What makes stories popular? Here are four theories.
In looking over the list of our top stories of the week, I was struck by four key elements that often make something a must-read.
1. Our children.
2. Our money.
3. Our hearts.
4. Our tragedies.
In the swirl of all the things we do to remain competitive in this digital age, I'll admit I don't have a handle on every last one. So, I asked Kelly Vold, our digital editor for engagement, if it would be possible to throw together a list of our top-viewed stories for the week. Kelly sent me a digital newsletter -- yours for the asking, I might add -- that lists the top five stories of each week. They're based on the number of page views an individual story gets on our website. In order they are:
Lawsuit: Lake Zurich sports hazing goes back nearly 2 decades
Yes, this centers on our children, but it touches on two other hot-button issues: sports and hazing. This has been an attention-getting story since October, when a football team hazing incident became public. Ultimately, the athletic director, football coach and assistant coach resigned. Based on the allegations, it seems to be a classic case of young people behaving badly and adults either enabling the behavior or sweeping it under the rug. The lawsuit's big claim was that the hazing, and its tacit approval, dates back to 1997 and involves other sports.
Why millions will wait longer for their tax returns this year
I got a great piece of advice from my late father when I got my first newspaper job: Put a big, fat dollar sign in front of everything you write about. The message was clear: In virtually every endeavor, there's money to be made, lost or pulled from one's pocket; don't lose sight of that, my son. The story was a somewhat technical piece on how the federal government would be holding refunds longer for people claiming earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit, a process deemed necessary to combat tax fraud. But the headline nailed it: Hey, good chance you won't get your money back as quickly this year.
Friends mourn homeless Libertyville man
Jack Thomas was a 1986 graduate of Libertyville High School who fell on some tough times and was homeless during much of his life and was a regular fixture riding his bike around Libertyville. When he died, classmates showed their heart, raising $14,550 to pay for Thomas' funeral. "I didn't want him in a box somewhere, unmarked," said Joe Sweeney, one of those classmates. Heart.
Eight things siblings of children with special needs struggle with
Is there anything that evokes more compassion than our special needs children, and, frankly, the family members who care for them? This was a first-person account we picked up from The Washington Post of a mother pointing out the challenges her three children face in growing up with a fourth sibling, a special-needs child. There are advantages, the author points out: they tend to be more empathetic, more responsible and more resilient. But there's also a really tough burden. I can't put it any better than the writer: "Siblings of individuals with special needs know how hard their parents work to ensure all of their sibling's needs are met, and often see their parents struggle to meet these needs. Many feel like they can't make mistakes because that would add to their parents' burden, so they believe they must be perfect at all times."
Man dies after car falls on him
Only a four-paragraph story, but it's the type of household mishap that makes you take a deep breath and vow to be more careful about ... everything. A 52-year-old man was working on his car when it fell off the jack, pinning the man underneath and crushing him. Truly a tragedy.
There could be a can't-fail fifth category: Our pets. While writing this column, I passed the big TV screen that gives real-time rankings of online stories. Near the top of the pack: Arlington Heights police release sketch of dognappers. If you're interested in what everyone is reading, our Most Read newsletter is one of 50 free email alerts we offer. Others include a rundown of the day's biggest stories; obituaries; Dann Gire's movie guide; and an array of sports and other options.
Just go to http://www.dailyherald.com/newsletters and click on the appropriate boxes.