M&G's top read articles of 2011

One of the many upsides of online news is that one can see exactly which articles are proving to be the most popular. Often this has to do with a range of factors—not least of which is the article “going viral”, which simply means it has been shared repeatedly via Twitter, Facebook or even good old email.

We look back at the top five read articles of the year on the Mail & Guardian website. From the silly to the serious, here are the articles you read most this year.

Michelle Obama on dating, exercise and keeping it real
It’s a bit awful when a short and simple article goes viral and gets torn apart by internet trolls. Just ask Verashni Pillay. Her more nuanced think piece on the pros and cons of being co-opted by the US department as one of 76 African women leaders to meet Michelle Obama was ignored in favour of this fluffier article. The reason? The latter was picked up by the Drudge Report in the US. The website’s massive audience meant traffic went through the roof for the story, with 111983 page views. But the mostly rightwing Drudge Report audience meant the hatemail to Pillay’s inbox, and the vicious comments about Obama below the article, also multiplied.

Die Antwoord collaborator Leon Botha dies, age 26
In another case of a simple story going viral, news that the world’s longest living Progeria sufferer, South African artist Leon Botha, had died at age 26 made waves among his fans. The M&G had covered his rise to fame through his own work, as well as his guest appearance in an early music video by Die Antwoord. We immediately published a short story with the news while we worked on a longer tribute. Naturally the news piece went viral first. But at 67807 views, we’re not complaining.

How Julius Malema pulls tender strings
The explosive news that Julius Malema was controlling part of the tender process in Limpopo through his Ratanang Family Trust via an alleged system of bribery confirmed long-held suspicions about how the controversial youth leader seemed to have so much money. The M&G newspaper report followed up the news with more details of the institutionalised scam, revealing details of how state tenders were doled out to Malema’s pals through a company part-owned by the trust. With public outrage mounting, the article clocked 29146 reads.

Guilty: Julius Malema suspended from ANC
Within a few months, things came to a head for Malema. We’d like to say it was the shocking reports of corruption that led to his suspension by the ANC, but really it had more to do with factional battles within the ruling party—and the ANC Youth League’s increasing disrespect for the wrong people in the organisation. The firebrand leader had seemed untouchable for so long that news of his downfall whipped South Africans into a frenzy, sending 24759 readers to this article.

Muammar Gaddafi killed after dawn blitz on Sirte
It’s often the breaking news that gets the most views. After a protracted and bloody war between rebels and deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the wily and charismatic “Brother Leader” met a brutal end in late October. The first article on the site about the shock development saw 22626 views.

Malema to join the DA
It’s not often that a column does well enough to rank in the top read pieces of the year. M&G online editor Chris Roper’s satirical take on Malema’s downfall rocketed to the top of the most viewed content of the year. It also surpassed all columns, both online and print, in terms of traffic with 20361 page views.

View more highlights of the year that was in our special report.

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