When your story is more popular on a site that’s not yours…

There’s a lesson when a local news story from your community newspaper becomes more popular on the website of a different community newspaper than your own.

Here’s what has happened: Two days ago my newspaper, the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville, ran this story on a fatal car accident.

I was doing rounds on various Nor-Cal newspapers, when I noticed that this story, just after 2 p.m. on Sept. 9, was actually the second most viewed story on the website of the Chico Enterprise-Record, but the fifth most viewed story on our site.

In other words: News local to us wound up more popular in another community 45 miles away.

How? Here’s a few theories:

1) Chico is currently Dean Singleton’s test gerbil: The E-R is owned by MediaNewsGroup. It’s also one of two newspapers (along with the paper in York, Pa.) that drew short straw were chosen by MNG to be the test sites for a paywall system. This setup also brought with it a redesign that prominently features headlines of stories from other papers in northeastern California, including the Appeal-Democrat. I say “headlines” instead of “links” because if you click on one of those headlines, you’re taken to a ChicoER.com landing page that gives you the first paragraph of the story, then you get the link to take you to the actual story on the other paper’s website. Also called “Dirty Little Pageview Spiking Trick #17″

But is it the paywall that made our story so popular? I’m not so sure. That was only one of two non-Chico stories in the Top 10 most viewed at that point, and as far as paywalls go, Chico’s is far less restrictive to the casual reader than, say, Stockton’s (which I talked about a couple months ago)

2) Morbidity knows no city limits: It’s simple, in Internet news, people like death and crime. Fatal car accidents are guaranteed traffic drivers. Maybe it doesn’t matter where the fatal is.

However, if I had to pick a reason, I’d go with this:

3) Abstract headlines rocking it: Our headline didn’t give anything about the exact location of the accident. It just says “Driver killed after flipping truck into rice field.” When Chico took the story for their site, they didn’t adjust the headline. Chico is in Butte County, which like all the counties we cover has a decent amount of rice fields. Quite honestly, people casually scanning the E-R’s website could look at the story and assume it was talking about a fatal accident in their community, not ours.

So, what’s the lesson here? Paywalls stink? Gratuitously link destruction? If you’re re-purposing other’s copy, don’t be afraid to tinker with the headline? A combination of the above?

Let me know what you think.

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