Nieman Foundation at Harvard
If the Philadelphia newspapers wanted to convert to nonprofits, what would stand in their way?
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 2, 2013, 1:27 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Caroline O'Donovan   |   October 2, 2013

“Unique visitors” aren’t always that unique. Sometimes, they’re not even visitors — at least of the human variety. A story in The Wall Street Journal looks at what happens marketers end up buying ad space on websites that turn out to be visited only by robots.

While some scammers create stand-alone operations, others devise sprawling empires. In one case, the White Ops technology uncovered a zombie-populated lifestyle network, with hundreds of connected sites, including,, and No one at the sites could be reached for comment.

In some scenarios, legitimate websites inadvertently set themselves up for botnet invasions when they hire companies to help boost their traffic. That can involve building audiences through methods such as paid keyword-search advertising with search engines.

White Ops discovered that more than 30% of the visitors to the education portal were robots. In the past month the site received about four million unique views, according to Quantcast.

A spokesman for said it was aware of the bot-traffic and that it had likely come from an initiative in the summer to boost its audience numbers. had bought traffic from a variety of legitimate sources, including search engines, to lure in new subscribers, as well as users “who would perform well for advertisers.”

“We shut down the program,” the spokesman said.

Show tags Show comments / Leave a comment
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
If the Philadelphia newspapers wanted to convert to nonprofits, what would stand in their way?
Some sort of attachment with Temple University could be in the works. But nonprofit law could throw up a number of obstacles to making that happen.
Medium partners with publications like The Awl and Fusion, and more native ads are on the way
Medium is rolling out a slew of changes, including publisher partnerships, updated apps, and plans for advertising.
4 takeaways from The New York Times’ new digital strategy memo
With a renewed focus on subscriptions, the Times believes it can double its digital revenue to $800 million in 2020.
What to read next
What happened after 7 news sites got rid of reader comments
Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Week, Mic, The Verge, and USA Today’s FTW have all shut off reader comments in the past year. Here’s how they’re all using social media to encourage reader discussion.
699Facebook woos journalists with Signal, a dashboard to gather news across Facebook and Instagram
Signal helps journalists find, source, and embed content from Facebook and Instagram.
672Get AMP’d: Here’s what publishers need to know about Google’s new plan to speed up your website
The speed gains are very real. But do publishers want to trade in the open space of what we’ve known as the web for yet another platform they have little control over?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Sports Illustrated
The Dish
Tribune Publishing
The Economist
The Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News