By: Jennifer Saba
When the H1N1 virus, a.k.a. the swine flu, broke out in late April, the Austin American-Statesman decided to build out a site dedicated to informing readers about the illness.
While Austin is close to the supposed epicenter of the outbreak in Mexico, Tim Lott, vice president of digital at the Statesman, knew for this site to work, it would have to be global.
He and his team, Andy Nguyen and Robert Quigley, developed Swineflucare.net.
Monday April 27: Development. Tuesday April 28: Swineflucare.net was live. The site, crisp and cleanly designed, aggregates swine-flu-related news from all over the world.
The Statesman team dropped Goggle’s Adsense on the site and only spent $500 in Google key words to push it out. “If we get significant traffic we can drop in display advertising and approach hospital and pharmaceutical companies with home page sponsorships,” Lott says. “I didn’t have a business plan for this and I have to be candid I don’t know if this is going to work.”
Lott admits, the irony of this whole operation is for it to be a success, the H1N1 needs to stick around. As of late May, the virus was still the culprit for outbreaks and some deaths.
The larger point though is the Statesman tried its hand at something quickly and cheaply — just like a start-up. “I think the wrap on newspapers is that they are slow to respond to change,” Lott says. “There are lots of newspapers out there that are quick to seize opportunities.”