AOL-owned Patch, which operates roughly 860 sites across the
country but has high penetrations in New Jersey, New York and
Connecticut, reported its highest-ever traffic day Monday -- page
views were up 88% from the previous highest day. The Daily Voice, a
competing network with 53 sites in New York, Connecticut and
Massachusetts, said traffic Monday was two times higher than
normal. Sheepshead Bites, a four-year-old independent site covering
the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, also reported its
highest-ever traffic day Monday on its Facebook page. And eight-year-old
independent Baristanet, which covers Montclair, Bloomfield and Glen
Ridge, N.J., reported traffic Tuesday was on course to be three
times higher than the average 8,000 to 9,000 daily visits,
notwithstanding the fact that much of Montclair is without
"We're getting emails, we're getting tweets, we're getting
Facebook and we're getting traffic, so we've got to think people
are using their phones," said Baristanet Editor Liz George.
The struggles of Patch and other hyperlocal news organizations
to tap enough ad revenue to cover the costs of staffing sites with
local reporters and editors to write about planning board and
school board meetings have been well documented. AOL CEO Tim
Armstrong said in July that he expects Patch to book $40 million to
$50 million in revenue this year, but that 90% of revenue still
comes from local ad deals as opposed to national advertisers.
(Patch reportedly lost more than $100 million in
2011.) But major weather events may represent a case where
their product is both unique and indispensable. (Disclosure: This
reporter worked at Patch from 2008 to 2010.)
"Local is the most important information to consumers. At no time
is that more apparent than in local natural disasters," said Patch
CEO Jon Brod, who noted that traffic to sites in regions affected
by Hurricane Irene last August was up 530% over the eight-day
stretch that included the lead up to the storm and its aftermath.
"From a traffic and brand building perspective, there's nothing
Monday was also Patch's highest search-entry day in its history,
Mr. Brod said, with Google queries such as "How long will food last
in the fridge if you lose power?" calling up Patch sites. Patch
posts with that exact SEO-friendly headline dominate search results
for the query, with a story from the Medfield, Mass. site in first
And though increased traffic "equals an increased revenue
opportunity," Mr. Brod said, Patch isn't courting the categories of
advertisers who might be looking to market to people who are
weathering a storm. While the Patch sales team had inbound calls
from insurance companies, big-box retailers and grocery brands in
the wake of Hurricane Irene last year, they haven't actively
pursued those categories, he said.
But whether traffic spikes deriving from house-bound residents
obsessively searching for the latest localized weather information
translate into long-term traffic gains is another question.
"We had this big spike [during Hurricane Irene.] Then we saw
traffic drop after the spike, and the new baseline was higher," Mr.
ComScore numbers bear out the existence of a Hurricane Irene
spike, with Patch sites (including those in unaffected states)
seeing 10.6 million visitors in August 2011, up from 8.8 million in
July 2011. The number of unique visitors then stayed relatively
flat over the next several months, though it's impossible to
attribute that to any discrete cause, given that the average Patch
site in January of this year was a little over a year old. The
sites had 11.9 million visitors this September, according to
Though the brand lift afforded to a news site for providing
timely and locally relevant storm information is still substantial,
it may be diminished now that users can see local content on a
multitude of platforms and don't have to go directly to a site.
Baristanet's founder and former editor Debbie Galant recalls that
covering a tornado-like weather event called a "microburst" in 2006
was a seminal moment for the site in terms of the notice and
credibility it gained in Montclair and neighboring communities, but
getting attention isn't as easy these days.
"Six years ago, a site like Baristanet was the only place you
could go to see pictures of storms in progress," she said. "Now
you've got Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and aggregating platforms
like CoveritLive, Scribblelive and Storify. The whole flow of media
surrounding big events is faster -- a torrent, if you will -- and
people are practically drowning in the coverage. So there goes the
advantage of being the sole purveyor."