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Bad behavior, death among 2011's top online news stories.

For the second consecutive year, a local television personality's bad behavior topped's list of the year's most trafficked online stories.

On Labor Day KARK-TV, Channel 4, meteorologist Brett Cummins was found asleep in a whirlpool tub with a dead man, 24-year-old Dexter Paul Williams, who expired sometime in the night after an evening of drinking and drugs at a Maumelle home.

The story didn't hit the Web until the next day, after a police report surfaced that described the grisly scene and exposed a side of Cummins most of his KARK fans would not have imagined. Later that day, KARK owner Nexstar Broadcasting of Irving, Texas, pulled Cummins from the air.

Cummins, interviewed by police multiple times but not charged with any crime, said "no foul play" was involved. But the sensational story spread like wildfire online, showing up in national media blogs, the Huffington Post, Gawker, even Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" monologue.

Cummins would ultimately resign. A preliminary autopsy said Williams died from asphyxia and drug intoxication.

The Cummins story hit a little more than a year after KARK fired four employees, including two on-air reporters, for posting an obscenity-filled video about the TV news business, shot inside the KARK newsroom and studio, on YouTube. The stories about the videos and the firings were the most read on in 2010.

More conventional local television news also proved popular with online readers. In March, Alyson Courtney announced she had left the top-rated KTHV-TV, Channel 11, morning show, "Today's THV This Morning," to join KATV-TV, Channel 7. It was the year's third-most read story.

Courtney was among several others who had left the Gannett Co.-owned CBS affiliate to join the Allbritton Communications-owned crosstown rival, an ABC affiliate. The move continued a wave of shuffling TV personalities and refueled the ratings battle for first and second place between KTHV and KATV in the mornings.

(Arkansas Business has a news partnership with KTHV, and Publisher Jeff Hankins and Interactive Editor Lance Turner appear regularly on KTHV newscasts.)

The biggest pure business story of the year, No. 2 with online readers, was the closing of the Yarnell Ice Cream Co. of Searcy in June.

The iconic ice cream manufacturer, millions of dollars in debt to scores of creditors, including the Arkansas Development Finance Authority and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, left an idle plant in Searcy and 200 workers without a job.

In Court

Much of the rest of the top 10 is populated by prominent business and political figures in varying states of legal trouble.

Lu Hardin's guilty plea to wire fraud and money laundering in March in federal court was the fourth most-read online story of the year. Hardin's "human frailty," in the words of pal Sheffield Nelson, was gambling, and it led Hardin to deceive the board of trustees into giving him a $300,000 bonus when he was president of the University of Central Arkansas. Hardin's crimes marked an ignominious end to his time at UCA and Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, where he'd become president after leaving Arkansas in 2008.

It's never a good time to get cuffed for a DWI, but Wal-Mart Stores Inc. heiress Alice Walton certainly regretted the poor timing of her last run-in with the law, which came less than a month before the grand opening of her multimillion-dollar, world-renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in her hometown, Bentonville.

Walton's arrest on the evening of Oct. 7, her 62nd birthday, by a Texas Highway Patrol trooper, and the accompanying booking photo, generated reader interest, and it was the sixth most popular of the year.

Finally, there was the story that quickly became--and continues to be--the buzz of the Little Rock legal community: a three-ring circus involving the USA Drug pharmacy chain, three accused embezzlers and their cadre of attorneys in federal criminal court and state and federal civil court.

Editor Gwen Moritz's November overview of its latest maneuvers was the 10th most-read story of the year.

On the Web

Go to Stories2011 to view this story with links to our original coverage.

The collapse of the 79-year-old family business was also the latest blow to Arkansas' dwindling dairy industry, crippled by the high costs of energy and cattle feed and better tax incentives in other states.

By Lance Turner
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Title Annotation:BEST-READ ONLINE
Author:Turner, Lance
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Dec 26, 2011
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