American Heritage Enters the 21st Century (At Last)


Mr. Hammock is a student at Middlebury and an HNN intern.

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Welcoming in the age of chips, bits and the World Wide Web, American Heritage magazine plans to debut a new website on September 6 which features articles, photographs and blogs. A beta version of the website, available here, features a comprehensive timeline of World War II, an article examining the influences and impact of the Baby Boomer generation, among others. The print version of the magazine of course has always featured interesting articles and Americana, but who reads magazines these days? The editors have finally realized that continuing to neglect the online version of the magazine would critically limit the magazine's audience.

The old website, still live, was limited in scope, mainly featuring a few select articles from old issues. Sometimes in past years months went by without the site being updated, as HNN noted a few years ago. The old site was, in effect, nothing more than a limited online mirror of the print version of the magazine. The incentive to visit the old site was mainly that it offered the opportunity to watch the animated advertisements that are impossible to produce in a paper magazine. The homepage straightforwardly listed the titles of articles from the most recent edition of the magazine without providing (with some exceptions) the text of the articles themselves. Even the sidebar menu was taken directly from the magazine with headings that included, “Letters to the Editor.” Possibly the most useful feature of the old website was the easy access offered to select archived articles. But the old website was, for the most part, obsolete and, at best, a site that could attract a limited number of users because of the limited content.

The new version of the website is a vast improvement and reflects the standards one would expect of a company owned by the publishing giant Forbes. In order to attract new users (“get more hits” in techie jargon)--and thereby increase the readership of the magazine--the editors realized that the website content must be fresh, dynamic and easily accessible. By allowing new, tech-savvy and, most likely, young web surfers to cruise the site for free, the new website has given me a reason to take a peak.

The new website, at first glance, reminds me of any news or information website with an attractive, centrally placed picture and accompanying headline that is gracefully framed by a “More Stories” section to the right and a great sidebar menu that breaks the site down either by topic or feature. The exciting part about the “More Stories” section is that both history buffs and history novices alike will feel compelled to click. The articles range from current news that pertains to anything and everything American, to such broad topics as the history of terrorism in the United States, to an article that challenges the reader to recite the lyrics of the National Anthem. The uniting theme is America but the site, by no means, only appeals to historians or even intellectuals. Anyone who has ever wondered, “Why is America this way or that way?” or “What shaped the world’s greatest superpower?” will find the new website useful. Regardless of whether you care about the photographs taken of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt gathered at Yalta in 1945, you will probably find something on the site to which you can relate.

Below the featured stories, which the editors obviously complied with the intention of attracting new users, you will find classy, visually appealing advertisements for the print edition of the magazine. Next, the site has the dynamic “Today in History” section that will keep the site from feeling old and stale. This section gives those of us who can’t get enough historical facts a reason to visit the American Heritage site every time we log online. What better way to show that the site receives continuous attention by the editors than having a section that is updated every day?

Conveniently located next to this section is one that requires the active participation of the user. A viewer survey and discussion forum provide readers with the chance to interact with the website. The beta version of the site features a survey asking readers to compare the 1950s with the 2000s. Although those of us raised in the age of technology might not be able to respond, we can still read responses and gain new insight into the minds of our fathers (or maybe grandfathers). The easy access to discussion topics and various blogs adds another dimension to the new site.

The new American Heritage website brings the magazine to life and puts much information at the fingertips of people who might not otherwise subscribe to the magazine. Congratulations to the editors for reaching out to attract new viewers with a much improved site that goes a step beyond simply posting magazine articles online.

The editors--and sales staff--are obviously hoping that the website will not decrease sales of the print edition of the magazine. But even if the website does have that effect, it may still generate enough money to offset losses. Advertisements dot the page. And the travel section gives the sales staff the opportunity to hawk ads for every state and historic site featured in the magazine.

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