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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Cicadas are back! It's the top stories of 2011

By Tom Warhover
December 30, 2011 | 11:27 a.m. CST

Dear Reader,

The top local story of the year is …. (drum roll) … cicadas.

Yep. Cicadas. The bug that comes out once a generation, makes a lot of noise and then disappears. Any similarity to teenagers is completely coincidental.

It’s tops, that is, if you judge such pinnacles by the number of readers who clicked on the online version of the articles at ColumbiaMissourian.com.

So it’s the most read, digitally. Does that make it the top story?

I was fascinated this week by the running debate in the newsroom. It reminded me of a sports argument, such as whether a Most Valuable Player should be judged by individual accomplishments or by the value to the team.

Managing editor Jeanne Abbott led the charge. Are we really saying the cicada invasion was the biggest story? she asked several times. What about big news events like the Joplin tornado? Joplin’s not local, I know, but there were a number of articles about local people helping the recovery effort.

The unspoken argument: A top story needs to be important. Dramatic, even.

So is it importance or popularity that counts? Gather up the bar stools and let the shouting begin. (You can see all the stories in the fine report by Kelly Moffitt and BJ Worley.)

You may think the top story genre is an important piece of journalism because it gathers together our collective memories at the end of each year.

More likely, these stories were born of desperation in what is traditionally the slowest news week of the year.

Good luck reaching a city official, university professor, business executive or politician this week. A cousin of mine appropriately refers to the trough between Christmas and New Year as “shut down week.”

And so we have The Associated Press top stories at state, national and international levels. These are the “serious” polls. They must be, because journalists vote on them. Right? They’re popularity contests, too.

With the Missourian’s most-read we have with us a figure that’s based on use, not opinion. It’s like Billboard’s 100 in music, where the cash register determines what’s tops. Here it’s eyeballs on articles.

Want more argument in favor of bugs? The cicada storm affected everyone in mid-Mo. No one escaped their inane music, and few avoided the crunch they made when sandwiched between foot and sidewalk.

That’s impact.

Tom

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