For a newspaper that has been in circulation for well over a century, twenty years is relatively short. But in that time, the Washington Post has launched its website and molded it into a news hub read around the globe. Many different circumstances led the Post shift its focus its digital presence, but all of them led to the survival of the publication in a time when print media is quickly becoming obsolete.
The Washington Post website first went live in 1996 with what now seems to be a rudimentary gray and white page, although the style was progressive at a time when many were employing the most basic HTML and Java design. The oldest archived page of the Post, from December 20th, 1996, is like a snapshot in time. Carl Sagan is dead at sixty-two and a judge is about to making a ruling on the case of OJ’s custody. Despite the dated information, you’ll notice that the content the website offers is almost exactly what you’d see on the Washington Post today. The main page includes the important national news of the day, with pieces about the political climate and the state of the economy. A drop down bar can take you to filtered news based on your interests, or articles specific to the District’s metropolitan area.
Move forward twenty years and at first glance the site is completely different. Steeped heavily in the minimalist aesthetic of the modern day web design, the retrospectively tacky toolbars and graphics from 1996 are replaced with a sleek black and white contrast. The timeless logo heads the page, this time without any graphic design experimentation of fading and overlap. Upon further inspection though, that skeleton that the held up the site’s predecessor twenty years early is indeed still the framework upon which the Washington Post of 2016 operates. If nothing but looks has changed on the website, what can account for the huge success the Post has recently achieved online?
All signs are pointing to what the Post has done to expand its reach on social media. Integrating its media with sites like Facebook and Twitter has allowed the Washington Post to take advantage of the viral effect of the internet. Baiting headlines pioneered by sites like Buzzfeed attract users of these social media websites to share articles and spread them across social circles. On my own Facebook feed, I witness this change on a daily basis. Where only a few years ago my feed would be filled with the statuses of friends or pictures they’ve uploaded, I’ll now see Post article after Post article on current events and breaking political news.
The logic behind the Washington Post expanding its online presence off of its website is perplexing at first, but the numbers cannot be argued with. It has boosted readership to be an equal rival to the New York Times, and its web traffic is higher than ever before. The digital rebirth of the Washington Post is a comeback story to be reckoned with.