'Nation as community'
"Over and over again in our 25 years it's been about reinforcing the notion of the entire nation as a community," said Ken Paulson, editor and VP-news. "It's also been about listening to readers and understanding what their needs were. For example, the debates about USA Today were whether it was real journalism because it was giving people what they wanted and not just what they needed. Of course today giving people what they want is a major part of everybody's mantra."
The relaunched site includes expanded user-profile and social-network capabilities; public comment tools almost everywhere and ways for readers to recommend article, upload photos or author blogs. "Across the Web" sections use really simple syndication to pull in feeds from elsewhere, which then link back out to other sites. The site has also been elongated vertically, partly to allow more white space-creating that "well-lit environment" that advertisers and readers increasingly seem to like.
"We're trying to provide a certain amount of visual relief and draw people down the page," said Kinsey Wilson, executive editor. Although USA Today famously prohibits page jumps in print, figuring that readers won't follow an article to its continuation on a far-off page, it has come to believe that web surfers won't stop at the top of the page. "We found people do scroll," Mr. Wilson said.
USA Today is stepping up its battle for internet eyeballs -- and ads -- amid a lot of innovation at the other national papers. Most recently, The New York Times began a partnership last month with jobs site Monster Worldwide, while The Wall Street Journal Online recently added a "Who's News" blog and a "Tax Blog." Both sites underwent major overhauls last year.
Leaving it to the pros
USAToday.com is not becoming a venue for "citizen journalism," as some have argued that newspaper sites must. The idea is for its reporters to learn from readers and then do the journalism itself professionally.
Advertisers also are not the first priority in the relaunch, although USA Today executives said the new features would create more compelling real estate to sell to marketers.
"It wasn't done for advertising purposes," said Lorraine Ross, VP-advertising sales. "But I think that it opens up huge potential and really interesting opportunities that haven't all even made themselves apparent."