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Web growth and newspaper stability at the Wadena Pioneer Journal

I sent a memo to our staff Monday night after perusing some statistics about our online readership and how it affects our business. I'm glad to share some of the same information with our readers.

We're at an interesting juncture in our business. Not only are we unveiling a new, redesigned Web site at this week, our readership online has caught or surpassed our readership in print.

I congratulated our staff on that, because we didn't achieve that by seeing our circulation dive like many large dailies are experiencing. We accomplished it by building a new and distinct audience online, while committing to our core product -- our newspaper -- the resources necessary to keep that viable for decades to come.

Our circulation has remained basically unchanged for years, going up slightly in some and down slightly in others, and we still run about 3,500 papers every week, with around 2,200 home delivered and 1,300 more sent to newsstands. That's solid as a rock.

Statistics for our online readers are roughly the same, with about 3,500 different people signing on during a one-week period to read our stories online. Over the course of a month, about 8,500 different people visit our site, though many of those just come to read one story and move on. On average, readers look at 5-6 stories.

What we've done is build a second news and information source while maintaining our first. That's like telling a TV station to start up a radio station, gain an equal following to its viewers, and do it all within the budget of the original TV station. That's laughable, and impossible. But our Web site quietly grew into a media outlet in itself, at the same time we were maintaining the quality of the newspaper, which we will always do.

Our traffic grew between 60-90 percent year-over-year online from 2008-2009. I'll be surprised if we don't grow at least that much between 2009-2010.

This is a good time to take stock of our business as so many large newspapers struggle and the economy is in hard times. We've certainly had our share of staff changes here at the paper, but the sum of our work is on display every week in print and every day online. I congratulated our staff because I'm proud of both products.

Our new site has limitless potential, allowing readers to get more regional news and get more of the content they're personally interested in more easily, and allowing advertisers to link their messages directly to the content and readers who are interested in their products and services.

The transition here from weekly newspaper journalists to 24/7 reporting machines, from graphic artists to Web gurus, from ad salespeople to digital media consultants hasn't been a small one. It has required a change of thinking, and an embrace of new ideas. It's no small task, and our staff has handled it beautifully.

Now we have new challenges: to provide great service to our advertisers, while educating them on why Web advertising makes so much sense for their businesses; and using the cool bells and whistles our new site design gives us to bring reporting to you in creative and exciting new ways. I'm certain we'll meet those challenges as well as we've met past ones.