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The art of newspaper paragraphing is to stroke a platitude until it purrs like an epigram.

Don Marquis

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One year in: 10 ways The Washington Post has changed under Jeff Bezos

Lucia Moses




A year ago, Jeff Bezos stunned the media world with the news that he was buying The Washington Post for $250 million. With his jumble of businesses, the founder of Amazon seemed an unlikely buyer for a newspaper that was losing money. But given moves he has made to try to reinvent the media business (Amazon, the Kindle - and Kindle Singles e-books and Amazon Studios, units that give creators new outlets for their work), expectations that the billionaire entrepreneur would transform the Post into a hotbed of experimentation were high. Now flush with resources, the paper has begun hiring again and introduced a number of initiatives. Here's what happened, and what hasn't:


National growth
In March, in a de facto effort to take the brand national, The Washington Post lowered its paywall to give free Post access to subscribers of more than 100 local papers, including the Dallas Morning News and Minneapolis Star Tribune. Post president Steve Hills told the Financial Times that digital subscription services such as Amazon Prime and Spotify could one day come packaged with Post content, although that hasn't materialized yet.


Overseas expansion
The Post also has spread its wings aboard, adding a sales team in London, to leverage its international audience. The jury's still out on whether it can expand beyond its association with coverage of D.C. politics, though.


Digital is growing in importance. As of March 31, Monday-Friday print circulation averaged 399,757, down from 431,521 in September 2013. But online audience is up 43 percent to 32.3 million monthly uniques in June, per comScore desktop and mobile combined.


Editorial expansion
The Post has grown the editorial operation. Despite the loss of high-profile talent like Ezra Klein, who took others with him to Vox Media including Dylan Matthews and Melissa Bell, the newsroom is growing. As of May, the Post had hired 50 new people in various newsroom functions, launching blogs like Storyline, Morning Mix and PostEverything and expanding the Sunday magazine. This hasn't made up for the 200 jobs that were eliminated in buyouts in recent years, but it's a welcome start.


The Post has long embedded technologists in the newsroom, and that's expanded under Bezos. Today, 25 engineers that work with the newsroom enable them to develop new "Snowfall"-like story formats and mine data for enterprise stories.


The Post partnered with The New York Times and Mozilla to create an online community commenting system, which is in "advanced stages of design," said Shailesh Prakash, vp of digital product development and CIO.


A reflection of Bezos' experimentation ethos, the Post opened a software-development lab in New York in March, WPNYC, to improve the website and develop new ad products.


Native advertising has been a core of the Post's ad revenue strategy since it launched its BrandConnect program in March 2013. It has since allowed advertisers to borrow features of article templates to make them look more like editorial. The Post also has begun running native ads on mobile, a nod to readers' shifting behavior to the smaller screen. New ad units are only starting to come, though; first among them is one called Infinity, a full-page unit that can run across desktop, mobile and tablet without the advertiser having to change the creative.


User experience
The paper announced a website redesign, but it's a long way from being completed. Chief among the goals is improving the article experience; article pages are cleaner, and photo galleries have better resolution and sharing features. But article pages are still marred by Google AdChoices and take too long to load - four to five seconds to load - which the Post wants to cut to two to three seconds. "Speed is something we need to get better at," Prakash said. "We've made progress, but we've still got a long way to go."


Content management
Explaining his decision to leave the Post for Vox Media, Klein criticized the paper as lagging in technology and for being tied to a daily-journalism publishing model. Here again, the Post is just getting started. Its new blog Storyline allows for storytelling in different formats and to be told over days and months. A new CMS that will build in analytics to inform and guide news staffers as they post content is still in the works. And the holy grail of being able to personalize content to readers based on their point of entry and interests is still a ways off - as it is for most publishers.


New browser extension warns you when articles are paid for by advertisers

By Ian Paul



You can get browser extensions to stop advertisers from tracking you, but until now there hasn't been one that can prevent you from getting suckered by hucksters on news sites.

Thanks to the Internet, journalism's core funding models of subscriptions and advertising are not what they used to be. Trying to find new ways to make money, publications-including PCWorld and its sister sites-are trying out other sources of revenue such as sponsored posts, also known as "native advertising."

These are articles written and published along with regular news articles, but are either written by or for an advertiser. Sponsored posts are only a few years old and publications are still grappling with how to mark what is sponsored content and what is not.

To help online news junkies see the difference between sponsored posts and regular articles, Google Product Engineer Ian Webster created a sponsored post-sniffing browser extension in his spare time.

The result is AdDetector, a simple extension available in the Chrome Web Store orMozilla's add-ons gallery for Firefox. Once it's installed, AdDetector scans web pages you visit to ferret out ads. When it does find a sponsored article, the extensions displays a large red banner at the top of the page. If the extension can determine the sponsor's name it will display that, too.

Webster recently told The Wall Street Journal that comedian John Oliver helped inspire the extension. The British satirist recently took native advertising to task during one of his epic rants on the HBO show Last Week Tonight.


An article sponsored by Cheerios on BuzzFeed.

Webster's aim isn't necessarily to keep you away from that fun BuzzFeed article about 14 modern keepsakes to give to your future children. Instead, he's trying to inject more transparency about which articles are sponsored and which are not.

AdDetector's red banner can be very useful since some websites try to play down an article's sponsorship by putting a notice off to the side of main copy, blending the sponsorship notice with the general design of article, or marking it as sponsored at a relatively small font size. That may hide sponsorship notices from human eyes, but not a computer program scanning for hints of native ads.

Well, most of the time.

Venturing out onto the web with AdDetector installed, the extension easily identified sponsored content from BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, and others. Interestingly, however, it failed to alert me when I visited a sponsored post here on PCWorld as well as a video on The Atlantic's site.

Although AdDetector does have to run on most pages you visit to do its job, Webster says your browsing data is never used, stored, or transmitted. The code for the extension is also up on GitHub for anyone that wants to take a look.

Speaking of having a look, here's the scathing John Oliver rant that spurred the creation of AdDetector.


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"Heard on the Web" Media Intelligence:  
Courtesy of  The Precision Media Group.   
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