Top News Stories

The death of a bogeyman who haunted a generation. A record-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami that swept away towns. The trial of the summer. A sudden passing. Dead-at-27 club. The next generation’s go at a fairy-tale wedding. A disturbed man’s action and the toxic side of politics. The toppling of long-entrenched regimes.

Those were just some of the many, many breaking news stories that hit us in 2011 and commandeered our online attention. While the Top 10 Searches focus on related keywords, the Top 10 News Stories involve a wider range of searches and include an analysis on the most-read news stories on Yahoo!.

And talk about a 24-hour news cycle: 2011 started off with the Arab Spring and the domino effect of toppling governments. Citizens from Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya rose up. Of course, each country had its own set of unique, complex circumstances and craved its own particular kind of freedom. Yet the domino effect, amplified by social networking, made the Arab Spring appear to be a collective revolt. Some, like Egypt and Tunisia, quickly effected astonishing change, from riot to election. Others followed a more typical, protracted conflict — some with no end in sight (Syria), others with the death of a leader (Moammar Gadhafi). The contagion of protest spread to the United States, with Wall Street, not the government, as the target.

Not that American politics wasn’t a toxic subject in 2011. Whether or not it was fair, Arizona’s political climate received partial blame for a shooting spree that killed six and injured 14, including intended target Representative Gabrielle Giffords. But Americans came together, especially when the death of Osama bin Laden — four months shy of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, was announced.

People the world over also banded together to help the victims in the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. A record 9.0-magnitude quake resulted in unspeakable, unfathomable calamity. Even more frightening was the very real possibility of a nuclear disaster, when waves tore through the seawall and swamped the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Given all this, it seems astonishing that the Casey Anthony trial would figure so highly in news searches — but yet, it does make sense. Many of the year’s breaking news events stayed in the headlines day after day. The so-called trial of the summer was controversial for even being covered. To some, the daily queue of courtroom spectators was little better than the crowds of people in days gone by who gathered to witness public beheadings and hangings. For those who passionately sought justice for toddler Caylee Anthony, the story was every mother’s terror: the disappeared child, the callous mother, a legal bureaucracy that favored the criminal over the innocent.

Two major events originated from Great Britain. Amy Winehouse’s troubles with addiction were well-documented, but her talent was undeniable. Her death at age 27 revived the memory of other premature passings, of talented artists like Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.

The other seemed to be a throwback, yet in the midst of turmoil, people wanted to bear witness to a fairy-tale royal wedding. More than one prince married a commoner this year, but the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton was a second chance of sorts for those who still remembered — and even revered — his parents’ wedding. Things didn’t work out for Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, and her 1997 death added a tragic dimension to that wedding of the century. Seeing William all grown up and marrying a nice girl made the more romantic spectators think that his mother would have been quite proud.

These were the Top 10 News Searches. Read on to revisit the biggest stories of the year — starting with the Casey Anthony trial — and find out what lies in store for 2012.

The Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for five years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events, pop-culture idiosyncrasies, and online behavior to probe the “why” behind what’s Web-hot with media and online. On Yahoo!, her articles can be found in News, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame. Across the Net, there are remnants of contributions to a cultural travel guide, martial arts encyclopedia, movie criticism, business profiles, and A&E/features reporting.