In 1996, “American Education’s Newspaper of Record” entered the Internet age when it launched its Web site, edweek.org. While not at the absolute cutting edge, Education Week’s site was, nonetheless, among the first journalistic offerings on the Web.
The site – published by the nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education – quickly became a resource for policymakers, school administrators, teachers, parents, advocates, education journalists, and researchers.
For the first few years after its launch, we took great pride in edweek.org just as it was. Administrators and teachers told us it was great. Reporters from other media outlets called it an invaluable resource for ferreting out the facts about schools and learning. Researchers, policymakers, and advocates viewed it as a collection point for data and an online crossroads for lively discussions and debates.
There was bad news, though. Like virtually every other national newspaper, Education Week watched its print subscriptions steadily drop as an increasing number of people accessed the newspaper, its archives, and its research for free online.
And, so, the internal debate began. Should we keep the site free for all? Or, would doing so drain EPE to a dangerous point? After considerable research and soul-searching, we came to the conclusion that edweek.org must restrict access to some of its online resources to paying subscribers, if the Web site and the overall operation are to continue to thrive. It was a tough decision, but the only one that made sense.The transition to a partly subscriber-only site is not something that happens overnight. In fact, we’ve been building up to this reconfiguration for several years, first with extensive planning, then by requiring registration to access most of the site’s content, and next with an extensive overhaul of edweek.org that wrapped up last fall.
After instituting registration in February 2003, we gleaned a much greater understanding of who was visiting edweek.org and what content they were accessing. Let me share some key statistics and research that informed our decisions: By the fall of 2003, nearly 200,000 people had registered to use the site, and an average of 1.6 million page views were being logged each month.
What we learned (and this was somewhat unexpected) was that a large percentage of the site’s registered users were teachers (34 percent), students (16 percent), and parents (5 percent). In other words, the majority of registered users were not from what we would consider the traditional audience for Education Week.
At the same time, we also learned that the newspaper’s traditional audience of administrators, policymakers, and marketers were the “power users” of the site. They visited more often and viewed more pages during each visit than teachers, parents, and students.
Just as important, of course, is what we learned about the content they were accessing. In a nutshell, we learned that more traditional audience was coming to the site to read the current weekly issue and daily news compendia, use the archives, and access the newspaper’s special reports. Teachers, students, and parents, meanwhile, were more likely to tap into the site’s Issues Pages and other topic-specific content.
In the end, then, we decided to segment the site and the audience as the data had informed us made sense. The redesigned edweek.org site, unveiled last October, was divided into four sections: Education Week, Teacher Magazine, Research Center, and Agent K-12, an online job-recruitment service.
Keeping key business objectives in mind, the new site was designed to:
Entice our traditional audience to become paying subscribers by focusing on policy and news and by offering such enhancements in the Education Week section of the site as Web-only content and deep levels of customization and personalization.
Retain our non-traditional Web audience, many of whom are teachers and students, by providing compelling content – specifically in the Teacher and Research Center sections of the site – that would require only registration, not a paid subscription.
- Leave enough of the site open to encourage visitors to become either a paying subscriber or at least a registered user.
In addition to a new organization, the revamped site also includes: a new look, new navigation, improved search capabilities, and a new content-management system to simplify and automate much of the back-end technology. The main idea, of course, was to create a system that allows a single piece of content to be used in multiple ways, such as in e-newsletters, as well as in multiple places within the site.
Even as we seek to increase the value of the subscription-only portions of edweek.org, we believe it’s imperative that the free areas remain useful and engaging. Because we’ve learned that a significant number of our online users are teachers, students, and parents, we intend to keep the Teacher Magazine portion of the site free and open to all. We also plan to beef up the Teacher section with more interactive chats and other Web-only features.
Content on the site’s Research Center section, too, will also remain free and open to all registered users. Popular content in the Research Center includes more than 50 Issues A-Z pages, State Info pages, and Education Counts, an EPE-developed interactive database of hundreds of policy indicators and other quantitative information across the 50 states.
Given demand in the field for research- and data-based decisionmaking, edweek.org’s Research Center seeks to connect policymakers and practitioners with the information they need when
they need it.
So, while the decision to wall off certain sections of the site was not easy, we believe that it is necessary as part of a business strategy to protect the Education Week franchise and to make EPE’s online publishing business self-sustaining.
That said, we will continue to operate edweek.org with EPE’s overall mission in mind: providing the news, context, and perspectives that will ultimately raise the level of discourse in American precollegiate education and lead to lasting school change.
Virginia B. Edwards
President, Editorial Projects in Education
Editor, Education Week and Teacher Magazine
6935 Arlington Road, Suite 100
Bethesda, MD 20814
A version of this news article first appeared in the Behind the Scenes blog.