In another time, when journalists did not have all sorts of information at their fingertips, we relied on focus groups and telephone surveys to learn what readers thought was important.

Among the most-often mentioned stories people said they read about was education. Now, I know education is important — vitally important — but the most-read stories? I just didn’t believe it.

As the author of four true-crime books that did fairly well in sales, I had a hunch readers actually were reading about the darkest deeds taking place in the community. People just didn’t want to admit it to some random stranger delving into their reading pleasures.

Times have changed, and we can tell what people are reading — at least online — thanks to tools like Google analytics, Pars.ly and a number of other software products.

Crime, mayhem, conflict. The stories that do the best often involve emergency responders.

So you can imagine my surprise and, well, pleasure when I checked this morning for the top October stories and discovered it was Alex MacLean’s report on a Twain Harte barn being used for a photo shoot for Zappo’s, a leading online shoe retailer.

The setting was Bennett Barn, owned by San Martin residents Rod and Patty Bennett, and a nearby log cabin known as Deer Park.

It was a delightful story about how Rod Bennett built both structures as a hobby and the place was outfitted for the photo shoot as a German village, replete with snow chipped from 300-pound blocks of ice.

Maggie Beck’s photos drew you into this idyllic setting that frankly looked like something straight from a Hallmark movie. Bennett told MacLean having a Hallmark movies shot on his property was actually a goal. He prefaced his confession with, “as dorky as it sounds.”

To my way of thinking there’s nothing dorky about that at all. In this day and time when everything seems to be rooted in conflict, escape to Hallmark sometime is needed to get through the day. I didn’t count the number of Hallmark movies I watched last fall, but it would fall into the a lot category.

I will say that six of the top 10 stories from October were rooted in some sort of bad news — a few businesses closing, two fires, a homicide, soured labor negotiations. And the top story for the year was the first story about Dardanelle Resort burning down in the Donnell Fire.

But then, to bring us back to something far less tragic, we can always go back to snow-clad Bennett Barn, a serene setting amid the stress of our times.

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