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. 

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June 10, 2010 Elain Helm Norton

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.


Northwest Navy News Final Report

October 15, 2009 Elain Helm Norton

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 ... Read more...

Northwest Navy News is Growing

June 2, 2009 Elain Helm Norton

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 ... Read more...

Launching is Just the Beginning

March 11, 2009 Elain Helm Norton

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.


Getting ready to deploy

January 14, 2009 Elain Helm Norton

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.


And the winner is …

October 17, 2008 Elain Helm Norton

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.


Help choose a logo for Northwest Navy News

October 2, 2008 Elain Helm Norton

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 ... Read more...

Soaking up ideas

September 24, 2008 Elain Helm Norton

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 ... Read more...

    Ideas and inspiration from Navy wives

    August 28, 2008 Elain Helm Norton

    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 ... Read more...

    Friends and allies are keys to getting started

    August 6, 2008 Elain Helm Norton

    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 ... Read more...

    Predeployment jitters

    July 15, 2008 Elain Helm Norton

    When friends ask how work is going, my standard reply is “busy.” Anyone who knows me well understands I’m not happy unless I’m stretching myself. That’s why I’m excited to tackle the challenge of founding Northwest Navy News, a news and community site for Navy families, veterans and retirees in the Pacific Northwest.

    Some of the most rewarding stories I wrote as a reporter touched the daily lives of military families. Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan matter, but so do childcare, schools, housing and other fundamental issues people encounter everywhere. Journalists, in general, don’t pay enough attention to the perspectives of spouses, children, parents and others with loved ones serving in the military when it comes to these issues.

    I’m not naive enough to think I know everything about what matters to military families. I hope to empower people in the community to connect with each other and fill in the gaps. ... Read more...