Our Online Experiment
Lessons from 10 years of electronic publishing.
Ten years ago, Government Executive decided to jump off our well-established print publishing platform and enter, with as much boldness as we could muster, the brave new world of online publishing. The official launch of GovExec.com on Aug. 1, 1996, was the culmination of six months' worth of effort to build a Web site worthy of our audience-and was, at the same time, a step into the great unknown.
The World Wide Web was still in its infancy at that point, and the full force of the dot-com boom was a few years off. We were low on capital but big on ambition. Any magazine could put up a home page, we figured, and most were doing just that. We had a broader goal: to cover the government in a new and different way.
At the time, major newspapers and a series of newsletters presented information about the federal bureaucracy episodically, but no one had ever set out to cover the operations and management of government on a daily basis. We figured we were in a great position to do so. After all, we'd been publishing a print magazine for government's top managers for more than 25 years. But the frequency of the magazine-monthly at that point-kept us from keeping on top of breaking developments on the federal scene.
A Web publication provided the perfect complement to our print magazine, we thought-and still do. Online, we cover news as it occurs, keeping members of the federal community up to date on stories involving management, pay and benefits, labor relations, procurement, defense, homeland security and a wide variety of other subjects. In print, we provide full background and context on these stories through serious, long-form journalism.
GovExec.com launched at a propitious moment. President Clinton was in the midst of an effort to "re-invent" the federal government. The hunger for information on how this effort to downsize, outsource, decentralize, reorganize and reengineer government would affect the people who were supposed to make its programs work was intense.
That first day, the headlines were of the type that our readers would grow accustomed to seeing over the next 10 years: "IRS to Lay Off 5,000 Workers," "Boeing Buys Rockwell Units," "U.S. Pays Man $250,000 to Settle Sex Lawsuit." Apparently, people liked what they were reading, because quickly it became clear that the pent-up demand for information about what was happening in government was large and growing.
By 1998, Folio:, the leading journal for the magazine industry, had named GovExec.com Best Nonprint Trade Magazine, saying the site contained "up-to-the-minute information presented with no b.s. Perfect for the in-and-out info retrieval that its readers seek."
That information was gathered and presented by a small but steadily growing team of highly talented journalistic and technical jacks-of-all-trades. They were called upon to report, write and edit stories every day, keep internal sections of GovExec.com updated, prepare electronic newsletters and implement new features of the site. The talent of these people shows in the illustrious list of publications that our alumni have joined in the past decade: National Journal, Washingtonpost.com, USA Today, North Carolina Public Radio and others.
Over the years, we've experimented with discussion forums, online chats, blogs, video and other innovations of the online medium. We've changed the look of the site several times, and overhauled its technical backbone in an effort to keep up with the latest in online publishing technology. Still, we think we've only scratched the surface of what Web publishing has to offer. So you can expect to see more new features in the months and years ahead.
At the same time, we remain convinced that the core of our operation is news, and we are more committed than ever to covering management and civil service issues across the federal spectrum. In a world in which the federal government is waging a war on terror at home and abroad while facing a looming budget crunch of unprecedented proportions, the users of Government Executive and GovExec.com have made it clear that they value the information we provide more highly than ever. And we intend to keep providing it to them for years to come.