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Harrisburg paper talked to readers through creative use of digital tools
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By David Arkin
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March 7, 2012 12:01 a.m.

Last week, a tornado touched down in Harrisburg, Ill., creating a path of destruction that could be seen for miles. The storm had a big impact on our newspaper there as one of our employees lost two family members in the storm.

The three-person Daily Register newsroom used a ton of really good tools during the coverage of the storm, but two that I found to be very interesting were their Hot Links and their breaking news bar.

Hot Links is the area under the navigation. It's usually a position to put links to trending things that people are talking about, like controversial issues in a community or new initiatives a newspaper is rolling out. It's pretty obvious what the breaking news bar is meant for.

The newspaper used the Hot Links area to put severe weather alerts to cities or counties they cover. It was a terrific way to get information to readers without having to write a long story with information about each community's weather. It also helped readers who landed on the site find information about the town they were most interested in.

The breaking news bar was used to get news out to readers as it was breaking. But in addition, the paper used the bar to communicate with readers. For example, GateHouse decided to pull the pay meter off of the site last week and the paper used the breaking news bar to promote that fact. The paper produced a few special sections and promoted those sections in that breaking news bar. One of the great things about that breaking news bar is that you can change the words "breaking news" to say what you want, like "a message to our readers."

On a daily basis, it's pretty clear how to use the Hot Links and breaking news bar areas, but when something significant like a tornado breaks out, it's great to see our sites use the tools they have in creative and innovative ways.

David Arkin is Vice President of Content & Audience  for GateHouse Media. Contact him at darkin@gatehousemedia.com

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