Thirty years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I lived in an apartment on Haight Street in San Francisco. Five nights a week, I worked as a watchman at a downtown bank. There was not a lot of action at the bank overnight. In fact, I was the only person in the building. I read books and drank coffee until the sun rose over the Bay Bridge, then rode the bus home.
During the day, I wrote poems, worked on my novel, played guitar, and smoked pot. But after a year or so, ambition and boredom (and the fact that the novel sucked gas) propelled me back to the Midwest and into a career in the newspaper business — where I've been ever since.
But I never lost my love for San Francisco, and whenever I return, I marvel anew at the light, the hills, the fog, the smell of the sea. It's a heady mix of nostalgia and excitement.
Last week, I spent three days there at an alternative newspaper conference devoted to making our websites better, more useful, and, at some point, maybe even profitable. The web business is not terribly unlike the alternative newspaper model: You give your product away to consumers and sell ads to businesses wanting to reach those consumers.
Flyer advertisers know that we put out 55,000 papers each week and that at least 96 percent of them are picked up and presumably read. It's a business model that works.
Website commerce is trickier. There are many ways to measure traffic, and there are many ways to manipulate that traffic. You can juice your "hits" by just putting up an item on, say, Justin Timberlake. But the key to getting readers long-term is to be local and unique — to enhance and expand what you are in print, not to become something totally different.
We've been posting fresh items several times a day on memphisflyer.com for a couple of years. And we plan to expand on that soon. Memphians love their weekly Flyer, but we're moving more toward a "daily" mentality, at least on the Internet.
This week is a perfect example: Our "dead-tree" paper deadline is Tuesday — too early to deliver Super Tuesday results. But on Wednesday, our election coverage and analysis will be online. The future is now. I may have left my heart in San Francisco 30 years ago, but I didn't leave my brain.