The Baltimore Sun sets traffic record with Freddie Gray coverage
The Baltimore Sun on Monday broke its record for daily pageviews, more than doubling its previous high mark, said Matthew Bracken, director of audience engagement and development for the newspaper. Other prominent stories, such as the Ray Rice scandal, have emerged from the city in recent years, but they haven't generated the same intense audience interest that Freddie Gray coverage has.
"In terms of the resources we’ve been devoting to it and the fact that this is a true national story — I guess it’s no surprise when you take that all into account," Bracken said.
The record numbers can be attributed in part to the paper's all-in strategy on the Freddie Gray story. The Sun has adopted a "flood the zone" approach to coverage, feeding the appetite for information by throwing its resources at every aspect of the story.
Each section of the newspaper has pitched in. The sports section chronicled the uncertainty that followed a postponed Baltimore Orioles game; the features staff has interviewed prominent Baltimore residents on the subject of Freddie Gray and the opinion section has weighed in on the story, condemning the violence committed in his name.
"This is really an event that has sort of galvanized the entire newsroom," Bracken said.
Although he declined to provide specific traffic numbers, he pointed out several prominent stories that were eclipsed by the paper's coverage of what's happening in Baltimore, including Ray Rice knocking his then-girlfriend out on an elevator and the Ravens' 2013 Super Bowl win. The paper's decision to lower its paywall, a step it took before with its 2014 winter storm coverage, also contributed to the swelling traffic numbers.
As in other recent cases of deaths associated with police brutality, the Freddie Gray story has seen a groundswell of attention on social media, with protesters, rioters and others rallying around hashtags like "#BaltimoreRiots," and "#Baltimore." Although the newsroom has kept a close eye on Twitter activity surrounding the upheaval, staffers have been careful not to share unverified information from the Sun's social media accounts without checking them out first. The paper has adopted a shoe-leather approach to verification, dispatching reporters to investigate murky claims on social media.
"Our reporters are on the ground, our photographers are on the ground, and we’re relying on them for constant information," Bracken said.
The paper has turned to social media, its website and its mobile app to help cover the story. On the app, staffers have refrained from spamming readers with push notifications, reserving them for important breaking news. The staff also created a separate section on the app that curates its coverage around the Freddie Gray story. And The Sun's liveblog, which collects reporter tweets and other tidbits of Sun reporting, has consistently been among the most popular feature with readers, Bracken said.
Although the story is among the largest that Baltimore has seen in some time, the paper's approach to covering it rests on the same journalistic principles that it brings to other articles, Bracken said.
"I think we’ve been treating this as we would any other breaking news story in Baltimore," he said.