When the founders of the St. Louis American came together to give African Americans in St. Louis a voice and platform by way of a weekly newspaper, they could have never imagined the way news and media consumption would evolve. Ninety years later, The St. Louis American is still informing, engaging and working to uplift the community, albeit in vastly different ways.
The St. Louis American’s publisher and executive editor, Donald M. Suggs, says “The St. Louis American’s mission to inform and affect the community has not changed, but what has changed are the methods we use to deliver content and the speed in which we do so. We must be easily accessible to our readers, wherever they are.”
It goes without saying that the primary source for obtaining news has shifted from hard copy newspapers to the digital space, including websites, apps and social media. And as we commemorate, The St. Louis American is on the cusp of another milestone – 20 years on the internet.
Just as the paper has evolved over the years to meet the needs of the community we serve, so has stlamerican.com. Our web presence has gone from merely a digital version of the print product to a living resource for breaking local and national news, entertainment, sports, politics, business and health that impact our core community of readers and beyond.
“It’s been almost night and day from where we were,” American COO Kevin Jones said. “We were just used to preparing for a weekly product. It’s changed for the better certainly. Technology changes rapidly and we need to stay on top of it. Management decided that we had access to news in many ways and we have the ability to generate news and it was really just going along with the times to be honest – we saw the writing on the wall. Our readers want the news and they want it now, in real time.”
The antiquated formats of the early days of the web have given way to a sleek user friendly format that makes provisions for multimedia and reader interaction. Thanks in part to a major redesign in 2013, Stlamerican.com now has a look and aesthetic that is attractive and uniquely complimentary to the print product – and makes for a visitor experience that allows The St. Louis American media platform to reach beyond the confines of a Thursday print distribution.
The weekly web uploads of what people saw in the paper have transformed into information updates several times a day from an array of topics – from breaking news to guest columns to film and concert reviews, political news and more.
We also have media sharing partnerships with organizations such as CNN, The Huffington Post, St. Louis Public Radio and Town News that allow us to share even more content to our community.
“My goal is to provide the St. Louis community with an experience that’s relevant, accessible and timely,” said Ishmael Sistrunk, web, IT and promotions coordinator. “We have a multifaceted approach to media. I know senior citizens that access the website and Facebook pages. I also know 11- and 12-year-olds that access The American’s website via mobile phone or access our content through Instagram. We want to be able to serve community members of all ages and interests.”
Stlamerican.com is a team effort of Sistrunk and Kenya Vaughn, website editor, with strong support from the editorial team.
“On any given day we will receive a breaking political item from Chris King, investigative updates from Rebecca Rivas and a hot health news report from Sandra Jordan,” Vaughn said. “In addition to the hyper local news items that have become a popular mainstay on the site, we all chime in with our respective beats to create a well-rounded web presence.”
Vaughn and Rivas team up to create compelling videos for the website and social media platforms. In prior years, The St. Louis American only published videos to YouTube and stlamerican.com. As times have changed, we now post videos directly to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well.
“Videos play a huge role in the social media age. With so many different media outlets and entertainment companies vying for people’s attention, you need compelling and relevant video to compete,” Sistrunk said.
“With advancements in technology, it has never been easier to create high quality videos. However, with easier access comes greater competition. So we’re working hard to create fresh new content that will separate us from the crowd.”
Over the course of the site’s evolution, a steady climb in traffic serves as evidence of the success of our efforts to meet the needs and desires of site visitors. Stlamerican.com has grown from a modest 26,000 average monthly visitors to well over 130,000 in 2017 and roughly half-a-million page views per month.
Contests and ticket giveaways are also a regular part of the stlameican.com experience and lend themselves to website traffic. Tickets to the sold-out Janet Jackson performance, a Valentine’s Day package that included an overnight stay at The Four Seasons and tickets to see Charlie Wilson have been our most popular contests to date.
The website also houses information and photos from the four major St. Louis American Foundation events (Salute to Excellence in Education, Healthcare, Business and Young Leaders).
“We want to further interact with readers and viewers,” Jones said. “We want to be very interactive with our community more and more.”
Even though the pace can be demanding the web presence has presented a special gift by way of its broad reach and that has been made evident over the years based on feedback from the site.
“We keep seeing all of these people who live out of town and they want to keep up with Black St. Louis,” Jones said. “How else can they do that except for through The St. Louis American?”
The St. Louis American is working hard not to be content or complacent with its digital platform. Despite the significant changes in how The St. Louis American delivers news digitally, new and exciting changes are always in the works.
Social media is an integral tool for The St. Louis American to reach the St. Louis community. The American is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn.
“There was a time when the posts from Facebook were automatically copied to Twitter, rendering those experiences identical,” Sistrunk state. “However, we learned that each of those audiences have their own interests and styles. So we began tailoring the posts for each social media community, specifically for that community. The results have been amazing.”
Unsurprisingly, The St. Louis American boasts its largest social media following on the largest social media network. The American boasts more than 50,000 likes on Facebook. Next is Twitter, with nearly 16,000 followers. The American’s fastest-growing audience is on Instagram, with nearly 10,000 followers and counting.
The aim of our social media platforms is to weave together a multimedia experience that includes immersive stories, vivid photos, fascinating videos, giveaways, engagement and social outreach. The St. Louis American also strives to be a hub of ideas and essential conversations with the community both on our website and in our social media platforms.
Live videos played a huge roll in The American’s coverage of the Ferguson protests as well as other social justice actions that have taken place in recent years. Nearly 2.5 million viewers have tuned in to our YouTube page to keep up with current events in St. Louis. With the recent introduction of Facebook Live videos, The St. Louis American continues to reach the St. Louis community with fresh video content.
A feature that certainly appeals to out of town visitors is our enhanced e-edition, free of charge. The stlamerican.com e-edition gives the look and feel of the print paper from the convenience of a desktop, laptop or tablet. Users can visit stlamerican.com to take advantage of the free e-edition service.
“The goal is to continue to evolve The American’s online presence,” Sistrunk said. “If the American is going to thrive in this digital age we are going to have to take the media to where the people are – and we have to involve them to every aspect of our media and make it relevant to them. We need to be a melting pot for them to come to on stlamerican.com and find something that they will either want to share with others or interact with. It needs to be an experience where we’re not just feeding them news but we are telling and sharing their stories in a meaningful and compelling way.”
For more information on the site, visit www.stlamerican.com
The St. Louis American’s mobile website allows our readers to stay in connected on the go, free of charge. With the enormous growth of smartphones and tablets in recent years, people want their news and entertainment accessible at any given time, not just when they’re at home or work. We’ve addressed this with our mobile website. By utilizing HTML5 for the site, we’ve made it simpler and more convenient for our readers. Instead of needing to download separate apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows phone, etc., users will automatically be directed to our website just by visiting stlamerican.com from their smartphone or tablet. It looks and functions just like an app you’d download, but you don’t have to search for it, don’t have to update it and don’t have to worry about those annoying crashes. It just works. Because we’re working off a unified platform, readers will get the same great experience, regardless of what mobile operating system they are using.
Readers have access to all the photos, galleries, videos and articles on the web app. For those who want the same stlamerican.com experience on their desktop, laptops and mobile devices, viewing the full site from the web app is literally one click away. Overall it’s a great experience and takes advantage of all the latest, greatest, fastest feature-filled smartphones and tablets.