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Alaska Dispatch Writes the Future of Online Journalism

Alaska's largest newspaper embraces Drupal to deliver a modern reading experience.

Project Highlights

Mediacurrent has partnered with Alaska Dispatch for many years and completed several projects including upgrading the site from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 and then relaunching the website in January 2013 with a responsive web design. Most recently, Alaska Dispatch called upon Mediacurrent to merge its new Anchorage Daily News content into Alaska Dispatch’s Drupal framework after it purchased the Anchorage Daily News from publishing company McClatchy in April 2014. That included some 200,000 articles which had to be integrated into the existing website framework.

Prior to its purchase of the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch was an online-only publication with about 40 staff members in Anchorage. The acquisition marked not only a huge shakeup in the newspaper industry but also a series of important branding and content decisions for Alaska Dispatch. The Alaska Dispatch News website has since been rebranded to Anchorage Daily News.

Combining the design and development updates and the implementation of responsive theming, Alaska Dispatch saw an increase in visitor traffic, social media engagement, and ad impressions.

  • 30 %

    increase in ad impressions.

  • 92 %

    increase in organic search traffic.

     

  • 153 %

    increase in pageviews.

QuoteIcon of Quotation Marks.

Not only did Mediacurrent develop both a slick frontend and backend Drupal platform for our online news site, they also increased our loading speeds and improved the site's performance. We look forward to working with Mediacurrent on the next phase of development for Alaska Dispatch.

 

Tony Hopfinger Editor-in-Chief
Green Matrix-style code raining down a computer screen

Merging Domains

Despite a tight two-month deadline, Mediacurrent was able to merge the two news domains, as well as boost search engine optimization (SEO) and add additional functionality.

Content Migration: One big challenge Mediacurrent’s digital strategy team faced was how to integrate Anchorage Daily News content into the existing Alaska Dispatch website structure. That meant analyzing the relative popularity of existing sections so Alaska Dispatch News could make informed decisions about how to organize the merged content going forward. One challenge common to upgrade and redesign projects is preparing the new site in parallel with ongoing content publishing on the current site. Module and core upgrades, as well as content migration, were scripted and tested in parallel environments to allow for review and testing of the new site. 

A Google search page for the word "analytics" on a mobile phone

SEO Ranking

Merging the domains resulted in an overall boost in search engine rankings because Mediacurrent took the right steps to ensure the correct redirects were put in place. Because the adn.com site was older, larger and more trafficked, it had more ranking power, which Mediacurrent wanted to preserve. As such, Mediacurrent migrated the 200,000 Anchorage Daily News articles into the Drupal framework, and then relaunched on adn.com. Mediacurrent also worked with Alaska Dispatch to ensure that proper redirects were put in place for the legacy alaskadispatch.com URLs and any updated adn.com URLs, so users and search engines were taken to the updated website.

Customization of Modules

Challenges and Solutions

Enhanced Workflow: Alaska Dispatch didn’t want to change their existing editorial workflow, so we kept the same framework in place, so the reporters could continue to write in Drupal and publish content to the site first. However, Mediacurrent added functionality so that after each story was edited, the editor could send it to the print system through FTP drops. This allows editors to quickly and easily see what has been sent to print already because it is highlighted right in front of them.

Custom Calendar: During a previous project, Mediacurrent created a custom calendar for the website. For the merge, Alaska Dispatch wanted to retain that system, so we removed the 3rd party calendar ADN had been using and merged their content into our calendar framework. During this time we also extended our solution to export to print, allowing Alaska Dispatch to keep their workflow where all content is created digitally first and then moving it to print.

 

 

 

Mobile App and Responsive Design

Mobile App

Prior to the acquisition, Mediacurrent built and launched iOS and Android mobile apps. Mediacurrent developed both apps to be intimately tied to Drupal, so Alaska Dispatch only has to update content on the website vs updating the website and each app. What’s more, because they are custom apps, Mediacurrent is able to control how the content appears. This way, users see the same top story on the website as they do on the app and it gives a more cohesive user experience.

The acquisition presented an interesting situation because Anchorage Daily News already had its own iOS and Android apps, so Mediacurrent had to determine how not to lose existing app users after assuming control of the apps from McClatchy. Since the ADN apps had a larger user base, Mediacurrent decided to retire the Alaska Dispatch app. We revamped it to match the new brand and launched it as a replacement to the ADN app. From the users’ perspective, this was just a regular app update, but by doing it this way, Mediacurrent was able to keep ADN’s existing user base without forcing them to download a new app.

Responsive Design

Alaska Dispatch News was one of the first major news sites to go fully responsive. Implementing a responsive theme was one of the main benefits of upgrading to Drupal 7. Before the upgrade, the Alaska Dispatch website had Javascript written into the code which redirected a mobile user to a different site to view the news. The previous mobile website did not include the full content that was on the actual website, which is not ideal. We believe website maintainers should never assume to know what content the users want and that users should be empowered to make this decision for themselves. Also, using device-detection redirection is never 100% reliable. But with a Drupal site that is truly adaptive and a responsive theme like Omega, users viewing the site on their phone or tablet have access to the full site content in an easy-to-view format. Since Alaska Dispatch connects with their readers solely through the Internet, it is critical that they can reach their audience regardless of the device the reader is using. 

Alaska Dispatch responsive homepage on desktop, mobile, tablet

Development

The migration essentially doubled the content on the new Alaska Dispatch News site and increased the site traffic by a huge margin overnight. That meant the task of simply keeping the site up and running was a new challenge in and of itself. Mediacurrent helped Alaska Dispatch News transition from using two servers to eight servers as a result. Caching was another part of the performance optimization equation. Mediacurrent increased caching strategies by utilizing rules to only clear caches when new content was released. This allowed for longer cache expiration times and ensured that new content was seen as soon as it was published to the website.

Featured Modules 

  • LoginRadius: Social media was a major focus when making changes on the site. Using LoginRadius, users have the capability of signing into the Alaska Dispatch site through various social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
  • Views Slideshow plus Client-Side Adaptive Image: Showcasing photography is a key addition to the Drupal 7 site. Views Slideshow plus Client-Side Adaptive Image modules were used as the baseline for providing a good user experience with the slideshows.
  • Custom feeds module for integration: Alaska Dispatch News integrates content from multiple providers, including McClatchy and the New York Times, into the site and the mobile apps. To accomplish this, we combined the Feeds module with an auto publish feature and a view. This allows Alaska Dispatch News to quickly review the content for editing and then publish it to the website.
stack of print newspapers

Final Thoughts

The challenge of merging two news domains was an interesting one from both SEO and technical perspectives. And, despite the short timeline, Mediacurrent was able to help Alaska Dispatch News rebrand, integrate Anchorage Daily News content and create a new cohesive mobile experience that retained the existing user base.

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