Bad Behavior, Death Among 2011's Top Online News Stories

by Lance Turner  on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011 12:00 am  

For the second consecutive year, a local television personality's bad behavior topped's list of the year's most trafficked online stories.

On Labor Day, KARK-TV, Channel 4, meteorologist Brett Cummins was found asleep in a whirlpool tub with a dead man, 24-year-old Dexter Paul Williams, who expired sometime in the night after an evening of drinking and drugs at a Maumelle home.

The story didn't hit the Web until the next day, after a police report surfaced that described the grisly scene and exposed a side of Cummins most of his KARK fans would not have imagined. Later that day, KARK owner Nexstar Broadcasting of Irving, Texas, pulled Cummins from the air.

Cummins, interviewed by police multiple times but not charged with any crime, said "no foul play" was involved. But the sensational story spread like wildfire online, showing up in national media blogs, The Huffington Post, Gawker, even Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" monologue.

Cummins would ultimately resign. A preliminary autopsy said Williams died from asphyxia and drug intoxication.

The Cummins story hit a little more than a year after KARK fired four employees, including two on-air reporters, for posting an obscenity-filled video about the TV news business, shot inside the KARK newsroom and studio, on YouTube. The stories about the videos and the firings were the most read on in 2010.

More conventional local television news also proved popular with online readers. In March, Alyson Courtney announced she had left the top-rated KTHV-TV, Channel 11, morning show, "Today's THV This Morning," to join KATV-TV, Channel 7. It was the year's third-most read story.

Courtney was among several others who had left the Gannett Co.-owned CBS affiliate to join the Allbritton Communications-owned crosstown rival, an ABC affiliate. The move continued a wave of shuffling TV personalities and refueled the ratings battle for first and second place between KTHV and KATV in the mornings.

(Arkansas Business has a news partnership with KTHV, and Publisher Jeff Hankins and Interactive Editor Lance Turner appear regularly on KTHV newscasts.)

The biggest pure business story of the year, No. 2 with online readers, was the closing of the Yarnell Ice Cream Co. of Searcy in June.

The iconic ice cream manufacturer, millions of dollars in debt to scores of creditors, including the Arkansas Development Finance Authority and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, left an idle plant in Searcy and 200 workers without a job.

The collapse of the 79-year-old family business was also the latest blow to Arkansas' dwindling dairy industry, crippled by the high costs of energy and cattle feed and better tax incentives in other states.

In Court
Much of the rest of the top 10 is populated by prominent business and political figures in varying states of legal trouble.



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