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Changes bring success online, with more to come ; It's all a work in progress, and a challenging one, but the improvements are undeniable.

For The News' website, 2010 was a year of growth -- and growing pains. is the leading local site. Its mission is to be the place to go for news and information about Western New York.

Here's some of what happened behind the scenes:

1.) We ended anonymous online commenting. This had the effect of cleaning up much of the nastiness on the site. That part was good. Not so good: That move (in August) immediately reduced the number of comments and, temporarily, the amount of traffic on the site. As we've verified the identities of more commenters, the traffic has come back strong. Thanks largely to Sara Meehan, our main comment verifier, the number now stands at about 2,500, adding commenters at a rate of 500 a month. The move is now being mirrored, or at least considered, by other sites around the country; it's one we're proud of.

2.) We redesigned the site completely for a better look, more flexibility of presentation, better navigation and a fuller use of our multimedia capabilities.

You could see the results of that last week when, on the home page, we prominently featured live streaming video of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State address, accompanied by a live chat hosted by political reporter Robert J. McCarthy, including questions and answers with the Web audience. (On the more technical side, in 2010 we also moved to a new system for managing our content; moves like that never come without a lot of bumps, but it's been a major improvement.) The redesign was the work of The News' design director John Davis, working with The News' technical and Web staffs and with graphic designer Dan Kirchberger.

3.) We beefed up the Web team. In October, I named Brian Connolly as The News' first assistant managing editor in charge of digital news. Connolly -- a "digital native" at 32 years old and also a savvy all-around journalist with a solid background in print, including several years as Gusto editor -- has pushed hard to improve the site's content and provide around-the-clock coverage. Working with him are his deputy, Geoff Nason; editor Jean Westmoore; and reporters/videographers Lauren Mariacher, Joe Popiolkowski, Aaron Besecker and Denise Jewell Gee. This team works closely with the entire newsroom staff to capitalize on The News' deep reservoir of resources.

4.) We brought a great deal of new content to the site. In sports, we have a high school sports scoreboard with more complete and immediate scholastic results than ever before. In local news, we launched 30 "community pages" -- with specific "hyper-local" coverage of Buffalo and its suburbs; from police briefs to obituaries, readers can see what's happening where they live and work. In entertainment, we began "Gusto TV," featuring our arts critics' commentary on the week ahead, hosted by Assistant Managing Editor Elizabeth Kahn.

The results are measurably impressive. Our monthly page views have steadily increased, going up more than 15 percent from December 2009 to December 2010. We hope to hit the 20 million mark soon.

Meanwhile, happily, our "bounce rate" is down. Bounce rate keeps track of those who come to the site, view only one page and immediately leave. The bounce rate was at nearly 50 percent a year ago, and is now around 30 percent.

Finally, "time on site" is up dramatically. This crucial measurement looks at how many minutes the average viewer stayed on -- and, of course, the longer, the better. Ours has doubled, moving from about three and a half minutes a year ago to more than seven minutes now. Viewers, no doubt, are staying to explore the richer content from Bills and Sabres videos to political and entertainment blogs.

It's a huge understatement to say that much remains to be done; in addition to the website, we need to better catch the wave of mobile and e-tablet applications. Meanwhile, the business model for newspapers' digital operations, including ours, is still a conundrum.

We're balancing all of this with an unwavering commitment to our award-winning print newspaper and to its accountability journalism. Meanwhile, as newspaper economics change radically, we are dealing with the realities of a smaller newsroom staff with more to do.

It's all a work in progress, and a challenging one. But the progress, we hope you agree, is undeniable.


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