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)
It seemed appropriate — what with getting all these awards during the last few days — that this is the week I hit another landmark. On November 9th, I passed 20,000 hits and today, exactly 3 weeks later, I hit
From February 2012, through the end of September, I gathered 10,000 hits. It took me a slightly more than a month to get the next 10,000. On November 9, I was at 20, 783.
At 11:38 pm — right now — I am at 30,044, which is just about 10,000 hits in three crammed weeks.
When there’s a lot of stuff going on, people come looking for more than information. We all want explanations, validation, confirmation that what we believe is right or what we disbelieve is wrong. Those of us who put ourselves out there gain a certain amount of popularity, maybe notoriety or at least a degree of attention in return for fending off a lot of flak for having expressed opinions with which others do not agree. I try to back my opinion with facts, at least as far as I am can establish whatever facts exist. In the end though, facts are slippery as eels, subject to innumerable interpretations. Statistics are easily twisted to support virtually any position. Numbers are neutral, but what we do with them is not.
November 2012 was a newscaster and blogger’s dream. The richness of the available subject matter for a writer was unlimited. It gave me a lot of room to stretch my writer’s wings, to try writing about things that would normally not fall in my purview.
The dreams of writers and reporters inevitably are built on events that are someone else’s nightmare. Sometime since the advent of electronic media has come to dominate the news industry, news no longer means information about current events … what’s happening. It used to be that news might be good or bad. News was merely “new.” It was the newness that counted, not any predetermined content.
It’s different now. Today, all news is bad news. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the unofficial motto of newsrooms around the nation and probably the globe. Violence and death draws an audience. If a story has a happy ending, it’s likely relegated to feature status or considered “not newsworthy” and thus completely ignored.
Lacking fresh disasters, the next hot ticket in the news biz are scandals, financial crises, sports, weather, and anything happening to a celebrity. These days, we have celebrities who are famous for being famous. They’ve never done anything noteworthy. They don’t act, sing, play an instrument or invent things. They aren’t politicians or scientists. They are nobodies. I hope I am never desperate enough to write about any of them. Since I have pretty much no idea of who is currently famous, I’m unlikely to write about them. Most of the time, guests on talk shows are strangers to me. I can’t tell one from another. Neither can my husband. If you are looking for the latest gossip, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere. I have neither information nor opinions on the subject.
I plead guilty to enjoying lively discussion and controversy, though I require civility however much we disagree. I figure we should be able maintain the same level of manners in public disputation that we would demand of a 5-year-old. That has turned out to be an unreasonably high expectation when issues of national importance were under discussion. No kindergarten teacher would allow such appalling behavior from her charges, but we not only tolerate, but actually encourage worse behavior from public figures.
As angry as I have been about policies and issues, I have been far more upset by the bad behavior of public figures, many with advanced degrees slinging mud, calling names, and clearly trying to incite violence. There ought to be limits, there ought to be a level below which we will not sink. Watching “Lincoln” yesterday reminded me how uncivil our public behavior has been over the years. The difference between then and now is the presence of electronic media that allows everyone to immediately see — in real-time — how ill-mannered we really are. It used to be a dirty little secret; now it’s an international embarrassment.
The sheer energy generated by so many major events occurring at the same time helped me gain an audience at a faster rate than I could have done had there not been so many important events occurring. There was Sandy, the giant storm. A storms is inherently uncivil. Storms have an excuse. They have no brain cells, just mighty wind, rain or snow … so a storm has an excuse for mindlessness, but what excuse can there be for people like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck? Perhaps they too lack brain cells. But more likely, they simply like a conscience and the level of manners required of a pre-schooler.
I get a reasonable number of regular visitors these days. I’m not exactly viral but I have an acceptable following. The number of visitors rises and falls according to some invisible tide over which I have nominal control . When Serendipity’s visitor count first popped up from 70 or 80 on a good day to over a thousand, I figured it was a fluke and would fizzle. As I expected, the visitor count has leveled off, but apparently people who initially dropped by for a particular post continued to return for other things. I am more inclined to trust the new, steadier numbers I get now than the wild up and downs surges of early and mid November.
It’s harder to find relevant, exciting content when there are no super exciting events in progress, but I try to stay relevant, try to find interesting subjects. Maybe make a few people laugh or at least smile. I like offering historical background for whatever is going on, the rest of the story we didn’t get in elementary school. Understanding the world is easier if you have the perspective of history. Context counts.
Thanks for reading, thanks for being my friends and making me feel that I’m still a real live part of the living world. Let’s all hope that this year is going to be a better one than last year. Maybe less full of news, but more full of joy!
By the time we got to Walmart, there wasn’t any bottled drinking water left except for the expensive stuff that always tastes to me like polluted water. Yuk. So we bought one large trash can (plastic, with wheels, Rubber Maid), some instant coffee because if we are without power and without coffee, life will be Hell. We easily got the stuff we needed to make a lot of chili. We bought candles and long matches. It isn’t everything we need, but it still costs $60. We were going to stop at Hannaford on the way back, but the trash can was in the back seat because it wouldn’t fit in the trunk, so it seemed sensible to go home. I doubt Hannaford has any water left to buy either. We’ll give it a shot tomorrow morning and see if they’ve restocked, but I’m not optimistic. We should have started dealing with this sooner.
We had our first power blip at 6:30 PM, Saturday, October 27th. Governor Patrick declared a state of emergency a few hours earlier for Massachusetts, beginning tomorrow afternoon. That’s when Sandy is supposed to make landfall in New Jersey. Normally, we wouldn’t be much affected by a storm that far away, but this is one hell of a storm, a super storm. The news just keeps coming and none of it is good.
Sandy’s has been upgraded to hurricane status. Again. The water in the north Atlantic isn’t as cold as it ought to be. That cold north Atlantic water is what keeps us safe from most hurricanes. As the storms start to move across the colder water, they lose momentum and power. Most often, they veer out to sea or fizzle. Not this time. With warmer water to feed her (what about that global warming, eh?) and two other weather fronts on track to help ramp her up, Sandy is about to become a storm of a strength and magnitude for which we have no name. In honor of the season, she’s been dubbed “Frankenstorm.” Appropriate for Halloween.
I’m having trouble believing this is happening. I know it is happening. But it’s surreal. We don’t get storms like this around here, at least not in my lifetime. There were some big ones before I was born and there was one in the 1950s when I was too young to really remember, but mostly, by the time hurricanes get to this latitude they are just huge rain storms. We get blizzards, sometimes really bad ones.
The blizzard of 1978 was a killer. It came on so fast that thousands of people were trapped in their cars and some died. There have been a few big hurricanes. There was one in 1938 that was really bad, especially on the Cape and the Islands. But nothing noteworthy in recent years. There was “the perfect storm‘ in 1991 but that stayed out at sea. Sandy is bigger than any of those historically major storms and she’s coming ashore.
Looking at a live weather feed, the mass of this storm is astonishing. It’s the size of a continent. We should have gone and gotten the water yesterday and even that was probably too late. We should have taken stuff inside, put stuff away, laid in food supplies that don’t require refrigeration, but I was somehow sure it wasn’t really going to hit.
This is not hype, but we have been subjected to so much hyperbole about weather that we assumed it was another case of TV meteorologists making a big deal out of nothing. They had cried wolf too often. We have grown so accustomed to wildly exaggerated descriptions of impending weather that we ignored this real threat until today, leaving us vulnerable and barely prepared. There’s not a lot more we can do. We’ll fill up the barrels so we have some water and if we get a lot of rain, it will refill the barrels. If trees don’t fall down and power stays on, we will be fine. If not? Que sera sera.
- Hurricane Sandy: the factors that could turn it into a ‘super storm’ (guardian.co.uk)
- NYTimes: Urgent Warnings as Sandy Strengthens – Hurricane-Flood-Blizzard could stay over region for days – Feds with satellite phones stationed at nuclear plants (MAPS) (enenews.com)
- ’91 perfect storm skipper leery of Hurricane Sandy (ktvb.com)
- Sandy Update: Track Guidance Narrows as Storm Increases in Size (timesunion.com)
- ‘Superstorm’ Scenario Puts Millions from North Carolina to Maine on Alert (fox40.com)
- Hurricane Sandy Grows To Largest Atlantic Tropical Storm Ever (boston.cbslocal.com)