Mario Di Simine

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The year’s most popular stories (and how they got there)

December 13, 2010

I like to describe Reuters.com as a financial news website with a general news edge. When looking at the most popular stories on our site, you’d expect to see the biggest stories from the business world riddling the top 10. But even business people have general interests — and traffic to a particular story can come from different sources. The end result is that our “most popular” list for 2010 has some entries you’d expect and some that are, well, off-topic.

Penises, for example.

The fourth entry in this year’s popular list has nothing to do with business, or U.S.  consumers, or world events.

In fact, it was of no relevance to most of our audience – unless some of you are male and interested in becoming a cop in Indonesia.

In that case, cross your legs and answer this question (preferably without blushing): Have you had your penis enlarged? If the answer is “yes” then you are out of luck. There will be no job with the police or military for you.  The reason? An unnatural size causes “hindrance during training.” The story implied by the headline seemed so outlandish it would be hard to pass it up. Headline: Police barred from penis enlargement

Often, a story vaults up the popular list because of key words.

Put “taxes” and “rise” in the same headline and you can almost see the online populace turning red with anger, uttering obscenities and calling for a pox on both houses of Congress as they clicked their way into the story.

USA-ECONOMY/VOLCKERThis headline was No. 6 for the year: Volcker: Taxes likely to rise eventually to tame deficit. Of course, Paul Volcker was only giving his opinion – that the United States should “consider” raising taxes, not that it would anytime soon, as the word “likely” in the headline may have implied. There was no devil in the details but that didn’t stop readers from virtually shooting the messenger anyway.

Controversy is another great driver of traffic and President Obama made our list twice on the back of comments that riled the Republicans and ones that skewered the intelligence community.

The president wasn’t holding any punches at the start of the year when he pointed the finger at intelligence agencies over the botched Christmas Day plane bombing, calling it a “screw up”.

Obama was similarly frank when he got caught up in the heat of the congressional elections and described his GOP opponents as “enemies”.  In shooting from the hip, though, he ended up shooting himself in the foot and was forced to backtrack, bumping the story to third place in our list. Headlines:  Obama seeks to blunt Republican attack over comment (No. 3) and Christmas incident was “screw up” – Obama said (No. 7)

OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS/Sometimes, however, what drives readers to push a story to the top of the charts is neither the news, nor the controversy, or even the off-color nature of a story.

A good bit of innuendo in a headline can bring out the Beavis and Butthead in all of us (heh-heh, you said “butt”). When that happens, someone tweets it to someone else and that person tweets it to someone else. And maybe another website picks up on it and links back to the original headline.  And then another website does the same, maybe even months later.

The result is the headline goes viral – and no matter how hard you try to forget it, it just keeps coming back, often re-emerging on the weekly or monthly most popular list long after the original event has faded into memory. This was likely the case with our most popular story of 2010 — and somewhere an editor is cringing for innocently attaching a headline to a story without noticing the obvious.  Some things you just can’t make up. Herewith, the year’s most popular story on Reuters.com: Tired Gay succumbs to Dix in 200 meters.

The List:
1    Tired Gay succumbs to Dix in 200 meters
2    U.S. reverses stance on treaty to regulate arms trade
3    Obama seeks to blunt Republican attack over comment
4    Police barred from penis enlargement
5    Democratic senator’s lead shrinks in California: poll
6    Volcker: Taxes likely to rise eventually to tame deficit
7    Christmas incident was “screw up” – Obama said
8    Pilots and passengers rail at new airport patdowns
9    UPDATE 1-New U.S. senator helps Democrats advance jobs bill
10   Saudi couple “hammer 24 nails” into Sri Lankan maid

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