By Jesse Wood
While High Country Press will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in May, it’s been almost three years to the day since publisher Ken Ketchie “saw the writing [of a declining newspaper industry] on the wall” and transitioned from print to solely online.
On Feb. 29, 2012, Ketchie quietly launched HCPress.com. During that first month, HCPress.com only saw 20,000 visitors, but it wasn’t long before the website was reaching well over that mark every week – and on occasions, in one single day.
More than 125,000 visitors stopped by the website in January 2014, and in less than one year since starting what Ken affectionately calls our “webpaper,” 100,000-plus visits per month became the norm.
Readership continues to grow steadily through word of mouth and social media shares. For example, late last year we topped 200,000 visits in one month. Overall, since the website went live in the spring of 2012, there have been 3,655,315 visits to our site by 1,724,311 users, who looked at 7,673,843 pages.
“That’s quite a few millions, and it sounds pretty precise, which it is,” Ketchie said. “One of the many cool things the web can do is tell how many people come to a website and from where. It’s done on Google Analytics. It’s pretty cool. You should check it out.”
These figures are vastly more eyeballs than what perused the printed edition of High Country Press during those “dinosaur” days.
Creating this website has surely been an adventure for Ketchie and staff; it’s been a learning experience, too. Much like the readers didn’t see the printing press and dark room bustling with action in the early years, online visitors don’t see the backend of the website, where lines of code shape the story in a different language.
“It’s been really fun and interesting learning the intricacies of how the Internet works and website design,” Ketchie said.
Ketchie said he strived to keep the “general feel” of HCPress.com when redesigning the website and, more importantly, the scroll-down feature, where stories are posted to the top of the page and slowly move down the page throughout the day.
“I heard a guy explain the beauty of a newspaper. The newspaper, he said, was an adventure through your hometown, and as you flipped through the paper you never knew what you might find on the next page,” Ketchie said. “That’s what made the local paper a part of your life, and that’s what we hope our website can still do – a window to our local communities where our readers are always finding something exciting as they scroll down our front page.”
The same goes for Debbie Carter, advertising and art director for HCPress.com. She first started in print media as a graphic designer in 1981. It wasn’t until she came on board one month after the launching of HCPress.com that she dived into website design.
A major player in the recent redesign of HCPress.com, Carter said she was a tad bit hesitant to jump into a new medium at first, but she caught on quickly and is now proficient in code, Flash, rotating GIFs, embedding video and other tools of the trade.
“It was a lot of fun redesigning the new website and scary at the same time. You push one button and find your self saying, ‘What just happened?” Carter said, adding that with a little tinkering, the solution is found.
“We’ve also been concentrating on our ad design for the website. With our new look, it really features our banner ads and we want them to be eye-catching and informative. It will be fun to see what we can come up with,” Carter said.
As the website turns three years old, one of the major contributors – arts and entertainment editor Madison Fisler Lewis – is leaving.
Lewis started out with HCPress.com as an ASU student intern at the beginning of the fall semester in 2012. She said that she sought out High Country Press because it was an “up-and-coming independent newspaper.”
“I liked the idea of working for an independent newspaper that served a big purpose in the community,” Lewis said. “I wanted a job where I could get to know the community and become a bigger part of it.”
Once the internship was over, she soon became a full-time employee and prolific writer, one who thrived on a heavy workload and knew just about every event that was happening in town at any given moment.
In her time here, she really became intertwined in the community, whether it was attending Avery County Chamber of Commerce banquets, fall festivals, summer concerts and everything in between.
“While many people will always love the feel of a paper copy, the online format brings our information to a new, younger demographic while at the same time getting information to our readers in real time. You just can’t beat hearing about every story as it happens, when it happens, Lewis said.
So where is Lewis going? She has recently accepted a job offer as public relations and content specialist with the North Carolina Association of CPA’s. and will be relocating to the Raleigh area with her husband.
While High Country Press has moved to an all-online format, the ever-popular High Country Magazine, which is published bimonthly, and the High Country Visitors Guide, which is published in the summer, fall and winter are still published on printing presses.
High Country Magazine is a classic glossy that in any-given issue features a profile of an interesting community member, an in-depth look at an annual event, a story about a historic or new business in the area and much more.
The High Country Visitors Guide, on the other hand, is compact, easily portable for sightseeing trips in the region. It features an array of things to do and places to go, such as hotspots on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the best restaurants and shops, breweries and wineries, maps of old country roads, local landmarks and much more to fill your itinerary while in Boone and beyond.
Digital companions for both of these publications are available online, too. Click to www.BooneNCinfo.com or click to www.HCPress.com and scroll down to “Our Printed Publications” tab, located on the right side of the front page of the website. Both have a nice tablet and mobile presentation for those on the go.
When in print, High Country Press was your community newspaper; now HCPress.com is your community “webpaper.” And we hope it continues to be so.
Thanks again for reading.
Editor’s note: Someone had to write the story and that fell to me, Jesse Wood, who has been at the website from the beginning, coming from his role at the printed version. He is the news editor.