200-Year-Old Newspaper Acts Like Tech Whippersnapper

Ezekiel's_visionAngelina Jolie had some bad news to share in May 2013 when she told the world about her double mastectomy.

Jolie spoke about her condition in an article called “My Medical Choice” in the New York Times.

But if you Google “Angelina Jolie double mastectomy,” the Times’ article does not show up in the first page of results.

That makes the original piece essentially invisible to the casual searcher — an even bigger sin than burying the lede.

It’s a lesson learned by The Guardian newspaper as it beefs up its social media and search engine optimization (SEO).

And those results are paying off, according to Chief Digital Officer Tanya Cordrey.

Ophan Born of a Hack

Hack days are celebrated in the tech world. But they have their place in older, traditional businesses, too.

Closing in on its 200th birthday, and very much part of an industry struggling with disruptive competition, The Guardian has embraced technology and tech-industry practices such as hackathons.

So it was with some pride, that they lifted the bonnet (or hood) of their new, homemade, real-time analytics engine at the Web Summit.

Hack Day

Chris Moran, Digital Audience Editor, explained how he was frustrated with the analytics available when he moved from editorial to his new role working on SEO.

On the hack day, he approached Graham Tackley, Director of Architecture, for suggestions. Together, they hit the web-server logs for inspiration and quickly put together a rough analytics engine.

However, Moran was so happy with the results that he would not let go of them, and Tackley was left with a thrown-together program running on his PC.

After three months, they realized it was time to do something more permanent. The end result was something they called Ophan, or eye-covered intersecting wheels from the the Book of Ezekiel in the Bible.


Some news organizations view Google News or other aggregators as competition or, worse, thieves of their work.

The Guardian sees the search engine and other platforms like Twitter, Facebook and even the Drudge Report as delivery channels to be exploited.

While their work on Facebook has paid off handsomely, Cordrey conceded an algorithm change by the platform could see wild drops in traffic.

Although developed initially for the newsroom, Ophan could be used by other groups such as Sales or chat moderators.

At the moment, however, Ophan is being used to help editorial staff get a better view on the reach and reaction to their articles.

Moran said the journalism is left untouched by the SEO gang when new articles are announced on social media. However, headlines are changed, he said, because poor .

  • Illustration courtesy Wikipedia.
  • Headshots courtesy Web Summit website.