OPAJeff Webber, senior vice president of advertising for USAtoday.com, took time out from the OPA conference, in London Today, to talk to Journalism.co.uk about why it was necessary to overhaul the website ahead of schedule.

"Our site was launched in 1995 and we have a big audience but it was not growing as fast as we would have liked for it to grow.

"We saw trends emerging in the market place and one of which was the need for news organizations to engage with their audience even more.

"The changes had been in planning really for three years but we made a decision about eight months ago to accelerate the process."

He added: "The aim is to create more opportunity for our readers to communicate with us and for our journalist to point to things on the web.

"Essentially our journalists will also become guides to things on the web."

The site has been redeveloped so users will be able to contribute to the site in a variety of ways including submitting comments on story pages, participating in forums on topics of special interest, uploading photos and authoring blogs.

"When you see an opportunity for change you can implement incrementally, which is not going to be noticed, or it can be done a lot quicker. We decided to go ahead and make the changes more quickly.

"We're not, not doing anything that we had done before. All that we have done is to continue offering the content and the services and the tools that we have offered before and layer on top additional social media tools for readers so they can come in and participate."

Registered users can also create their own home pages on the site and filter news to their specific requirements.

During a Q and A session at the OPA Mr Webber claimed that since relaunching last weekend USAToday.com has seen up to 5,000 readers a day registering for the service.

"Every change you make you loose some readers but the net gain should be good . . . we are already seeing significant increase in the time span users spend on the site. After three or for days its really early to say if that will be a lasting impact but we hope it will be."

He added: "There are also RSS aggregator tools so that a user can personalise their page and reach out and get links from other news sources… the web is not a closed shop and nobody can afford to have a walled garden anymore.

"You want to have your content available wherever the audience is and the hope is that they like what they see and they use the links to come back and see more content that we have on our site."

The redesign comes in the year that USA Today is celebrating its 25th year in print, although there is not plan to move to entirely digital publishing platform.

"I'm very bullish on the newspaper as well as the website. As an organisation we want to be platform agnostic. If you are going to be a twenty first century media company then you publishing on the web, in print and mobile. You go where the audience is."

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