Philipp Lenssen recently asked some bloggers what their most popular post was:
I asked several bloggers about their most popular, or one of their most popular, blog posts — the kind that made an impact on people, had skyrocketing traffic numbers, or triggered a meme or changes.
I was asked to answer the question, but didn’t get my response in on time. Here’s what I would have answered. In terms of pure traffic, it wasn’t the biggest, but my 9/11 post and the resulting 2-3 weeks of posts subsequent to that probably had the biggest relative impact on the site. My traffic immediately doubled and didn’t go back down after things settled down a little. You might say that those two weeks made kottke.org, just like they gave birth to the war/political blogs. That day opened a lot of bloggers’ eyes to the cynical truth that the traditional news media already knew: other people’s tragedy and pain sells.
I don’t regret covering 9/11 the way that I did because it came from the heart and I got so much email from people, even weeks and months afterward, who genuinely appreciated my small contribution. But following 9/11, I’ve been increasingly wary of covering similar situations in the same way because, knowing that cynical truth, a part of me would be doing it for selfish reasons: writing for hits, attention, and glory. I posted a few things early on about the Indonesian tsunami and the London Tube bombings, and hardly anything about Katrina (I took a week off instead, writing about anything else during that time seemed trivial and ridiculous). In some ways, 9/11 was the defining editorial moment for kottke.org. After that experience, I took more care in why I was writing about certain topics and when the answer was “to get attention” or “because it’s a hot issue” or “if I piss off [big blogger], he’ll link back to me in rebuttal and boost traffic” or “if I kiss [big blogger’s] ass, he’ll link to me” or “I need to cover this issue for kottke.org to remain relevant in the global news conversat-blah-blah-blah”, I usually take a pass. That editorial stance has probably cost kottke.org a lot of traffic over the years, but that’s a trade-off I’m completely comfortable with.