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Elaine Helm Norton

ELAINE HELM NORTON Elaine Helm Norton is the new media editor for The Herald newspaper in Everett, Wash., where she oversees news and multimedia content for She started her career in journalism as military affairs reporter at the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton, Wash.

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Project Blog: Northwest Navy News

This participatory site will serve the 140,000 active-duty Navy and Coast Guard members, reservists, base employees and retirees in the Puget Sound area with database-driven, interactive guides to housing, schools, military discounts, and a social network for military spouses and children coping with deployment and family relocation. Project leader Elaine Helm Norton, new media editor at The Daily Herald in Everett, Wash., and a former military beat reporter, envisions a medium for military families in the region to connect with one another and also for journalists like me to connect with them. Nobody in journalism or the military has done much online to engage military families. Follow her progress here. Visit their website.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Northwest Navy News is on a brief hiatus as founder Elaine Norton changes jobs. In mid-June she’ll leave The Daily Herald for a digital and social media position with public relations firm Weber Shandwick in Seattle, WA. Check back this summer for more updates as Norton revitalizes the site.

   • Posted by Anna Tauzin on 06/10 at 07:49 AM

Northwest Navy News Final Report

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Northwest Navy News network is growing, slowly but steadily. The audience remains small by any measure. Google Analytics recorded a little over 500 monthly unique visitors in September. The base overview pages continue to draw the greatest attention, followed by news posts, particularly those about events and financial issues. Most of the traffic comes from search engines and referring sites like Facebook and Twitter. Northwest Navy News has 125 Facebook fans and 1,505 followers on Twitter to date. The followers on social media sites tend to be much more engaged on those sites than on the pages of Part of that is undoubtedly because I started posting content and connecting with people there well before the site was built and because people already visit those sites often. One of my goals for the future is to find a way to transfer that engagement to my site or to capitalize on it more effectively. Facebook Connect may be one way to do that. A distributed network with at its hub might not be so bad, but the activity elsewhere should feed back to the core.

For the project to continue to grow, I need to spend more time developing partnerships. A range of possibilities for that exist: chambers of commerce, service groups, spouse and family groups for individual commands, national military family networks, and news outlets. I made some great connections at the 2009 MilBlog Conference, and I’m beginning to act on some of them. I recently signed on to be part of Team Navy for a fundraising competition sponsored by Soldiers’ Angels, a national nonprofit. The competition is a fun way to raise my profile in the Navy blogging community and to support a good cause. I’m also beginning to reach out to more military family groups in the Puget Sound area. The biggest barriers to that are time and distance. The people I’m trying to reach tend to be busy, and I’m trying to fit them in around my full-time job and other commitments. It would be great to identify partners or key groups in each of the local base communities who could help me make connections there. The first step is always the most difficult, but each connection made tends to lead to others.

I struggle most with finding the time and energy to do the things I want to do to help this project succeed. At the end of a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is go stare at the computer screen for a few more hours. Social networking, curating links and trying to set up meetings with potential partners all echo things I do during regular work hours. It’s also tricky to balance creating content with efforts to get the word out to more people about what I’m doing. I’ve begun trying to spend at least an hour every morning looking for opportunities to update the site or interact with its burgeoning network of followers. When I do make the time to work on it, I always find it extremely rewarding. That’s what keeps me going. Though I want to see Northwest Navy News grow into more than a side project, the arrangement for now gives me the freedom to experiment and think long term, instead of feeling pressure to make a living from it immediately.

If I weren’t working full time for The Herald, I could see myself freelancing articles for local news outlets and national military publications, while fostering a more vibrant, collaborative community through my own site. I would need to hire someone dedicated to advertising sales and military discount listings for those to really take off. I still think the greatest potential lies in a business model with diverse revenue streams from news syndication, advertising, events and even merchandise. I have heard enough journalism entrepreneurs talk about diversifying partnerships and revenue models that I’m a firm believer. For now, I can afford to focus on building an audience, while planning ahead for ways to capitalize on it. I still have a portion of the New Media Women Entrepreneurs award money left, which I hope will sustain my marketing efforts for a while longer and enable a smaller second wave of development on the site late this year or early next year.

Looking back on my NMWE application and mid-project progress report, I had grand plans for what Northwest Navy News would become in just a year. With the Web site live for about seven months, I think I can safely say those plans were overly ambitious. That’s not to say the goals I established are unattainable. They will simply take more time to fulfill. I have learned a great deal about myself and about creating a niche news site through this process. Many of the things I knew on an intellectual level before embarking on the project, I have now confirmed through practice. Thank you very much for this opportunity. I look forward to continuing the project, exploring new ways to engage, strengthen and inform a community that deserves attention.


Elaine Helm Norton

   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 10/15 at 11:00 AM

Northwest Navy News is Growing

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Since the launch of Northwest Navy News ( in March, the site has slowly gained a following. It averaged about 400 unique visitors and 1,200 page views in May. The number of visitors is growing at a rate of about 20 percent per month so far - slow but steady. Most of the visitors are coming from organic search results, thanks to search-optimization efforts. That’s great, but it also means that most people are finding the site accidentally, leaving lots of room for marketing outreach.

I’m doing what I can to get the word out to more people about the site. I recently appeared as the featured guest on an Internet radio show called Navy Homefront Talk ( The show reaches thousands of Navy and other military spouses around the country, and I hope to see a bump in interest as they visit to check it out. Through Facebook and Twitter, I’m connecting with more and more military families, bloggers and service groups. A week-long Facebook advertising campaign last month added more than 70 fans for the Northwest Navy News Facebook page (

I’m also starting to get nibbles from local advertisers. I spoke to one who is connected with the military affairs committee for one of the chambers of commerce. Partnerships with the chambers could lead not only to more advertising but also to more listings for the military discounts section of the site.

After a visit to the 2009 MilBlog Conference in late April, I came up with a new idea for a network of military family blogs in the Puget Sound area. I’m developing a list of local bloggers and beginning a blogroll to appear on the sidebar of Northwest Navy News pages. Once I have a good list going, I plan to create a banner for the blog network and begin approaching bloggers to add it to their sites. I think this could raise visibility for the existing bloggers in this area and begin to form a community with Northwest Navy News at the hub. In the future, I could see hosting a regional conference for the group and others with similar interests.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the work ahead, but I’m focused on taking one step at a time and building something truly valuable and sustainable.

   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 06/02 at 10:13 AM

Launching is Just the Beginning

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I’m a perfectionist. I could keep fussing over details forever. So the toughest part of launching Northwest Navy News so far was letting go of the little things and embracing the idea of the site as a process, not a finished product.

Other journalists turned entrepreneurs, like David Cohn of Spot.Us, advised me to get a site launched quickly with a basic set of features and let it evolve out in the open. I understand why. It’s just tough to resist the urge to perfect everything before sharing it with the world.

The trick is to remember that a Web site is not like a story on a printed page. It’s never finished. Ideas and execution still matter, but ongoing interaction online helps shape a site or an application into something more meaningful than it was in the beginning.

With that in mind, I flipped the switch this month on Please visit and then:

  * Create a profile to become part of the community and interact with other people.
  * Research bases and find out more about living in the Northwest.
  * Read the latest news about housing, deployments, benefits, childcare, military policy and other issues.
  * Find military discounts for businesses and services. If you have an account, you can also share your own favorite discounts by adding them to the list.

I’ll be developing other features as I go. I’m reaching out to the people who I’ve consulted with along the way to get their feedback. I’m also continuing the networking I began on Twitter and setting up a Facebook page to connect with even more people who might be interested in the site.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me in this project so far and celebrated my progress along the way. I’m excited to see how this adventure unfolds from here.

   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 03/11 at 08:33 AM

Getting ready to deploy

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Work began this week on building the first version of Northwest Navy News. Expect to see the site make its debut sometime in the next few weeks.

I’m working with Greg Bear and his team at Bear Ideas, a Web development firm in Seattle that specializes in the open-source content management system called Drupal. This platform allows for quick development because it already has so many features common to community sites and blogs.

For the first incarnation of Northwest Navy News, I’m focusing on pages with resources for families being stationed at each of the four Navy base locations in the Puget Sound area. The site also will have topic pages on family issues, education and housing, as well as blog-like news posts, forums and basic user profiles.

I’m setting the groundwork to compile a searchable database of businesses offering military discounts. Companies will be able to use a form to add their information. Down the road I expect to offer enhanced listings, with a coupon or detailed message, for a fee—the first idea for how the site might support itself.

While the Bear Ideas team does its work with the code, I’m looking for ways to develop more content and starting to get the word out about the project. I’m using Twitter to post links and information, as well as to connect with Navy and Coast Guard families.

The timing of all this feels fortuitous. In the last year, the military began embracing social media and networking like never before.

The Pentagon launched its own version of YouTube called TroopTube. The Navy surveyed 15,000 sailors on how they use technology, including social networking. And most, if not all, branches created official blogs and policies about social media.

Complex issues of control are still involved when you talk about the military and any form of media, but I’m hopeful that the environment is right for a site like Northwest Navy News.

   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 01/14 at 01:34 PM

And the winner is ...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Northwest Navy News logoAfter lots of agonizing, I finally picked a logo. I received lots of great submissions from designers at crowdSPRING, but in the end I went with the idea that really conveyed what my site is all about: Navy families. It’s friendly, welcoming and very Web 2.0.

I’ll be showing it off for the first time this weekend at the Kitsap Military Fall Festival. The event is organized by the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce and draws hundreds of military families, as well as local businesses and service groups. I look forward to talking to more people about my project and enlisting their help in refining and testing some of the site’s features when they’re ready.

   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 10/17 at 08:27 AM

Help choose a logo for Northwest Navy News

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I decided to try something a little different as I started to think about establishing a visual identity for my project. So I turned to crowdSPRING, an interactive marketplace for designers and buyers.

It works like this: A company or individual looking for a logo, Web site, stationary or other design concept submits the request, along with a price they’re willing to pay, a deadline and specifications about their needs. Designers—the site calls them creatives—submit their ideas. Then it gets interesting. Buyers and anyone else visiting the site can rate the entries. Buyers can also leave feedback and suggest changes. Creatives read and respond to the feedback, then update their designs. After the deadline passes, the buyer picks a winner and that winner gets paid.

I was intrigued by the idea of a social design process after a Twitter friend, marketing professional Kim Dushinski, posted a few tweets about her experience with crowdSPRING. You can see the logo she chose at and read her blog post about the experience.

With just a few days left before the self-imposed deadline on my logo project, I’d love to hear what you think about some of the entries. Go to my project page on crowdSPRING to rate the offerings or feel free to post your thoughts as comments here.

   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 10/02 at 02:22 PM

Soaking up ideas

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I recently spent a week in Washington, D.C., hanging out and learning from lots of smart journalists and Web geeks. I’m still trying to process everything I saw and heard, but here are some efforts that inspired me:

  • Knight-Batten Award winners and each demonstrate in different ways how powerful community journalism can be and how technology can be harnessed to tell stories. is the effort of one woman, who has a separate full-time job, to chronicle the changes going on in one D.C. neighborhood., on the other hand, provides the tools for people in the midst of a crisis to report what is going on around them.
  • takes stories reported by people around the world and gives them a place to grow, change and reach a wider audience. I’m fascinated by the idea that the original story, whether it’s a few paragraphs or a long-form narrative, is just the beginning. People who read it take time to add their own observations, links to traditional news coverage, photos, videos, ratings and comments to create something that becomes more meaningful over time.
  • Similar to and also recognized by the Knight-Batten Awards, CNN’s iReport allows people around the world to tell stories, using their own definitions of what makes news. It’s encouraging to see a mainstream media outlet taking these stories seriously and using them to inform their professional reporting.
   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 09/24 at 01:36 PM

Ideas and inspiration from Navy wives

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A group of women that meets at the sprawling Navy support complex in Marysville, Wash., once a month while their husbands are deployed prepare for when their ship returns. The group’s leaders invited me to join them last Friday evening to get ideas for my project. I talked with the women while they worked on their own project—a surprise for the day their husbands return.

“I didn’t even know where to start,” one woman told me when I asked if she used any social networking sites to find support in the Puget Sound area. Another woman said she used to find activities and meet people, and several others said they connected with Navy wives on MySpace.

Several women said they used Web sites like, checked sex offender registries and called local police departments before they moved to the area to decide where they should live. Some relied on family or friends for advice. Others got suggestions from a Navy housing office and then did more research on their own.

One thing they mentioned that hadn’t occurred to me was that it would be helpful to list laws that vary from state to state, governing things like drivers licensing, car insurance, gun ownership and landlord-tenant responsibilities.

These women were inspiring and full of great ideas based on their experiences. I’m grateful they invited me to their gathering. I hope to meet with more groups like this and continue to learn from them as I move forward with my project.

   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 08/28 at 02:11 PM

Friends and allies are keys to getting started

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A steady trickle of phone calls, e-mails, Tweets and Facebook messages have arrived from colleagues since the announcement of this award. And as I would expect from journalists, they have questions. “Are you leaving The Herald?” No, I’m doing this as a side project. “Have you considered Ning as a platform?” I haven’t thought too much about platforms yet, until I determine what information and features the site will have. “Do you need help with copy editing/Web development/writing?” Yes, yes and yes, thank you. “When you get rich, will you hire me.” We’ll see about that.

All of these questions are good ones—well, I’m pretty sure the last one was a joke. I’m lucky to have such smart friends and coworkers. But my first steps for this project involve a basic skill in journalism and business: networking. Beginning this week, I’m meeting with sources for some of the in-depth information about the Navy community that I hope to collect. I’m also meeting with members of the community I hope to serve. I want to tell them about my ideas and find out what they think would be most useful.

Networking for this project poses several challenges. Time and geography are the most basic. I’m squeezing in meetings and phone calls around my day job in Everett, and Puget Sound is a huge body of water, which makes travel tricky. The trip from Everett to Bremerton, for example, is 28 miles of driving and an hour-long ferry ride. Add in ferry waiting time and it can take more than two hours in one direction. The other major challenge is building on my existing relationships with official Navy sources and forging new relationships with people I hope to serve with the Northwest Navy News site. The approach to these relationships from both sides will change a little because I’m not working on behalf of an established news organization. It’s new territory for everyone involved, which makes it as exciting as it is challenging.

If you’re reading this post and you have a connection to the Puget Sound area’s military community, I’d love to hear from you. You can leave your comments here, send me an e-mail, @ me on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn or find me on Facebook. I need as many allies as possible.

   • Posted by Elaine Helm Norton on 08/06 at 02:44 PM