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Nancy Barnes: New site aims to be Web Central for political junkies

  • Article by: Nancy Barnes
  • Star Tribune
  • September 29, 2007 - 4:46 PM

One of the things that I find most rewarding about living in Minnesota is just how engaged our readers are in their community. They read the paper. They pay attention to the news. They argue about political issues. They vote in droves.

This level of connection to the life of the community is something that sets this state and this region apart. It's also one reason we are launching a new service for our readers.

On Monday, we will debut a new website, Politically Connected, where we will house news, information, opinion and debate about all things related to politics in Minnesota as well as the rest of the country.

This project has been months in the making.

As any good editor knows, you get your best work when you can combine talent with passion. At the beginning of the summer, we asked Dennis McGrath, one of our most experienced editors, to step away from the daily newspaper and develop a site dedicated to political life. That was the talent piece of it. Now, for the passion. Dennis is a true political junkie, having spent most of his career here either covering or directing political coverage. To some extent, this was like asking someone to go on a shopping spree and bring back anything he wanted.

"It's a topic that is near and dear to my heart," Dennis explained. "Plus, we have a great election coming up and we have the Republican National Convention just to top it off. How could you not be excited about that? It's a great time to be launching this site."

So what did he choose for the site? Breaking state, regional and national news, a weekly podcast hosted by veteran Star Tribune journalists, new blogs, a searchable campaign-finance database, candidate and office-holder pages with their voting records, quotes and much more. It's designed as a place where you can do one-stop reading and research on state and national politics without having to go to 20 other sites.

These days, as Dennis describes it, the hunt for political information can be overwhelming and fractured. "You could spend your life hunting for the best site. We bring it all together in one place so you don't have to go anywhere else. You can read the news, see our reporter's take, and then go to see how the blogs are responding."

Lots of other people on our staff spent their summer on this effort as well. Will Tacy, StarTribune.com editor, worked closely with Dennis throughout the entire project, as did Sandy Date, our head of research, and her researchers. And they are just getting started -- literally. While you will find a thoughtful and engaging site come Monday, we plan to build and expand this going forward. We will cover local, state and national politics, with a particular emphasis on the Republican convention coming here next summer.

For many involved with this project, there has been a huge learning curve. You see, Dennis is a traditional print journalist. To launch this project, he had to become webby. He also had to learn how to be a talk show host for the podcast. These are changes many of us are making in the newsroom as more and more of our work migrates to the Web. The first venture at the podcast, with Doug Tice, our political editor, and Lori Sturdevant, an editorial page columnist, was comically boring. By the end, however, the team was learning to be more conversational and to have fun.

This week, staffers are pounding on the site to make sure that most of the kinks are gone by the time you, our readers, get to it.

To get this all started, we've been in the field polling, and we'll bring you those results starting Monday. This time, we'll do things a little differently, however. Most of the results will be released on the website first, and printed in the paper the next day. We invite you to check it out first thing Monday morning. You can reach the site two ways: at www.startribune.com/politics or www.politicallyconnected.mn.

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