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From the Newsroom: Watching our web readership

By Craig Brown, Columbian Editor
Published: February 17, 2024, 6:05am

After Erin Middlewood took charge of our content following our reorganization last fall, one of the first things she did was change the format of the Monday morning staff meeting. It now includes more training and feedback, and for the first time our two features reporters, Monika Spykerman and Scott Hewitt, are invited to attend.

Erin also asks me to put together a weekly report about our top-performing online stories. This is good information, because, as I shared a few weeks ago, we now have more online subscribers than we have print subscribers. And if you count the number of people who read their quota of free stories, subscribe to our newsletters or follow us on social media, it’s fair to say that we have a much larger digital audience than we do in print.

Here’s what was popular for the week from Feb. 3 to Feb. 10, according to our analytics database, which contains about 55,000 stories posted to columbian.com over the past two years. The top story was actually a Spokesman-Review story that we picked up, “Schools in Washington are required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily. A new bill would make sure students actually understand what it means.”

In second place was our first of two stories about the swimming pools at local LA Fitness locations being closed indefinitely. (The follow-up story, which reported Clark County Public Health had ordered them closed until ventilation could be improved, finished 10th.)

Third was a Life story about Pearl Jam’s new album. Finishing fourth was a story about the road to Mount St. Helens’ Johnston Ridge Observatory staying closed until at least 2026, followed by a story about a wrong-way fatality collision on Interstate 5.

In sixth place was the Sports story listing the nominees for Athlete of the Week sponsored by Killer Burger, and inviting readers to vote for their favorite. This feature is incredibly popular during the high school sports season, with thousands of votes cast every week.

Seventh was a follow-up on the wrong-way crash, eighth was a story about five teens arrested after a police pursuit and ninth was Griffin Reilly’s investigative story about the former Ridgefield school superintendent getting a six-figure payout when he resigned.

This was a pretty typical week, I would say, with 603 unique stories posted to columbian.com, and without any big breaking news like last month’s snowstorm.

For comparison, I looked at the week ending Feb. 4. PDX construction was the top story, followed by the LA Fitness pool closure, and a story about a legislative proposal to establish a universal basic income for all Washington residents. Fourth was a story about the sale of the Columbia Business Center, fifth was a story about Burgerville’s expansion plans, sixth and seventh were car crash stories, and eighth was the Athlete of the Week.

What’s not so popular? Nation-world news. I think a lot of readers get their daily dose from TV and other news sites. And, frankly, some of these stories sound really dull. Here are our five least popular stories of last week: Prince Harry settles tabloid phone hacking claim; rock ‘n’ roll drummer Jimmy Van Eaton dies; Art exhibit honors man killed in mass shooting in Maine; Germany doubles its commitment of troops in Kosovo; and Justice Department proposes major changes to crime victim compensation funds.

In other words, local stories about businesses and law enforcement are perpetually popular. News from far away, or you can find at least a dozen other places, not so much.

I don’t think news is a popularity contest, so we won’t be using these analytics to selectively cover the news. But we do have to make decisions on where to concentrate our limited resources, and so I consider this to be valuable information.

Craig Brown is The Columbian’s editor. 360-735-4514 or craig.brown@columbian.com