A 9-Year Journey = the Evolution of a Website
Nine years ago, in April 2006, our new domain name PAEAonline.org was activated, just before the six PAEA staff members moved into new offices in Alexandria. The first Networker on the new website was also published around that time, providing a monthly summary of events and deadlines for our members.
In late 2012, it had become clear that the once-a-month publication of the Networker was too slow to keep up with all of the news and information we wanted to share with you. We needed a way to communicate in real time. So, in January 2013, we converted the Networker to a blog, allowing us to publish information daily, along with a weekly email summary of those stories.
At the same time, it also became evident that the PAEA website was not meeting our needs. It loaded slowly, the navigation was confusing, and the search function was not what it should be. In short, we needed to rebuild the whole site along more modern lines. Being an ambitious and monumental project, it kept falling behind other priorities. But no longer.
Writing for Leaders
Anticipating the move into our new Washington, D.C., offices in March 2015 and wanting an online presence that lived up to the modern design of our new space, we started work on improving the website. But before we chose colors or selected fonts or sketched out possible layouts, we talked about how to reinvent the content. The best-looking website in the world is just a gaudy trinket if the content isn’t useful and interesting and fails to keep bringing people back.
The first major content decision we made was an easy one: merge the Networker blog onto the front page of the website. For years, we had featured some news on the front page and other news in the Networker. This two-channel approach was confusing and hard to manage — more importantly, it wasn’t necessary. By putting all of ours news on the front page, we’ve created a single destination for finding PA education news, analysis, and updates.
The second content decision was more difficult. Traditionally the Networker had been used to publish updates and notices, with the occasional piece of opinion or analysis. However, since 2006, we’ve seen the ascendancy of new and better approaches to online journalism, such as explainer journalism, data journalism, and structured journalism — different ways of helping readers make sense of an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Not just reporting the facts, but reporting why those facts matter and the context in which those facts exist. We think that is the right direction to go for our PA education writing as well.
Our third content decision was about the audience. In the past, the Networker had been written for a generic audience of “PAEA members” without much differentiation. When publishing mostly updates and notices, that was fine. But as we rework our content to be more detailed and in-depth, knowing who we’re writing for becomes a major consideration. In the end, PAEA’s tagline “Scholars Leaders Partners” provided the best answer. We’re writing for scholar-leaders, people who aim to improve PA education at both the local and national level, people who need the best information and analysis to help build a better, more effective, more equitable health care system for all. In this audience, we include both current leaders as well as emerging leaders, those who have been doing this for decades as well as those who have just taken their first faculty position — anyone who is eager to help move the field to the next level.
Write for Us
For the new PAEAonline.org site to provide news and informed analysis for current and emerging PA education leaders, it will take more than just staff to write all the articles. The ideas and experiences and insights that we want to publish must also come from PA leaders themselves. Conversations among leaders, even when (sometimes especially when) they don’t agree is crucial for developing innovative ideas, effecting better outcomes, and building a stronger Association.
I strongly encourage you to consider writing for the PAEA website, with our staff’s editorial support. Our PAEA Guidelines for Authors will give you an idea of what we’re looking for, and you can email us at authors@PAEAonline.org to pitch an article idea.
If you look beyond the front page, you’ll notice that the rest of the PAEA website looks and works the same. This is intentional — and temporary. We are redesigning incrementally, section by section, page by page. This allows us to get better design and content out to you sooner, rather than waiting for the entire site to be updated. We also avoid the deadly delays that Big Projects often experience. The tradeoff is that there is a design difference for a short period of time, but we plan to have the rest of the website completely converted in the next few months, so this should be minimized.
We are also working on new sections addressing important topics such as diversity, interprofessionalism, faculty resources, and the like. More about those soon.
We’re excited to have this first step now online and welcome your comments and ideas as we convert the rest of the site. The team has done great work to get us to this point, and we look forward to your participation in making the site even better.
You can contact me directly at sstickle@PAEAonline.org or 703-667-4334 with any feedback.