If you’ve ever worked as a reporter — or any kind of researcher — the instinct to follow a story persists. Sometimes, it pays off. For me, the turning point of this blog was when I got thousands of hits on a reblog about hurricane Sandy in November 2012.
November 2012 was something of a super month for bloggers. Between the presidential election and Hurricane Sandy, activity on the Internet was much greater than usual. Even people who were normally not especially interested were hopping online to follow current stories.
The thing was, the article that started bringing in all those hits was a reblog, or more accurately, a scoop. Anyone could have as easily read the same article on its original site. I was not at the top of a Google search. I tried using the phrase everyone else was using and Serendipity didn’t come up. At all. So people were seeking me out. Rather than reading the original article, they came to my site. Even giving me a point or two for attractive presentation, there were more than enough stories on the same subject all over the Internet. I’m not being modest. I wanted to know: why me?
I decided to analyze what I did better or differently than others. I looked at the total content for days when my numbers were very high. I realized all involved current events that were unusually high-profile. My best days involved Hurricane Sandy (November 2012), the blizzard Nemo (February 2013) and the days leading up to and immediately following the storms. Also the beginning of the new television season, the Oscars (before, after and during) and (of course) the election. And sadly, the bombing at the Boston Marathon (April 2013). Plus every time they play the première episode of Criminal Minds.
When major events occur, I write about them. Not one story, but a series of posts. I start with an article that covers the main story, then add to it. If the initial story was reblogged — often the case — I add graphics and photographs. I add commentary and analysis. My additions are typically longer and more detailed than the original. I don’t alter the original author’s text and I always give credit, but I build on it.
In this case, the original post was a reblogged (using ScoopIt) standalone post. Using it as a jumping off point, I followed a trail. I gathered pictures, stories about hurricanes and other storms. I wrote about them from my perspective, if I remembered them. Then, I asked Garry — my personal treasure trove of first-hand experiences — to talk about his experiences during the Blizzard of 1978 and other storms.
I roamed the web to see what was happening in various places being hit by the storm. Although I focused on Sandy and it’s impact on Coney Island, I discovered many other places along the coast which were equally affected. I posted what news I could gather about these areas.
I kept gathering and adding information, especially photographs, historical background and apocryphal stories. I just did what I always do when something interests me. I get into “bloodhound mode” and I followed the scent. The circles kept getting wider and including more locations, more events.
I eventually included stories not directly related to Sandy but which were thematically related. Other monster storms have paralyzed the Atlantic coast, some relatively recently. I love history so it was fun digging up historical information. Research can keep me glued to the computer for very long stretches. It’s how I learn.
I googled “hurricanes past 100 years East Coast” and could have filled an encyclopedia with the results. Research became stories. I hunted down historical photographs. I remembered stories I heard from relatives and friends about storms. My husband covered every storm to hit New England for more than 30 years, so he is a nearly bottomless repository of great first person experience.
I ultimately produced a series of stories over almost a week. News, mood and background stories, data, photographs. I stitched them together. Each post was separate, but they formed a continuity. One thing led to another. When I thought about this storm, I remembered other storms, wrote about the storm that hit on my birthday in 1888 … and I offered facts, stories, and historical background, sidebars, and photographs.
The combination worked. Folks came to read one story and stayed to read many more. Some of them signed on as followers. It turned out that I didn’t have such a huge volume of visitors, but everyone who did visit stayed and read as many as five or six stories. A lot of hits.
Since then, I have more visitors on a regular basis and most of them read at least two or more stories. It’s not complicated:
- Be current. Don’t ignore major events. You don’t even have to write the stories yourself. Which brings me to the next point.
- If you don’t like WordPress’s reblog format, try ScoopIt. It seems a waste of time to write an essentially identical story when someone else has already done a great job writing it. Being relevant doesn’t mean you have to write it, but at least include it by reference.
- When something signficant or interesting is going on in our world whether it’s a national election, a hurricane, tsunami, the new television season or the upcoming Oscars, pay attention. You don’t have to write about just that subject, but maybe you shouldn’t completely ignore it either.
- It’s fine to march to the beat of your own drum, but it’s good to also pay attention to what the rest of the band is playing. If you march alone most of the time, occasionally it’s not a bad idea to join the chorus … or sing counterpoint.
- If you can’t be relevant because there are no big stories, be entertaining. Use those lemons to make delicious lemonade.
- Include lots of photographs.
Ivory towers can lonely. If you want company, you need to associate with the rest of the world and pay at least some attention to what interests them. If you write entirely for yourself, it’s a diary, not a blog.
- Fascinating, Flooding, Ferocious, Fierce Freak Storms: Summer Hazard Series Spotlight on Hurricanes (rem4ed.wordpress.com)
- Atlantic Hurricane Season May Spark to Life Next Week (bloomberg.com)
- In Photos: Ancient Maya Carvings Exposed in Guatemala (namelessmag.jasunni.com)
- Hurricane Sandy Was 1-in-700-Year Event (armageddononline.org)
- The storm in pictures: Art galleries display photos from Sandy (nj.com)
- The “Hurricane Sandy Babies” Are Arriving in Bulk (complex.com)