Top US newspaper Web sites grow their traffic

The largest newspaper Web sites in the US posted strong growth in traffic in December, Nielsen Online said.

U.S. newspapers, which have struggled mightily for years to adapt to the Web, seem to be doing a better job of growing their online readership.

That's at least true for the 10 largest U.S. newspaper Web sites, which collectively increased their unique visitors 16 percent last month, compared with December 2007. Nielsen Online, which issued the report this week, calls the growth in traffic "impressive."

Although the traffic increase doesn't necessarily translate into higher revenue, it is certainly a bright spot for the newspaper industry, which struggles with shrinking ad sales and a conflicted relationship with the Internet.

Newspaper publishers have been slow to capitalize on online advertising and have watched in horror as Internet companies like Google have gobbled up major chunks of their business, particularly the classifieds. Meanwhile, editors have struggled for years to figure out how to take advantage of the online medium, after realizing that simply shoveling their print editions on the Web didn't appeal much to readers.

Although the ad revenue remains a problem, newspapers have definitely made big progress on the editorial side, attracting people with interactive graphics and maps, photo slideshows, blogs, video clips and online polls. Newspapers also reach out to readers by offering e-mail newsletters, podcasts and syndicated feeds. They have also made peace with the existence of search engines and learned techniques to improve their visibility in search results.

The New York Times Web site topped the list of most popular among U.S. newspapers with 18.2 million unique visitors, up 6 percent from December 2007. It was followed by the sites of USA Today (11.4 million), The Washington Post (9.5 million), The Los Angeles Times (8 million) and The Wall Street Journal (7.2 million). The sites of The Daily News, Chicago Tribune, New York Post, Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle rounded out the top 10, in that order.

Posting the highest growth in unique visitors compared with December 2007 were the sites from The Daily News (99 percent), The Los Angeles Times (73 percent) and The New York Post (60 percent.) The Boston Globe's was the only Web site that saw its number of unique visitors shrink, experiencing a drop of 6 percent, according to Nielsen Online.

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