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Looking back -- Top stories of 2013

Readers' clicks captured the most-popular stories of 2013.

BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Readers' clicks captured the most-popular stories of 2013.

There’s an old newspaper saying: "If it bleeds, it leads." Newspaper publishers long ago figured out that readers will reliably pick up stories that detail the worst of human nature.

And of course, it’s a newspaper’s duty to unflinchingly cover all aspects of their community: the bad along with the good.

But a look back at website and social media data from the past 12 months show that, while there is plenty of courts and crime in the most popular stories of 2013, there’s also room for the heartwarming and the downright bizarre.

Of course, figuring out the "most popular" story is a bit of a mug’s game. Publishers from decades ago had very little data to go by. Tracking single-copy sales by front-page headline was about state-of-the-art.

These days, the opposite problem exists: there’s almost too much data to make sense of.

Although it’s still impossible to track exactly which print stories are being read most in the physical paper, there is plenty of analytics software that will track what’s being read —and when, and from where, and on what device —when those same stories are mirrored online.



Most popular is not the same as most important, but here are the stories that readers chose to click on the most on in 2013:

The top 10:

1. Cops on the hunt for man after child abduction attempt (Nov. 10) — Brandon police warned people about a reported abduction in the city after a 13-year-old girl managed to kick her way free of the would-be abductor.

2. UPDATE: Storms rip through Westman (July 14) — This story detailed the first reports of massive damage in the Pipestone area during this second wave of storms to hit the area. Some buildings were levelled and farm equipment was tossed around as golf ball-sized hail fell. Power was cut to the whole village, which RCMP cordoned off. Neighbouring Reston was also hit — flooded for the third time in the summer.

3. Pickup driver killed in crash with semi (May 18) — Highway 10 was closed for several hours, just south of Forrest, after a pickup truck crashed head-on into a semi-trailer hauling a hazardous cargo of dry fertilizer. The pickup driver was killed.

4. Tow truck operator killed on highway (Dec. 9) — This first report of a tow truck operator’s death was widely shared on social media, where friends quickly confirmed that the victim was the president and owner of Accel Towing and Transport, Jason Schaffer.

5. Election Day: Live results (Nov. 25) — This page, containing an Elections Canada widget that displayed lived results as they came in, was the fastest, most accurate way to get results during the byelection.

6. Motel 6 murder suspect appears in court (April 11) — The first full story to have details of a slaying at Motel 6, which turned out to be the killing of a man by his own son, who was later declared not criminally responsible. It was the second homicide of the year for Brandon.

7. Brandon woman has been missing nearly a week (Oct. 25) — The 20-year-old woman who went missing from an east-end home was quickly located after this story went out.

8. Rapid City man arrested after standoff (Feb. 22) — A 34-year-old man was arrested after a standoff in Rapid City that lasted more than 12 hours. He had hit his wife over the head with a metal detector and, after she fled, used a shotgun to blast a bathroom mirror. In December, he was found not criminally responsible.

9. Girl grabbed by stranger in Carberry (June 6) — RCMP issued a short release after an 11-year-old girl said she was outside training for a race when someone grabbed her from behind. Local residents geared up to go after the man they thought was responsible, but it later turned out that the abduction report was false.

10. Man killed in highway crash was Brandonite (May 17) — A 68-year-old Brandon man was behind the wheel of a minivan on the Trans-Canada Highway when it slammed at high speed into the back of a parked semi. Photos of the crash showed the minivan more than halfway underneath the semi’s trailer.

The runners-up:

11. It’s official: WestJet lands in Brandon on Sept. 3

12. One killed, two hurt as motorcycle hits van

13. Brandon teen killed in highway crash

14. Westman woman ID’d as victim of Portage-area crash

15. Authorities say toddler’s death remains under investigation

Five more top headlines:

FOGGING UPDATE: City releases buffer zone maps

Biplane crashed after propeller fell apart and engine fell out: TSB

Reston deals with worst flood in recent memory

Police circulate surveillance pics

Mounties to investigate allegation of ‘starlight tour’ by Brandon police


The Brandon Sun is a bit of a complicated case. For most unique local news, an online paywall keeps casual readers out. The top stories of the year were all free articles, which are posted as breaking news, or from any one of a number of wire services. But some of the best work done at the Brandon Sun is for subscribers-only.

Non-subscribers may not have seen these great stories; here are the paywalled articles that were most popular in 2013:

The top 10:

1. Liver donor suffers painful fate (Aug. 8) — Boissevain’s Jody VanDaele spent more than a month in an Edmonton hospital after donating two-thirds of her liver to her stepdad so he could live.

2. Three years in prison for impregnating stepdaughter (June 11) — A Brandon man who impregnated his 12-year-old stepdaughter is sentenced to three years in prison. The 35-year-old man is expected to be deported when his prison sentence is done.

3. Towing company owner dies trying to assist stranded vehicle (Dec. 10) — The president and owner of Accel Towing and Transport, Jason Schaffer, 39, died while attempting to assist a stranded vehicle near the tiny community of Sidney.

4. Gunman pleads guilty to first-degree murder (Oct. 9) — In a surprise move, Robert Patrick Ray Morand pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, ending a legal ordeal that lasted more than three years. Morand killed one man in Neepawa after believing that he’d been insulted and tried to shoot another. He also pleaded guilty to attempted murder.

5. Former Brandon woman accused of stripping on ice during hockey game in Alberta (Jan. 5) — A former Brandon University student was charged with indecent acts after allegedly stripping nearly nude during a men’s rec hockey game in Alberta. "She would have froze if we had left her out there much longer, let’s put it that way," an RCMP spokesperson said.

6. Ambulance driver ‘had clearly gone nuts’ (Aug. 24) — A rogue ambulance driver on his way back to a dispatch centre carrying no patients allegedly reached speeds of 145 km/h on Highway 16 before he stopped in the middle of the road and threatened the driver behind him. Traffic backed up in both directions on the highway during the incident.

7. Man charged with making child porn granted bail (May 11) — The estranged wife of a man charged with making child porn was left scrambling to get a court order to protect her children, said her lawyer. Despite the allegations against the man, a bail order effectively allows him continued, unsupervised access to their young children. The 35-year-old Swan River man was accused of making sexual videos of two teenage girls, one a youth.

8. Baby Bailey gets OK to go home (Dec. 13) — After 111 days in hospital, three-month-old Bailey Phillips was finally home for the first time. Bailey was airlifted to Winnipeg hours after her birth, diagnosed with a congenital cytomegalovirus. Ever since, the baby’s life had depended on blood transfusions every three days.

9. Tory leaflet breaks federal copyright law (Nov. 22) — A smear mailer sent out to Brandon-Souris byelection voters by the Conservative party broke copyright laws championed by its own Harper government. The pamphlet included a black-and-white photo of Liberal candidate Rolf Dinsdale taken by local photographer John Scott, who said he did not give consent for the photo’s use.

10. Crash victim ‘will be greatly missed’ (March 5) — Kevin Wadham, 50, from the RM of Wallace, had stopped his truck along the Trans-Canada near Virden to help someone dislodge a snowmobile during a snowstorm. He was struck by another snowmobiler.

The runners-up:

11. Girl found dead near railway tracks

12. Damage estimated at $500K after fire destroys rural home

13. Imaginary Cities will perform at Brandon folk fest

14. Zoning bylaw changes possible, city says

15. WestJet flight lands city officials in hot water

Five more top headlines:

Kennedy shocked nomination papers rejected by Tories

Tragic end for troubled driver

Judge strikes down gunman’s mandatory sentence

Lawyer convicted of professional misconduct, suspended

Cops on stakeout during motel shooting


Of course, the website is just one way to access articles online. Social media has become a very important part of publishing strategy and that was clearly in evidence through 2013. Brandon Sun stories that were shared on Facebook got consistently more views through Facebook than through the Sun website.

More than 4,000 people already "like" the paper on Facebook, where the Brandon Sun posts its daily front page as well as regular articles, including breaking news and a selection of paywalled stories. In total, there were nearly 1,500 posts over the past year — about four per day. Here are the most popular Facebook posts of 2013:

The top 10:

1. Aerial photo of flooded baseball diamonds near Reston (June 26) — This Tim Smith photo shows some of the flooding from the second storm to hit Reston in less than a week. After it was posted to the Brandon Sun page, it was shared by an additional 217 people.

2. Wednesday’s front page (Sept. 25) — This front page showcased a great Colin Corneau photo of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, on his first visit to Brandon, with his arms around a smiling Rick and Norma Borotsik. Trudeau would repeatedly visit BrandonSouris during the byelection, which the Liberals lost narrowly to the Conservatives.

3. Tonight’s severe T-storms have reportedly flooded basements in the city’s west end — warning has been lifted in Brandon (June 25) — This photo is blurry and very dim, but it shows a man trying to pull a car out of a very flooded street along Willowdale Crescent.

4. Possible tornado strikes Sioux Valley (July 18) — Yet another wicked storm whipped through Westman in mid-July. Environment Canada later confirmed that a weak tornado hit the community. The same storm sent 100 km/h winds through Hamiota and downed trees at the Shilo Country Club.

5. Damage reported in Pipestone, Hartney as storms wallop the area (July 13) — This story was the first to report on the serious damage in Pipestone after an unconfirmed tornado touched down. It was paired with a powerful photo of downed power lines in a field, with a highway sign saying "Pipestone" lying on the ground and a fading rainbow in the sky.

6. Two teen boys dead after Fire Commissioner pickup rear-ended the car they were in on the Trans-Canada near MacGregor (Oct. 5) — An assistant fire commissioner continues to face charges after this crash, which killed two people and injured two others.

7. Good morning! Here is Monday’s front page (Dec. 16) — Topping the front page that day was the tale of baby Jaxyn, who was born in a pickup truck on the side of a snowy, dark highway — almost exactly a year after another highway-side birth sparked a policy that was supposed to prevent such things.

8. What do you think about the number of signs marking Brandon’s ‘Share the Road’ cycling route? (Aug. 27) —Using a high-powered zoom lens, Colin Corneau was able to capture the over-population of pro-cycling signs on Lorne Avenue in this photo, which drew nearly 50 comments.

9. Marijuana found amongst oat crop north of Riding Mountain (Sept. 23) — No one likes to find weed in their fields, but the pot plants were easily spotted. They were much taller than the surrounding oats, as photos showed. RCMP uprooted 146 plants from the 20 acres of oats.

10. Body of missing Brandon teen, Mark Anthony Cloud, has been found (Oct. 3) — Ten months after this Brandon teenager disappeared, his remains were found near St. Andrews. Family kept up a social media vigil for Cloud during his disappearance. Foul play was not suspected in his death.

The runners-up:

11. Police look for help IDing women in store surveillance tapes

12. Incredible time-lapse video of last night's storm rolling in to Douglas

13. Thursday’s front page (March 21) — Swimsuit-clad granny enjoys winter on YouTube in one story. In another, Brandon plummets to No. 91 on list of best places to live

14. Crash at Trans-Canada and Highway 270 involves motorcycle and van. Serious injuries

15. One dead, two in hospital after motorcycle hits van on Trans-Canada

Five more top headlines:

Twister touchdown near Roblin was confirmed over the weekend

$100K lotto winner: ‘I yelled out a few choice words … the whole neighbourhood heard me.’

13-year-old kicks her way free of masked man in truck

By popular request, our Zombie Survival Map

For fighting and bullying, eight Brandon girls spent night in jail

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 28, 2013

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