It’s long been a news business cliché that if it bleeds, it leads.
A cursory look at most newscasts will confirm this suspicion. Taking a glance at the metro page of most daily papers will give you a similar perspective.
Reporting on crime is an important part of any newsgathering organization. And we can say both anecdotally and with hard evidence that such stories rightfully garner a lot of public attention. But in the changing world of the newspaper industry, the art of drumming up attention is receiving more attention than the news itself.
There is a lot of talk in the news business about search engine optimization, writing for the attention span of today’s Internet user and studying things like “click throughs,” “bounce rates” and “engagement.”
That’s all quite well and good, but we’ve never been a publication that’s bent our coverage to fit into trends or chased a story in the name of pageviews. And we find our readers like that.
That can’t be said for everyone. In the past few years, it’s become customary for top 10 roundups of year’s top stories to be accompanied by a list of the top most-read (or most popular) stories. Those results speak volumes about human nature.
In general, big impact stories like the death of Osama bin Laden and the earthquake in Japan dominated the news for most major outlets last year. But once you get past those, you’d be surprised (or maybe not) at what passes for public interest.
In 2011, abcnews.com’s most popular story of the year was a list of the top 50 most Googled female celebrities (we’ll note there’s a handy link to a gallery of “Celebrity Beach Bods” right after the lede).
The story that was shared on Facebook the third most often last year (after the Japan disaster and an op-ed on teachers) was the earth-shattering exposé on how zodiac signs aren’t shifting. That’s followed by another op-ed entitled “Parents, don’t dress your girls like tramps.”