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Web records wild interest in hurricane
San Francisco Chronicle

August 31, 2005

In the annals of news events, Hurricane Katrina ranked among the most popular for some Web sites and marked another step forward for a new generation of online reporting inspired by blogs and television.

Visitor traffic for, the online arm of the Weather Channel, was around 7 million Monday, the second highest in history for the Web site, the company said.

At, visitors downloaded more than 9 million video clips Monday, more than twice the previous full-day peak set during the recent London terrorist bombings. Overall, Monday was's 11th-busiest day ever in terms of user traffic.

"We have the ability to not only present the context and details of a story like this in text, but also give people the chance to see it, hear it and feel it," said Mitch Gelman, senior vice president, executive producer, "That's what makes online so compelling."

Many news Web sites incorporated amateur submissions into their coverage. While not new, the idea is increasingly popular among Web site executives as a way to get users involved and expand the amount of news available with limited staffs. featured a link to so-called citizen journalist content on its home page. Visitors could read firsthand accounts of the hurricane and view photographs submitted by amateurs.

On, a woman identified as Kathy Sellier of Channelview, Texas, wrote: "What do you say to a husband of 25 years when you see the fear, tears and heartache in the lines of his face? We haven't heard from his family, a brother, a sister, and more importantly, the one who gave him life, his mother, since 10:00 a.m. Monday, Aug. 29."

A New Orleans television station, WWL-TV, created a Katrina blog page authored by newspaper staff that gave updates every few minutes about what officials had to say and descriptions of the devastation.

A weather forum, divided into a dozen cities and parishes, offered visitors the opportunity to discuss conditions in their local area.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the city's major newspaper, was unable to publish a paper edition Tuesday because of the storm and was only available online. To speed up downloading of its pages, the newspaper reduced the graphics on its pages in favor of simple text.

Amateurs routinely post firsthand accounts of major news events on their personal Web sites. But this may be less the case for Katrina - at least by people who live in the most damaged areas - because of evacuations and electricity outages.

Nevertheless, many people expressed sympathy for residents of Louisiana and Mississippi from afar in their blogs. One, whose user name is Megynn, wrote: "The damage in Louisiana is horrible to look at. I'm not usually emotional about things I see on the news that are happening anywhere but right here (call it a side-effect of watching too much news) but this is truly sad."

Technorati, a San Francisco Web site that tracks news and blog feeds, made finding all entries about the hurricane easier by placing links on its home page to "Katrina" and other related terms.

Chris Redlitz, a vice president for a competing San Francisco Web site, Feedster, said hurricane-related terms were among the top five searches by users Monday and Tuesday.

"We've experienced this before with the tsunami and the London bombing," said Redlitz.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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