It would figure that in a crazy year like 2020, our top story would be a crazy one.

We have done this feature every year since 2014 when we launched, and the #1 story has always been one that is typical of NEXTpittsburgh — say, a feature on the best restaurants that opened in the past year or top tech companies to watch in the coming year. But not this year. Of course not.

But before we reveal that story, let’s get started as usual from the bottom up, with story #10:

Pittsburgh wineries and distilleries that offer delivery and pick up. Does this surprise you?

This article was published when we were new to lockdown, looking for any kind of escape or deliverance. Remember when state stores were closed and there were no online sales? That early dark period in March when we stopped showering daily and before we heard the word Blursday or could pronounce the name Fauci?

When things opened up a tiny, tiny bit and we were able to order alcohol online or hot tail it to Wigle Whiskey for pickup, we did. And so this article blew up.  Of course it did.

Our #9 article was published just before the pandemic shut things down, about 9 restaurants opening in Pittsburgh. They were opening in a time of economic uncertainty, as we waited and wondered how bad this thing could get and if Pittsburgh too would have to shut down and for how long. (Remember when two weeks seemed like a really long time?) In any case, readers clicked in droves to read about the restaurants and the brave souls behind them.

Expanding on the earlier mentioned theme of desperation/looking for any reason to cheer, our #8 best-read article was about a potential vaccine for Covid-19.  In the throes of darkness, this article published on April 2, was giving us what we needed most: hope. Our only hope, we were told (correctly, as it turned out).

Hope was behind the next story, too. Our audience is always interested in developments around town and a pandemic did nothing to change that. But it did cause construction to screech to a halt, at least for awhile. When it resumed again as an essential business, readers wanted to know: what projects were moving forward? Which were halted?

They found out here, in this updated #7 story.

Story #six was about one of the hottest topics in 2020: best outdoor dining in Pittsburgh. We do a feature like this every year as summer breaks and it does well. This year, for a while at least, we could have titled it The best and only dining in Pittsburgh: Outdoor dining.

Number 5 was a sweet one, honoring front line workers with a special, luminous celebration. We found new heroes in 2020 and they meant so much to us. The comments on social media reduced us to tears (in a good way, which is not always the case).

Number 4 surprised us. We thought it was a great story and we got it before anyone else in town. Was it because a former Steeler, Joey Porter, and his dynamo wife Christy were behind it that it went viral? For whatever reason, this couple became hometown heroes after announcing a plan to convert a church into a campus filled with buildings and initiatives to help our community. In the middle of a pandemic. Bingo.<!–nextpage–>

Number 3 was actually a category, not an article: jobs. In a year when many Pittsburghers lost their jobs or were temporarily sidelined, our twice-weekly jobs story set record readership. As one reader pointed out, it was so encouraging to see that throughout the pandemic, companies were still hiring. It bode well for our future.

Our number 2 story was also very 2020. It might not surprise you that the second best-read story in 2020, going over 100,000 page views, was 4 new and soon to open breweries in Pittsburgh.

Any headline with a business opening — and not closing – had the potential to be a hit. Add brewery and you’ve got a winner.

And our number one story? Arrrgh. It was about a bus. A pirate bus.

Yep.

It was suggested to us by a reader (Thanks, Kim O.!) who saw that a bus that was converted into a cool pirate ship theme was available for sale in Pittsburgh. Fun story, we thought, and in no time it was up on our site. “In the market for a pirate bus? It’s all yours for $50,000.”

Can we just stop here to say that we sweat over many of our stories? We write and rewrite and proof them and look for the best photos. We debate the headlines. We sometimes have long, convoluted threads in Slack on a single paragraph. If it weren’t for deadlines, we would publish far fewer.

But this story? This story? This one was on our site in oh, maybe 15 minutes. And the photo wasn’t great even after we tinkered with it. Little did we know.

Over the next few days, it hit 100K views and we said to each other, “Wow, did you see that pirate bus story?”

We paid it little mind because we were writing big, important stories on potential vaccines and how people can stay safe out there and who was doing what to help the community in times of need.

Then the story hit 200K and there was no let-up in sight.

It wasn’t even a real news story. It was what we dub “in the news” with a brief summary of the story and a link to the original source. We ran it as a fun, cheery piece to counterbalance all the depressing news facing us back in June. We checked the traffic sources and saw that it was getting all kinds of activity on social media from people with pirate names, and websites about pirates and Facebook pages about pirates. Pirates are a very, very big deal these days, apparently. (We toyed with the idea of starting a new publication called NEXTpirate.)

Last we checked, the story topped 355K page views. All we could think was that readers were longing to clamor on board for a fantasy ride to anywhere.

So we must ask: Anyone know what happened to this pirate bus? We heard it sold and we’d love to do a follow-up. Arrrgh.

Thanks for reading us in 2020. Here’s to more great stories in 2021.