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Charting the news: What the world reads now

The news events that most engrossed audiences in 2018

It is called the “beautiful game” for a reason. The 2018 men’s football World Cup, hosted by Russia in June and July, kept the world riveted. According to Chartbeat, a company that tracks readership of online news articles, it was among the events that drew the most attention in 2018. Chartbeat’s data cover some 5,000 publishers, half of which are in English-speaking countries, and about a quarter in Europe. The firm has provided audience figures for some 3m articles, spanning 33 topics.

What other news events engrossed the world in 2018? The royal wedding between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry drew the most eyes on a single day, with 1.1m hours spent reading articles as they tied the knot. Another heart-warming story, the rescue of young footballers from a cave in Thailand, got 3.4m hours of attention in total.

More often, however, big news was bad news. Sudden tragedies like the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and the collapse of a bridge in Genoa in August received 12m hours between them. Longer-lasting woes in poor countries failed to drum up comparable interest: Yemen’s civil war got just 3.5m hours for the entire year.

Business stories get less attention on the whole. But revelations that Facebook, the world’s most popular social network, had allowed nefarious use of its data drew 3m hours of readership. Big personalities help to draw eyeballs: Elon Musk, the mercurial founder of Tesla and SpaceX, got 7m hours of attention in a year in which he was sued for securities fraud.

As in 2017, no one attracts eyeballs like President Donald Trump. His summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in June got 1.5m hours of readership. He would probably have preferred less attention to stories about Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election, which have amassed 12m hours in 2018. Readers were particularly interested in his party’s performance in the mid-term elections, which attracted 26m hours.

Mr Trump isn’t the only world leader who fascinates readers. Brazil’s election of Jair Bolsonaro, a populist in Mr Trump’s mould, has collected 9.7m hours. And although Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, drew the most interest during the World Cup, his comfortable re-election and his navy’s seizure of Ukrainian ships also kept audiences glued to their screens.