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TALLYING IT UP: On the Internet, it’s been said, a rising tide lifts all ships. In May, a perfect storm of Internet-ready news — the killing of Osama bin Laden, with a dog angle, followed by a panoply of video and slideshow-ready natural disasters stories — drove many news sites to record-high traffic numbers. Slate (15.8 million unique visitors), The Atlantic (10 million), Foreign Policy (2.9 million), The Week (1.86 million) and The New Yorker (3.7 million) all recorded their best month ever in May 2011, according to their internal Omniture stats.
“Ever since January and the Arab revolutions, we’ve just seen in general a big surge in traffic,” said Foreign Policy editor Susan Glasser. “And obviously the bin Laden raid at the beginning of the month is clearly what buoyed this.” She said that the magazine’s biggest traffic-driver was a slideshow of war dogs, pegged to news that a Belgian Malinois accompanied the Navy SEALs on their raid of bin Laden’s compound. “That photo essay just went completely viral on the Internet,” Glasser said. “It’s had something like 8.2 million page views which is more than all of our site received a year ago in May.”
Contrarian Slate found its own way to marry animals and the news. “The most successful thing we did was ‘The Cats of War,’” said Slate editor David Plotz. “It was a slideshow, a parody. We just imagined the super secret cat operation that the Pentagon and the CIA has and did these great photographs. That was 4 million page views.” Plotz also noted that, in addition to the bin Laden news breaking on the first of the month, the calendar helped push the sites to record numbers. “May had a lot of weekdays in it,” he said.
Bob Cohn, editorial director of Atlantic digital, attributed his site’s record in part, not to creativity with animal angles, but to a strategy built around volume. “From 11 p.m. on Sunday to 11 p.m. on Monday we posted 86 stories to The Atlantic and 30 stories to The Atlantic Wire on bin Laden and a couple of those stories went viral,” he said.
Steven Kotok, president of The Week, said that the bin Laden news had very little to do with the record month for his team. The Week, he reiterated, is in the business of “intelligent opinion curation." "We want to stay out of breaking news and stay out of original reporting,” he said.
— ZEKE TURNER