We are in the process of overhauling Roanoke.com, and we’ve been reaching out to readers for feedback on what they’d like to see with the new site. We even have a blog, The Refresh RT blog, to keep readers in the loop.
So, let me pose that question to you all: How can we improve the Outdoors content on Roanoke.com? What are we doing well? What can we do better? What else would you like to see? Are there other outdoors sites we should look at for ideas?
Be blunt and honest. Your input will make a difference.
First, some basic background on what we have now.
–Outdoors stories and columns that appear in The Roanoke Times comprise part of our online Outdoors package. I write nearly all of these.
–We also have a sections dedicated to hiking and biking. Much of this content was produced years ago by staffers who had particular insight into the subjects: Dan Casey with Biking and Kevin Myatt with hiking. Because these pieces are almost all “where-to-go” features, it makes sense to keep them on the site somehow. Both even have handy search features.
–One of those original Roanoke.com-only columnists was my predecessor, Bill Cochran. He is still there and his column, Field Notes and Mailbag remain a popular draw. If you are a Cochran reader (and I hope all of you are), let us know if you think there are ways we can better publish/produce his great work on the site.
–The final current ingredient is my blog, The Wild Life, which you all have helped make one of the better-visited Roanoke.com blogs, especially during fall deer season.
I try to post daily on the blog, but sometimes my work schedule for the regular paper makes that tough. I’m hoping one of the things you all would like to see is MORE blog posts, and I hope that I can increase blog postings in the future.
A few of us met the other day to talk about Outdoors coverage on line and here were some of the issues we discussed:
–The Wild Life blog. When we talked about this, I said I felt like the blog has really created a campfire-like atmosphere. It’s a place where we can get together and “talk,” and I really like that. Right now the blog is hook and bullet heavy. I have waffled over the years with the idea of expanding the reach to include other outdoors activities. Non-hunters and non-anglers are, like hunters and fishermen, looking for insight and information on their sports. An example of personal interest are race reports on running races, triathlons, etc. Right now it is hard to find good, objective reports on races. I know, because I look for them. Many of you know that I personally think endurance sports and hunting and fishing go hand in hand, so if I can publish a race report from time to time (without doing less hook and bullet stuff), why not?
Also, I really believe that pulling in non-hunters and/or non-anglers occasionally will be good for fishing and hunting because it can help show them that we have more in common than not. Finally, I don’t think we can discount the impact that interest in local food is generating in fishing and hunting. There is a big pool of potential new hunters and fishermen out there (a lot of them are those hardcore, diet-conscious endurance athletes), and it is in our best interest to keep our numbers strong.
– Hero shots: Those are a big draw, especially during deer season. Right now I personally am publishing every individual shot, nearly all of which I get via email. One idea we had was the revival of a gallery — or galleries — that would allow readers to upload their photos. Galleries would have thumbnails that readers could click to see larger versions. We’ve all seen those galleries out there on the Web. I would still pick up plenty of hero shots to highlight in my blog.
– Pictures: Currently, pictures are published with some stories that also appear in The Roanoke Times. Others don’t get shots. We know that readers like photos and our plan is to increase emphasis on photos in the new and improved Roanoke.com.
– Calendar items: The primary goal of our Outdoors coverage is to help readers enhance their own outdoors experiences, and calendar listings of what to do and where to do it are a big part of that. How can we improve our calendar lists online?
– The “Guide” concept: We know that readers want guides (such as the above-mentioned hiking and biking guides) to point them toward places to do things. We plan to put even more emphasis on this and expand our reach to other activities, such as skiing, paddling, and fishing. One thing we will do is offer commentary on the areas. Our ski guide won’t simply regurgitate what you can find on the resorts’ Web sites. An example would be the “Taylor’s Take” I offered on some running, triathlon and bike races that we featured in a race calendar we ran early this year in The Roanoke Times.
– An enhanced fishing map. One aspect of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries site that I really like is the Lakes and Streams sections. We have the content to do something similar. I am envisioning a basic map with major fishing spots located. For each lake or stream we will provide links that include a basic breakdown of the spot, along with links to stories we have done on the spots over the years. A special sub-section on fishing with kids (something I constantly get questions on) would probably also fit in well with that.
There’s more, but that’s a start. I eagerly await your suggestions.