We live in the golden age of clickbait—the manipulative Web headline that tempts readers with the promise of seeing something outrageous, inspirational or adorable. Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy have turned such “linkalism” into a shameless art form.
The term refers to the practice of journalists doing little more than posting links to other reporters’ stories on the Web. It points to the trend across all media of “aggregating” stories by others to draw more hits to their own sites. We know linkalism well: It was coined by Portlandia in an episode filmed in WW’s newsroom.
We laughed and scoffed at the time. But its seems everyone in the news media—WW included—is taking part. In the past year, our city has gained its 15 minutes of viral fame from posts about then-U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker of New Jersey flirting with a vegan stripper; Oregon Zoo otter Eddie dunking a tiny basketball; and one-eyed kitten Sir Stuffington donning a pirate costume, complete with eye patch.
As we prepared for our annual look back at this year’s most popular stories in WW, we were struck by the diversity and differences between Web-only stories and ones that started in print.
You wanted to read about rock singers in trouble, lesbian homecoming princesses and pranksters in Eastmoreland. But you also spent a lot of time with stories about our public schools, an upended county government, the ongoing cultural battle over the definition of marriage, and fluoride. Especially fluoride. (If WW’s news desk could have found a way to make Sir Stuffington drink fluoride, we would all be spending Christmas in Cancun.)
So this year we created two top-10 lists, so you could see for yourself how our top stories resonated on the Web. We ranked both Web-only stories and those that appeared first in WWs’ print edition by the number of unique page views they received. Some stories (especially our coverage of changes at The Oregonian) did well no matter where they first appeared.
Some were in-depth and consequential. Others were linkalism at its best.
What did these stories have in common? They were the stories you wanted to read.
Let’s click on them again.
No. 10, wweek.com
During the campaign, Buel said the board’s failure to hold PPS administrators accountable was one of the district’s biggest problems. Now a member, Buel says the board also helps the district’s bosses cover up the problems.
He took some of his sharply worded complaints public in a Nov. 19 message on Facebook called “Hiding From the Light.”
“The PPS board and our administration,” Buel wrote, “have many different ways in which we try to hide what is happening.”
It was an extraordinary blast of candor from a PPS board member. Buel went as far as to say School Board Chairman Greg Belisle and Superintendent Carole Smith have a stranglehold on the board’s agenda—only things they like, he says, ever see the light of day. “Unless it is vetted in the backrooms,” he says, “it can’t even be voted upon.”
Other Buel observations:
“The budget is written in a manner which makes it pretty much indecipherable to the average citizen, preventing close scrutiny by the public.”
“Obtaining public records in PPS is astronomically hard and delayed beyond anything which is reasonable.”
“We restrict teachers from teaching, then hold them responsible for the outcomes.”
“Some administrators will lie by omission, and some will just dead-out lie.”
We reported on his comments at wweek.com, and the posts quickly drew a lot of readers—even though most Portland media ignored Buel’s post.
Buel—who was endorsed by the Portland teachers union, and says he is now working to avoid a teachers’ strike—tells WW he won’t stop trying to force the board to be more transparent. “I’m not afraid of conflict,” he says. NIGEL JAQUISS.
No. 10, Print and Web
In July, WW published a 10-year update of some of the people and places covered in novelist Chuck Palahniuk’s popular Fugitives and Refugees guide to the offbeat parts of Portland.
Most of these are still approximately where we left them in July. But one landmark written about by Palahniuk has received a makeover. In September, the Vista “Suicide” Bridge added a 9-foot fence designed to deter people from jumping off the expanse. The move by the city of Portland came after media reports (especially a 2011 story in The Northwest Examiner that drew attention to the problem) about the numbers of people who kill themselves there.
Meanwhile, Palahniuk announced in July he’ll be working on a sequel to his novel Fight Club, which will be narrated by a bored, mentally “submerged” Tyler Durden. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
No. 9, wweek.com
Soon, people had affixed photographs and images of many Bills—including Clinton, Cosby, Walton, Gates, Shakespeare, Shatner, Murray, and Nye the Science Guy—to the fence around the “Post No Bills” sign. We learned about it from our news partners at KATU. Internet monoliths George Takei and Reddit had already lit it up.
Portland Parks & Recreation took down the portraits after a local woman complained. Soon, pictures of Bobs went up (Marley, Dylan, Costas, Sponge-, the Builder).
“One neighbor sort of self-policed the fence after that,” Parks & Recreation spokesman Mark Ross says.
The sign has been cut down—only fragments of its four corners remain—with no plans for another one.
ALEX TOMCHAK SCOTT.
No. 9, Print and Web
McCaig—a longtime political insider—successfully led the effort to get the Oregon Legislature to approve $450 million for the CRC. It was no small feat, given the numbers for the bridge have never added up and the lobbying effort relied on several misleading claims. Still, the Oregon bill passed, with strings attached. Perhaps the biggest string: The Washington Legislature had to go along, but the Senate coalition in Olympia led by Republicans rejected the idea.
Kitzhaber declared the project dead and then, aided by McCaig, found a way to propose a plan for Oregon to shoulder the project largely without Washington. (McCaig, who declined to be interviewed for the story, also didn’t respond to questions for this update.) Oregon lawmakers in 2014 will be asked to look at re-upping based on this new strategy.
Meanwhile, McCaig faces charges before the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. The commission launched an inquiry after WW reported McCaig had billed for hundreds of hours of time pushing the CRC to lawmakers but had never registered as a lobbyist, as the law requires. The commission is also weighing whether McCaig had a conflict of interest, given that she was Kitzhaber’s senior adviser on the project while she was a paid consultant to the CRC’s biggest contractor.
The ethics commission
voted to launch an investigation in July after finding a “substantial
objective basis” that ethics laws were violated. The commission was
supposed to make a decision on the case next month, but its executive
director, Ron Bersin, says it will probably put it off until February. BRENT WALTH.
No. 8, wweek.com
So no one should judge Gossip singer and lesbian icon Beth Ditto for her regrettable night out on North Mississippi Avenue back in March—except, of course, an actual judge. Police arrested her March 16 and charged her with second-degree disorderly conduct, and WW broke the news that day.
Four days later, the indie-rock frontwoman (real name: Mary Beth Patterson) pleaded no contest in Multnomah County Circuit Court and was ordered to pay a $435 fine. Ditto’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment. MATTHEW SINGER.
No. 8, Print and Web
We found David Douglas, the biggest high school in the state, has 2,893 students, high poverty rates, a low tax base and immigrant students struggling with language barriers, some having never attended school before.
The story showed how David Douglas functions with meager funding and many immigrant students facing multiple issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder for those just arriving from war zones. Yet the school gets zinged by the Oregon and federal departments of education for failing to meet benchmarks that do not take into account these challenges.
Meanwhile, the David Douglas School District (for which David Douglas is the only comprehensive high school) had the highest graduation rate—nearly 69 percent—of any district in the metro area except Riverdale, which is fed by the wealthy Dunthorpe neighborhood.
The story profiled Hae Nay Paw, then a sophomore from Thailand who had come to the U.S. as a refugee three years earlier. The story showed how the school had found motivated students such as Hae Nay to succeed, and she’s still thriving.
Now a junior, Hae Nay is taking a full, rigorous load of mainstream classes and enjoying them all, even biology, where she struggles because of the vocabulary. Twice a week after school, she attends College Possible, which provides SAT preparation and advice on filling out college applications, how to choose the right school and how to apply for financial aid.
“I feel so much safer at school,” Hae Nay says. “I feel like we have these teachers and students who are so nice. We don’t have anything sad happening at this school.” RACHEL GRAHAM CODY.
No. 7, wweek.com
A story about a truck accident tying up morning rush-hour traffic is usually local TV news fodder—unless that truck is carrying gear to the Moda Center for a show by superstar rapper Drake.
A semi carrying stage equipment for his Dec. 3 performance overturned that morning, spilling diesel fuel and backing up Interstate 5 in North Portland for hours.
The accident (no one was hurt) becomes an excuse for outlets like this one to ponder what kind of stage props the famously sensitive artist could be hauling around. Giant scented candles? A swimming pool of potpourri?
Turns out it was a massive circular platform, which he used during his performance to hover above the crowd. Later, word got out that Drake had donated a significant sum of money to the Union Gospel Mission in Old Town, making us feel bad for having a laugh at his expense. Slightly. MATTHEW SINGER.
No. 7, Print and Web
Four months after the Exploding Hearts released their debut album, the widely acclaimed Guitar Romantic, three of the four members of the pop-punk act died when their van flipped over on Interstate 5 in July 2003 as the band returned from a sold-out show in San Francisco.
Writer Emilee Booher visited the lone survivor, guitarist Terry Six, in Oakland, Calif., to remember the band, the album and the night it all abruptly ended.
“A few people kinda came out of the woodwork: old bandmates, blasts from the past,” Six says of the March 27 cover story’s aftermath. “Jason Keebler from Dante’s called me and said, ‘Well, it’s about time, right?’”
The attention from our story spurred him to make a record with honorary Heart “King” Louie Bankston, scheduled for release in September on Six’s own label, Tuff Break, and to issue the first-ever officially licensed Exploding Hearts T-shirts. MATTHEW SINGER.
No. 6, wweek.com
On Dec. 4, architecture critic Brian Libby used his blog portlandarchitecture.com to call out gas utility NW Natural for its plans to demolish the Gas and Coke Building, which sits on one of the most polluted industrial sites along the Willamette River.
WW wrote about his campaign in a Dec. 9 post, and interest took off. His post stirred up widespread concern and outrage that a landmark along U.S. 30 would soon be gone. Since then, preservation advocates have begun collecting signatures to save the building, with the hope of turning it into the centerpiece of a park.
NW Natural says the building is beyond salvaging and the utility has a financial duty to its shareholders and ratepayers to get rid of it.
Libby says the outcry is a chance for a company with millions of dollars in pollution liability to win community goodwill.
“Honestly, the degree of affection out there caught me off-guard,” he writes on his blog. “It may not be their role, but NW Natural has the opportunity to be a cultural savior.” AARON MESH.
No. 6, Print and Web
Even as gay marriage heads for the Oregon ballot and a courtroom battle next year, the idea still makes some people uneasy. (See our No. 1 print story on page 17.) But Michelle and Eidan Bray didn’t expect Old Town gay club CC Slaughters to be one of the places where their wedding dresses weren’t welcome.
In August, the Brays were barred from CC Slaughters on the night of their same-sex commitment ceremony—because their gowns violated the club’s ban on bachelorette attire. The policy is designed to keep straight brides from flaunting their nuptials in front of gay clubgoers who cannot legally marry in Oregon.
“It was disappointing,” Eidan Bray says now. “CC’s that night was the one place we thought we could go to celebrate with the LGBT community.”
They haven’t returned since. A story on the Brays (“Brides Denied,” WW, Aug. 28, 2013) drew plenty of argument, but no policy changes from CC Slaughters yet. Kevin Hutman, the club’s marketing manager, tells WW the club’s owners will reconsider their policy if same-sex marriage is made legal in Oregon.
On Dec. 27, Michelle and Eidan Bray will wed again. This time they’re tying the knot at the home of Michelle’s parents in Connecticut—one of 17 states to legalize same-sex marriage before Oregon. ALEX TOMCHAK SCOTT.
No. 5, wweek.com
The former meth dealer rose to the top of his family bakery thanks to a popular organic bread—his cartoon mug beaming from the wrapper of each loaf—and Dahl’s testimonial of overcoming depression and drug addiction. The story helped fuel the company, which was bought last year by a private equity firm with plans to distribute as far as Texas and Chicago.
Police reports show Dahl had been intimidating employees and customers at the company’s Milwaukie bread outlet the morning before his arrest. “We’re very scared,” an employee said in a 911 call. “He’s a big man. He’s having a breakdown.”
Dahl now faces charges of second-degree assault on a police officer. A hearing in Washington County Circuit Court is scheduled for this week. Dahl, through his attorney, Stephen Houze, declined to discuss the events. AARON MESH.
No. 5, Print and Web
As WW reported Oct. 16, process servers working for Kuzmanich’s mortgage lender tried dozens of times to serve him with foreclosure papers on his Beaverton home earlier this year. Finally, a Washington County judge allowed the lender to “serve” Kuzmanich through newspaper ads. (Kuzmanich did not respond to requests for comment.)
On Nov. 26, the lender, the Federal National Mortgage Association, entered a judgment against Kuzmanich for $369,000. He’s retained the support of some Tea Party faithful, but the default judgment will hang over his head for 10 years—or until he pays it off.
Kuzmanich was too busy to show up in court, but he’s busy posting on Facebook—including a recent photo of him blasting away with a rifle. NIGEL JAQUISS.
No. 4, wweek.com
Cleveland High School Elects Same-Sex Couple to Homecoming Court
Teenage couple Sophie Schoenfeld and Laurel Osborne—elected Cleveland High’s homecoming princess and princess in October—knew their classmates had helped them set a precedent at the Southeast Portland school. They didn’t know they’d be international news.
In a Oct. 29 post, WW called Cleveland’s vote “another sign most millennials don’t think twice about sexual orientation” and linked to the original news story, published by the Cleveland student newspaper, The Clarion. “No one thought it was a big deal,” said Cleveland senior and student reporter David Mair, who broke the story. “But then we watched it blow up.”
Within days, the story ran in news outlets from Seattle to Great Britain, where the Daily Mail picked it up. Osborne and Schoenfeld emerged as school leaders—welcomed as examples by school administrators and invited to sing the national anthem at the winter assembly.
Not all the response was positive. Despite the support the young women received, they still learned a lesson about being on the forefront of social change.
“It’s made me think, I’m a normal 18-year-old. I never thought of the impact you can have on people,” Schoenfeld tells WW. “And that the community you live in is much smaller than you realize. Anytime this happens, you’re going to get people that aren’t happy. As much as it’s made me happy, it did make me realize that we have a ways to go.” RAMONA DeNIES.
No. 4, Print and Web
In August, we asked Melvins drummer Dale Crover to share his top five tips for surviving 30 years as a band. His advice proved so popular on Twitter we had to ask him for this update to give tips Nos. 6 through 10:
Be Nice! It doesn’t pay to be a jerk to people in this business. If you act like an asshole and treat people like shit, they won’t ever forget.
Sell Out! Hell, we sold out a long time ago. Nike even made a Melvins shoe a few years ago. We got paid in shoes!
Don’t Marry a Supermodel/Actress! Won’t these rock stars ever learn? Band dude marries a supermodel, has kids, then gets divorced a few years later because he’s hooked up with some chippy after the gig in Omaha. Hopefully, you have enough dough left over to pay for all the therapy your kids will need after you’ve destroyed their lives by being a dumbass.
Don’t Make Any Big Purchases! We operate like we’ll be out of business in six months. The wheels can fall off at any moment. So, not only should you not stand up in boats, you shouldn’t buy one, either.
Reinvent Yourselves! Only AC/DC can put out the
same record over and over again and people will buy it. We’ve worked
real hard at putting a big twist on what we do musically but still
sounding like the same band. Last piece of advice to younger bands: If
you can’t draw a crowd, draw a penis on the dressing room wall!
No. 3 wweek.com
Two days later, O’Hara landed an exclusive interview with McAfee, in which he revealed he had moved to Portland after fleeing Belize ahead of a police investigation into the murder of McAfee’s neighbor, American expat Gregory Faull.
McAfee, who had recently been the center of big profiles in Wired, told O’Hara a convoluted story of how Belizean authorities had blackmailed him, poisoned his dogs and targeted him for assassination.
Over the next four days, WW posted segments of the interview (while other media couldn’t locate McAfee) in which he offered his ideas on money, women (“The more ugly the woman, the better the sex”) and his need to stay in the public eye, even though he disliked the way the media had treated him. (He was about to be the subject of profiles in Vice, The Sunday Times of London and on Dateline NBC.)
“This is not fun,” he told The Times. “This is a necessary evil. I need your help so they don’t come and shoot me in the head.”
The last we heard of McAfee came Nov. 25 from The Oregonian, which reported the manager of McAfee’s Southeast Portland apartment was seeking a protective order against McAfee. The manager alleged McAfee made threats against him. McAfee denied it and told The O’s Mike Rogoway he had left Portland for good and had moved to Montreal. BRENT WALTH.
No. 3, Print and Web
Voters promptly defeated fluoridation by 61 percent to 39 percent. Campaign spending didn’t matter any more than our endorsement: The pro-fluoride campaign outspent opponents by a 3-to-1 margin only to get thumped. The defeat brought unflattering news reports about Portland, summed up in one of wweek.com’s top posts of the year, “Rest of Nation Mocks Portland Over Fluoride Vote.”
But the defeat exhilarated anti-fluoride activists and helped open the floodgates for a summer of dissent against City Hall’s decisions on the Bull Run Watershed. Many of the fluoride foes reunited at Occupy Mount Tabor in July, expressing outrage at high utility bills as well as the city’s plans to replace open-air reservoirs with underground tanks.
If you enjoyed that ruckus, we have good news: Another ballot measure is nearly finished collecting signatures for next May’s ballot. This one—which has divided the anti-fluoride crowd down the middle—would remove control of Portland’s water and sewer bureaus from the City Council altogether.
“The lesson is, you can only poke a bear in the nose so many times with a stick,” says water district campaign director Kent Craford, “before he takes a big swipe at you.” AARON MESH.
No 2., wweek.com
Looking for the biggest change in the state’s media landscape this year? Check your driveway. You won’t find The Oregonian on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In June, the New Jersey-based owners of the 163-year-old daily newspaper confirmed rumors circulating for more than a year of a move to Web-first journalism—along with deep cuts in the newsroom. The paper reduced home delivery to four days a week, fired nearly a quarter of the paper’s news staff, and replaced the laid-off veterans with younger, cheaper hires to focus first on breaking news on the Web.
Our posts on The O’s announcement got large numbers, in part because national media blogs such as romenesko.com picked them up. So did our cover story on what went on behind the scenes (“Black and White and Red All Over,” WW, June 26, 2013).
The paper implemented the moves Oct. 1, much to the dismay of many Portlanders—including Mayor Charlie Hales, who mentioned the paper’s “downward spiral” at public events. Inside the newsroom, the move to the Web has been divisive and bumpy. Reporters complain that what sells on the Web is now driving almost everything the paper does, and that unedited posts are often scraped from oregonlive.com and dropped directly into print editions.
Editor Peter Bhatia was the Newhouse family’s designated downsizer when it came to laying off reporters. He fired an editor with advanced kidney cancer—and then laid off the editor's wife, too. Now Bhatia is looking to the exits. He’s a finalist for the deanship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s journalism school.
“This place and our work here mean so much to me,” Bhatia told Oregonian staff in a memo explaining why he was looking to leave. “We have much more to do.” AARON MESH.
No. 2, Print and Web
So far, though, this year’s winner, singer-producer Dan Vidmar’s bedroom R&B project Shy Girls, is doing just fine.
At the time of our May 1 cover story, Shy Girls had just four officially released songs. In October, Vidmar released the Timeshare EP, raising the group’s total recorded output to nine songs and earning kudos from blogs like Stereogum and The Fader as well as The Oregonian, whose readers voted the record the best local release of 2013. In addition, “Perfect Form,” a song by Canadian EDM artist Cyril Hahn that Vidmar co-wrote and sang on, has over 1 million plays on Soundcloud and made the dance charts in the U.K.
Vidmar, who’s on a West Coast concert tour, says he’s got other vocal cameos in the works and is also writing new Shy Girls material, along with “other exciting things on the horizon for 2014 that I can’t talk about yet.” MATTHEW SINGER.
No. 1, wweek.com
Jeff Cogen’s DownfallHe was a Multnomah County chairman with designs on higher office. She was an ambitious policy wonk with a zeal for stomping out sugary snacks. Together, Jeff Cogen and Sonia Manhas conducted a two-year secret affair between a boss and subordinate, spent public dollars to travel together, and plotted to get her a promotion in the health department.
Both of their careers were torpedoed July 15, when a disgruntled former county employee—smarting from Manhas berating him for choosing a white male guest speaker for a health department event—sent Cogen and his fellow commissioners an anonymous email exposing the affair.
Cogen quickly confessed in a joint meeting with WW and The Oregonian. In the wake of his admission, WW broke the news that Cogen had not told the truth when he said no county money had been used to conduct the affair and that he did nothing to advance Manhas’ career. Especially damning: revelations that the couple worked around her supervisors and his staff, while he helped her get a promotion to director of policy and planning.
(One of the county officials they sought to subvert was health department director Lillian Shirley, subject of another popular wweek.com post, which reported she was arrested in May for fourth-degree domestic assault after she bit her husband in a domestic dispute. The charges were dropped. In September, Shirley was named director of the Oregon Public Health Division.)
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and the Oregon Department of Justice managed to find no laws were broken in the Cogen-Manhas case. The record revealed Manhas told investigators tales of how the “deadhead” Cogen liked to smoke pot before attending parades.
Former County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury is running against former City Commissioner Jim Francesconi for Cogen’s seat in the May 2014 primary.
Cogen is working for signature-gathering firm Democracy Resources, which is working to put marijuana legalization on the 2014 ballot. Manhas returned to her hometown of Vancouver, B.C. The county still hasn’t decided if it will fill her job. AARON MESH.
No. 1, Print and Web
So WW decided to test the limits of their religion-based business model.
We dispatched a team of reporters to call the bakeries and order cakes that would seem to violate biblical laws: Would they, for example, bake a cake for a divorce party? A non-kosher barbecue? A reception celebrating stem-cell research? A pagan solstice celebration?
Sweet Cakes, owned by Aaron and Melissa Klein, offered price quotes for all the cakes. Fleur offered quotes for the divorce party and a baby shower for a couple having a second child out of wedlock before owner Pam Regentin stopped answering her phone.
The resulting story, “The Cake Wars,” blew up on the Web, attracting 131,433 unique readers and 1,238 comments.
Fleur owner Regentin didn’t respond to WW’s calls or emails for an update, but Fleur’s Facebook page reports the bakery had “the busiest year ever.”
In late August, Sweet Cakes closed its Gresham storefront and now operates out of the Kleins’ home. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is conducting an investigation into possible civil-rights violations by the bakery. Meanwhile, the Kleins recently posted photos of several wedding cakes and a message of support for Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, suspended from the show after making anti-gay comments and defending Louisiana’s Jim Crow laws.
In the aftermath of the Cake Wars story, the Kleins told a Christian news blog that the community initially rallied around them in February, resulting in a bump in business, but support soon waned. Aaron Klein told the blog he suspected WW was promoting “economic terrorism.”
“The only thing I can figure, the idea behind running an article in that way is not only to rally these activists,” Klein said, “but also to try to isolate us from the people who support us. It seems like it’s definitely trying to push an agenda and put us out of business.” MARTIN CIZMAR.