COLUMN: Internet stats offer reader insight

I’ve been in the news gathering business professionally for more than a decade, so I tend to think I know what stories interest readers.

If you’ve heard the popular teaching technique about the word “assume,” you can probably guess where this column is headed.

In mid-December of every year, newsrooms spend a significant amount of time reflecting on the year that passed.

We pore through back issues compiling a year in review, choose photos with the most impact and decide what were the most important stories that we wrote over the last 365 days.

This year we decided it was the action from residents around issues like Colliery Dam, Pioneer Forest and Linley Valley.

I still think those stories affected the community most in 2012. But taking a look through our most-read stories on our website paints a slightly different picture.

Using our site’s Google analytics, I was able to pull the top 10 stories based on the number of page views.

The top story: Gun barrel explodes on firing range.

This story was published in early January of last year, recounting an accident at the Nanaimo fish and game club where a double-barrel shotgun blew up.

Only minor injuries were reported in an incident which could have been much worse.

Was that the lure to click on the link? The possibility that someone was seriously hurt?

I don’t mean that in a chastising way – whenever there’s a report of an accident on the roadways in Interior B.C. I always click.

Even though we make jokes about being asked if we know Joe from Canada, it’s a very small world and there is a good chance, albeit slight, that I could know someone hurt in an accident in the province.

Also making the top 10 list: Nanaimo Mounties hunting for a throat slasher, which later turned out to be a hoax; Nanaimo man pleads guilty to sex offences on children; and the Nanoose Bay fire that claimed the lives of two children.

It’s also a reminder of the truly awful stories we have to cover sometimes, as they tend to get blocked from memory.

It wasn’t all bad news – our story on Mo-vember, the month-long fundraiser and awareness campaign for prostate cancer screening and treatment, came in at No. 4.

The urban farming issue in Lantzville is always a hot topic on our website, with dozens of comments on every story. The story that made our top 10 this year was on compost materials considered illegal dumping.

Smart meters also made the list. That issue is almost as popular as urban farming.

The Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club and its push to create legal trails in Nanaimo’s forests saw two stories in our top 10, indicative of the popularity of the sport (or the club’s ability to spread the word on the issue).

And rounding out the top online stories is the possible cuts to programs at Vancouver Island University, which is no surprise as the up and coming generation is much more online-based than any before it.

Nowhere to be found was our pick for story of the year, nor was our runner-up story about teachers’ job action, which cancelled extra-curricular activities for several weeks.

While I can see trends and explanations for certain articles, I can’t predict with absolute certainty which stories will resonate with readers and which will be simply scanned and scrolled by. The information is simply clicks, not names.

It could be that print readers and web readers simply have different priorities, or read and respond to news in distinct ways.

Or people like carnage way more than they care to let on.

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