The idea that a natural disaster that results in more than one hundred deaths, amazing swaths of destruction in multiple countries and manages to leave New York City paralyzed for days afterwards – Not to mention, something that could have an effect on voter turnout for today’s US Presidential Election, thereby amplifying the “importance” of the storm in both domestic and international terms – could have a silver lining is a somewhat unusual one; it seems crass to say “Hey, that thing that paralyzed the East Coast, flooded New York and pretty much totalled New Jersey? Worked out pretty well for us” is something that doesn’t exactly have the most sensitive of things to say at the best of times, and certainly not just over a week after said storm made land in the US. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what AOL boss Tim Armstrong did today, talking about the way in which AOL crushed the opposition when it came to news coverage of last week’s Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy, and was rewarded for its performance with record amounts of traffic.
Armstrong was talking to investors and reporters on a conference call this morning, boasting that AOL’s collective coverage of the storm was handled “more extensively and comprehensively” than any other Internet news organization, adding that the Huffington Post managed to get 10 million unique views during the coverage despite being forced offline when its data center for a time on Monday evening was affected by Sandy (HuffPo will be moving its websites to AOL data centers as a result of that outage, Armstrong explained). As impressive as that may be, it was AOL’s local blog network Patch that truly benefited from the storm, hitting an all-new traffic high on the Tuesday immediately following Sandy making landfall in the US.
While all of this is undoubtedly good news for AOL, it’s worth pointing out that this all happened in extremely unusual circumstances – and I’m not directly referring to Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy. After all, it wasn’t just the Huffington Post that went dark when Sandy hit; both Buzzfeed and Gawker Media were also affected, with the former coming back quickly – albeit in limited format – and the Gawker sites entirely down until this past weekend, with URLs redirecting visitors to Tumblr replacements for each of the Gawker Media destinations for the best part of a week. Perhaps more importantly, there was so much coverage of the Gawker crash that it’s possible that many simply assumed that the sites were still dead and went to the closest equivalent, instead, giving AOL’s various properties a boost in numbers.
Whether or not the uptick in visitors is the result of superior coverage of breaking news or simply the lack of counter-programming is likely to be tested very soon. After all, if Patch and the other AOL sites have a similar reach amongst readers for tonight’s election, we’ll know that it’s an audience recognizing quality content. If it doesn’t… Well, maybe AOL should start looking into how to best quietly sabotage Gawker’s data centers on a regular basis.