Sharks, Beer Among Most Popular Headlines in West

By Don Jergler | December 27, 2013

For years newshounds have endeavored to figure out a way to predict what stories will prove most popular with readers.

While a few web news aggregators have had some measure of success and have steadily drawn in readers with hot topics, figuring out what sort of news will resonate with readers is far from an exact science.

And the stories that do prove popular aren’t always those that are the most sensational, topical or hard-hitting. They are often the goofiest or weirdest. Some would even call them “stupid.”

For better or worse, following is the top 10 stories for 2013 on InsuranceJournal.com’s West region.

SharkNado promo poster

The Syfy made-for-television flick and Twitter phenom caused $100B in damages, according to cat modeler AIR Worldwide.

No. 1: This year was no exception for the goofy-sells phenomenon. A story about the world’s worst catastrophe wreaking havoc on Los Angeles topped the list for most read stories in the West.

The headline:SharkNado’ Impact on Los Angeles $100B!

The plot: The so-lousy-it’s-good, made-for-television flick killed it on Twitter when it aired on a hot night in July, and websites far and near had stories on the SyFy channel movie in which tornado-flung sharks gobbled, squashed and thrashed hapless Los Angelenos.

A B-list cast and campy special effects made for great social media fodder, and despite a mediocre Nielsen rating the film has given birth to a sequel.

What sold the film to Insurance Journal readers was a savvy marketing move the next day by Boston-based catastrophe modeler AIR Worldwide, which released estimates on insured losses from the “SharkNado” event. The firm estimated losses would exceed $100 billion, noting that the hardest hit areas were those impacted by great white sharks, “although isolated pockets of hammerheads also caused severe damage.”

No. 2: Getting serious, readers took to a story about working from home.

The headline: Insurance Weighs in on Working from Home

The plot: Following Yahoo Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer’s announced plans in late February to bring telecommuters back into the office, Insurance Journal polled insurance carriers, agencies and others to get their thoughts on working from home.

Mayer’s decision, which was preceded by a similar announcement by Best Buy to reel in 4,000 non-store employees, got hammered by critics of the cubicle experience who touted the work-life balance trend as worthy of preservation. One of the most notable critics was British business giant Richard Branson, who immediately after Yahoo’s announcement criticized the struggling tech company’s policy change, and referred to it as a step backwards.

No. 3: Write the word “beer” in a headline and you’re guaranteed to get hits. Add “beer” throughout a story to improve the SEO experience. That’s another guarantee. “Beer” is good.

The headline: 5 Idaho Inmates Sue Beer Companies Seeking $1 Billion in Damages

The plot: Five inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution decided they would sue a handful of major beer and wine companies, contending that alcohol led to their crimes and that they should have been warned that the beverages can be addictive.

Miller Brewing Company, Anheuser-Busch and E. & J. Gallo Winery and other alcohol companies should put warning labels on their products to inform consumers that they are habit forming and addictive, said the inmates, who sought $1 billion in damages.

No. 4: Ranking as the fourth most popular story in the West was the tale of an executive shakeup at California’s largest workers’ compensation provider.

The headline: California State Fund CEO and CFO Resign

The plot: State Compensation Insurance Fund President and CEO Tom Rowe and Chief Financial Officer Dan Sevilla resigned without a peep.

The board of directors announced their departure following a closed session meeting in November. No reasons were given for their departure, and neither executive wanted to talk about it. The board has been tight-lipped about the departures, and as of the end of December a search for their replacements is ongoing, according to State Fund spokeswoman Jennifer Vargen.

No. 5: Almost as popular as beer, stories on athletes often prove popular.  As was the case when former New York Giants player Marcus Buckley was charged in a $1.5 million scheme to defraud a Sacramento insurance company.

The headline: Former NFL Player Charged With Insurance Fraud in California

The plot: The U.S. attorney’s office said in April that the 42-year-old, who played seven seasons for the Giants, was charged with wire fraud and money laundering.

Buckley, of Weatherford, Texas, was accused of filing false workers’ comp claims for football-related stress injuries. Also charged was claims adjuster Kimberly Jones, who allegedly conspired with Buckley and who worked for Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., which handled worker’s comp claims against the Giants.

Rounding out the rest of the top 10:

6: Catholic Hospital Claims Fetus Not Person in Colorado Malpractice Defense

7: Montana Woman Charged With DUI After Drunken Horse Ride

8: Universal, Fireman’s Fund Seek ‘Fast and Furious’ Solution

9: Broker Awarded $3.8M Verdict in Reputation Suit

10: Match.Com Calls Vegas Woman’s Lawsuit ‘Absurd’

Insurance Journal readers aren’t so different from readers on other sites.

Among the top stories currently featured on CNN.com were serious stories on the NSA, hate crime and a few stories with international implications. However, also topping the site were stories on a python killing a security guard in Bali, people injured in a fish attack and a story on Justin Bieber’s threat to retire from the music game.

Say it ain’t so.

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