Wedged between “15 Most Epic Selfies of 2015” and “I Love My Long Distance Marriage,” Cosmopolitan.com ran its own brand of live coverage of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Wednesday as the deadly event dominated cable news and social media. The Hearst fashion magazine was joined by other culture sites, suggesting that in the page view economy of new media, few publications can resist the traffic that’s on offer during dramatic breaking news events.
“This post will be updated,” a Cosmo article on the shooting read in the style of live blogs one might find at the Guardian or the New York Times. Cosmo's site, which pulled in 15.8 million unique U.S. visitors in October, followed up with other posts, such as “Why It's So Surprising That One of the San Bernardino Shooters Was Female” and “These Are the 14 People Tragically Killed in the San Bernardino Shooting.”
Esquire, another Hearst publication, posted a similar live-blog. Tinseltown sites like HollywoodLife.com and TheWrap rode the coattails of the story with photo galleries and articles emphasizing celebrity angles. “Celebrities quickly expressed their condolences, with Lady Gaga, Travis Barker and Sophia Bush all praying for those involved,” read HollywoodLife.
“After San Bernardino Massacre, We Feel Powerless -- But Hollywood Isn’t,” blared TheWrap.
Mashing up the grim with the gossipy isn’t novel. Many news sites, including International Business Times, win big traffic from covering celebrity culture and the tabloid adventures of models, socialites and movie stars. (Some of IBT’s highest-trafficked posts are updates on the continuing saga of the late Bobbi Kristina Brown.)
But the entry of Cosmo into the mass shooting beat turns that move on its head: Instead of news sites beefing up on lighter coverage like culture and entertainment, fashion and gossip sites are injecting more hard news into their lineup to get a piece of the traffic pie.
Cosmopolitan made news in media circles last year when it launched a new drive to become more politically engaged, endorsing candidates, making hires such as former Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic and shuttling a “party bus” full of shirtless male models to get out the vote at North Carolina State University during the midterm elections.
Still, introducing a political bent is one thing. Equipping a fashion site to cover breaking news is another.
Last year Hearst adopted a new strategy of passing content originating at its news desk across its different publications: During the shooting coverage, the same news editor who wrote the breaking news posts at Esquire, Megan Friedman, wrote another post for Cosmo. Her posts on other topics, such as “The Military Will Finally Let Women Serve in All Combat Roles” appear online in two different versions at both.
"Our websites cover breaking news every day," a Hearst spokesperson said.
Perhaps sooner than later, every property from Cosmo to Food Network to Oprah magazine will have a stake in the breaking news content game.