The top ten stories of 2011 rounds up its most widely-read items of the year – and starts to see a pattern.

By Ian Dunt 

For such a tumultuous year, the main events constituting our top ten are relatively predictable. There are some odd surprises, not least of all for the number one spot, but the majority of our most popular items concerned rioting and phone-hacking, two events which caused spikes in traffic to news sites.

10 – Health chief steps down with blistering broadside against Lansley

This short article concerning the retirement of Sir Roger Boyle was a minor event in the ongoing row over NHS reform, but its presence in the list shows the extent of public interest in the coalition's health care project. Of course, it's precisely that sort of public interest which panicked Downing Street, as the sense of concern over plans to open up the NHS to private sector providers angered people up and down the country. Sir Roger issued his warning with the memorable line: "If the market was going to work, the Americans would have cracked it."

09 – Comment: What politicians can learn from Joey Barton

Queen's Park Rangers captain Joey Barton raised a few eyebrows when he started tweeting about Morrissey and Nietzsche, but by the time he was making political arguments in newspaper interviews, it seemed par for the course. This comment piece, which argued politicians could take something from Barton's approach, saw a lot of interest on Twitter and even some appreciation from the man himself.

08 – Comment: UK riots – so what went wrong?

The first of our summer riots coverage to find its way into the top ten is a thoughtful comment piece by a commissioner for the Scottish Human Rights Commission, who urged the government to recognise the disorder as an "exceptional" crime, rather than bog-standard criminality. Written towards the tail end of the violence (although we didn't know that then) the popularity of the piece reflected the need for an explanation of what was happening on the streets of our cities. "These out-of-control young people are after all of our own making," Kay Hampton warned. "They are the misguided sons, daughters, brothers or sisters of people we might know."

07 – Reinforced Met police ready to use rubber bullets

Of course, the main thing people wanted during the riots was solid news, whether it was on a news story proper or a live blog. This news story, on the Met toying with the idea of using rubber bullets, prompted considerable interest from readers, many of whom wanted much tougher sanctions from New Scotland Yard. This was as close as police came to resorting to the weapon, but even the wording of the article hints at the tense atmosphere of the time. At the end, it reads: "'London is – you know what, bloody resilient,' DAC Kavanagh said. 'It will get through this. We will get through this.'"

06 – Murdochs vs MPs as-it-happened

You don't get much more dramatic than this. From Tom Watson's interrogation of Rupert Murdoch to the foam pie attack, it was memorable and colourful in equal measure. It was, without a doubt, the parliamentary highlight of the year, and provided a compelling case for the robust return of parliament as a pivotal setting for current affairs – an argument which would have been difficult to make 12 months ago. Here, correspondent Alex Stevenson captured every twist and turn in a long and eventful day. His fingers, one imagines, were bruised and ruined by the time he went to bed.

05 – Comment: Jeremy Clarkson and the New British Outrage

If you want a problem to mull over consider this: received more traffic in one day of a Jeremy Clarkson scandal than it did for half a week of summits at the EU. The Top Gear presenter's comment that striking public sector workers should be "taken outside and shot" caused offence and anger online, with one union even toying with the idea of legal action.'s Ian Dunt, who had just spoken out in support of the strike, had a different perspective, suggesting that there was something problematic about the serial outrages hitting the British press.

04 – Home Office declares war on the anarchists

It seems almost quaint after the summer riots, but the anarchist violence which followed the anti-cuts national demo in March was a source of severe controversy for days afterwards. The government decided to ban face coverings at certain events and many young people who had occupied Fortnum and Masons were handed harsh sentences. This piece, written 48-hours later, details the fallout from the violence which hit central London.

03 – UK and London riots: Night four as-it-happened

The second live blog to reach the top ten came in the shape of an all-nighter on the final day of rioting. London remained calm while the disorder spread to northern towns and cities, but we didn't know that at the time. It was tense and the public was desperate for information. After the ignominy of the phone-hacking scandal, the events of the summer reminded us why the provision of news mattered.

02 – Comment: What is causing the riots in London?

Civitas' crime researcher asked the question everyone wanted answered: what is causing the riots? Of course, we still don't really know the answer to that question, but Nick Cowen made a sensible attempt to untangle the complicated web of motivations, from hot weather to unemployment. The piece was particularly popular overseas, as confused onlookers tried to establish what had caused such an outbreak of violence in a city which just weeks earlier has celebrated the pomp of the royal wedding.

01 – Anti-Muslim preacher lashes out at UK ban

Yep, we weren't expecting that either. Our top story of the year came from the minor incident in which US preacher Pastor Terry Jones was denied a visa to the UK. He had intended to speak at an event called, rather ironically, England Is Ours. The news story may have been small, but it played on strong narratives, such as the Home Office's policy of preventing controversial figures from coming to the UK and frictions with the Islamic community. By featuring a man who had threatened to burn the Quran and appealing to readers on both sides of the Atlantic, this story turned out to be our biggest article of 2011.