They drew the clicks: Top 10 columbian.com stories of 2013

A strong emotional pull is common thread for the most-read online stories

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The 10 most-read stories of 2013 on columbian.com

1. Dec. 26 Lost roll of Mount St. Helens film found — 80,688 pageviews

2. Dec. 11 Mysterious object blocks Seattle tunnel drilling — 30,541 pageviews

3. Dec. 4 Woman unknowingly tweets death of husband in accident — 29,703 pageviews

4. Feb. 3 Fire destroys Crestline Elementary — 24,473 pageviews

5. March 28 Family fears for missing Vancouver teen — 23,316 pageviews

6. April 15 Explosions reported at Boston Marathon finish line — 22,159 pageviews

7. Aug. 12 Woman raises awareness on panhandlers’ use of handouts — 21,861 pageviews

8. Jan. 29 Police arrest killer of alleged prowler — 21,063 pageviews

9. March 5 One person dead in Brush Prairie crash — 20,864 pageviews

10. May 23 Freeway bridge collapses into Skagit River — 20,244 pageviews

Journalists love top-10 lists as much as people like to read them, and there's no better time to publish such lists than the end of the year when we all like to reflect on the events that made us laugh, cry, scowl and pontificate.

Recently, newsroom staffers compiled their annual list of top 10 stories for 2013, and we also collected your votes to create a top 10 readers' list. Some years those lists can be quite different. This year, the staffers and the readers weren't too far apart.

Today, we have another list. It's the list of the 10 most-read stories on columbian.com -- and other than a couple of stories, it looks nothing like those other two lists.

You won't find what many consider the top three stories of the year: the Columbia River Crossing, Clark County's hiring of state Sen. Don Benton and the influence of businessman/county Commissioner David Madore on the local political landscape.

No, what you'll find instead at the top of the list is that after 33 years, everyone is still gripped by the drama surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens. A week ago, we published a story about a recently discovered roll of film shot in April 1980 by the late Reid Blackburn, a photographer who tragically died in the blast on May 18, 1980. At last count on Dec. 31, that story had about 80,000 pageviews, which dwarfs the other nine stories on the list.

(Note: To be fair, the voting by news staff and readers was completed on Dec. 20, a few days before we ran the story about the roll of film, but it's probably safe to assume it wouldn't have made the other top 10 lists).

Of course, one reason stories like the lost roll of film generate so many pageviews is because other news organizations and websites link to the stories on our site. Nearly 70 percent of the people who read the story about the roll of film came to our story from another website such as King 5, KGW, Boingboing, The Verge and, of course, Facebook.

It's the power of the Internet on display. It's how things go viral. It's how stories from the Associated Press wire end up second on our list. That's what happened with the regional AP story we recently posted on our site about the mysterious object beneath Seattle that stopped the drilling of the tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct. About 55 percent of the pageviews for that story came from people who clicked on links on abovetopsecret.com and gawker.com.

It's also how another story, but one told with video instead of words, can draw a huge audience like the YouTube video we published Sept. 16 of Columbia River's crazy last-second football victory over Skyview. Thanks to mentions on ESPN's SportsCenter and on Monday Night Football, that short clip has more than 190,000 views.

As for the rest of the top 10, the other eight most-read stories fall into the tragedy category or, to put it bluntly, they are stories about death and/or destruction. These are the stories that lead the nightly news, such as the fire that destroyed Crestline Elementary, the bombing at the Boston Marathon or Caran Johnson's ironic and tragic tweeting of the death of her own husband.