Roger Alford wanted Kentucky Baptists to have a one-stop place for news from a Christian perspective. As an experienced Associated Press bureau chief, he was sure on this point, too: The website must be noted for its fair, balanced journalism.
So Alford, director of communication for the Kentucky Baptist Association, turned to Creative Circle Media Solutions, and the result was Kentucky Today (kentuckytoday.com), which launched in June 2015.
“We want a world-class website,” were his marching orders to CCMS president Bill Ostendorf.
The website blends a customized AP feed of state, national and world news with an editorial panel of Baptist pastors and lay people who provide opinion and commentary.
“They really have created a one-stop place for Kentuckians to go for news,” said Ostendorf. “It’s pretty thorough. It looks very newsy. It’s very dynamic.”
Changing the conversation
The aim is to be a player in the Kentucky news landscape, right along major newspapers such as the Courier-Journal in Louisville and the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Alford said.
Creating a brand-new media website presented a challenge to Creative Circle lead designer Lynn Rognsvoog. She knew aspirations were high at the Kentucky Baptist Association. “They certainly want to play with the other news sites both around the state and around the nation,” she said. ”Their aspirations are to provide all the news that a person might use in a day.”
By designing a bright, engaging, easy-to-navigate and responsive website, Creative Circle was able to position Kentucky Today where it wanted to be – a credible, effective news source with a mission.
“Kentucky Today was born out of a need to get our message out to the masses without going through the liberal filter of secular newspapers,” Alford said.
Kentucky Today hopes to reach not only the 1 million people in Kentucky who identify as Southern Baptist, but to be a voice for the Christian perspective on public issues, on which Alford noted that the Baptist community has not done well.
“We have sat on our thumbs over the past generation or two and not engaged. Or engaged in a sort of belligerent kind of way,” he said. “We need to do better.”
Hiring Creative Circle was key to creating a forum where Baptists can engage “properly and effectively” on the news topics of the day. “Kentucky Today is intended is to at least allow one of the largest communities in Kentucky into the debate,” Alford said, noting that in a state of 4 million people, about one-fourth of those are Baptist.
Flexible and engaging
The website features a customizable AP news feed and a signature look that will raise Kentucky Today’s profile in the community, noted Ostendorf.
The banner across the top, with the new Kentucky Today logo, features photos from communities across the state, which will rotate regularly. “Anytime you come here, you might see a different place in Kentucky, or one from your hometown,” Ostendorf said.
That design choice furthers one of Kentucky Today’s goals of creating engagement. Of the 1 million Baptists in Kentucky, about 750,000 are church members, which means about 250,000 are “at large.” The rotating photo “will add to the sense of belonging that newspaper can bring,” Alford said.
But more than that, the website wants to be a voice that will be heard in Kentucky’s public discourse. That means other denominations, as well as the “nones” – the spiritually unaffiliated – and politicians in Frankfort, Kentucky’s capital.
A functional and polished design, along with a steady stream of substantial content, will further the association’s goal of reaching those audiences to let them see Baptists in a new light. “Frankly we Baptists aren’t treated kindly in secular newspapers,” Alford said. “They routinely criticize us in their editorial pages and give us scant coverage in their news pages.”
Another key design choice was the modularity, which allows the Kentucky Today staff to move content around to respond to the news of the day, Rognsvoog said.
Creating the look
The look is similar to that of another Creative Circle design, The Sumter Item in Sumter, South Carolina. When Alford saw that design, “I was absolutely blown away.”
The Baptist association found Ostendorf and Creative Circle through a recommendation from one of Alford’s former AP colleagues – again, the journalism street-cred Alford was seeking. Once Alford met with Ostendorf, he was convinced that Creative Circle “could do it much less expensively and much better than anyone else,” and that turned out to be true.
From questions to answers
The process began with a million questions from Ostendorf to clarify what Kentucky Today hoped to accomplish. The process was invigorating, clear and fast. “When Bill takes hold and gets rolling, it’s just bam-bam and you’re done,” Alford said.
The first round of feedback is rolling in after June’s soft-launch. When Alford hears from his colleagues in journalism, in the Baptist community and beyond that it’s a “world-class” site, he said, he’s impressed.
With only three news gatherers on staff of five, Alford said he’s very appreciative of the no-fuss factor of the website, thanks to the “good programmers of Creative Circle.”
Alford said staff members spend only 30 minutes a day loading content because of the automated features, which allows them to focus on original content.
“We have been producing news here for forever and a day,” he said. “We continue uninhibited to do that because the administration of this website is so quick and efficient. We are hardly diverted from newsgathering.”
New voices, new era
The opinion and commentary section of Kentucky Today features new voices, and Alford said he’s pleased to tap into all the newly unearthed talent in the state. Columnists and op-ed contributors receive ultra-light editing, allowing for diverse perspectives to get people thinking. “It’s amazing how thought-provoking these people are,” he said.
The streamlined functionality of the website has Alford optimistic about its growth and reach. “The beauty of this website is that it takes so little time for general upkeep for loading it doesn’t detract from those very important things,” he said. “It’s a new world in journalism.”