Give readers what they’re interested in

By Jerry Bellune, Writing Coach editor Michael Luo pays close attention to his readers’ habits. 

He measured the most popular New Yorker stories of 2023 by “engaged minutes” – the time readers spent reading them.

He says he was surprised by what was missing. No war in Gaza. No Trump. No politics. 

The top story was a true-crime tale about the Murdaugh murder trial in South Carolina. 

You should be no more surprised than he was. 

The head of the wealthy Murdaugh clan was tried and convicted of killing his wife and one of their sons. 

Murdaugh also had been found guilty of stealing millions of dollars from his law firm and clients to support his drug addiction.

The story had all the ingredients of a soap opera turned tragedy. 

If you are not already doing it, you should be tracking which of your own stories gain the most visits and on which stories your visitors spend the most reading time.

That’s a lot of work, you may argue. It isn’t. Your web site should give you that data.

When we were posting up to a dozen or more news and sports stories a day on our site, we tracked reader engagement from 3,500 daily visitors. 

We used that data in deciding which stories would appear on our print edition front page. Online readers were telling us what print readers also would be most interested in.

Crime and court trial stories always scored high.

I’ll bet you find your crime and court stories score high with your website readers.

Please let me know about your high traffic stories and I’ll share them with other Compelling Writing readers. My address:

Next: Fuzzy reporting leaves readers at sea 

If our reporters wrote better it would make editing easier and make our articles sing. Unfortunately we lack the time to coach them. Here’s a secret. Help them with a copy of writing coach Jerry Bellune’s The Art of Compelling Writing, Volume 2, only $9.99 at

Other recent columns