The Rant received nearly one million page views in 2019, by far the most in the website’s five year existence. In fact, traffic to this website has nearly doubled since the debut in April 2019 of The Rant Monthly newspaper, showing that a shift in news distribution strategy doesn’t have to spell doom for one method or another.

Below are five of the most read stories we published online in 2019:

5. Photo of UPS delivery man goes viral

One brief post about an amateur photographer’s shot of a UPS delivery man going Twitter viral was the website’s second most-read single post of 2019, chalking up more than 13,000 page views in just the second half of December. That’s still a far cry from the response photographer Donreal Lunkin got for his tweet – more than 456,700 likes as of this publication.  

By the time we reported on it, the driver had been identified and notified of the photo, and even UPS itself eventually recognized the great work of both photographer and driver.

It’s the kind of story that makes you smile, and its huge popularity in a short timeframe is a good reminder that positive stories still get clicks.

4. Spring Lane Cinemas briefly closes, reopens under new ownership

Early 2019 was a turbulent time for Sanford’s only movie theater. A computer virus infected nearly every aspect of operations at Spring Lane Cinemas in February, causing a one-day shutdown. A few days later, the theater shut down again for two days, only to reopen with an announcement that it had been reacquired by East Coast Entertainment, the company which originally opened the location in the mid 2000s. At the same time, the theater announced it would be lowering prices.

In November came the announcement that kids under 17 would not be allowed in the theater on Friday and Saturday night without either adult supervision or an adult leaving a name and contact information for an unaccompanied minor. Theater representatives said the move was prompted by several incidents involving young people on weekends.

People in Sanford seem to care a great deal about its one movie theater – whether the news is good or bad. Stories about Spring Lane Cinemas garnered nearly 15,000 page views in 2019.

3. Yellow Jacket football team makes historic run

There’s plenty to read about the Lee County High School Yellow Jackets’ 15-1 season that culminated in a heartbreaking loss to Weddington at the NCSHAA 3AA state championship on Dec. 14, but suffice to say Lee County caught a case of football fever in the fall, coming out in support of a team that boasts three members who will go on to play at the collegiate level.

Much of The Rant’s coverage focused on senior defensive tackle Desmond Evans, who was the subject of a cover story in September and announced the same month that he’ll be suiting up for the UNC Tar Heels in 2020, and we were excited to publish an interview with senior running back A.J. Boulware about overcoming adversity both on and off the field. But we were also proud to give voice to just how excited Lee County was about its potential championship team.

Stories about the 2019 Yellow Jacket football team drew nearly 17,000 page views in 2019.

2. Restaurants, restaurants, restaurants

It’s been noted here and elsewhere – Lee County loves a good restaurant story. Fortunately for diners and business owners alike, the vast majority of our restaurant stories in 2019 were about new ones opening up: 2019 saw Cooper’s Restaurant and Wine Room begin operations, as well as Taste of India (technically Coach’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill opened on the last day of 2018, but still garnered plenty of clicks in 2019). We were also excited to report that Big T’s changed hands while staying true to its burgers-dogs-and-breakfast model, and 2020 should hopefully see the openings of a Smoothie King in the old Rite Aid building on South Horner Boulevard and a new Valenti’s in the Jonesboro area.

There were casualties, though. Sagebrush Steakhouse and Yamato, two longtime options for diners, both closed their doors in 2019 with little warning, showing just how difficult the restaurant business is. The bright side is that both establishments occupied fairly prime locations for operating dining establishments, meaning we’re more likely than not to see them open up as something else in the near future.

Stories about restaurants in Sanford and Lee County were viewed nearly 36,000 times in 2019.

1. ICE raid at manufacturing facility shakes community, ignites debate
Federal immigration agents in February raided Bear Creek Arsenal on McNeill Road and arrested roughly 30 allegedly undocumented immigrants for allegedly using fraudulent identification to obtain employment at the facility.

It was a day of rumors, speculation, and argument, but the biggest impact was on Lee County’s Hispanic community. Restaurants and businesses closed. Parents kept their kids out of school. Given the status then and today of immigration and deportation as one of this country’s most passionately debated issues, a lot of folks just weren’t taking any chances.

Our story on the raid was one of the first to go up, and we remain proud of our reporting that day. One post alone brought more than 87,000 page views, and a followup story about a man who had been filming parts of the raid and was arrested for threatening officers garnered another 4,000-plus. It’s the most-read story in The Rant’s history, and a reminder to us that in times when big stories break, the best way to communicate them to the public is to do so quickly, accurately, and for free.

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