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ONLINE GLITCH: On Monday, the Huffington Post fully expected to blog every detail of Hurricane Sandy. Newspapers might have been saddled with delivery trucks unable to get through fallen trees and debris, but, online, Arianna Huffington’s gang could be read around the clock. Likewise, the people at Buzzfeed and Gawker could envision the millions of eyeballs that would page through their disaster photo galleries as their dead-tree counterparts failed to keep up with the latest hurricane updates. Datagram, home to all their servers, had already tested its emergency systems in Battery Park on Monday, and they were ready to take on Frankenstorm.
But within hours of Sandy’s shellacking of Manhattan, Datagram’s basement was “completely filled with water and a few feet into the lobby,” according to a post on its Web site. On Tuesday morning, HuffPo and Gawker were all dark; Buzzfeed was out for six hours after the hurricane made landfall.
So where did they all go? To Tumblr!
In Sandy’s immediate aftermath, the online receptacle of myriad cat GIFs and other digital ephemera became online news media’s main evacuation center. Buzzfeed, Capital New York and all of Gawker Media’s blogs took to the microblogging platform. As for the newspapers’ Web sites — they kept operating just fine throughout Sandy.
The Tumblr analogues were bare-bones versions of the regular sites — there were lots of user-submitted videos and images of Manhattan in the dark; it seemed as though everyone had GIFs of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sign-language interpreter. They were in use for less than six hours each, but they allowed the hyper-competitive sites to be in front of their readers and disseminate their stories quickly.
While it was working to restore the home page, The Huffington Post created a site on Blogsmith, AOL’s blogging platform, for all its breaking news. Ryan Grim, HuffPo’s Washington bureau chief, said engineers were working to build something similar for its election page, but it became clear that Tumblr would be faster to use.
The page existed already — they just hadn’t used it for hard news. And they didn’t have to alter their normal editing protocol: Reporters filed to their editors, who then passed along stories to HuffPo’s social media editor, Ethan Klapper, to post on Tumblr.
“It’s extremely user-friendly and shareable,” Grim said.
With the election a week away, it was extra important for HuffPo to be online immediately with political news.
“Reporters only care about being part of the conversation and getting the news out there,” Grim said. “We couldn’t afford to let a few hours slip by.”
With all the news sites on Tumblr, the microblogging site presumably had a blockbuster couple of days. A spokeswoman said, “We’re delighted we’re able to provide the tools to help our community,” but she did not to share exact traffic figures by deadline.
Newspapers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal anticipated delivery problems to continue to areas closed off by hurricane damage. But, alternatively, both papers took down paywalls to their Web sites. The Times will remain free until at least Friday, a spokeswoman said, while the Journal had not decided how to proceed beyond Wednesday night.