It wasn’t quite the Red Sox winning the World Series, but The Boston Globe saw huge traffic yesterday as it covered the death of Ted Kennedy — a sign that local news sites can still dominate national stories on their turf.
The Globe, which had spent years preparing for Kennedy’s death, had more than 8 million page views as of 5 p.m. yesterday, when I spoke to Bennie DiNardo, deputy managing editor for multimedia. Part of the Globe’s coverage included a seven-part biographical series — with lengthy articles, videos, and other material — that first ran in February and was later published as a book. Recent disagreement over the appeal of long-form journalism on the web made me wonder: How were people consuming the Globe’s Kennedy series?
David Beard, editor of Boston.com, said the package received more than 2.5 million page views in February and likely led to a bump in time spent on the site that month. There was some “lingering traffic” after the series ran, in part because it ranks on the first page of a Google search for Ted Kennedy. Though he didn’t have numbers to share, DiNardo said, “What we saw online the first time it went through was that people were heavily consuming the video.” (Much of the text was removed from the package for several months as part of an agreement with the book publisher, Simon & Schuster, which didn’t want free competition. All of the content is back up now, even as another press run of the book is prepared.) Boston.com has been promoting the series on its front page since news of Kennedy’s death broke early yesterday morning.
There’s not enough evidence to make a sweeping conclusion, but some of the data suggests that video is the better entry point for long-form content. Certainly, the Globe designed its Kennedy package to give the videos more prominence than the articles. “This was the first time we tried to really produce documentary-quality video,” DiNardo told me. He said finding and making arrangements to use archival footage was particularly difficult: “It was just a whole world that us newspaper folks aren’t used to.”
Yesterday the Globe uploaded those and other videos to its YouTube channel, hoping to gain audience as people searched for Kennedy clips. That’s certainly the first thing I did yesterday after waking up to the sad news. Most of the Globe’s videos have just a few hundred views, but their investigation of Chappaquiddick, naturally, has already garnered more than 13,000. Searches for Chappaquiddick dominated Google yesterday.