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Column: Story of the year, taken step by step


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Story of the year?

In a bustling city with so many significant events and developments over a 12-month period, where do you start?

In our case, it began with preparation of the Year in Review section, which appears within today’s Republic. The format for the popular section calls for identifying the top story for each publication day, a task taken on by senior reporter John Clark. He reviewed digital copies of each Republic front page this year and assembled the day-by-day list that’s in today’s section.

With 363 stories of the day to choose from (because the section printed in advance, we had to cut it off a few days early), Clark was assigned to identify the Top 40 for the Republic Editorial Board to consider.

But before that group voted, its members wanted clear direction, “How do we define ‘top story?’”

Most compelling? Most important? Either one could apply.

But our group agreed that it would vote on stories that had the biggest impact on our readership area.

With the list of 40 before them, Editorial Board members cast their votes for their individual top 10, and the stories receiving the greatest number of votes became the 10 semifinalists that formed the reader ballot, which appeared on Wednesday’s front page.

Then it was your turn. Readers made the final choice, voting by electronic ballot online, by calling in their votes over the phone or emailing their selections to us. We also gave them a chance to personally drop off a ballot at the office, but with up to 8 inches of snow abruptly blocking their paths, understandably no one chose that option.

Unless you skipped today’s front page and went directly to the Opinion page, you already know that Republic readers chose the Dolly Madison plant saga — which played out during 2012 between owner Hostess Brands and unionized employees — as the top story of the year.

Top management of the company that made Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread had told employees repeatedly this year that they would shut down operations nationally without more concessions from union workers including wage and benefit cuts, which Hostess said was needed to stave off bankruptcy.

Nationally, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, 5,000 strong, rejected the company’s ultimatum, also shunning advice from the Teamsters. As a result, 18,500 employees at 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers and 570 outlet stores, more than 200 of them in Columbus, lost their jobs Nov. 16 when Hostess pulled the plug.

Some of those workers are still hoping for a “white knight” to purchase the baking plant on National Road and reopen it, restoring their jobs. Business analysts, however, doubt that will happen.

The Dolly Madison saga was a story filled with drama, emotion and economic impact. I can’t argue with our readers’ choice.

That said, it was a very close vote, with two political stories in the “place” and “show” positions.

With just a few more votes, the change that came during Kristen Brown’s first year in office as Columbus mayor would have been The Republic’s top story of the year. And right on her heels, in third place, was the election of Columbus native Mike Pence to Indiana’s highest office, governor.

Storm watch

The biggest winter storm in years was not the biggest story of this year, but the Dec. 26 blizzard certainly, and appropriately, generated significant coverage last week.

Feeding readers’ appetite for high-impact stories in real time, we posted two dozen stories on our weather blog during the business day Wednesday, plus weather forecasts and alerts, and more than 70 local weather-impacted closings. That information helped readers guide their day during quick-changing circumstances.

Wednesday weather coverage generated more than 56,000 page views at therepublic.com, more than twice the website activity for all local content on a typical day.

Put simply, the digital traffic for weather on Wednesday was huge. Clicks were being counted far faster than vehicular traffic on the area’s snow-slowed roads.

Among the highest-interest pieces, our Wednesday weather blog generated 16,500 page views, followed by 13,700 page views for weather forecasts and alerts, and 10,300 from closings.

Same-day digital coverage was followed up by stories and photos that dominated Thursday’s print edition of The Republic.

Big day, big interest, big audience ... and great coverage to meet reader needs and expectations.

Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. You may reach him by phone at 379-5665 or by email at tjekel@therepublic.com

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