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The evolution of newspapers and the internet : through the years

Written by Simply Zesty on

Given that the publishing industry is frequently accused of failing to adapt to social media (something I actually contend), I wanted to look at newspapers on the internet throughout the past years and see how they have changed to take advantage of emerging technology. Using the Internet Archive's 'way back machine', which allows you to look at a cached version of a homepage from a particular year, I've looked at how major newspapers have adapted, using the Guardian in the UK and the New York Times. Note - this is not intended as a complete chronological documentation of the history of newspapers, but a visual way to document key changes through the arrival of the internet.

1996 - The New York Times launches electronic newspaper

Showing that it took them a little time to realise the internet was coming, the New York Times first launched their website in January 1996. The stark homepage below, from November 1996, showed that just a few stories made it onto the front page of the site, which is in stark contrast to the mass of content we find today. The first homepage shows however that they had started to consider ways to navigate content, including a few sub sections to click into. Speaking on the project, Martin Nisenholtz, president of The New York Times Electronic Media Company said "The electronic newspaper (address: http:/ is part of a strategy to extend the readership of The Times and to create opportunities for the company in the electronic media industry."

1999 - The Guardian Follows in the UK

While the Guardian is considered one of the most forward thinking newspapers to embrace digital media, it took them 3 years to launch their first digital edition in 1999, 3 years after the New York Times.The screenshot above, showing the paper in 2000, demonstrates that in this period there had clearly been a lot of learning and development of internet behaviour. Features on this paper not seen on the New York Times include a 7 day search feature drop-down search box, top and side-bar navigation, and a larger number of stories onto the homepage, split into subsections. Interestingly instead of launching on '' they instead chose ''

The New York Times 2000 : Content Arrives!

Fast forward 4 years from the launch of the New York Times and you get a very different homepage. Far from being just a few featured stories, we are now faced with a barrage of content, navigable in multiple ways including search, sub-sections, featured snippets, breaking news, email updates. Note the option to also 'personalise your weather', showing the NY Times understood the advantages of the web meant that not everyone had to see the same content, as with the printed version. What's interesting about this version as well is that we can also see the concept of online communities begin to emerge, as the paper has a public poll that readers can take part in on the site (readers' opinions).

Here you can also see the role that advertising begins to play on the site. Though it is not overtly in your face, when scrolling down the homepage you can see small text and image ads from various suppliers, featured in the 'shopping' section :


The Guardian 2001 : Remember WAP?

By 2001, The Guardian had dropped the url and instead used , recognising the important of short, memorable urls and also that the internet identity of the paper was essentially no different to the offline identity, so there was no need to distinguish between the two. Here we can see a huge change between the early internet edition, most likely due to changes in broadband penetration and speed as well as changes brought on by user behaviour. What's most notable about this version is the increased use of images, again likely due to improved internet speeds, whereas earlier versions were nearly exclusively text, with options to download graphics if you wanted to.

Also showing the precursor to the mobile web, this homepage features the option to get the Guardian in WAP version, as well as, remarkably, as a cable television channel :

The New York Times 2004 : Increased Community

While little seems to have outwardly changed on the homepage of the New York Times in 4 years, if you look at the features more closely you can see that user generated content is starting to feature more heavily, as well as ads having much high prominence on the homepage. You can also see more promotion of subdomains, such as the New York Times film site, allowing you to find local cinema times. This version of the paper features forums and readers' opinions, showing that the publishing industry is beginning to accept two way communication :


The Guardian 2007 : Web 2.0

Here we begin to see the kind of website that looks like what we might expect to see today, and you can see significant features that have been added to show how the Guardian has made use of new technologies available. On the top right they now have an RSS feed (under webfeed) that you can subscribe to, which has been filtered into 30 separate topic feeds. They have also introduced a dynamically updating breaking news feed on the site, featured as a ticker across the top which takes you into the full story. This version of the site shows that a lot has been learned about how to organise content online, with clearer layout of subsections, colour coding and also displaying sub links under a story to take you to other associated articles.

You can also see the paper respond to user demands by offering unique, online content in the form of interactive guides, including audio and video :

Social media buttons are still absent from this version of the site however.

The New York Times 2010 : Restricted Access

The version of the NY Times in 2010, a year before they introduced a paywall on their site, shows they are already taking a hardline in access to content. You can also see here they dropped the subheading 'on the web' underneath the paper's title. While positive introductions have been made which can be seen on the homepage since the 2004 version, such as the ability to comment on individual articles, it's not all good news for readers. Clicking into an article requires you to register, for free, as a NY Times member in order to gain full access :

The Guardian 2012 : A social paper


Looking at the homeapge of the Guardian today compared to 1999, you can see a completely different function for the paper. Not only has the type and layout of content changed drastically, but we now see the role that social media has to play in the news industry. As well as comments on articles, we now have social media sites brought in, to allow sharing and commentary :

 Note how the Guardian has also adapted its entire organisation, now including a European network, featuring partnerships and links to El Pais, La Stampa, La Monde and Suddeutsche Zeitung to encourage a more open, connected news organisation and community.

The New York Times 2012 : A social paper

The homepage of the New York Times today is a great example in showing just how far the publishing industry has progressed overall. Though these features are by no means exclusive to the NY Times, looking at just one screenshot we can see an ad for the paper's special U.S. election iPhone app, a specialist fashion iPad app, digital subscriptions through the paywall (an unwelcome addition) , user comments and social media bought into the homepage :

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