Major SA news site struggles with relaunch

It should have been a moment of triumph for Independent Online (IOL), the digital branch of the Independent Newspapers group, with a glossy media launch of their new site scheduled for Cape Town’s Century City.

Instead it’s business as usual at one of the country’s largest online publishers. IOL’s much-publicised relaunch has run into severe technical problems, forcing the site to postpone for the “next few days or a few weeks” and revert to their old site.

Cultural commentators have had a field day on the subject, with tweets like this from @gussilber: “I can’t make up my mind whether I prefer IOL’s old or new website design, which is just as well, because nor can IOL”.

This is a tricky environment to step into for the site’s new editor, Adrian Ephraim, who is the current Executive Editor for News at Independent Newspapers. He takes over as editor of the website at the end of the September.

Memeburn: What has happened to force a delay to your launch?
Adrian Ephraim: The best answer I have at the moment is that there is a technical problem with the software. The problem was only encountered once we went live more than a week ago. Our developers are working on the problem 24/7, and will hopefully have a finished product soon. How soon we don’t know. It could be in the next few days or a few weeks.

MB: What’s the vision for IOL going forward?
AE: IOL’s vision is quite clear. To be an efficient, up-to-date news site, with special focus on breaking news, pictures and videos. We’re putting systems in place to manage our content better which is exciting. In essence, once we’re up and running a new era in journalism at Independent will begin.

MB: What sort of numbers does IOL get on a daily basis?
AE: 120 000 unique visitors with 600 000 page impressions per day (on average)

MB: Why has it taken so long to get a new look for such a premium SA brand?
AE: Yes, we may have arrived a little late to the game, but our approach has always been cautious. The revamp has been many years in the making and we are only now approaching a point where we can go live. You must remember that the majority of our partners in the Independent group are newspapers, so there is that to consider. Part of our integration plan is to find a way for our newsrooms and the web staff to peacefully co-exist, without scooping each other. It’s a fine balancing act, but it can and must be done.

MB: What can people expect from the new site?
AE: Readers can expect a revamped site, a fresher design and added value like unique video and audio content. Our aim is to provide a lot more unique content rather than be a copy and paste version of our newspapers. We’re in the process of hiring new people to help us achieve this goal. We’ll be throwing a lot of resources at our multimedia services. Ideally, there will be no limits to the coverage we can provide.

MB: How seriously is Independent Newspapers taking the worldwide shift to online?
AE: In one word – very. The Independent Group is well aware of the trends, but newspapers form the core of our business. IOL is an important arm of the group. If managed correctly our online publishing can enhance the value of newspapers and vice versa. We have poured a lot of resources into online so our commitment can never be questioned. Print journalists are having to transform themselves into skilled multimedia journalists to remain relevant. For a young journalist, it has never been more exciting.



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