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Live chats bridge gap between readers, writers This increased conversation is one of the great advantages of Web journalism.

Douglas Turner saw his first newspaper composing room 51 years ago when headlines were still set in a way invented by Gutenberg in 1439.

Last Tuesday, the longtime Washington Bureau chief was communicating with Buffalo News readers quite differently -- in a "live chat" on the Internet as the presidential debate took place simultaneously.

The fast-paced exchange with readers was, he says, "a thrill."

"Among the wonders of this process," he reflected the next day, "is seeing the wide range of expressions, and levels of intensity, ranging from such comments as '[blank] is an idiot,' to more serious efforts to break through and tell us things we may not have known."

The News first got into the live-chat scene as recently as Labor Day. Now, just weeks later, these real-time exchanges among readers, usually involving a News staffer in the role of resident expert and moderator, have become a regular part of our Web offerings.

Many chats have to do with sports subjects, and Sports Editor Steve Jones is all for them.

"Live chats bridge the gap between us and the readers," he says. "The U.S. mail and even e-mail tend to be impersonal compared to the give-and-take on a live chat."

This increased conversation between readers and writers is one of the great advantages of the brave new world of Web journalism.

In addition to occasional political chats -- reporter Patrick Lakamp hosted a successful one on Primary Night, and Turner now has hosted two debate chats -- sports chats have become regular events. Mark Gaughan hosts the Football Friday chat each week and Allen Wilson does the same on Mondays after Bills games. Keith McShea's popular "Prep Talk" chat on high school sports takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesdays.

Next month, a Buffalo News father-daughter team -- Editorial Page Editor Mike Vogel and columnist Charity Vogel -- will host a live chat on writing techniques called "The Paragraph Factory."

The best way to keep track of all these offerings is to check buffalonews.com frequently. We'll also tell you about them in the newspaper as they are coming up.

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Speaking of response from readers, something I've learned over the years is that you never know what subject is going to hit a nerve.

Topics that seem provocative and edgy can sink like a stone. Others can, without warning, set off a firestorm.

I learned that again recently when I wrote here about the media's treatment of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. After writing that Palin deserves serious scrutiny and the media have not been sexist, I asked readers to share their views on our Inside The News blog.

What followed was remarkable. Dozens and then scores of readers began posting their opinions. Many accused me of bias, and others used Palin as a jumping-off point for far-flung political viewpoints.

Comment continued for days, not only on the blog but in letters and phone calls. I half expected "Saturday Night Live's" Tina Fey to check in, but I think she was too busy perfecting her Palinesque wink.

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One of our most versatile and innovative editors, Susan LoTempio, takes on new duties next week at The Buffalo News, moving outside the newsroom for the first time in her 30-year career to become director of customer content in The News' marketing department. Among her journalistic accomplishments since joining The News in 1986: the development of teen section NeXt and The Buffalo News Book Club, and many efforts to keep close ties between readers and the paper. Most recently, she helped steer the new MoneySmart consumer section. She will be missed.

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