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Washington Post politics revamp takes aim at start-up competitors

In the last year, The Washington Post online has undergone a series of cultural changes: It integrated with the print edition of the paper, it hired young blogger-reporters to reinvigorate beat coverage, and it’s brought on two editors from The Huffington Post. Today the site launched a redesigned politics section, Post Politics, that looks more like a standalone home for political news than the integrated section it was yesterday.

I spoke with Paul Volpe, the Post’s national innovation editor, about the redesign and its goals today. “I think we cetainly tried to make it something that could be a standalone site,” he told me. The reason is a matter of competition: Sites like Politico can run pure politics on their homepages, and other sites like HuffPo have distinct, heavily trafficked politics pages. These sites can be appealing to readers looking for a place to consume a stream of purely political content. “The challenge that we face was we were fighting for space on our own front page,” Volpe said. “We have competitors that can devote their entire homepage to politics.” The Post, of course, also covers local news, sports, culture, and all the other things a major newspaper covers, which all vie for homepage play. The Post plans to promote the URL “PostPolitics.com,” which redirects you to the page, as part of its branding effort.

Behind the new look and feel, the Post has also shifted and added resources to ramp up production capabilities — my former colleague at the The Washington Independent recently signed on as a producer — in order to keep the site updated throughout the day, both with Post content and with links to outside work. “We’re not shying away from aggregation,” Volpe told me. The site will also pull political content in from other parts of the Post, like Style and Opinion. Visual and database-driven journalism will also get get better play.

Social networking and speed

One of the most noticeable features of Post Politics is its emphasis on social media tools. The top right corner of the page is dedicated to a “Connect with the Post” box featuring icons that link to Post Politics’ mobile apps, newsletters, Facebook fan page, and other social tools. Most unusual is the use of social media buttons on homepage teaser copy: On any homepage story, a reader can click an icon to post a comment or share the story on Facebook or Twitter — without even visiting the full story. A “share” button offers readers six more ways to share the content. The tools aren’t new — Volpe noted they’re pretty much standard across the web by now — but putting them on the front page instead of just article pages is unusual. It feeds into the competitive “you saw it here first” world of online politics reporting that will only ramp up as we approach the 2010 midterm elections. The next phase for Post Politics will be to introduce tools that show users what is being shared and commented the most. For now, the tool shows top content by pageviews.

Interactivity

Not only is the Post Politics homepage social, it’s interactive. Volpe said they saw this as an opportunity to rethink a homepage, which has more or less become a place with a collection of links. “It’s also an acknowlegment that people interact with sites differently now,” he said talking about the new tools and varied content appearing on the homepage. Political database-driven tools, like a presidential schedule tracker and a congressional vote tracker, sit on the right rail of the homepage — allowing users to engage with content directly without diving into an inside page. Subsidiary pages feature other data-driven and visual journalism prominently. The campaigns section features the Post’s interactive campaign map at the top of the page, for example. (Volpe noted they were also looking for ways to feature the kind of work that distinguishes the Post from other outlets.)

Post Politics seems to be an interesting social tweak on the standard political-reporting model. We’ll keep watching it; let us know what you think in the comments.

                                   
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