Wick Communications

A whale of a news story

In Online media on 22 May 2014 at 3:03 pm

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A popular image may or may not translate into clicks. I know that runs contrary to popular wisdom about our image-obsessed camera-phone culture, but let me explain with an example.

On Wednesday night, Half Moon Bay Review Publisher Bill Murray posted a provided photo of a dead animal on the newspaper’s website. By the time the photo was posted, the carcass was already the talk of the town.

It’s a photo of a dead juvenile humpback whale that washed ashore and then continued to bob in the water within sight of the coastline. It attracted a television satellite truck from San Francisco. Drivers were pulling to the side of the road and walking toward the growing stench like those people who first saw the flying saucers in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The photo got a lot of traction across the newspaper’s social media. It was retweeted 11 times after the Review’s initial tweet. Twitter Analytics reports the image had twice our normal reach. By midmorning on Thursday, more than 4,000 people had seen two photos we posted on Facebook.

And yet, on our website, the image was not exactly racking up clicks. We showed nine clicks on the photo itself in about 12 hours, as opposed to 96 for a story about lobbying in Sacramento over local beach access. …

So what’s the takeaway?

People do love photos of anomalies. No question, people wanted to see the whale. But then what? The obvious answer is that the Review needed a story on the whale – how it died, what authorities were doing with the carcass, how far the stink reached, etc. We needed to give readers a reason to come back. (And we did, with what little we could ascertain the next day.)

We also needed to stay on our mission. As a weekly newspaper, we know that today’s news can smell as bad as that whale by the end of the week, much less by next Wednesday. It’s likely the whale will be a distant memory by the time the next print edition comes out. We can’t become so focused on chasing clicks today that we forget to plan a good centerpiece, enlightening coverage of upcoming elections, etc., etc.

A little experience leads me to believe the dead whale story will not have legs. (Sorry.) Get the photos, try to satiate the interest, but stay focused when breaking news feels like it will be here today and gone tomorrow..


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