Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Transforming into a 'Product Company': How the Washington Post Is Pushing Its Ad Technology Business

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Transforming into a 'Product Company': How the Washington Post Is Pushing Its Ad Technology Business

Article excerpt

In the newsroom of one of the country's oldest and most respected newspapers, there is a revolution going on. In fact, we should probably just stop calling the Washington Post a newspaper altogether.

Yes, the venerable institution that has tackled corrupt politicians for more than 100 years still prints seven days a week, but describing the Post as a "newspaper" seems too limiting for an organization that has moved far beyond modern journalism catch phrases like "digital first" and "reverse publishing."

Since we all wake up each morning trying to be as accurate as possible, from now on let's just call the Post what it really is--a product company.

Under the ownership and apparently limitless pockets of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the venerable media organization has transformed into an oasis of innovation, starting with their new offices on K Street, where journalists and engineers literally sit side-by-side (the digital newsroom was in a separate building across the river in the Post's old set-up).

The investment in the product side of the organization has led to a wellspring of innovation for a company that still earns the lion's share of its revenue selling printed newspapers. Bandito is a home-grown tool that lets editors publish articles with as many as five different headlines and photos to figure out which is the most engaging to readers. WebSked is a newsroom planning tool that makes it easier and faster to plan and coordinate coverage. They even developed a tool called BreakFast, which measures the speed of it's breaking news alerts.

Then there's Arc, the Post's home-made content management system which they have begun licensing out to other news organizations. So far, the largest company to sign up so far is Canada's Globe and Mail, but the Post thinks Arc will grow into a $100 million a year revenue generator for the business.

The Post's latest innovation might also be its most important. With the future of journalism squarely in the hands of mobile users, the Post has begun to deploy a new mobile web site. While it might not look too differently from the site most users have become accustomed to, there is one important difference--it's blazingly fast.

Actually, the Post says it's "lightning-fast," and they're not kidding. Load times on their new mobile site clock in at under a second, and if the testing phase goes as well as product managers hope, the new' mobile site will be rolled out to all users by the end of the year.

How did the Post, burdened with ads and multimedia content like any other news organization, shrink their load speed so much? One word: Google.

According to Dave Merrill, lead product manager at the Post, it all started with a partnership with Google on their Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative, an open-source platform that basically strips down your site's code to decrease load times. Think of it as a diet HTML, hosted by Google.

"In the beginning, we were sending all our content there," said Merrill. "We could see the guts of how they were building this tech. We could see what exactly was going on."

But AMP was just the starting point. The Post took what they learned from their AMP pages and recoded using Google's Progressive Web Apps (PWA) technolog}', which allows them to serve rich, multimedia content on their mobile web pages without sacrificing speed. …

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