This week’s TH will carry a couple of different lists looking back on our news coverage in 2019.

Our front page today features the top 10 stories that had the biggest news impact in the tri-state area, selected by a vote of TH journalists.

On Wednesday, we’ll publish a list of the 10 most-read stories of the year, determined by reviewing our analytics to see which stories that readers gravitated toward on our website.

I think it’s always interesting to note that what we believe are the biggest news stories are not necessarily the most read — and the ones everybody reads aren’t the biggest news.

The farmer who got cattle to line up in the shape of a cross, just before Christmas, for example, isn’t really news. But, boy, readers sure loved it.

I first saw the cattle picture on the Rev. Michael Schueller’s Facebook page. With the bird’s eye view of drone, Father Schueller was able to capture the cattle in the shape of a cross, with a country church in the background. If Dubuque County was ever summed up in one photo, this might be it. And shot by a priest, no less. Classic.

I reached out to him to see if we could use his photo and put together a little story. Reporter Tom Barton took it from there and had some fun with the terrible cow puns people were sharing in the Facebook comments, and our story and the photo published Christmas Day. We knew readers would like it. But we didn’t know how much.

The story and photo I like to think of as “cattle crossing” has been shared more than 770 times on Facebook by groups including the Illinois Farm Bureau, Lafayette County, Miss., Cattlemen’s Association and several groups in California. It’s been shared by people in at least 33 states. As of today, cattle crossing had surged up to become our second-most read story of the year.

The most-read story of the year, according to our analytics, wasn’t a story from 2019 at all. It was a story written by Assistant Local Content Editor Ben Jacobson in 2017 about certified nursing assistants.

And it is in a whole other category when it comes to going viral. It has been shared more than 15,000(!) times on Facebook.

It all started when a national nursing group shared our story in mid-November — almost two years to the day of when we first published it. The story included a photo of a CNA gently helping an elderly patient with the headline: “Certified nursing assistants the backbone of local health care industry.” I suspect CNAs across the country identified with that and were compelled to share it.

It’s pretty fascinating to see how stories take on a life of their own via social media. The story that best illustrates that for us is one that published on the Sunday business page in 2013 reviewing roofing options.

The headline on the story was, “Metal vs. shingles for the roof: There’s lots to consider.” Our hunch is that when someone anywhere in the country is pondering the difference between metal and shingles for roofs, and they enter it into a Google search, our headline pops up. Every year since the story first published, it has received tens of thousands of new views.

We like to think we have a decent idea of what will resonate with our readers. But trying to predict what will “go viral” is much harder.

From cattle to shingles, you never quite know what will catch fire online.

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