The stories that grab your attention online
We know what you read.
Not you individually, and we can’t tell easily or as accurately what people read in print, but we know what attracts readers at Postindependent.com, our website.
In August, the top story digitally was about Al George of Rifle winning the largest lottery jackpot in Colorado history. From Sunday, Aug. 10, when we learned that the winning ticket for the $90 million Powerball jackpot was sold in Rifle, through Saturday the 16th, at least 20,000 people read our several stories about the win.
That was a pretty happy story, but a lot of the most popular stories in the digital realm fall into what I call crime and grime news.
For example, the second most popular story in August was about bookkeeper Robin McMillan being charged with embezzling at least $194,000 from the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. We also did several stories about that — it’s our money — and those stories, our related editorial and a guest opinion from the county all combined drew nearly 10,000 page views.
Last week’s story about eight drug arrests and seizures of methamphetamine, cocaine, cash and guns drew 5,000 page views in its first 30 hours online. That story also shows the value of being first — reporter Will Grandbois spotted the series of arrests and got information while 12 warrants are still out.
The embezzling case has policy and accountability implications, and the drug bust appears to be of a major ring with a direct Mexican connection operating in the Roaring Fork Valley. Both are pretty serious crime stories.
Others, well, not so much, but people read them. No. 3 in August was “Suspected flasher was covered in frosting and blood,” with about 4,300 page views.
That one was topped in September by “Cheetos dumped on bed leads to a brother’s stabbing,” with 4,600 page views.
Those stories are just interesting. Like a traffic accident, we find it hard to look away.
(Speaking of digital rubbernecking, earlier this month I took the long way home to Carbondale when we heard that a truck had tipped over at Highway 82 and Catherine Store Road. It was dark and the only camera I had was my phone camera, but the admittedly poor-quality snapshot I took of the truck drew nearly 1,200 views. A picture that Citizen Telegram editor Heidi Rice took after an SUV hit a Shell sign got 1,400 views.)
So it’s gratifying to see good traffic for stories in which no one gets hurt. Grandbois’ piece on geology in the region, “Some rock history you (probably) didn’t know,” drew about 2,000 readers, as did his piece last week about pumpkins placed on the Fryingpan River each autumn.
A story based on a video by local blogger and monthly PI columnist Kathy Trauger of state Trooper Eugene Hofacker giving his first public account of being shot by a drunken fugitive in Glenwood Canyon was seen 3,000 times.
A heartwarming piece about Neal Diamond using some shelter pups in a music video shot in the valley — and then adopting two of the dogs — got 2,500 views.
Our most-viewed story of the year so far, topping even January’s fatal helicopter crash or the shoot-out involving Hofacker, was our initial story published June 27 about Shooters Grill in Rifle. That story went mildly viral and brought news crews from around the country to Rifle to chase our report, which drew 28,000 page views. Commentary and a follow-up story pushed the total views on the topic to more than 50,000 — a lot of digital action for a little news organization like the PI.
Sometimes, we are surprised.
Last month, a column in our affiliated Grand Junction Free Press was topping our story list one day. The headline was “5 reasons digital pirates are not like real pirates,” and we couldn’t figure out why it was our top story. Over three days, it got 5,400 page views, really good for our website. I dug into the metrics and found that almost all of the traffic was coming from Australia. A little more Internet research found that Australia was considering a new music piracy law. Someone apparently had a Google alert set up on digital piracy, found the community column and shared it.
All of this is at the heart of serious thinking going on in journalism today. Readers are migrating rapidly toward reading news on digital devices and news organizations of all sizes are trying to figure out how to serve their interests.
The crime and grime is low-hanging fruit. We are increasingly aggressive about posting breaking news quickly. We have added video more often in the past few months, and will be working on some data reporting, which lends itself to digital reading.
But for both digital and print readers, we will seek a mix of hard news and community features.
News of civic affairs — government spending and accountability stories — and commentary like this column — don’t get as much digital traffic as car wrecks.
It doesn’t take a brilliant editor to know that brothers stabbing each other over Cheetos will get page views.
It’s harder work to watch the government and provide those stories in an engaging way. Because our letters to the editor, which focus mainly on civic issues, have increased, we think our print readers in particular are paying attention. (And letters collectively get about 5,000 digital views per month.)
By whatever means you read it, we couldn’t be happier to be provoking conversation about our community.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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