RYAN C. TUCK: Old News Media Learning New Tricks
Take the Mel Gibson DUI, for example.
The celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com had the exclusive on this story, still being passed around the Web and airwaves with as much interest as anything going on in the Middle East.
And this isn't just a Mr. "Lethal Weapon" thing. Remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal? While major news organizations sat on the story, Matthew Drudge inserted his self-named Web site into popular culture by releasing the story first. The Drudge Report now, like it or not, is one of the most trafficked sites for news on the Web.
Regardless of their success, many traditional journalists continue to scoff at these types of sites. Also a concern for consumers, the credibility of many of these gossip- and oddity-based sites is a hot conversation piece for tentative watchdog journalists, some of whom have seen their ratings and subscription numbers decline as these alternative sources have gained popularity.
But the TMZs and Drudge Reports, not to mention the arsenal of home bloggers who chip away at newspaper circulations while challenging traditional media head-on in breaking news, should not be feared. There is a lesson to be learned in the success of these Web sites.
The Pilot understands this. I and others have been charged with figuring out exactly what lesson that is. The chance to harness the Web's energy and fuse it with community journalism is the reason I signed on here.
People want news. People want to interact with their news. And they want it at all times.
Last month, ThePilot.com saw a record spike in traffic -- so much, in fact, that our servers were literally overloaded and much of the site was inoperable for the better part of a day. The cause of the overflow was pretty easy to find: a little link which the Drudge Report insensitively labeled "Astronaut Kills Himself."
The tragic story of Charles Brady, one of Moore County's favorite sons, brought more than 390,000 unique visitors to The Pilot's Web site in one day -- most of them from the Drudge Report link.
This was a sensitive story on a topic that doesn't always make it into the newspaper. The decision to run the story was weighed heavily by the newspaper's staff and literally kept Editor Steve Bouser up nights. The Pilot also had the exclusive on the story. We were the site everyone turned to for this unfortunate headline.
Many of the visitors that flooded our servers read the story and then moved on down the Drudge Report list. These were not faithful readers who stay on ThePilot.com for hours and come back for updates throughout the day. These were Internet surfers -- the "savvy" who have truly seized the Net's potential for making the world, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman predicted, truly flat.
These are not the people we work long nights for. These are not the people whose constant feedback grounds us and makes for community journalism of the highest quality. These are not, in other words, the people for whom we put out our product.
There was a time, at the height of the server ambush, that we considered breaking the link from the Drudge Report to this story. Faithful readers were seeing slow Web service -- and for what? For lazy clickers whose interest was piqued by Drudge's sensationalist headline.
I e-mailed Drudge about the headline and asked him to reroute people to a version of the story we had set up on a separate server. While he probably basked in the headline that brought his site so much traffic, The Pilot's staff worked all day trying to restore our service to our readers. We were pulling all the tricks we had up our sleeves to keep our site there for you.
And that's why I'm loving it down here. While other more traditional newspapers have stumbled over what to do with this Internet culture, The Pilot has jumped right in. I've basically been given free direction to make our Web site more the type of destination for the modern consumer. I think it just means diversifying our operations a little.
We'll have podcasts -- we have them now each Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday with the most recent headlines for the area. We'll have blogs -- they're in development and they'll be open for all of your commentary. We have up-to-the-minute headlines and are looking at RSS feeds.
While others fight these "less credible" mediums, we're plowing forward. We're bringing our brand of creative storytelling and accurate newsgathering and mixing in some modern technologies to see if we can't make ThePilot.com an even more comprehensive news site for this era.
As long as we keep our heads on a swivel, I know we'll continue to offer the best destination for Moore County's stories.
Ryan C. Tuck is The Pilot's Online News Coordinator. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story