Finding Breaking News by Following Search Trends

You may have noticed in last week’s (12/30/10) North Baltimore Patch story on the arrest of Dennis Edwards that the line below appeared at the bottom:

The blog alerted North Baltimore Patch to Dennis Edwards’ arrest.

This post will explain how that happened.

On 12/29, I looked at the Sitemeter statistics for Inside Charm City a few times during the day. Starting that morning, I started seeing results for “Dennis Edwards WJZ” popping up in search traffic, mainly through Google. That search traffic was being driven to a post from January of 2009 related to Edwards’ departure from WJZ.

Later in the day I did see a couple of searches show up for “Dennis Edwards arrested.” My interest was piqued so I started emailing reporters, bloggers, and others involved in news about the possibility.

The next morning, on December 30th, I contacted a reporter with Patch (along with another news site) trying to receive further confirmation. At this point, I did use the state’s case search website to find out that a Dennis Edwards had been arrested in Baltimore the day before but I wasn’t sure if it was the Dennis Edwards that had previously worked for WJZ and City Council President Jack Young. Patch reporters were able to confirm the identification and reported that it was indeed the same person.

Since then, Dennis Edwards has been arrested again.

I went back and looked at the Google Analytics dashboard for December 29th and discovered a few things. There were 22 visits that day from people searching on Dennis Edwards WJZ. Other related searches included Dennis Edwards Baltimore, Dennis Edwards Channel 13 and several other variations of those. The one I saw in Sitemeter for Dennis Edwards WJZ arrested is the only one apparently recorded in Google Analytics for that term.

Looking at the Google Analytics results for December 29 - January 4, seven out of the top ten search terms are related to Dennis Edwards. Several other Edwards results are spread throughout the thousands of search results for those days.

While this may not be a huge amount of traffic compared to other sites, it was another example of something I’d done before. I’ve seen search traffic before that caused me to go to Google to find out what was going on with a particular person or topic. However, this was a little bit different for me since the search results helped break a story that hadn’t been previously reported on. If you have any insights on this with larger scale news sites or blogs please let me know in the comments below. I’m interested in other methods people use to find breaking news via search traffic or other means.

Some more background information on this story is found below.

Some other notes about Edwards and his current situation:

  • I’ve heard from numerous sources and seen unverified reports of pretty bizarre behavior when Edwards was arrested. Other information of bizarre behavior has also come to us from commenters and email correspondents.
  • After our original 2009 post on Edwards being fired from WJZ (in which we simply quoted a DCRTV report - so it was their words, not ours), we received the following comment from someone purporting to be Edwards: “Your headline is misleading and inaccurate. Edwards was bought out like 10 to 15 other former wjz employees. As for the locks. They were not changed. Overnight producers have been complaining for a long time that the electronic lock system didn’t work. Management simply made sure one or two were working. Their actions were in response to those concerns. They had nothing to do with Edwards buyout.”
    The above comment was lost when we imported our comment system over to IntenseDebate recently.
  • In 2010, we received a message from Facebook that a link from our Facebook page had been deleted. That link was one that was imported automatically into Facebook via our RSS feed. Edwards had flagged our post as abusive and reported that it was slanderous. So, Edwards was still apparently upset about us daring to quote another news source that he was trying to get us in trouble with Facebook (enough complaints like the one he made and your page gets deleted.)

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