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Innovation Excellence
Vance Lehmkuhl
Online Editor
Philadelphia Daily News

Vance Lehmkuhl is probably the only Excellence Award winner to have earned a national theater award. His musical, A Wonderful Noise, is set during a barbershop-quartet competition during the 1940s. “The main thrust is that a quartet of women go to crash the competition in disguise,” he said.

As the Philadelphia Daily News’ one-man-band of online operations, Lehmkuhl is also crashing the competition with Web content that enhances the Daily News brand. His interactive online experiences supplement the paper’s coverage and reach out to a new generation of newspaper readers – and potential readers.

Many of his ideas aim to drive traffic from the Web to the newspaper, including a caption contest announced on the Web that required users to pick up a newspaper to see the photo. When the Daily News became the first U.S. newspaper to launch a regular podcast, PhillyFeed, Lehmkuhl created a comic radio play with a pitch for Daily News home delivery.

He emphasizes interactive features that supplement the paper’s coverage. City revitalization? “Build Your Own Parkway” let users try their hand at urban planning. New Phillies’ ballpark? A foul-ball-catching game let users check out the prime seats. Collaborating with graphic designer Jon Snyder, Lehmkuhl posted a 3-D animation “fly-through” of the new Eagles stadium.

“The online world is more of a two-way street for users,” he said. “There seems to be a trend of people wanting to have more of a role in creating their own news consumption.”

When he applied for the position of online editor in 2000, Lehmkuhl suggested that the Daily News pioneer a series of blogs, and since 2002 the paper has had at least one daily.

Although users don’t pay for newspaper content on the Web, Lehmkuhl is ever aware of the business implications of online innovations. “That’s where things like podcasts and games come in handy,” he said. “So far, we’re getting things out there and not charging for them. But doing one podcast and handing it out for free doesn’t mean you can’t do a completely different one and get people to pay for it.”

He cites the fight between music companies and innovators like Napster as an example for newspapers to heed. “People were downloading songs, and the recording industry wanted them to pay for albums. The recording industry eventually responded by giving people what they wanted in the way that they wanted it,” he said. “We also need to look at what people want from us, and it’s not necessarily a bunch of pieces of newsprint.”

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