One of the issues with news websites is their seeming incapability to get away from old print-media paper styling.
For example, when you would walk into a newsagent, there'd be 10, 15, even 20 different newspapers lined up so that you could only see the top half, the above-the-fold part. You aren't allowed to touch them, to pick them up and read them, until you buy it. All laying there side by side so the customer can see at a glance all the competing newspapers with the story their publishers think is the most eye-catching.
It was even worse for magazines, there were literally hundreds of different magazines, all vying for optical space, eye-catching space so a customer would even be aware it existed, on the racks that they had to have splashy headlines, eye-catching images.
In that system, yes you needed an eye-catching above the fold headline and/or picture to in the first instance catch the eye, get enough of the customers attention that they'd even notice it existed, then to encourage someone to buy your paper over the other ones, take it home/work/park/cafe and then to read through the rest of it.
With websites, this is not the case. Sure, catchy headlines are still good, but you don't need to attract this initial "I see you" attention, because by going to the website you have already caught their attention before they've even seen your page layout or flashy images. You don't need to persuade someone to buy it over another site because by browsing to the site to see the front page the consumer has already, philosophically if not literally, "bought" your site and is reading it. They've already taken it home/work/park/cafe and are reading it.
Therefore the 'top stories', or visually eye-catching headlines, pictures, are just not necessary. I've already bought it, and already flipping through the pages (clicking links to stories), reading it.
As a consumer in this position, the only logical reason I can see for things like 'most read' stories, or 'top stories', is because there might be some specific reason you want those pages clicked over and above the customers interest in a story on a site they've already bought into. Is there extra advertising? Is it really an advertorial that the news site gets extra clickthroughs just from someone reading the story? What is the ulterior motive for flagging these stories when I can see all the stories, all the headlines, just by scrolling through and picking out the ones I want to read?
I am not saying this is why The Register does this, but since there is no need for it in todays online experience - it just doesn't work the same way as print media sitting in a newsagent sharing shelf space with everyone else - then suspicions are aroused as to why. Whether it's purely innocent ignorance: "this is how print media has always formatted their front pages, and we are just a digital version of them so we'll format using the same theories", or something more: "this is an advertorial that we make more mony from than other stories so let's try and get more clicks for it" it's still problematic styling.