"An increasing number of users go directly to a search engine when news breaks rather than going to a news site," said Peter Hershberg, managing partner of search marketing Reprise Media, explaining why.
In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, links to coverage by top-tier media outlets such as The New York Times and CNN were the most prominent "sponsored links" on Google and Yahoo! results pages.
While some news organizations use paid search to attract traffic to their special coverage, others turn to user-generated content as a way to flesh out their stories.
For example, reporters from MTV and NPR posted comments in one blogger's LiveJournal, hoping to contact him after he posted an account of his girlfriend's ordeal during the rampage. CNN's top Virginia Tech footage was mobile phone video submitted directly by a student.
Indeed, disasters are often the catalyst that enables traditional news organizations to function as interactive entities.
"Covering incidents like these helps smaller newsrooms move toward becoming a go-to source of information throughout the day," said Ellyn Angelotti, interactive editor of Poynter Online, site for the journalism institute. "Even for major media outlets, handling information delivery during a disaster can be difficult, but it gives everyone a chance to identify what works best in content-gathering and information sharing on a daily basis."