What would Benjamin Day do?

This last weekend’s JACC Southern California conference marked the JACC conference where the keynote speaker focused entirely on online media. It won’t be the last, I’m sure. Louis Amestoy, assistant managing editor/interactive of the San Bernardino Sun and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, Calif., talked about his and others’ publications that are giving greater emphasis to online delivery of news content.

During the question and answer period, which was hard to follow because even the speaker had trouble hearing questions, Cypress adviser Robert Mercer kept passing notes to me with things suggestions that he would like to rename the print edition of the Cypress Chronicle to CyChron.com Digest.

One note he passed me, got my attention for sure. He asked, “What would Benjamin Day do?”

Day, of course, is the historical figure most often associated with the establishment of the Penny Press era of journalism by popularizing content and lowering the price of the paper to make it affordable to the common person.

Robert and I have had discussions before on how fast the conversion of the print publication to an online-only publication might take place. While the technology is here today and papers such as the Eastern Connecticut State University Campus Lantern has made the leap.

The problem is that while young audiences, such as college students, spend a lot of time onlne, it it hard to attract them to our online editions. And I say this knowing were just a few subscribers away on the Cerritos College talonmarks.com site of matching the number of subscribers with the number of print copies of the Talon Marks that we distribute on campus. It is largely a different audience, however, and an unusual number of daily visitors to talonmarks.com come from the east coast of the United States, not the west coast, the territory we cover. With the print edition, we reach our own students who pick it up while wandering across campus and not sitting in front of a computer screen, even when the online edition contains practically all that is in the print edition and more.

What would Benajmin Day do to attract local readers to the college onlne publication?

Perhaps the answer is that he’d pay you a penny to read the online version. Okay, maybe not a penny. Maybe it’s points you can cash in for prizes, or frequent flyer miles. Today’s technology should be able to capture subscriber’s names who at least look at stories on the site and can tally points of statistics that add up to monthly or quarterly dividend checks. Sure it would cost money, but that cost could easily be offset with the advertising income that would follow when you show advertisers your site is being viewed.

I wouldn’t forget that popularization of content angle, though. A lot of that is being tried already.

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