When Mel Taylor saw Hurricane Sandy coming, he saw an opportunity to launch BrigantineNow.com, a website that aggregates news focused on covering the Jersey Shore community of Brigantine, which sits north of Atlantic City.
“I covered that horrible storm from a Dunkin’ Donuts and my house in Philadelphia. Nobody knew that. I just knew where I was getting those sources from. I was gathering it all together, and I was optimizing it, putting keywords in, optimizing photos, the videos, all that,” said Taylor, founder of Mel Taylor Media, at America East 2013, a recent gathering of newspaper technology and operations executives in Hershey, Pa.
Taylor started live-blogging on Oct. 27, the day Brigantine Island was shut down due to the hurricane, to provide key emergency information for residents such as weather updates, storm surge information, travel bans, and information from the governor’s office, and more. He also crowdsourced photos showing the devastation of the storm, and constantly posted updates on Facebook. He continues to follow relief efforts post-Hurricane Sandy, as well as other news in the region.
BrigantineNow.com saw website traffic surge to more than 50,000 pageviews per day, especially when Gov. Chris Christie and President Barack Obama visited, and local residents commented often on stories.
The site’s Facebook page also saw its number of likes grow from 275 to upwards of 2,000, and subscribers for the email newsletter increased from 275 to over 700.
Taylor launched the site using WordPress because he said allows publishers to control three things: cost, process and career – it takes minimal cost, the process is easy, and if a journalist is laid off, it’s easy to start his/her own site as a freelancer.
“If you have to worry about a vendor or somebody in the newsroom or somebody in the IT department telling you how to tell your business, you’re screwed,” Taylor said. “Do you allow a guy in the press room to tell you that you can only have color here or there?”
Taylor said he started out on GoDaddy and HostGator – shared servers — before he settled on the publishing tool that’s also used by The New York Times and CVS. He recommended that publishers keep their current content management systems, but try using WordPress to launch a niche site as a first step.
“I’m not against all those CMSs like TownNews. They’re all great, but they’re too expensive and too big and too clunky to really go to work to creating stuff online,” he said.
When Taylor launched BrigantineNow.com, he said, he tried using different plug-ins until he found exactly what he was looking for. His WordPress template utilizes responsive web design, which optimizes the layout of the site depending on what device is being used. He uses a self-serve platform for business listings and advertising. Taylor also uses RSS feeds, Twitter embeds, Google +, AWeber.com for email newsletters, and SlideDeck.com to create headlines and big story images.
Even after Sandy, BrigantineNow.com continues to post aggregated information from stories, information found around the Web, and information sent directly to Taylor.
A conference attendee asked Taylor how he verifies the information published on the website.
Taylor said he makes it clear on the site that the information is aggregated or was sent in, and that he’s not sure if what is posted is true.
“It was more of a blog,” he said of the project. “The rest of the radio and TV stations weren’t doing it. We never positioned BrigatineNow as a newspaper. It was more, no one else is doing it. I didn’t go to journalism school, but I know one thing – when we live by these rules, these rules of fact and this and that, the storm is over.”