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This is my procrastination post

The Editor's Column
Posted by WhosPlayin on 2015/4/4 16:50:00 (2067 reads)

Open in new windowBy Steve Southwell

So, I just got back from a week of business travel, and I don’t know if you heard, but we had a bit of an issue to deal with Wednesday, which I had not anticipated. Laundry is piled up on the floor, the yard needs to be mowed, and this beautiful sunshine has me dying to go hop in the kayak and paddle the river.

But my inbox is full of email, and many of them are about stories I need to post here as soon as I can. I have stories I’ve started to work on - even interviewed or photographed people for, and have yet to post. It’s a great source of stress to me when I can’t get it done. I’ll get to it - I hope. I’m always disappointed when I don’t.

This is my procrastination post. Ever had so much to do that you barely know where to start?

What I’ve been meaning to do since the beginning of this year is to sort of catch up our long-time readers with where things are, and where we’re trying to go with The Lewisville Texan Journal. For new readers, I’d like to briefly explain how LTJ works, and what we do. It became clear to me in reading some of the responses to Wednesday’s debacle that the nature of LTJ is not clear to many.

My name is Steve. I’m 43 years old, and I’m a full-time computer programmer who writes and maintains business applications for clients in all sorts of industries. I have an awesome wife, and two sons who are growing up to be good young men. A lifetime ago, I served in the Marine Corps, and I came back and got myself a business degree. Around 2004, I started a blog called WhosPlayin, and then around 2007, I started getting interested in local issues, and writing posts about things of interest to Lewisville. I used to post a lot of partisan stuff, but gradually have phased most of that out, and focus almost exclusively on topics of interest in our city. In 2011, we changed the name of the site to The Lewisville Texan Journal to reflect the change in focus.

I do about 95% of the work here in my spare time, and I probably spend 10-25 hours a week writing, researching, and maintaining the site. It’s a lot of work, but I do it because I believe in community engagement, and I think a city where citizens are informed is a city that excels.

We are not the only media outlet covering our city. There are some fine newspapers that do an admirable job given the challenges the industry faces these days. But we think there are way more stories of importance going on here than ever get covered by all of us combined. So, I try to fill in the gaps where I can, clarify where I can, and point you to those other outlets' stories where it makes more sense. We’re like a newspaper in that we bring you original written journalism, but at times we’re also like a blog, in that we’re online only, sometimes pointing you to other sources, or occasionally sharing an opinion about something. I don't fret over how to classify it, and I hope you won't either.

Still, the gap between what I hear about and think the citizens ought to know, and what I’m able to print here given the constraints on my time bugs me. I’ve tried to get volunteers to write, but I’m probably not the best at managing them and pushing them on deadlines.

I keep thinking that I could do a much better job here if I just didn’t have that pesky problem of trying to earn a living. It seems that programming computers pays pretty well, and the ad revenue we get from LTJ is not enough to cover our expenses here, even though we don’t pay for labor. Granted, I’m not really into ad sales, and I don’t expend any effort on it, because I’d rather be posting stories with the limited time I have.

Recent Changes
In 2014, we saw big growth in readership for LTJ. In 2013, our website had 327,414 total page views, and in 2014, that number grew to 371,708. Over that same period, Google estimates we increased from 99,352 unique visitors to 141,080. At the end of 2013, we had 897 likes to our Facebook page, and that grew almost entirely organically to 2,119 by the end of 2014, and as of this morning sat at 2,661 - growing by over 50 just this week.

The upswing in readership meant that we picked up some growth in ad revenue, which has reduced the proportion our expenses that must be covered by donations, or out of my pocket.

This year, we decided to discontinue syndicated columns and cartoons for now, because our readers just weren’t that interested in them, and the cartoons were generally partisan in nature, which was a turnoff for many. We want to put that money to better use in the coming year.

We had a few volunteers and guest writers help out this past year, and it’s greatly appreciated. We hope to see more from them.

Upcoming Changes
We have some big challenges coming up, and to me, they are daunting. I can feel my heart rate elevating a bit even as I sit here and think about them.

First and foremost, the website is overdue for an overhaul. We currently run LTJ on Xoops, as we have since 2004, but that software is old, hard to patch, and running on a hosting platform that is outdated and needs to be upgraded.

I’ve been experimenting with another content management system, and am hoping to get the site moved to it within the year, and upgraded to a faster, more reliable hosting plan. The biggest challenge with it is the amount of labor that would be required to migrate our archive of over 3,700 articles over 10 years into the new system without breaking all the links and images. I’m a programmer, but I don’t specialize in the language these CMS programs are written in, so for me to do it would be a bit like getting a podiatrist to handle a hysterectomy. If I were doing something like this for a client, it could burn a couple weeks and $12,000 or so. But I don’t have a spare 80 hours sitting around, so I’m entertaining other ideas - including outsourcing it, or even delaying the move of the archives.

Upgrading the website should help out with two major pain points we have right now: Number one is that the site sucks for mobile users. Number two is that it’s hard to train volunteers on how to post content using the current system. It has some quirks and bugs that cause new users to sometimes lose their work, or double-post.

The other thing I’m trying to get done soon is to upgrade our public police and fire scanner system. With help from donors, we recently purchased the new radio, but the hard part is finding the right software combination that will allow us to continue to record and archive it, while letting it be streamed out. We want to upgrade the stream in a way that lets it also work for Apple and android devices. There are numerous options out there that I’ve looked at, but it seems that each of them I have examined so far has had some sort of technical nuisance that prevents its use. We’re under the gun just a bit with this, in that we know Lewisville will be upgrading its radio system soon, and their new one will be incompatible with our current working system.

The other thing we would like to do this year is possibly bring on an intern who can help out with posting some of our community events calendar content. It might be a good opportunity for a computer-literate high school student with an interest in journalism. It might even be a paid internship if we can swing it.

Lastly, on a personal note - I’ve decided that I’m going to have to try to be more realistic with my own expectations on what I’m able to cover by myself or commit resources to. You may see in the coming weeks that we post more frequently, but also more briefly. A problem I often face is the desire to write a full-blown article about something, but lacking the time to do so, it languishes, and thus our readers don’t get anything, or get it much later than they should. Perfection is often the enemy of completion.

You may find that some of our upcoming posts look more blog-like, in an effort to clear the backlog and get better control over our time, so that we can write those in-depth stories where it makes sense. Where other outlets have done a fine job on something, we're going to point you to their work, and try to focus on filling the gaps.

I greatly appreciate all of the support and kind words and donations we’ve received - even since the incident on Wednesday. It was nice to come home Friday and have a people wanting to buy me a beer. I’m not in this for the beer, and obviously not for the money - nor do I care much about any recognition. I just have this vision for what I want to exist in Lewisville, and I’m glad to see that so many people share it, and support our mission.

I’m about to go out and deliver some LTJ coffee mugs to supporters today, and I think I’ve now given away just about all of the ones I ordered last year. By the end of this month we should have some new limited-edition mugs to give away.

- Rating: 10.00 (2 votes) - {$lang_ratethisnews}

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