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This Week in Review: The Times launches native ads, and Yahoo’s against-the-flow news app

Plus: Updates on Ezra Klein, Edward Snowden, and the rest of this week’s news in journalism and tech.

A new look and new form of ads: Most news site redesigns aren’t much of a story, but when the news organization is The New York Times and the redesign is the first one in eight years, it gets a bit more attention. There were several places to read about various aspects of what the Times implemented and why: Mashable noted that the site has become semi-responsive, with adjustable dimensions for desktops, laptops, and tablets, but still a separate mobile site for phones. Journalism.co.uk emphasized personalization and engagement, with customizable menus, personal on-site breaking news alerts, and easier commenting. Fast Company pointed out the less cluttered design, and CNN’s Brian Stelter (a former Times reporter) highlighted the new back-end publishing system. The Times’ Reed Emmons explained some of the tech changes undergirding the site.

Initial reviews for redesigns are typically notoriously bad, but early reactions to the Times’ changes were actually fairly positive. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan collected some readers’ complaints and noted that the Times is committed to continuously tweaking and improving the site. Slate’s Adrian Chen tried to explain the lack of outrage about the redesign, concluding that it doesn’t change users’ experience much. “It allows you to read the Times the way you have for years. It’s just a little prettier,” he wrote. PandoDaily’s Adam Penenberg described it as a return to the simpler Times designs of the late ’90s and early 2000s, and Poynter’s Sam Kirkland said it still feels like a desktop-first design.

The most notable part of the redesign, though, is the Times’ introduction of native advertising — ads that mimic the paper’s editorial content. As the Financial Times noted (and as the Times’ leadership promised), the newsroom isn’t involved in creation of these ads; instead, they’re being produced by a new unit within the Times’ ad department. Digiday’s Brian Morrissey explained a bit more about how the ads will fit into the site, and Ad Age’s Michael Sebastian gave a few other notes, including that the ads will remain on the site indefinitely, and that they won’t be shared by the paper’s main Twitter or Facebook accounts.

The Times had previously promised that the ads would be clearly marked as paid-for content, and the first native ad, by Dell, certainly appeared to make good. Adweek’s Lucia Moses said the Times went further than most in identifying its content as an ad, noting that if the point of native advertising is to trick readers into thinking it’s editorial content, the Times labeling will defeat that purpose.

Still, blogger Andrew Sullivan was concerned that the news/advertising distinction isn’t strong enough, noting that it could get lost when the post is viewed outside the context of the rest of the site. And at The Guardian, Emily Bell said two questions need to be answered as native advertising becomes more widespread: How long will this trend last, and how transparent these ads will be.

yahoo-news-digestYahoo moves further into mobile news: Yahoo announced several new developments this week, including the launch of an app called the Yahoo News Digest that sends a twice-daily summary of stories to users. It’s the first new app based on Summly, the news-summarizing app Yahoo bought last year. The Verge’s Casey Newton has a very good summary of what makes this app distinct: It’s not personalized, but instead offers a single curated digest to everyone. It also has a definitive ending point, in contrast to the endless stream of news that’s in vogue elsewhere. Because of those distinctive choices, Newton called the News Digest “one of the best-looking, and most quietly provocative, newsreading apps we have seen in some time.”

On the other hand, BetaBeat’s Molly Mulshine understood Yahoo’s rationale behind the app, but saw it as superfluous. (The app got some glowing early reviews, though they appear to have come straight from Yahoo employees, as BuzzFeed observed.) Yahoo also launched new tech and food sites (called “digital magazines”), with the former being led by ex-New York Times tech columnist David Pogue. Pogue’s introductory post focused on tech coverage that’s more about elegance and efficiency than devotion to gadgetry or any particular tech religion, and he talked at Yahoo’s launch event about writing about tech for “normal” people.

Yahoo also launched a new unifying ad system that allows clients to buy ads across Yahoo’s platforms in a self-service format. (Adweek and TechCrunch have the details on those changes.) And it announced the purchase of a context-based mobile app, Aviate, that’s still in private beta. Yahoo CEO explained all the changes as part of a shift a mobile-centric media company that produces more of its own content and offers it in more mobile-friendly ways. Readwrite’s Owen Thomas said the changes helpfully narrow down Yahoo’s focus from its previous days of overreach, but its mission isn’t quite as cohesive and inspiring as its rival tech heavyweights.

Reading roundup: It’s only been a few days since the last This Week in Review post, but there are few ongoing stories that have continued to develop during that time. Here’s a quick rundown:

ezra-klein— We haven’t gotten official word that Ezra Klein is leaving The Washington Post after the paper reportedly rejected his proposal for a standalone explanatory journalism site, but The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone reported that the Post has begun looking for Klein’s replacement. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram urged the Post to cut a deal with Klein, and here at the Lab, journalism professor Dan Kennedy said the situation shows why news organizations should embrace a network model rather than one based on closely guarded control. Michael Wolff of The Guardian was skeptical, however, that such individually driven news sites represented a financially stable journalistic path.

— A few more pieces of the National Security Agency and Edward Snowden story: Wired’s Steven Levy wrote a long piece explaining what the NSA’s surveillance has meant for the tech industry. There was also some conversation among The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson, political blogger Marcy Wheeler, and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg about whether Snowden broke the oath given to federal employees. And there were a couple of posts on the new Pierre Omidyar/Glenn Greenwald First Look Media initiative — one by Greenwald on his role in the project and another by NYU’s Jay Rosen with its new hire, Bill Gannon.

— We got a bizarre intersection between Twitter and advertising this week when the producers of the movie Inside Llewyn Davis bought a full-page ad in The New York Times that consisted solely of a tweet by Times movie critic A.O. Scott. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan checked out the story behind the ad, noting that the tweet was edited and that Scott had denied the producers permission to use his tweet in an ad. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram and Reuters’ Felix Salmon both gave some thoughts on what the episode might mean.

— The Financial Times’ Jurek Martin and Danish professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen offered smart, conflicting perspectives on whether the current state of American political journalism is something to be lamented (Martin’s view) or celebrated (Nielsen’s).

— Finally, The New York Times’ social media desk has loads of useful advice in this post at the Lab about what works for them and what doesn’t.

                                   
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