In 2009, 2,035 users posted 19,092 comments on 2,339 stories at ColumbiaMissourian.com.
In all, Missourian commenters punched in 5,199,402 characters last year. That means that, had they been a little more organized and a little better versed in obscure bits of the whale anatomy, they could have typed out "Moby Dick" 4.3 times over.
Charles Dudley Jr. was the year's most prolific poster by far, with 1,705 posts. Ray Shapiro came in second with 1,253.
And, while both men assembled a 2009 body of work longer than "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Shapiro's total character count well outpaced that of Dudley or any other Missourian commenter. So, what Shapiro lacked in quantity, he made up for in quality. And by "quality" I mean goofy jokes, rants and YouTube links. Which was also, come to think of it, how Twain padded out the second half of Huck Finn.
Rounding out the top three was John Schultz, who deserves an honorable mention for single-handedly doubling the word count of each of the top two contenders by giving them an excuse to write "John Schultz, Chairman of the Boone County Libertarian Party," at the top of a whole grip of posts.
Given that lofty position, Schultz should be gratified to know that in 2009 he typed almost three times as many characters as Ayn Rand squeezed into her 1938 sci-fi novella "Anthem." He would likely be even more gratified to discover that the libertarian heroine herself has apparently overcome her 1982 heart failure to become the Missourian's fourth most prolific poster in 2009.
Unfortunately, given that the legendary philosopher and novelist hasn't made any public appearances lately, user "Ayn Rand" has been found in violation of the Missourian's psuedonym prohibition. She'll be allowed back onto the site as soon as she can provide conclusive proof of her unlikely resurrection. Or offer a real name.
In fact, 2009 will be remembered as the year that even the legendary Dudley flew a little too close to the sun, eventually running afoul of house rules for the last time. Fortunately, the bearded sage still blogs on at the Paquin Tower Times, where he's subject to no rules but his own.
Together, the four horsemen of the Missourian comment box have managed to do something in 2009 that very few of the brilliant young reporters who have passed through this newspaper have ever managed: They've given it an identity, a community and a little attitude. And they've done it for free. They're not even getting class credit.
They just care about the news. Or like seeing their names published. Either way, they're local heroes. They provoke discussion, engage other readers and keep this newspaper's online universe going. Also, if we keep them typing long enough, they just may, through sheer chance, recreate the entire works of Herman Melville. Even "Moby Dick."
Andrew Van Dam is a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism. He's from Idaho.