In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, traffic to U.S. news sites has been staggering. In the month of March, the TownNews network — made up of more than 2,000 newspaper, TV, radio and web-native news organizations — delivered more than one billion pageviews, a 51% increase over the prior 31-day period. During the same period, overall user sessions were up 59%, to more than 606 million, while first-time visitors rose 55%.
Those figures only include traffic from actual human site visitors. When all traffic, including search engine crawlers, news feed requests, web bots, etc., is accounted for, the TownNews network served an astonishing 4.6 billion pageviews in March, a new record for the company.
According to Chris Murley, director of product and infrastructure, TownNews understands the importance of making sure its customers' sites are available, regardless of global events.
"Since the coronavirus hit, we've seen, on average, a 100% increase daily in concurrent user connections, but our platform is built with scalability in mind," Murley said. "We know that major news events will happen, and when they do, nothing is more important than delivering on that promise so our local media partners can succeed.
"We also saw traffic from Facebook's news feed skyrocket to record highs, at one point reaching tens of thousands of requests per minute. I think that's a direct side effect of the U.S. workforce working from home."
In response to the pandemic, TownNews has fast-tracked a number of initiatives to help its customers generate revenue as locally-sold advertising income fades, including:
All of the new initiatives, especially the Support Local Journalism package, have been well-received by TownNews' customers.
"Thanks to TownNews, we were able to quickly activate and market a premium subscription option and a voluntary contribution option," said Steve Stewart, vice president at Boone Newspapers. "Revenue is already flowing via both options and will be critical going forward as we continue to keep our community informed."
"The donation program has exceeded my expectations. We started receiving donations almost as soon as TownNews notified me that the program had been set up," said Jesús Sanchez, publisher of The Eastsider, an independent neighborhood news blog based in Los Angeles. "We received about $1,000 in the first two days, which is a lot for us and comes as our banner ad and sponsored post sales have come to a virtual standstill."
Brad Ward, CEO of TownNews, says that the company fills a vital role in the local media space.
"It's critical that we enable our customers to survive this downturn, thrive on the other side, and continue doing the crucial work of safeguarding our democracy," Ward said. "Newspapers and broadcasters are both facing massive advertising losses, especially from local small businesses. It's really like nothing we've ever seen.
"I'm very appreciative of the way our team has stepped up to help our customers, and the journalism industry as a whole, weather this crisis."