A new Southwest News Media website debuted this week, and the staff behind the change say it will simplify how readers access local news.
The site follows months of rethinking, rough drafts and feedback as staff assessed how to make top news from across the region more navigable by smartphone and computer.
The busy orange and bright blue design will transition to a clean design, with gray and blue. Familiar news sections of government, arts, opinion and public safety were regrouped in a way that's easier to thumb through on smartphones. A revamped home page highlights top regional news with tabs directing readers to their communities.
This final iteration followed much research and planning, said News Director Brent Schacherer.
“We listened to reader comments about our current website — what they like and don’t like, the issues they may have with usability,” Schacherer said. “All that information was used to create a new site that we believe is more user friendly, making it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for.”
Added and changed features include:
- “Staff Picks,” a section for the newsroom’s best investigative and feature stories.
- A “Contact Us” page, giving readers the opportunity to easily connect with an editor, ask a question or submit a news tip.
- A remodeled home page, from which readers can gain a regional view of their news.
- Community buttons on the home page, connecting to each of the papers’ pages.
- Weekly online editions of the printed community newspapers.
- More coverage in areas such as business news and video stories.
The Southwest News Media company includes eight community newspapers: the Chanhassen Villager, Chaska Herald, Eden Prairie News, Jordan Independent, Lakeshore Weekly News, Prior Lake American, Savage Pacer and Shakopee Valley News.
The website can be thought of as a ninth publication, staff said. There, readers will find the regional and hyper-local stories of their community that they would find in newsprint. Each of the community papers will continue to have their own page, but the home page has been tidied so readers can catch news from across the region at a glance.
Data on how readers use the website guided the redesign, said Digital Marketing Specialist Aaron Hiltz. Hiltz and Digital Content Coordinator Rachel Minske ran focus groups during the redesign with readers from across the region.
“Our team was in constant communication with our website designers over the course of several months,” Minske said. “We tweaked and perfected the website throughout the entire process.”
The final focus group used the terms "organized,” “easy to use,” and “professional” to describe the site, Hiltz said. Focus group members added that the hyper-local news on each of the community pages isn’t something they can find elsewhere.
The new website went live the morning of Wednesday, May 15.
"We hope readers like the new site as much as we do, but we also want them to know that the work of improving the user experience is ongoing," Schacherer said. "So, as they use the site, we would love to have them share their thoughts with us."