The Most Engaging Stories of 2019

For the fifth year, Chartbeat’s installment of The Most Engaging Stories gives unique insight into the stories that captured the attention of the world. Whether they hold institutions accountable, feature otherworldly characters, or are just stranger than fiction, the Most Engaging Stories share a common thread — they were deeply reported, well told, and meaningful stories.

What’s more, the list shows that there is very much a place in the world for longform journalism. The Atlantic’s What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane by William Langewiesche was read for more than 30 million Total Engaged Minutes. It was a busy year for Langewiesche, whose New York Times Magazine article on the Boeing 737 Max also ranked among our Most Engaging Stories.

“This year’s Most Engaging Stories list is a strong reminder that readers still have a huge appetite for longform journalism,” Chartbeat CEO John Saroff said. “It is no coincidence that human interest stories top the list — original narratives have consistently resonated with audiences in the 10 years Chartbeat has been measuring reader engagement.”

Below, we go into the topics that kept us reading in 2019, and how we arrived at this particular list of stories.

The top 10 Most Engaging Stories

  1. The Atlantic  |  What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane
  2. Politico  |  ‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence
  3. CNN  |  This college dropout was bedridden for 11 years. Then he invented a surgery and cured himself
  4. CNN  |  It’s only $4.99. But Costco’s rotisserie chicken comes at a huge price
  5. The Washington Post  |  At least 20 dead in El Paso shopping center shooting as authorities investigate Texas man and manifesto
  6. BBC  |  The battle to separate Safa and Marwa
  7. BBC  |  ‘The selfie that revealed I was a stolen baby’
  8. Yahoo! Japan  |  田村淳の告白。相方・亮への思い、「ロンドンブーツ1号2号」の今後と新会社設立の理由
  9. ESPN  |  How NBA executive Jeff David stole $13 million from the Sacramento Kings
  10. Infobae  |  Drogas, alcohol, sexo, prostitución y excesos: la declaración completa de los testigos de la muerte

See the full 2019 list here 

Look back at our past Most Engaging Stories lists |  2018  |  2017  |  2016

The topics that engaged more readers in 2019

The list of Most Engaging Stories tells its own narrative about audience interactions with content in the past year. Here are the themes that captured our attention.

Humanity above all

Human interest and features showed high engagement, but in unexpected places. Celebrity profiles were less prominent than in last year’s list, replaced by remarkable stories of individuals. This includes ESPN’s unique insights into referee Tim Donaghy’s case and the New York Times’ piece on the remarkable royal family of Oudh.

A spotlight on investigations

While news and politics were a common thread in the top stories, a deeper theme emerged in 2019 coverage. Investigative pieces, rather than breaking news, saw high engagement. For example, CNN’s longform piece on Jayme Closs and Vice’s piece on uncovering a nationwide Airbnb scam showed stronger engagement than a single day of breaking news coverage.

Political gains in engagement

President Trump and Brexit were among the dominant headlines in our list. This comes as no surprise, as our data showed that readers may not suffer from “Trump fatigue” as much as we think they do. One finding of interest — while the impeachment inquiry and clashes in Congress made the list, coverage of the Mueller Report did not. Engagement on Mueller coverage was spread out across so many stories in our network that no single page captured enough attention to make the list.

Eyes for the unusual

In five years of our Most Engaging Stories, we’ve seen interest rise in offbeat topics and non-breaking news pieces. For instance, CNN’s story about a college student that miraculously cured himself had the third highest engagement on our list.

Aeronautics also emerged as a surprising topic. Beyond the top story, The New York Times’ look into Navy UFO sightings and BBC’s look back at the TWA hijacking were among the top 100.

A nation swept by violence

In the midst of mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton, and Christchurch across the world, readers gravitated to breaking news coverage, based on our reader data.

How we determined the Most Engaging Stories

The quantitative factors

Our Data Science team analyzed 54.3 million pieces of content published in 2019. The top 1,000 articles were then sorted by Total Engaged Minutes*, individually reviewed, and narrowed down to 100 stories based on a series of qualitative criteria we outline below.

How we calculate Engaged Time

Total Engaged Time is the total amount of time visitors spent actively reading and interacting on pages. Read more about our Engagement metrics.

The qualitative factors

We assembled a team of readers and curators from inside Chartbeat to determine the list. Beyond Total Engaged Minutes, we wanted to ensure that the list celebrates original reporting. More difficult to determine was the criteria for stories that would not make the 2019 top 100, including: 

  • Live blog coverage that assembled content in excess of 48 hours and multiple news cycles
  • Republished transcripts or collections of uploaded documents without original reporting
  • Listicles comprised primarily of social media reposts or images
  • Sports scores, box scores, and individual league rankings
  • Quizzes and interactives that do not contain reporting and/or are continually updated throughout the year

(For more on this topic, see: The Most Engaging Stories of 2019: Reading beyond the top 100)

* Editor’s note: The engagement data was compiled Dec. 4. We will review traffic to articles after that date to account for the impact of breaking news.

Stay up-to-date on The Most Engaging Stories of 2019 — follow #TopStories2019 on Twitter.

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