When people ask what stories draw the most readers on our website, that’s the short answer.
If you look at HeraldNet.com’s most-read list on a given day, it will probably include an assortment of fires, car accidents and crimes.
Yet over the years, a common complaint from readers is that the newspaper’s local news coverage relies too heavily on crime. So what gives? Are online readers just a more coldhearted bunch?
“Stories about crimes and accidents have immediacy and drama — so these stories are naturally engaging,” said Neal Pattison, Herald executive editor. “At the same time, a steady diet of tragedy gets wearisome, and people will start to complain about an overload of bad news.”
As Assistant City Editor Jim Davis notes, a list of the most-read stories of 2011 showed mayhem has more limited appeal over the long haul. While a remote crime story might generate a lot of clicks on the website one day, it may not represent what’s really important to Snohomish County readers.
“Yes, there are three dramatic crime stories on the list,” Davis said. “But there were also three Boeing stories on the list, and Boeing affects our readers a lot more than anything in Ohio.”
It’s not just crime and Boeing that reaches readers. Stories about local people have an audience, too. At No. 3 on the list for 2011 was a touching story about a man who survived swine flu while his twin brother died of the disease.
Meanwhile, some important or interesting stories attract plenty of online readers, even if no single article stood out. The Herald’s coverage of traffic cameras and the impending closure of the Kimberly-Clark mill are examples.
“For the most part, an important event or and interesting story attracts attention from almost everyone,” Pattison said.
When deciding what local stories to cover, Herald editors say online readership is only one piece of the puzzle.
“There are a lot of factors that go into where a story plays in the paper,” Davis said. Among those are how much the story affects readers, whether it’s surprising, or if it’s especially engaging.
“And while we’re looking for all this, I’m interested in how a story is playing online,” Davis said.
Pattison said concern for online readership doesn’t affect the choice of news topics as much as it influences the way The Herald presents a story.
“Blogging, videos, photo galleries — these are all things that can be offered online in ways that we could never offer them in print,” he said.
Each week, Here at The Herald provides an inside peek at the newspaper — its people and the work they do. Is there something you’d like to know? Send your idea to Executive Editor Neal Pattison, firstname.lastname@example.org.
HeraldNet’s most-read stories of 2011: