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The paper was founded in 1877 and was in the hands of the Meyer-Graham family from 1933 to 2013, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought it for $250 million. Under the Grahams, the paper was owned by The Washington Post Co., whose chairman and CEO was Donald Graham. The company, which is now separate from the paper and was renamed Graham Holdings Company after the sale, also owns the Kaplan education business, the Slate Group, a cable division, six local TV stations, a hospice firm, and a boiler producer, and is an investor in the religious site FaithStreet.
While the Post is also a local newspaper, it has specialized in national politics, developing a reputation as one of America’s leading political journalism institutions, particularly since its coverage of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. It has won more than 50 Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other prestigious journalism awards since then. The Post has also, however, periodically received criticism for not emphasizing its local coverage enough, and for emphasizing it too much.
During the last several years, the Post has faced some financial difficulties, making significant newsroom staff reductions and closing all of its domestic bureaus. Though The Washington Post Co. remains profitable its newspaper division lost money in 2009 and 2010, and questions around its Kaplan unit, which accounts for a substantial part of its overall revenue, resulted in a decline in revenue in 2011. In 2013, the company expanded its polling division into an independent polling group doing poll research for outside clients. The Post has an events division called Washington Post Live, launched in 2011, that hosted 20 to 30 events per year as of 2014.
Shortly after Bezos bought the paper, The Post announced a major expansion in 2014, including the addition of numerous new jobs, revamped sections, and a new breaking news desk. Within four months, it had hired 50 new staffers.
The Post launched its website in 1996 as a separate operation from its print product, with offices in Virginia. For 13 years, the two newsrooms operated in what some called a tense partnership before merging on Jan. 1, 2010. In 2014, the Post opened a tech design and development office in New York called WPNYC.
The Post was among the first U.S. news sites to conduct regular live online chats, and it also won the first Emmy for online news video in 2006. It has also made significant investments in various forms of research and development since then.
The Post attempted to move into hyperlocal journalism in 2007 with LoudounExtra.com, a site devoted to Loudoun County, Virginia. The site struggled to find an audience. In 2009, its creative team having left the Post, Loudoun Extra closed.
In September 2009, the Post issued a set of social media guidelines emphasizing neutrality and objectivity by its reporters and editors. The guidelines were met with mixed reaction, some questioned the objectives, some panned the rules and the implications for the newsroom, others supported it.
In 2014, The Post announced a partnership with The New York Times and Mozilla to create tools to improve online commenting systems. The program was funded by a $3.89 million grant from the Knight Foundation.
In 2009, the Post launched Story Lab, a blog that experiments with new narrative forms in its reporting and presentation.
The Post fired popular liberal blogger Dan Froomkin in June 2009, though it has hired other prominent liberal writers, including Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein, to contribute to its website. Klein’s Wonkblog launched a image-based microsite called Know More in 2013, though Klein left the Post in 2014 after the paper rejected his proposal of a standalone explanatory journalism site. The Post continued Wonkblog under a different staff and announced it would launch a data- and topic-driven sister site to Wonkblog called Storyline later that year.
The Post’s breaking-news blogging and aggregation initiative, blogPOST, came under fire in 2012 when one of its bloggers resigned after being caught plagiarizing. The site was accused of pushing its young reporters too hard to blog quickly without enough guidance.
In April 2010, the Post launched a redesigned politics section that emphasized social sharing and interactivity and was designed to compete with Politico. Shortly thereafter, the paper also started a network of user-created political blogs. The Post launched an opinion site called PostEverything in 2014 meant to showcase opinion outside the paper’s staff writers.
The Post has a division called PostTV that produces several web shows, including longform political interviews and commentary. As of 2013, it produced 30 hours of airtime a month, with 42 full-time employees working in the web video division. PostTV began partnering with news video aggregator Watchup in 2014.
The Post released an iPhone app in March 2010: It initially charged $1.99 per year but made the app free about a year later. In November 2010 the Post launched a free iPad app, and in March 2012 it launched a politics iPad app, which is free to download and use but costs $2.99 per month for full access. It relaunched its main app and included a replica of the print newspaper in 2013; at that point, the app was still free, but set to become paid as the company launched a paid-content plan later that year.
In April 2011, the Post launched Trove, a news aggregator that mines users’ Facebook data to deliver personalized content. Later that year, the Post became one of the first news organizations to launch a social news app inside Facebook — drawing 3.5 million users in its first two months — and also released an Android-based app. (It moved the app off of Facebook to a standalone site in 2012.) It has used the Trove technology to experiment with personalized headlines. Trove was split from the Post in its sale to Bezos in 2013, and in 2014, Trove (now owned by Graham Holdings Co.) relaunched.
In 2013, the Post launched a feature called Post Pulse to highlight socially trending content.
The Post launched a crowdsourcing platform called Crowd Sourced in August 2012. It also collaborated with The New York Times beginning that year on a database of election results, relying in part on volunteer help.
The Post was awarded a Knight Foundation grant in 2012 to develop Truth Teller, a live fact-checking tool for audio and video content. The prototype debuted in January 2013 and began partnering with other organizations such as the Texas Tribune in 2014. The Post also partners with the Medill School at Northwestern and the Knight Foundation to fund programmer-journalist scholarships.
The Post launched a metered pay plan in June 2013, with free access for print subscribers as well as students, educators, and government and military employees. Digital subscriptions were set at $9.99 and $14.99 per month. In 2014, it expanded free access to its website and apps to subscribers of more than 100 local newspapers with which it partnered, including Digital First’s papers and the Dallas Morning News, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Before 2013, the Post had been one of the most prominent American newspapers to forgo an online paywall, with its executives repeatedly saying they had no plans to launch a paywall for their online content.
The paper’s lack of a paywall has at times been controversial: Former editor Marcus Brauchli reportedly clashed with publisher Katharine Weymouth over what he saw as insufficient revenue generation from the Post’s website, and critics had called for the Post to adopt a paid-content approach.
The Post has incorporated sponsored content through a program called BrandConnect that lets advertisers write their own content for the site. In 2013, it launched Sponsored Views, which allows organizations to pay to post commentary in response to the Post’s opinion content. In 2013, The Washington Post Magazine was criticized after two of its stories were killed because of concerns raised by advertisers.
In 2009, Post officials circulated plans to offer lobbyists exclusive off-the-record meetings, or “salons,” with government officials and Post reporters and editors for a cost of up to $250,000. The meetings were to be held at the home of Post publisher Katharine Weymouth. The plans were canceled soon after Politico reported on them.
The proposal was met with strong criticism from within the Post and elsewhere in the industry. The Post’s ombudsman called it “an ethical lapse of monumental proportions,” Weymouth apologized to the Post’s readers, and an internal investigation was launched. Two months later, the marketing executive who helped organize the salons resigned.
Hacks/Hackers is a meetup group for journalists and technologists, founded in November 2009 by San Francisco journalist Burt Herman, New York Times developer Aron Pilhofer, and Medill professor Rich Gordon. The group works to help journalists (hacks) and developers (hackers) learn from each other and collaborate on projects. Hacks/Hackers runs a blog and holds regular events in…