Partner in Serbia launches new web site with integrated content

Oct 312009

Belgrade-based Beta news agency launched a new web site this week, presenting its neatly integrated text, video, audio and photo production. www.beta.rs

The first private and independent news agency in Serbia, Beta, has been a great host organization. Its young and dedicated reporters continuously strive to beat the competition and provide superior service to the agency's more than 250 subscribers. Their efforts meant a better Web was needed to present Beta's diverse production.

Initial efforts to define and design a new site began earlier this year with a key conceptual question emerging from the outset: Should we pack the pages with as much material as possible or keep it reasonably streamlined to be user-friendly for Serbia's general public, which often has to rely on slow dial-up Internet?

``Less is more or less is a bore?'' a Beta editor asked - a good way to describe the dilemma. 

Recent experience from other news providers in the country indicated that cramming too much info and links on a Web site would be counterproductive, as some of the competitors actually saw a decline in Internet traffic after it became too complex for the local taste. The issue became even more acute as Beta began to seek new avenues for ad revenue to complement subscription in a deteriorating economic environment.

The average daily production of more than 300 text items, circa 50 still images from its own photographers and a few hundred redistributed AP photos, a few dozen separate audio reports and as many videos a day represented a relative abundance on the local market. Also, part of the text production and captions for the visuals were being translated into English and three languages of ethnic minorities in the country, which multiplied the total output.

On the other hand, the management was resolved to keep part of the production available only to paying customers as piracy remains rampant in the country and lawsuits to protect copyright are often lengthy, expensive and unpredictable.

Innovations have also been considered, particularly the citizen journalism option for the new Web site. Citizen journalism is a fairly new concept in Serbia and the phrase itself does not translate well into Serbian. The agency eventually opted for the local variant "Javite Beti" which means "Let Beta Know'' to encourage popular contributions that can materialize in actual reports.

An outsourced designer and programmer was wonderfully patient, providing valuable input about possible slide shows and other features that can add value and appeal, but often slow down navigation.

Earlier this month a link to Beta's identity was added on Facebook, which proved a useful promotional tool ahead of the big launch that finally took place late in October - with some pomp and a collective cheer in the newsroom. The new look is streamlined yet comprehensive. The color scheme is reasonably rich, but not tacky. A basic division by topic - domestic news, foreign, economy, sports, culture, entertainment - downloads and scrolls smoothly, even with substandard Internet speed.

An instant spike in views to 10,108 on the first day compared to a daily average of just under 8,000 was partly due to some promotional activities for the launch, which coincided with the Health Ministry report confirming that swine flu infections in the country were escalating. A perfect storm, incidentally.

The citizen journalism option is also showing first results with two dozen contributions within the first week - including a few unsolicited congratulations on the new Web site and messages from concerned citizens from remote provinces alerting us to local issues. The ``Javite Beti'' innovation is bound to become a great complement to Beta's network of correspondents, and a source of news that can gain life of its own.