These are the most read stories of 2018
New, sleeker Times of Malta website being tested
Times of Malta chronicles the major news stories of the year on its website. Last year’s most read online stories ranged from horrific accidents to major political exposés. Ivan Martin looks back at the top 10 online stories in 2018.
Double decker disaster
By far the most read story on the Times of Malta’s website last year was the news that two tourists had lost their lives when a double-decker sightseeing bus hit low-lying tree branches in Żurrieq back in April.
The news reports, regularly updated, with on the ground information, kept readers engaged and returning for more.
Tourists sitting on the bus’s open-air top deck were hurt when they were hit at speed by branches from a large tree on Valletta Road.
Two of those struck a Belgian man, 62 and a Spanish woman, 37 died on the spot.
Six others were critically injured and 44 were treated for various injuries and shock as a result of the accident.
The bus was being driven by a 24-year-old, and while the cause of the incident is still not certain, industry sources have said it was likely the bus was being driven dangerously close to the curb.
A magisterial inquiry was launched but the investigations remain shrouded in mystery and no one has yet been charged in court.
‘Beheading’ in Sta Venera
The gruesome story of a woman who had her throat cut so deep that she was almost beheaded shocked readers and was the second most read story on the website in 2018.
The reports covered how the blood-covered cadaver of Shannon Mak, a 30-year-old Dutch woman had been found murdered on a Sta Venera street in August.
Jelle Rijpma, 22, an iGaming employee from the Netherlands, was charged with the murder.
The victim was found with her throat slashed, lying on the ground between two cars in Triq il-Mastrudaxxi at around 6.15am by a resident when on his way to work.
Details of the investigation and subsequent court proceedings drew droves of readers.
The end of a Paceville icon
The third most read story across the Times of Malta’s digital platforms last year was the murder of Hugo Chetcuti (pictured).
Mr Chetcuti, 52, was stabbed by a former employee on a busy Friday night outside one of his own establishments and caught on CCTV.
The initial report of the attack, and subsequent updates with exclusive details and live court coverage saw a surge in readership. But it was the report that he had died of his injuries, six days after the stabbing, that drew in the most readers.
“The man who shaped Paceville” died after post-operation infections, inflicted by the three stab wounds to the stomach.
Bojan Cmelik, 35, a Serbian national, was charged with the attack after the police chased him all the way from Paceville to Sliema.
Joseph Muscat faces ‘shame on you’ protest in London
A video of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat being heckled by a group of protesters as he arrived for an event in London went viral back in April and was the fourth most read story on Times of Malta in 2018.
The crowd shouted “shame on you” as Dr Muscat and his wife got out of their official car to attend the event at the Drapers’ Hall.
Surrounded by security officials, the couple was swiftly escorted into the building with guards moving protesters and cameramen away.
The manifestation by activists, who held signs and masks depicting the Prime Minister, came amid discontent over Malta’s controversial cash-for-passports scheme.
The report was particularly popular on Times of Malta’s mobile platform.
Daphne masterminds identified
An exclusive report that a group of “more than two” Maltese nationals believed to have been involved in coordinating the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was the fifth most read story on the Times of Malta’s website in 2018.
The report, which quoted senior police sources, was published in November and exposed how the investigation into who commissioned the car bomb was at a “very advanced stage”, with the main suspects now having been identified. However, there was no indication of how much longer the investigation could take.
17 Black owner identified
A joint investigation by Times of Malta and Reuters in November revealed how Electrogas power station director and businessman Yorgen Fenech (pictured) was the secret owner of the mystery Dubai company 17 Black.
The scoop was a major revelation since the Panama Papers earthquake back in 2016 and the sixth most read story online.
Mr Fenech, the CEO of local business giant Tumas Group, is also one of the partners in the new gas-fired power station.
His company 17 Black was identified in a leaked e-mail as one of two sources of income for the Panama companies Hearnville and Tillgate, which were set up by OPM consultants Nexia BT for Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Traffic policeman almost killed on duty
Readers could hardly believe their eyes as they followed coverage of a 48-year-old police officer who was dragged underneath a speeding car by an underage driver. The news report was the seventh most read story online.
PC Simon Schembri (pictured) lost his arm in the hit-and-run incident in May, suffering a 66 per cent disability which included injuries to his other limbs and lungs. Liam Debono, 17, was charged with attempted murder.
It wasn’t just the initial report, but also extensive live coverage of the subsequent court proceedings which went viral throughout the second half of 2018.
What caused the tourist bus incident?
Just as the initial news report of the tourist bus incident drew in thousands of readers, so too did a follow-up piece delving into possible causes.
The online-only report, which comes in at number eight in the 2018 top 10 list, included a GIF of an identical bus passing right by the same tree.
The GIF, made up of photos shot by Times of Malta photographer Matthew Mirabelli, suggested the double decker was on the near side of the road when it drove beneath the tree, past the road’s outer demarcation line and alarmingly close to crash barriers.
The Magħtab fire
Regularly updated coverage of a major fire that broke out at the Wasteserv plant in Magħtab drew thousands of readers to Times of Malta. The ninth most read story of the year, included health warnings, videos of the blaze and interviews with witnesses and stakeholders.
The August blaze had prompted a national health hazard alarm and the Times of Malta newsroom had been inundated with calls and tips from readers who were shocked by the large plume of smoke which covered parts of the island.
Follow up reports on the cause of the fire as well as inquiries into the environmental and health impact of the incident had also proved to be some of the most widely read in 2018.
Undercover footage with Cardona claim
A team of reporters from France 2 and Radio France visited the bar and were told by a patron that the minister “drinks with us here” on weekends.
A second witness (who was not filmed) gave more details, saying he saw the murder suspect Alfred Degiorgio and Dr Cardona at the bar one day in November.
This witness then said Dr Cardona and Mr Degiorgio spoke for some time and, at one point, he claimed he spotted them walking outside together.
The online Times of Malta article, which is a reporting partner in the Daphne Project, was the 10th most popular online story this year.
Times of Malta remains by far biggest website
"Times of Malta online continued breaking new ground in 2018.
By beefing up the online editorial team, we multiplied our content and we were often first with the story; by rethinking and revamping the way we tell our stories we have seen a major boost in the 25-35 age readers’ bracket; and by introducing new sections and enticing more user-generated content, we hit a wider readership.
This meant that the Times of Malta remains by far the biggest website in Malta, ahead of giants like Google and Facebook, according to data analysis tool Alexa.
But unless we tackle the constant changes in our industry, it will be change which will overtake us. We are currently testing a new, sleeker Times of Malta website, we are using specialised data to gauge our readers’ habits, and we have just engaged social media and digital marketing experts to draw in more readers and clients.
Most importantly, Times of Malta will always be at the forefront of credible news content – the way we disseminate it in 2019 might be different, but we will never abandon the values and the reputation built by our brand since 1935" - Herman Grech, online editor.