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The top 10 newspapers in the US collectively saw a 16% year-over-year increase in unique visitors to their websites in 2008, as well as a 27% increase in the total number of overall visits, according to data from Nielsen Online.

The number of unique visitors grew from 34.6 million unique visitors in December 2007 to 40.1 million in December 2008.

NYTimes.com was the #1 online newspaper destination in December 2008, with 18.2 million unique visitors. USATODAY.com and washingtonpost.com took the #2 and #3 spots, with 11.4 million and 9.5 million unique visitors, respectively, Nielsen Online reported.

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The New York Daily News online edition experienced the highest growth in unique visitors (99%), while Boston.com was the only online newspaper to experience a decline (-6%).

“Nine of the top 10 newspaper Web sites experienced positive year-over-year growth,” said Chuck Schilling, research director, agency & media, Nielsen Online. “News coverage in December ranged from how the 2008 holiday season would be affected by the weakening economy to Obama’s latest nomination for his administration, all of which helped to drive this impressive growth.”

Online Newspaper Readers Visiting More Frequently

In addition to an increased number of unique visitors to newspaper sites, readers also are frequenting these these web destinations more often than they were a year ago. The number of total visits to the top 10 newspaper sites increased 27% year-over-year, growing from 199.6 million in December 2007 to 252.7 million in December 2008.

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“Despite the current troubles for the traditional newspaper industry, people are visiting newspaper sites more and more often to stay on top of current events,” said Schilling. “The challenge for newspaper publishers today is to learn how to capitalize on this active online readership and translate their increasing engagement into revenue.”

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