In a wonderful column by Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat called “Horse Sex Story Was Online Hit”, Westneat examines the top online stories for 2005. And it isn’t your normal look at a top 10.
The top stories were those that were posted online and got the highest traffic counts. In his words:
Only this list is not the usual tedious recounting by news editors or pundits who profess to speak for you readers. This is the people’s-choice list.
It’s not a survey of what news you say you read.
It’s what you actually read.
By tallying clicks on our Web site, we now chart the most read stories in the online edition of The Seattle Times. Software then sorts the tens of thousands of stories for 2005 and ranks them. Not by importance, impact or poetic lyricism, but by which stories compelled the most people to put finger to mouse, click, open and, presumably, read.
From all the stories that filled the news in 2005, and there were a lot of them, even in Seattle, Washington, my home town, you would think that the most read stories online would be about politics, war, terrorism, heroism, or something life changing. Not so, says Westneat. According to their website traffic, the number one story read by the most people online was….tah day….about a man having sex with a horse.
The story last summer about the man who died from a perforated colon while having sex with a horse in Enumclaw was by far the year’s most read article.
What’s more, four more of the year’s 20 most clicked-upon local news stories were about the same horse-sex incident. We don’t publish our Web-traffic numbers, but take it from me — the total readership on these stories was huge.
So much so, a case can be made that the articles on horse sex are the most widely read material this paper has published in its 109-year history.
I don’t know whether to ignore this alarming factoid or to embrace it.
You know, it really makes me wonder what goes through people’s head. As does Westneat. He goes on in this charming column to talk about the other most popular online articles, and a few of them also include animal sex.
I’m not going to go into the kind of minds that enjoy reading about animal sex, but speak to the larger issue. At the end of the column, Westneat mentions that a newspaper in Chile called “Las Últimas Noticias” was a non-event paper until they decided to let the readers choose the news.
Now every editorial decision is based on Web-traffic stats. Popular stories beget similar coverage. Unpopular stories get killed. Reporters are even paid by whose stories get the most clicks.
It sounds crass and shallow. It’s also now Chile’s most widely read paper.
I believe that we need to write for our audience, and sometimes even about our audience as we blog. I think we should pay attention to the facts and figures in our blog stats to help us continue to cater to their needs, but to actually dictate news content? Hmmm.
If there is a single theme that has run through 2005 for me associated with blogging and the Internet, I would have to admit it is the new trend in social control. A lot of what gets published and noticed is what is pointed out by people through social bookmarking and tagging. If I find something I like, I have almost a dozen places I can share my find with others like Digg, Del.icio.us, or Furl. Other sites like Blogdex and Tech Memorandum monitor post stats and bring you the top of the heap for you to examine, dictating what you see based upon blog and site traffic.
Is this a good thing or not, we will all have to decide in time. I think it is nice to let the public dictate many elements of it, compared to corporate and government control and censorship, which the US has been suffering from for decades. But do I trust the public to have the final say in what I want to know? What do you think about this? And will you writing more about horse sex in your blog now that you’ve learned how popular the subject is?
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