I have several close family members in Mississippi and Louisiana who were greatly impacted by Hurricane Katrina; some, such as my twenty-something cousin who bought her home a few months prior, lost their homes. If you also consider my general interest in how new and social media are changing the old media landscape, you can understand my interest and excitement over the Times-Picayune’s winning of a Pulitzer, journalism’s highest honor, for its breaking-news coverage and public service during Hurricane Katrina.
As many Louisiana residents – or anyone even slightly interested in the devastation, even from afar – know, the Times-Picayune’s Nola.com rose to become THE news and information source, even when its printing presses were flooded. And just as important as reporting news, Nola.com became one of the most important rallying points for numerous residents, rescue and relief workers, and other stakeholders; it helped bring together the community and fostered recovery. It deserves a Pulitzer for that alone!
I wonder how many newspaper executives are taking this important cue and embracing the reality that their product is not a physical object manufactured out of dead trees. Rather, their product is reporting non-commoditized news (I know, that’s somewhat of an oxymoron) and serving as a steward of community discussion and interaction.
Last September – not too long after the great New Orleans flood – I was still an independent consultant, and Hitwise was one of my clients. I led a Web usage analysis around Nola.com, which I believe provided fascinating evidence of Nola.com’s local and national impact. Highlights:
Katrina Shuts Down New Orleans Times-Picayune Printing Presses, But Online Readership Booms
Among the destruction left in Hurricane Katrina’s wake were the printing presses of New Orleans’ daily newspaper, The Times-Picayune. Despite setbacks in the ability to physically print the news, the organization rallied behind its Web site, www.nola.com, to provide continuous, in-depth reporting of the disaster and host other critical information services. Traffic to Nola.com began skyrocketing on August 27, 2005 and peaked on Sept. 1, with its market share of total U.S. Internet visits up 1,133 percent versus the seven-day average before the escalation began.
Nola.com Becomes National News Site Overnight
Nola.com’s traffic increase occurred as the news site quickly transformed from one with a local and regional audience to one with a local, regional and national audience. While Internet users in the state of Louisiana represented 66.1 percent of visitors to Nola.com in the four weeks ending August 13, 2005, they represented only 23.9 percent of the total audience in the four weeks ending Sept. 10, 2005.
Missing Person’s Database’ Nola.com’s Top Downstream Site
Nola.com’s downstream visits suggest the utility of its informational links and databases to assist in disaster recovery. For example, the most popular site people visited after Nola.com was its Missing Person’s Database (people.nola.com), which received 5.1 percent of all downstream visits for the week ending September 10, 2005.
And full news release here.