A whole new [the]world[.org]

A privacy-focused point of view for public media digital models

PRX
PRX
Dec 13, 2021 · 5 min read

by Brandon Hundt, Director of Product Management at PRX

We are excited to announce that you can now find “The World,” our flagship daily international news program, with a reconstructed and rebranded website entirely at theworld.org.

Before PRI’s merger with PRX, stories from “The World” were found at PRI.org in an attempt to aggregate the network’s content into a destination news source. Since the merger, we’ve had the opportunity to rethink this model and what benefits our audience and newsroom the most.

The first concern the PRX Tech Team needed to address came from within: “The World” expressed the need to have a distinct calling card to help secure new sources. Also, being a public media entity, donations and foundation support is essential to fund the reporting. Branding the website as “The World” helps secure financial support — throughout the lists of stories, you’ll see messaging that explains who “The World” is and why their voice matters.

The next issue with using PRI.org for “The World” was finding stories, especially the broadcast segments. Now, it’s much easier to find the stories you want, and that begins with a focused homepage:

  • The latest episode is present and prominent on the homepage with links to all the segments from the latest episode.
  • We simplified how the site displays content taxonomies as dynamic landing pages.
  • We’ve also improved the search feature, giving better and more relevant results.

A new digital model for “The World”

One of the calling cards of public media, particularly public radio, is that it looks and sounds fundamentally different from for-profit media. As Market Enginuity describes:

Commercial radio listeners are quick to switch channels when commercials interrupt their listening. In contrast, public radio sponsorship messages are seen as information from a trusted source that shares similar values. Listeners pay attention to sponsorship messages because they don’t feel they are being pushed to take action. Sponsorship messaging is seen as informing, not selling. The result is that public radio listeners extend their trust to the sponsors.

However, public media outlets are not as intentional about sponsorship and advertising messages on their websites. It is no secret that the news industry has struggled to adapt to the digital revenue landscape, leading many news sites — for-profit and not-for-profit alike — to prioritize clicks that can be monetized through ad revenue. Repurposing the PRI.org site for “The World” was PRX’s chance to help rewrite how public media can exist in the digital sphere.

In rebranding and rebuilding this website, we went out of our way to respect our visitors’ time, attention, and privacy. We want to serve our audience only what they’re looking for: stories that inform and inspire. To do this, we removed third-party ads and cookies from the website, removed social media trackers and scripts, and switched our analytics provider to Plausible Analytics, a privacy-forward analytics platform that doesn’t use cookies or track individual user behavior.

The PRX Tech Team used The Markup’s Blacklight tool to confirm that no third-party ad-tech could were on the website.

The technical details

The PRX Tech Team decided to decouple the long-serving Drupal 7 content management system (CMS) from its Restful Application Programming Interface (API) hosted on Pantheon to achieve our goals. We understood that separating the frontend from the backend was the best path to a modern and performant website that addressed the website’s challenges.

One of the challenges faced by CMSes like Drupal or WordPress is that a single database performs all website tasks. If there is a lot of traffic on a story page, the database must work extremely hard to deliver the correct content. Delivery also includes anything that accompanies the pages like related links, images, audio, menus, or calls to action, slowing down the speed at which content can appear on the screen. Now, multiply that process by the number of visitors on the site at any given time.

“The World” has a digital archive of hundreds of thousands of stories and episodes, not including audio and image files. Meanwhile, the newsroom is continually producing daily content. Compounded by site traffic of around one million visitors per month, the database worked overtime, making the old Drupal served frontend pages very slow despite being heavily cached.

By splitting the frontend from the backend, we have lightened the load on the database by leveraging a Restful API built into Drupal 7. This API data is then processed by a modern framework that quickly creates a static page for the visitor and caches it for future visits.

The more streamlined site construction enables us to respect your time by ensuring that you can quickly find and experience the award-winning reporting from “The World.” We respect your attention by tailoring the experience around “The World” and not on how we can monetize your visit for the benefit of advertisers. And, lastly, we respect your privacy by not including third-party cookies and trackers on the website.

PRX is committed to delivering best-in-class journalism while putting our audiences first. The work we’ve done to theworld.org is not our first investment in making our digital presences more mindful of user privacy, and it certainly will not be the last. We hope that as more and more institutions adopt privacy-centered practices, the digital landscape will improve as the emphasis moves from clicks to quality.

Acknowledgments:

  • Mad props to my colleague and PRX Senior Developer, Rick Peterman, for his exemplary work and attention to detail on the new Next JS frontend.
  • Thank you to Four Kitchens for their excellent continued support of the Drupal 7 website and their help to make it better all the time, which made the decoupling possible.

PRX Official

PRX is a non-profit media company shaping the future of…

PRX Official

PRX is a non-profit media company shaping the future of audio by producing and distributing content, building technology, and training talent.

PRX

Written by

PRX

PRX brings significant stories to millions of people. We make The Moth Radio Hour, This American Life apps, PRX Remix story stream, Radiotopia, and much more.

PRX Official

PRX is a non-profit media company shaping the future of audio by producing and distributing content, building technology, and training talent.