Over the years, Ogden's daily newspaper has published all sorts of important and interesting stories:
-- "Man walks on moon!"
-- "World War II over!"
-- "Elvis may or may not be dead!"
But you'll never guess what just became the all-time most-read story here at the Standard-Examiner. Seriously, take a guess ...
Nope. Although, "Mark Saal's incredibly insightful weekly humor column" was an awfully good stab, Mr. and/or Ms. Newspaper Reader. But actually, our most popular story ever was the Sept. 7 piece titled "Neighbors beef over cow," with the subhead "Police called after Ogden man butchers animal in his driveway."
That's right, people. You know that sordid tale of a cow being slaughtered -- in plain sight -- in a residential neighborhood on Ogden's Gramercy Avenue?
Biggest. Story. Ever.
Now, granted, coverage of this event by veteran Standard-Examiner reporter Tim Gurrister has been nothing short of brilliant. Truly, there very well may be a no more finely crafted sentence written by a journalist than this understated gem from his follow-up story about the incident:
"Police were told a gunshot was heard and that a cow's mooing suddenly stopped."
That, my friends, is pure, unadulterated poetry; the kind of concise, emotion-packed sentence over which crime writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard would kill their own mothers.
A gunshot is heard, and a cow's mooing suddenly stops. I get chills just thinking about it.
Of course, Tim did have some pretty good source material, what with a police report in which the responding patrolman wrote -- in deliciously muted understatement -- that when he arrived at the scene, "the cow was in the process of losing its head."
In the process of losing its head. Quick! Somebody sign that cop to a two-book deal.
But the most fascinating part in all of this is that the cow-killer story wasn't even front-page news for us. Oh sure, it made the cover of our local section, but only in Weber County. The Davis County edition of the print product didn't even carry the story.
So then, how do I know this is our top story of all time? As Sherlock Holmes would say, "Elementary, my dear Watson." Or rather, "Analytically, my dear Watson."
In the olden days of journalism, you had your circulation figures -- total numbers of newspapers distributed -- to track popularity. But you never really knew how many people were actually reading your product (papers simply may have been piling up on the porch, for instance), let alone a particular story.
But with the advent of the Internet and online editions of the newspaper, bean-counter types now have something called "analytics" over which to obsess. It's a term that comes from the Greek "anal," meaning "overly attentive"; and "ytics," meaning "five letters that, arranged in this particular sequence, are relatively meaningless."
So, quite literally, "analytics" is defined as "overly attentive to relatively meaningless stuff."
Using computers and the Standard.Net website, shadowy figures here at the newspaper are able to track the number of "page views" any given story gets. This allows us to know exactly who is reading what stories, and when.
That's right, Walter P. Smith of 405 Elm St., Apt. 7. We've got our eye on you, pal.
But back to slaughtering cows in the front yard ...
The online version of the bovine-butchery story has attracted more than 200,000 views. Even more impressive is the number of readers who actually took the time to comment on this meaty issue -- a whopping 866 comments have been posted since the story broke.
Add to that another 50 or so comments left on related follow-up stories, and we're closing in on a thousand comments. On a seemingly silly little tale of a cow, a driveway and man who just wanted to provide his family with some much-needed protein.
Listen, if they ever do produce a made-for-TV movie about this incident -- and I don't see how they couldn't -- I vote for it to be called "The Cow Butcher of Gramercy Avenue."
Ooh, or even better: "The Day the Mooing Died."
It'll undoubtedly be a huge ratings hit, given the hundreds of passionate responses we received on both sides of this issue. At times, the argument between the "Slaughtering cattle seems an inappropriate driveway activity" folks and the "We're carnivores, get over it" camp became heated. Ugly. Hostile, even.
Or, as our literary patrolman might put it:
Angry readers were in the process of losing their heads.
For a list of appropriate activities for a residential driveway (curiously, small-pet taxidermy is on there), contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or email@example.com.