(Editor's note: The following was written by Gary Sosniecki, editor and publisher of the Vandalia (Missouri) Leader and one of the top community journalists in the country. This is his view on how weekly newspapers can publish daily online editions — and help the overall franchise.)
By Gary Sosniecki
When The Leader's Web site went live Sept. 1, I predicted that "in six months to a year, between 300 to 500 people will visit www.vandalialeader.com every day."
I was wrong.
As we celebrate its six-month anniversary this week, I can report that www.vandalialeader.com averaged 571 visitors a day during February.
Last week alone, with the Northeast Missouri Cyclones' move to Vandalia generating national interest in the world of minor-league football, the Leader's Web site averaged 720 visitors a day. Each visitor averaged 8 minutes, 37 seconds reading the site.
Our single-day record is 894 visitors on Feb. 7.
Here are more numbers that point to the popularity of the site:
Since going live six months ago, the Leader's Web site has had 55,051 total visitors who have viewed 143,467 Web pages and generated 1,213,209 hits, with 5.657 gigabytes of information being transferred.
Of those 55,051 visitors, 1,048 have clicked through to the Web site of our most-popular advertiser. Another 704 have visited the photo gallery of last year's state-championship basketball team (including 134 in February), while 544 have viewed the photo gallery from Prairie Days.
The key to the success of www.vandalialeader.com seems to be that it isn't a clone of our print newspaper. Some news from our print edition doesn't appear online.
But some news appears online first. Death notices, Van-Far sports scores, even breaking news stories like election results, fires and boil orders are posted on www.vandalialeader.com as they happen.
As a fellow publisher told me, Helen and I are publishing a weekly newspaper in print and a daily newspaper online. Something on The Leader's Web site is updated virtually every day.
Both editions have value to our readers and our advertisers.
The success of www.vandalialeader.com has, in effect, doubled the "reach" of The Leader in only six months. Figuring that on average at least two people read each copy of our print edition and that The Leader's Web site was visited 5,043 times last week, The Leader was accessed about 10,000 times last week in one form or another.
Both the print Leader and the online Leader will continue to evolve. We're gradually introducing more color into our print edition and look forward to being able to send our pages digitally to the printing plant. And the possibilities for the online edition are endless.
Much of the success for www.vandalialeader.com goes to the advertisers who took a chance on a concept that hadn't been proven in Vandalia yet. Most of them signed on for a full year not knowing whether they were getting "the real deal" or a pig in a poke.
Our appreciation to Waters Funeral Home, First National Bank of Audrain County, Bank of America, United Credit Union, Dr. Craig Long, Vandalia Medical Clinic, Vandalia Family Practice, The Vandalia Hotel and Restaurant, The Rose, 54 & Main, Dairy Queen, Nordwald & Associates, Vandalia Drug, Hickman's IGA, Betty Davis Insurance, Beth Schnitker Insurance, Hillebrand Insurance, Elzea Realty, Hays & Wells Century 21 and Vandalia Florist for their "banner" and "button" ads; Vandalia Firestone, Appliance and Furniture for its "in-story" ads, and Vandalia Auto Sales, Don H. Glasford Real Estate, Gallaher Tangora Rodes Insurance Agency and Betty Davis Insurance for participating currently in our "Top Ads" program, which posts newspaper ads online.
For the online Leader to continue to be a success, our readers need to click on the online ads to see what our advertisers have to offer.
"Our new online edition reflects The Leader's commitment to remaining Vandalia's primary source of news and advertising, regardless whether that content is delivered on paper or via the Internet," I wrote in our Sept. 1 edition.
Six months later, that commitment is unchanged.
It's reassuring to report that our print edition has not been affected by the success of the online Leader.
Thanks to the support of our advertisers, we published 70 total newspaper pages in February, compared to 54 in February last year. Last week's print edition — at 22 pages — was the biggest in our 18 months here.
Paid circulation for the first three weeks of February averaged 2,316, up 4.1 percent from the 2,224 that The Leader averaged the same three weeks a year ago.