A derecho is not a land hurricane, but 2020 felt like one: The Gazette's Top Online Stories of the Year

Passing drivers stop to help the driver of a tractor trailer after it overturned laying down in the northbound side of I
Andy Abeyta, the Gazette
Passing drivers stop to help the driver of a tractor trailer after it overturned laying down in the northbound side of Interstate 380 near 76th Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. Two men worked to remove the windshield and the woman, a registered nurse, made her way into the cab to check on the driver who had no apparent injuries. The woman then took the driver to her car to sit with her and wait for an ambulance to arrive.

It turns out for all our modern sophistication, trying to figure out what the most popular stories on our website are in a given year is something of an inexact science.

Take aliens for example. Apparently a lot of people out there still want aliens to exist and for us to find them, so when a story mentioned a little bit about how there were some scientific developments this year on that front, it became instantly and persistently popular on our website. 

Does it matter that this was posted as a very short story in our section intended for children? Not to Google search! The truth is out there.


But, fear not. With the savvy curator’s eye seasoned from years moderating endless Facebook bickering, we have pierced through the noise of random web traffic to find some of the stories that mattered to you the most this year, while still keeping in mind that page views are a measure of interest. This will be presented in reverse order, from least to most popular, because we all know what the top stories are going to be, and let’s try to stay sort of happy until we get there.

The Iowa Caucus and the Presidential Election

That’s right. If you dig beneath that bad-news-numbed layer at the edge of your perception and reflect on what happened this year, you will realize that Iowa was home to not one but two major political events this year. In Iowa, and on our site, the most popular political story was not the very important national elections in November or the fact that Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg essentially tied in a freakishly close Iowa Caucus race. The big story turned out to be that the Iowa Caucus results were delayed for a week because systems in place broke down in every way possible.

When an audit of the process revealed that the blame for this may have been at least partially due to the influence of the Democratic National Committee on the process

It turned out news readers had bigger stories to worry about this year than waiting a week for the results of the Iowa Caucus.

Iowa Hawkeyes struggle to have a season in a pandemic and deal with their part in a national reckoning on race

It was a bizarre year in college football for pretty much everyone. The Iowa Hawkeyes survived all of it to end up with a successful season, only cut short by other teams canceling due to rampant COVID-19 infections.

Dealing with that would have been hard enough, but prior to that, Iowa faced allegations of racial insensitivity and inequity within the program. As a result, Coach Kirk Ferentz announced reforms, including the departure of a lauded strength and conditioning coach. Still, some former players are continuing to seek legal relief from the program. A guest columnist suggested renaming Kinnick Stadium to reflect racial representation in Iowa football’s history.

All of this came after a summer of turmoil following the publicized killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others by police officers, and the ensuing debate over race and the role of the police in our society that will not be resolved anytime soon. 

Although there was coverage of local protests involving police violence on our site all summer, the coverage that generated the most interest in our readers (going from page views) involved the football team. Take of that what you will.

A few random stories that caught your fancy but don’t quite fit anywhere else:

Busch Light, Iowans love you. Please do not tell Carson King you will donate to children and then delay doing it

 A lot of Iowa was in attendance as college football said goodbye to Hayden Fry.

 The mystery of the Cedar Rapids rainbow house, explained.

 A heartwarming story of University of Iowa doctors reshaping a child's face and his life.

 A woman forced to watch Roots to understand her racism. Nothing wrong with watching Roots, but holding someone against their will is not the way.

 Could the quest for a Cedar Rapids casino finally yield an interesting venue? (that is not a casino)

 Sexism, show choir, and regret.

 A University of Iowa trainer saves a student from a heart attack after a practice.

 Right off her head and directly into brief TikTok stardom

 Nobody likes Whip-It that much.

The Big Two: What is a Derecho? Why is COVID-19?

This year, despite all that happened before, nothing really comes close to the magnitude of these two stories in this state, and the numbers on our site prove it.

The August Derecho (and what came after)

When it came to the derecho, you came to us to learn when the power was down and when the Internet might come back. You wondered what a derecho was in the first place. One of our most popular articles, tellingly, was how you could pitch in to help others. You mourned the devastation of property and the generational loss of the city’s tree canopy. You continue to read articles about what will be done to recover in Cedar Rapids

The Endless Pandemic (and what might come after)

COVID-19 is the biggest story of the year, not just in Iowa, but pretty much everywhere that isn’t New Zealand or Taiwan. In Iowa, your interest in this differed from the derecho in that it was less about the disaster, than finding meaning behind what was going on, particularly in the decisions being made by politicians and other leaders. Our number one page this year was by far our COVID-19 data page. After that, many of the popular stories were opinion articles critiquing the state’s response to the virus. 

Some of you were frustrated the state wasn't doing enough. Some of you were frustrated the state was doing too much. Pretty much everyone was frustrated about something.

As the pandemic has gone on, our coverage has continued, but interest in new numbers has waned. As 2021 has approached, the most popular stories have focused on the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine at local hospitals and nursing homes

Meaning, at the end of a long year, that you are likely ready for something to hope for.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.