This was the year of Casey. And like it or not, Orlando was the host city.

There may have been stories of greater societal significance in 2011 — the tsunami in Japan, the Arab Spring protests and the elimination of Osama bin Laden come to mind — but nothing captivated this town, this nation and much of the world in the same way the Casey Anthony trial did this summer.

Her story had a narrative we could relate to: a middle-class family, an attractive young mother, a precious child named Caylee Marie.

The rest, of course, was abhorrent: charges that a selfish, freedom-seeking Casey Anthony used chloroform and duct tape to kill her daughter, left her body in the woods and then partied for a month before reporting the 2-year-old missing.

Many could not fathom such a killing. Many would not believe the defense. But few tracking the Anthony trial in June and July could tune it out. People all over the country altered daily schedules to keep up with the case, watching it on TV, following real-time on Twitter, reviewing the analysis.

There is a reason the theater Shakespeare created 400 or more years ago resonates still. His plays told stories of deeply flawed characters, tragic losses and disastrous family dynamics.

The Anthony trial contained these universal themes, and that's probably why many of us were so absorbed. But even the world's greatest playwright could not have imagined a story quite like this.


If the Anthony case was an addiction, then our technology helped deliver the doses with instant feeds and posts online. Never before were social media, blogging and online reporting deployed to the extent it was during this trial.

Most reporters covering it used cellphones and iPads to describe what viewers might not see on TV: a juror's reaction to some piece of evidence presented or Cindy Anthony's response to testimony damaging to her daughter.

When the jury reached its verdict July 5, finding Anthony not guilty of murder, set an all-time record of more than 22 million page views. More than 55,000 people signed up to receive text alerts from the Sentinel on significant moments during the trial.

This month, Google announced "Casey Anthony" was the No. 4 search term of 2011.

The case made a name for blogger/journalist Dave Knechel, who managed to parlay thoughtful posts on his website into coverage of the trial for Orlando magazine.

But even Knechel admits the blogosphere he inhabits "created an unhealthy banter." Jealousy, personal attacks and deep emotional attachments to the case at times made the conversation ugly.

Robert Hernandez, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and online-journalism expert, said the trial demonstrated the fundamental changes that social media and bloggers bring to the way we receive our information in high-profile cases and major news events.

"For better or worse, people want real-time information," he explained. "This is not a passing phase. Social media really amplified that water-cooler culture that used to occur only around the water cooler. There's a flood of voices, and it's not going away."

Too much information?

After little Caylee was reported missing in July 2008, the prosecution's release of thousands of pages of discovery became immediate stories for the local and national media.

Who can forget the images of Casey partying with friends in the days after Caylee disappeared? We saw letters she wrote from jail. We watched cadaver dogs search the Anthony home.