FTLComm - Tisdale - May 23, 2000
As the third year of production of this daily web based publication begins I can't help but think back over the changes and evolution of what this project has become. North Central Internet News was begun May 23, 1998 to provide some content about this part of the world on the world wide web. For the past two years I had been posting pictorials on our Sympatico web site a few a week and it was decided that these would be better in a specific and formatted product which has become Ensign. (NCIN - pronounced Ensign)

At first it was thought we would be able to derive revenue from the project by running advertisements in the stories and on the front page. I went to and visited every business in Tisdale, most in Melfort and some in Nipawin and the response from business in May of 1998 was not even luke warm, it was stone cold. Few of the business had access to the Internet and virtually none could perceive that economic possibilities of a paperless news media. As the summer of 98 wore on, I made the realisation that unlike publications like news papers which depended for their existence on local advertising revenue we had complete and total freedom of speech without sponsors to offend the publication could be better then print media.

This was hammered home when I did an article on a paper being produced in St. Brieux. I was impressed with the content of the publication and went to see the publisher attempting to interest him in moving toward an Internet presence. After the visit I produced an article on the publication and advised the publisher and provided him with the article prior to publishing on Ensign. After several phone calls and a fax or two the publisher objected to the article and asked that it not be published. As it turned out this publication had loads of content but was not a news paper at all as we know one to be. Each article was based on an advertiser spending money in the publication and then a favourable promotional article appeared in the paper. The publisher saw this as legitimate and appropriate and of course my article somewhat exposed this convention. It was then that I realised that even a prospective business associate could interfere with the creation of honest reporting, after that no further attempts to develop advertising revenue took place.

Ensign has not run on hot air, it costs a lot for the equipment and time it takes to produce a product like this one and what little revenue Faster Than Light Communications develops has gone back entirely into the production of Ensign and it has taken more then that, as Judy Shire has unfailingly supported the project. Judy's support has been financial, encouragement and participation in creation of the material that often appears.
In the summer of 98 Mario deSantis began contributing academic pieces often related to the area of his expertise in the health care world. So far he has produced over one hundred seventy articles that have appeared in Ensign. Mario, because he senses the issues so deeply often resorts to some strong language about these issues and there are times when readers have experienced a certain level of frustration of their own. Because the issue of health care continues to be so depressing Mario's pieces are themselves expressing that ongoing frustration with a situation that need not be so.
In this second year of Ensign there have been some major changes that you may not have realised. The pictures that appear have gradually increased in size. The improvement in computer technology and faster modems have meant that eight inch pictures can be handled more easily and so instead of being occasional events as they were in the first year, they have become common place in the second. The standard size picture in the first year was four inches and this past year they have been replaced with six inch images as the smaller images in articles. Though this has posed no problem to some it has made Ensign hard to see and enjoy with older equipment, especially computers with 640 x 480 screens as the current daily edition is designed to be seen on a 800 x 600 screen.

For the first year small pictures appeared on the front page, these were gradually replaced with six inch images and now a daily eight inch picture is the way each day begins. You will also discover that in the early days of Ensign most pages were kept short to reduce the amount of scrolling, with additional material on subsequent pages. This format was dropped when it was discovered that my father rarely looked at the subsequent pages. Since I have traditionally held the best picture of an article as the last picture on a page, this meant he was never seeing the best stuff that was available. As a result, all articles are now placed on a single page so he doesn't miss the good picture at the end. In sports or large events with a lot of pictures, a format I call "the second page" has been used to carry the details of the story. The main portion of the story is on the first page and then all the additional pictures and details come on the subsequent page often including really significant amounts of pictures.
Two elements have been added recently to Ensign, an access to a search engine from the front page and a search engine that just searches Ensign. The search engine seems not to work well and will be dropped in due course but the search engine of Ensign is likely to be updated and will remain a solid feature of the publication making it possible for the reader to find material that has been post during the history of the publication.

Though we have attempted to expand the image gathering ability of Ensign. Michael Townsend's picture stories have given us a look at things elsewhere and in the first year we had Jennifer Shire's material from Mexico. As we look into the future we want to see more material from Regina and Matthew Shire is expected to provide us with more stories and there is a possibility that Jennifer will be back in Mexico and we will again have things from her. Without a doubt Ensign needs more input from its readers. We need to know what you want to see and read about and your requests and contributions are truly appreciated.

Computer generated art work has always been a part of Ensign. At first little three inch leader cartoons were used then for quite a while we used "gif" animations. These animations though interesting to create and often having considerable impact have not proven to be successful as on some machines they cause crashes or at least slow down loading considerably. This lead to the development of art work involving both photographs and computer drawn images to illustrate many of Mario deSantis' material or other articles of a conceptual nature. These 4 x 8 images are fun to do and often are a story in themselves.
We have the capability of including both motion and sound in Ensign but have been somewhat reluctant to do so. Songs cause some computers to choke and movies are reliant upon the viewer having the most recent version of QuickTime available. This problem exists with the use of QuickTime VRs which we used to try to include one each week but readers, especially those with older machines have not been able to enjoy these productions and all involve a lot of time and effort to create, so as a result we have been restricting their production.

All in all Ensign continues to provide its contributors with an outlet, a means of expressing themselves about the things they think are important. Without your continued visits and interest it would be hard to carry on, in many ways the fact that Ensign has been available seven days a week for two full years is testament to the support and readership of the publication. Thanks for your visits, I would like to hear from you more often and let me know what you would like to see and perhaps hear (we do requests).


Timothy W. Shire