By the time the clock struck midnight on Saturday, Noozhawk had racked up a total of 36,802 unique visitors to our site Friday. The figure demolished previous 24-hour records — including, ironically, the 17,000-plus unique visitors we had for the last tsunami, in 2010. (Unique visitors are measured according to their Internet connection’s unique IP addresses and are counted only once, no matter how many times they visit the site.)
It may be a morbid distinction, but we do tend to do disasters well. It’s in such emergency situations that readers most depend on the professional news media to provide clear, complete and accurate reporting. Perhaps that need awakens in us the ability to distill everything to the basics we learned years ago — who, what, when, where and why — and then punctuate it with the word GO! Or maybe it’s just a competitive desire to be first. However it’s triggered, Noozhawk readers have come to count on it — and us — over the last three years.
It was my turn to “watch the Internet” when news of Japan’s horrific 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami began racing across the globe late Thursday. Calling on skills that Larry Lovelace and the late Mark Hesse taught me a hundred years ago at The Houston Post (R.I.P.), I began sifting through news reports to put together a Breaking News story on an expected tsunami here.
I didn’t think much would happen, but there was that whole blue-line/global warming debacle a few years ago. And who hasn’t heard the yesteryear tale about a tidal wave reaching the site of what is now Santa Barbara High School’s Peabody Stadium?
In the old days, newspaper copy editors had no way of knowing what was coming across “the wires” and had to wait like baby birds for news services to feed us a worm or two. Score one for the Internet because those days are gone. Now, Web journalists have the power to go track down information we need from a variety of sources ... immediately. What’s more, public-safety agencies have begun to use the Web, e-mail and social media as simple and effective ways to convey urgent information. The better ones are doing it in real time.
As I wrote that first story, a few Twitter buddies were providing my own crowdsourcing. Thanks to @rubenorozco, @MichelBrewer, @JimSalvito, @SB_Entrepreneur, @MatthewtBurgess and @AsianStig, I was able to keep abreast of numerous sources and reports that would have taken me an hour to locate by myself.
Through the night, while the tsunami sped east at speeds approaching 600 mph, Noozhawk’s story was updated continuously. By 1 a.m., our site traffic had passed 4,000 unique visitors. Just as the surge reached Hawaii, we had topped 10,000.
In my day job, I try to run a news media company. Too old for all-nighters and deciding I’d better take a nap, I was glad to hand off the responsibility to the real journalists in our outfit: managing editor Michelle Nelson and reporters Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli. They took the story and ran with it.
Lara hit the Santa Barbara Harbor in time to catch the first waves shortly after 8 a.m. Giana called all over Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and sifted through emergency reports and responses. Michelle swiftly updated our coverage and tracked tsunami damage up and down the West Coast.
By 10 a.m., the Noozhawk site was beginning to groan under the pounding it was taking. Friends were texting me to report that Noozhawk was ranked first or second on Google, although I was in meetings and couldn’t see for myself. Our Web host, Nexcess, increased server capacity and the counter quickly spun over the 20,000 mark for unique visits.
We kept updating and our numbers kept climbing, to 30,000 by midafternoon. It wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that traffic began to ebb. By then, the greatest danger was gone, although the official tsunami advisory would remain in effect until Saturday morning.
It was a remarkable day, and there’s no denying the satisfaction at being recognized for a job well done. Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Japan, however, and I speak for all of the Noozhawks when I say we would gladly give it back to reverse the circumstances. But we don’t have that option, and we can only continue to do our best when called upon to cover the worst.