Steamboat Springs Take a guess at the most-read story of the past year on Steamboatpilot.com.
I'll give you a hint: It has nothing to do with our sheriff, although he did crack the top 10.
In the year beginning May 1, 2008, and ending April 30, 2009, more readers clicked on the tragic story of Bill and Patrick Rooney, who died in a plane crash near Yampa Valley Regional Airport, than any other article. That story has had 13,936 pageviews since its Jan. 13 publication.
Whether we like it or not, stories about dramatic accidents and crimes tend to attract the most readers. The media often are faulted for giving too much attention to the tragic or shocking and not enough to the uplifting, but our online readership statistics seem to support the idea that readers have a high interest in that content. It doesn't make it right or wrong, it just is what it is.
In the case of the Rooneys, I think it's safe to make a couple assumptions. First, Bill and Patrick Rooney touched many lives and thus had many friends, family members and acquaintances across the country who wanted to know more about their accident. Second, airplane pilots are a relatively close-knit group, and news involving crashes or mishaps travel quickly and widely throughout the flying community.
Airplane incidents also took the No. 2 and 3 positions on our most-read stories list for the past year. Here's the top 10, with the accompanying story headline and an explanation, when necessary:
1. "Bill and Patrick Rooney died Sunday in plane crash near YVRA," Jan. 13, 2009; 13,936 pageviews
2. "Plane crash kills two near Hayden," Jan. 11, 2009; 9,181 pageviews. This story also was related to the Rooneys' crash.
3. "Crash victims identified as local couple," Dec. 22, 2008; 8,883 pageviews. This story was about the plane crash near YVRA that took the lives of locals Joe and Suzette Brumleve.
4. "Brent Boyer: Cleaning up our online comments," July 24, 2008; 7,590 pageviews. On this week, my column addressed Steamboatpilot.com's change to an online user verification process. Like some of the other stories on this list, traffic was driven in part by the large number of online comments readers added to the article.
5. "Felony drug charges filed against Jensens," March 4, 2009; 6,581 pageviews.
6. "Wall found guilty of DWAI," July 17, 2008; 6,327 pageviews.
7. "Steamboat ski area lays off workers," Nov. 19, 2008; 5,595 pageviews.
8. "Police: Party revealed drug operation," Feb. 9, 2009; 5,351 pageviews.
9. "Dream Island under contract," May 16, 2008; 5,262 pageviews.
10. "Jimmy Westlake: Comet Lulin a strange visitor," Feb. 24, 2009; 5,218 pageviews.
This last one exemplifies the power of the Internet. I love Jimmy Westlake's "Celestial News" columns, but it's fair to say his pieces aren't as popular with local readers as, say, those penned by columnist Rob Douglas. But this particular Westlake column was picked up by sites such as TurkishWeekly.net, Wowzio.com and AllVoices.com, each linking back to Steamboatpilot.com and Westlake's original piece. I simply don't know enough about astronomy to explain why this piece received so much attention while none of Westlake's other weekly columns for our newspaper cracked the top 100.
So what's the value in the above list? As a society, we're fascinated by numbers and rankings. The president's first 100 days; Peyton Manning's quarterback rating; college football's BCS rankings; the median price of this; and the average value of that. Rankings provide order and help us make sense of the things we experience. And at some level, numbers are simply entertaining. I was taught at a magazine publishing conference a year ago to always include a number on the cover of your publication: 6 ways to lose weight fast, or 25 things to do before you die. The next time you're standing in front of a magazine display, take note of the number of publications that attract readers with this technique. I think you'll be surprised.
In that vein, we're adding a new feature to the Sunday Pilot & Today. Beginning this weekend, page 2A will include a list of the 10 most-read stories on Steamboatpilot.com from the previous week. I hope readers will find it interesting. Don't hesitate to send me an e-mail or give me a call to let me know your thoughts. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-871-4221.
From the Editor appears Thursdays in the Steamboat Today.