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Sunday, Dec 29 2013 09:00 PM

STORIES OF THE YEAR: What made a hit online

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    The Bakersfield Californian.

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BY LOUIS AMESTOY Californian digital convergence manager

Web traffic on Bakersfield.com and Bakersfieldcalifornian.com soared at times in 2013 with a mix of major stories, a quirky archived piece that made a major list and two big high school sporting events.

In most cases, the stories below are powered by the extended reach that social media brings to the web. Visitors often find stories they like on our websites and share them across Facebook and Twitter or on sites such as Reddit, where a single story can set off a thousand conversations.

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ABOUT THIS SERIES

This is part of a weeklong look back at the top headlines of 2013. Read the previous installments online at BakersfieldCalifornian.com.

Wednesday: The top five stories across all genres of news -- breaking, business, government and sports.

Thursday: The top stories in government and in health.

Friday: The top breaking news stories.

Saturday: The best quotes of the year.

Sunday: Those we lost in 2013 and the top stories in business.

Today: The online hits of 2013 and the top stories in sports.

New Year's Eve: People to watch in 2014.

New Year's Day: Can you guess 2014's big headlines?

In these rankings, we looked at individual events and ranked them as most read for 2013:

 

1. THE DEATH OF DAVID SAL SILVA

No story in 2013 demonstrated how one story could be distributed so quickly beyond the footprint of a market than the story of David Sal Silva's death. On its own, Silva's death while in the custody of the Kern County Sheriff's Office was powerful for readers here on bakersfield.com, but took on a whole new life once it hit Reddit.com. More than 375,000 people clicked on the story, spending more than four minutes, 54 seconds per visit and leaving dozens of comments.

The initial story was read in 110 countries, mostly due to Reddit's global reach. It sent more than 155,000 people to the story. Facebook added another 60,000.

Silva died in May after a violent confrontation with sheriff's deputies and two California Highway Patrol officers responding to a call of an intoxicated man outside Kern Medical Center. What happened next remains the center of controversy; Silva's family says he died begging for his life after being beaten and then bitten by a sheriff's dog. Sheriff Donny Youngblood says his deputies faced a large man who was intoxicated and on drugs.

The story took another turn when it was disclosed that investigators had confiscated cell phones of witnesses, who claimed they had shot video of the incident. Those stories also drew tens of thousands of visitors to bakersfield.com. Once again, this story proved a hot read and conversation starter on Reddit, with more than 40,000 people reading it.

In the following weeks, a sheriff's press conference revealed the coroner's report, while the family held a press conference of its own prefacing legal action against the sheriff. Both were among the most watched videos in 2013.

All told, the story of Silva's death drew more than 500,000 visitors to the websites here, and that number is likely to grow as the case makes its way through the courts.

 

2. PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC CO. DEMOLITION

Going into the planned demolition of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s long-closed power plant on Rosedale Highway there was incredible interest among readers, who often asked when the plant was finally going to be torn down.

Finally, on the morning of Aug. 3, the plant was scheduled to come down by a controlled explosion, but it turned out to be anything but controlled. With hundreds, if not thousands, of onlookers, the primary support columns for the plant were blasted by a demolition team. The resulting explosion sent shrapnel into the crowd that had assembled just east of Coffee Road in the Lowe's parking lot.

Five people were injured, including one man critically: 43-year-old Jerry Wood, who has undergone numerous surgeries to save his legs.

The story drew more than 25,000 visitors to bakersfield.com in the hours after the explosion. However, word of the injuries spread rapidly across social media and dozens of videos and photos were shared of the incident on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Californian's video team provided a live video stream of the event starting at 5 a.m., a time when web traffic is almost non-existent on a Saturday morning. More than 2,000 people stopped by to watch part of the video during that hour, most watching on mobile devices.

By the end of the day, more than 100,000 people had watched The Californian's videos of the day's events via YouTube. The story was immediately picked up around the world with The Huffington Post and other web-based news sites taking the video to accompany their news stories.

 

3. TAFT HIGH SHOOTING

On Jan. 10, a 16-year-old boy walked into the science building at Taft Union High School armed with a shotgun, according to authorities. Before he could be wrestled to the ground by a teacher and campus supervisor, one student was critically wounded by a blast from the shotgun.

Law enforcement said Bryan Oliver opened fire, while Oliver's attorney says the boy had been bullied. The combination of the school shooting, just weeks after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and the bullying charge led to a stampede of media into Taft.

In all, more than 27,000 people read the story. While the story went national, almost all of the visits to the website were local.

 

4. THE DEATH OF ANNETTE FUNICELLO

For decades, former Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer Annette Funicello was the public face of multiple sclerosis, but she lost her battle with the disease on April 8 in Bakersfield's Mercy Southwest Hospital.

Funicello lived with the neurological disease for 26 years and tirelessly worked to raise awareness about it. A favorite of Walt Disney, Funicello was a television star in the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s and later was a star on the big screen in bikini-themed beach movies during the 1960s.

Funicello and her husband, Glen Holt, were living in Shafter during her final years. She was often seen around Bakersfield, but was unrecognizable to most due to the ravages of the disease.

"It was painful to see her struggle so many years with MS," step-grandson Canaan McDuffie told The Californian. "She just never gave up, never, ever complained. It was just the definition of strength."

In all, more than 25,000 people read the story on bakersfield.com, with more than 5,000 watching a video produced by The Californian staff. More than 1,000 visitors came from a Funicello fan site.

 

5. PRINCIPAL ARRESTED IN CONNECTION TO HUSBAND'S DEATH

The August homicide of Todd Chance, a 45-year-old Bakersfield resident, proved mysterious enough, but it took a turn when the Kern County Sheriff's Office accused his wife, Fairview Elementary School Principal Leslie Jenea Chance, of the killing.

Jenea Chance was arrested on suspicion of murder Aug. 29 but released days later when the District Attorney's office requested further investigation. She has not been charged; no other suspects have been named.

Detectives say Jenea Chance, 46, and her husband drove to the field, and she shot him. They say she then abandoned the car near the intersection of Tigerflower Drive and Wheatland Avenue, just off Highway 99 near Panama Lane.

Her attorney, Kyle J. Humphrey, said detectives rushed to judgment and should be investigating other suspects. The location of where the car was left makes it possible that Todd Chance was the victim of a carjacking, he said.

The story drew more than 12,000 visitors to the website.

 

6. OLYMPIAN RAN WITH OWENS, PROUDLY INSULTED HITLER

Once in a while, an older story will come roaring back and reporter Steven Mayer's 2011 obituary of Olympic medalist Bob Young, who died at 95 in 2011, was just that story. Young told The Californian during a 2006 interview that he remembered the 1936 Olympics in Berlin clearly.

"Every day, Hitler would come into the stadium and everyone would stand up and give him the ol' Heil Hitler salute," Young remembered. "Sometimes, if the Gestapo wasn't around, we'd give him the finger."

That gesture earned him a place in "The Top 10 People Who Stuck It To Hitler," on the website listverse.com, which serves up a lot of Top 10 lists. The story drew more than 13,950 visits back to bakersfield.com.

Young, who grew up in Bakersfield, ran on the 1,600-meter relay team that earned the silver medal.

 

7. CIF STATE WRESTLING

If you added up all of the views from reporter Zach Ewing's two days of live blogging from the CIF-State Wrestling Championships, more than 13,000 people stopped by to see what was happening minute-by-minute on the mats at Rabobank Arena.

This year, Ewing added video commentary that drew an additional 8,000 viewers via YouTube. Historically, the CIF-State Wrestling Championships has been one of the most viewed on bakersfield.com, but this year it shattered records for page views and time spent. An average visit lasted more than seven minutes -- three times the site average for the day.

 

8. BAKERSFIELD IS ONE DRUNK CITY

When the December issue of Men's Health magazine came out, there was a list of drunkest and most sober cities in America. Who was the drunkest? Bakersfield.

From our Bakosphere blog: "It sounds like a Merle Haggard song: Blue collars, beer and bad decisions. But that's business as usual in Bakersfield, California, home of great country music -- and a collective boozy breath that blows it to the top of America's most dangerously drunk cities," the magazine said.

Men's Health didn't explain its methodology, but some of the magazine's previous Metrograde surveys have been far from scientific. And as of Nov. 18, the link provided in the story for "full rankings" leads to a completely different survey. So, take the ranking with a grain of salt (or maybe grains if you're drinking from a salted margarita glass as you read this).

Bakersfield ranked last of 100 cities nationwide. San Antonio, Texas, ranked 99th. Other California cities in the bottom 10 were Stockton (98), San Bernardino (96) and Fresno (95).

The blog post drew more than 11,000 visitors and was hot on Facebook with nearly half of all referrals coming from the social media site.

 

9. DRAMATIC DINNER RESCUE INVOLVES KNIFE, UCLA DOCTOR AND CDC DIRECTOR

When Pauline Larwood began choking on a piece of meat at The Mark restaurant downtown, she was in good company, because her life was saved by one of the quick-thinking doctors with whom she was dining.

Larwood, Kern's first female county supervisor and a current community college trustee, was eating dinner with some of the doctors, experts, politicians and others in town for a valley fever symposium when she began choking.

After the Heimlich maneuver failed to open Larwood's airway, witnesses said, Dr. Royce Johnson, professor of medicine at UCLA and Kern Medical Center's chief of infectious diseases, used a friend's knife to make an incision in Larwood's throat to allow the insertion of the hollow cylinder of a pen as a breathing tube.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monitored Larwood's pulse during the procedure.

The story was a huge hit online, as it was in the newspaper, with more than 10,000 visitors reading the story, each spending more than four minutes per visit.

Larwood made a full recovery.

 

10. CIF STATE REGIONAL FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

Bakersfield High School's march to the state football Division I championship proved to be one of the stories of the year, but the Drillers Southern California regional title was the 10th most read story of 2013.

Playing Dec. 13 against San Diego Open Division champion San Marcos Mission Hills, the Drillers needed a fourth quarter comeback to defeat the host Grizzlies 35-28 and earn a trip to the state title game.

Coupled with updates from the Bakersfield Christian game, which was played the same night at Centennial High, the blog posts by Zach Ewing drew in more than 3,000 people on a Friday night (when bakersfield.com's traffic is normally light), but had more than 10,000 page views.

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