The Center for Innovation in College Media — a non-profit think-tank created to help college student media adapt and flourish in the new media environment and was folded into College Media Association, Inc. in 2010 — posted an interesting article on its blog Nov. 2.

The article was titled: “Abandoning print at a community college: an adviser’s progress report

In the article, the student paper at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minn., which is called the Lions’ Roar, dumped its print publication and went online only.

The Lions’ Roar adviser Mark Plenke wrote the post as he told everyone how the transition was going.

The Lions’ Roar had been publishing since the 1960’s, so Plenke said it wasn’t an easy decision. The staff decided it was the right thing to do, though, because they found “there just weren’t enough reporters, editors and photographers to do a consistently good job of putting out both a print newspaper and a website. They’d also noticed that the number of newspapers they were recycling was getting bigger despite a dynamic redesign and stepped up efforts at social-media marketing.”

Plenke said there were some complaints, but those didn’t come from the student body. They came from faculty.

Besides, knowing if it was the right decision is clear when you look at the numbers.

Plenke said, “The number of unique visitors to the site is triple what it was last May. The comparison I like the most: Lions’ Roar used to print 2,000 papers and close to half were recycled. In the first full month of school this fall, the website had 2,893 unique visitors and comparable numbers for October (2,821).”

Of course, Plenke said there were some issues with the switch. The main one that stood out was the students struggled to understand they needed to post news immediately since they were keeping a web-only presence alive instead of feeding a print edition.

But on the bright side, Plenke said the students are producing more slideshows and video stories, writers are using web-friendly forms such as lists, columnists are now bloggers and the students are thinking more visually since “it’s the best way to get a story promoted on the home page.”

Even better, “a few advertisers [. . .] have decided to go online with the paper.”

The piece of pure genius in this whole decision was “giving up the student fee money that would have been used for printing (about $7,500 a year) to secure a promise of weekly access to the database of student email accounts. The webmaster now sends a weekly update of what’s on the website to every student email box, and we publish the same hyperlinked mini-home page to an employee portal so staff has one-click access to the site.”

Brilliant!

The biggest worry for any news organization is not getting eyeballs onto the site, and if there’s no one looking at the site, then the advertisers will vanish. By securing the email list, the Lions’ Roar ensured they’d have readers, which will help advertising revenues flow in.

In a time when news organizations big and small are grappling with the conundrum of how to make more money online, the Lions’ Roar made a very savvy move. I’m willing to bet many news companies would love to have access to email accounts. It would be a great way to drive traffic to the website. Of course this may not work for non-educational news organizations because of privacy concerns, but the Lions’ Roar did a great job of leveraging their normal budget for the access. They should be applauded.

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