of the Web page, naturally, draws in a lot of attention, but at the Charlotte Observer, they found that people don’t really scan the left hand side of the page. So they go rid of left hand navigation, for example.

Silverstein credits management — Publisher and President Ann Caulkins and Editor Rick Thames — for their total support. “People may say they want to invest in the Internet but it really does take a financial commitment,” Silverstein said. “I think their influence on this has been a success.”

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