Howard Owens Looks to Expand Staff, Remake Bakersfield.com

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By: Jay DeFoore

Howard Owens has been at The Bakersfield Californian for just a couple of months, but he’s already looking to shake things up.

Owens, who was hired in August as the VP/Interactive Media, is now in the early stages of a total site redesign and hiring additional staff. While re-evaluating all of Bakersfield.com‘s existing vendor relationships, he’s already switched to McClatchey for classifieds and Buzznet for its community photo-sharing software. His next goal is to find an open-source content-management system or a vendor solution that could provide compatibility with Bakotopia, the Californian’s social networking site.

Owens, who won acclaim while at the Ventura (Calif.) County Star, including the Online News Association’s General Excellence Award in 2004, says he has several long-term initiatives for the site beyond the redesign, such as adding more video, building out the verticals, and integrating with Bakotopia. But for the short-term, Owens has more pressing concerns.

“I have immediate openings for a Web programmer and a Web site designer,” Owens says. Further plans call for filling six more online positions in 2006.

The redesign will be completed by March 1 at the latest, which is when the newspaper is unveiling its own print redesign. Visitors may begin to see more incremental changes before then, as Owens addresses more urgent needs. Bigger ad sizes and new positions are being planned, for example.

“I’m looking for a more modern newspaper site design,” he says. “It was probably great two, three years ago, but we know a lot more about usability now.”

Although he’s only been on the job a short while, Owens is encouraged by the “spirit of innovation” at Bakersfield.

“The newsroom is very supportive of a continuous [online] news situation rather than being deadline-driven,” he says.

Owens says the difference between working at the Californian, which is family owned, and the Scripps-owned County Star is that he’s been given a “longer reign” and the “ability to move products along in my strategic vision” without excessive corporate oversight.

But with greater freedom comes greater responsibility, he admits. “There’s a higher burden here to get it right,” Owens says, “because if I get it wrong, I can’t blame corporate.”

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