A year ago, our website GhanaXtra.Com crashed for more than three hours after we exclusively broke a story. And that was, perhaps, the biggest lesson which would later propel our business to its current wins.
When we begun publishing in July, 2017, my partner — who is more tech savvy though he has no IT degree — and I decided we were going to run on a similar shared hosting account we had procured with Namecheap, since we had a fair idea of its capacity based on an earlier project a few years back which we intended to downgrade and focus on GhanaXtra, primarily for our interest in news publishing.
We were, thus, not using a dedicated server, which meant that we had indirectly bargained to lose so much money anytime our traffic abnormally shot up beyond what we knew was normal, notwithstanding the fact that within the two and half years GhanaXtra had been online, we had run various tests to check what we could contain and were pleased with our hosting capacity for concurrent traffic.
What we couldn’t predict was when one or more stories would go viral and overstretch our capacity, and this is not to say we were not dropping viral content from time to time. Of course, our frequent fights with some major Ghanaian media houses for backlinks after they copyrighted our stories should inform you about our performance at the time.
Having run a smaller blog prior to starting GhanaXtra, we knew the rules of the game and had thoroughly learnt and understood copyright laws vis-a-vis the rules on fair use. We had even engaged some content thieves in copyright battles and gotten their stories expunged by their hosts after we filed DMCA notices against them and won.
We both write for passion alongside our full-time jobs and none of us is a fully trained journalist, but we hated content theft and had therefore set out to do more of exclusives with no copy and paste content on our base. We did a lot of that on politics and gossips and got the traffic we deserved over the period.
However, our traffic trends shifted when we started breaking exclusives on Ghana’s coronavirus situation — from our first confirmed case on March 12 to the first and second COVID-19 casualties in Kumasi, mostly dropping full details four hours ahead of our competitors, thanks to our strong connections within the Ghanaian health industry.
We were even mocked and tagged ‘hungry bloggers’ in some cases by some dumbheads but our stories became the lead through which the major news sites called authorities for confirmation, after we had gone viral.
So we were doing just fine until April 10, 2020 when one of our breaking news stories went abnormally viral — and then BOOM! — we crashed for the first time.
The site started blazing like wild fire with readers from different parts of the world feeding on that story and others until our resources couldn’t contain the load anymore. Yes, that single story garnered over 500,000 pageviews within two days and even more views subsequently.
For businesses like ours, pageviews is everything and the product is the foreign currency you smile at when they land in your account at the end of the month — at least an assurance that you can pay writers and other operational expenses.
April 2020 was an eye-opener as we learned that exclusive stories do not only sell but sell very well.
I know the dream of every newswriter is to break stories, and not just stories but exclusive stories. But to do this is not an easy task as despite trusting your source, the fear that sometimes grips you before and after the publication can make you impotent for life — knowing how our people inherently despise little beginnings and would do anything to discredit you and call you names, simply because your company is young and not the familiar one.
But in all this, certain things are clear, you have to be smart, be on the beat, be intuitive, be well connected, make friends everywhere across the divide and write original content with good grammar. Copy and Paste with horrible grammar will only destroy your brand, if indeed you are building one.
As we write this, we are seriously looking for talented writers but even that is a struggle…..as we’ve been at it for almost two years and all we get are ‘unwilling-to-learn-copyandpasters’ who we fire after 3 days, though we offer better remuneration than some well-known portals.
After hours, days, weeks, months, and years of sleepless nights with several news articles under our belt, we are not there yet but we are not giving up either. Life is a battle and we will fight until we win this battle with the little talent we have. Aluta Continua! Cheers to all struggling independent newswriters, bloggers and so on. The struggle is real!!