For regaining its strength (with a little help from Jeff Bezos). When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post in 2013 for just $250 million, it wasn’t clear whether the tech maven could breathe new life into a 140-year-old print newspaper. But nearly two years later, The Post is thriving. The change has been largely driven by both an infusion of new talent (more than 100 new employees have been hired) and greater focus on the publication’s digital presence, including the announcement last fall that the Post’s app will come preloaded on Amazon products, and the hiring of 25 engineers to create eye-catching interactive web stories. Already the newspaper is seeing the positive effects: Just one year after Bezos’s purchase, unique monthly visitors to the Post’s website increased by 61%, setting an all-time traffic record for the paper.
For making viral video seem easy. For nearly 10 years now, BuzzFeed has set the standard for viral content, boasting user engagement that other web publications can only dream of. Now the site is taking that magic and applying it to video, where it connects to an under-30 audience better than anyone. When it launched in 2011, the BuzzFeed Video channel featured little more than video versions of its listicles, but in the last year, the channel has taken to producing side-splitting original videos with titles like If Disney Princesses Were Real (23.5 million views and counting) and Things You Do in Video Games That’d Be Creepy If You Did Them in Real Life. The results: 4.6 million subscribers and nearly 2 billion views for BuzzFeed’s YouTube channel alone.
For putting live video streaming into the hands of the people. As tensions brewed in Ferguson, Missouri, late last summer following the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, Livestream.com became an invaluable source for live coverage of the protests for those increasingly living without cable television. The site, which allows users to both create and watch livestreams, hosted a channel by Argus Streaming News, an on-the-ground, St. Louis-based live news program. Thousands tuned in to watch the tension boil over into all-out confrontation, and Livestream found itself functioning as a nationwide middleman. On a more day-to-day basis, the site functions as a platform for live streams from producers like Facebook, The New York Times, and TEDx, but the company is increasingly positioning itself to become the go-to platform for enterprising news hounds working in an increasingly cableless world. As a result, the company has added 67 new jobs since 2010, brought in $25.1 million in revenue in 2013, and continues to launch innovative features like live broadcasting for GoPros.
For meaning business when it comes to fashion. Online fashion coverage is mostly done in photos—pretty Instagram feeds, and slide shows on Refinery29. But The Business of Fashion is telling a deeper story; it’s a news website dedicated to the less exciting, but all-important numbers side of the fashion industry. Founded by Canadian-British fashion expert Imran Amed, the site pays as much attention to Alexander Wang’s Spring/Summer collection as it does to Gucci’s years-long struggle to raise its stock prices. And the fashion world is tuning in with big names like Tory Burch and Oscar de la Renta chief executive Alex Bolen publicly citing Amed’s site as a power player in fashion industry news. In response, investors put $2.1 million into the website in 2013, allowing Amed to recently launch BoF Careers, a jobs site for those looking to break into the ever-inclusive (and highly profitable) fashion industry.
For breathing life back into radio. As Serial blossomed from a podcast into a cultural sensation last fall, radio’s future seemed to be fully defined: Although fewer Americans own an actual radio, audio programming continues to be an important part of American storytelling. That’s why, since 2003, the nonprofit Public Radio Exchange has positioned itself as a key player in the online distribution of public radio programs, curating and distributing tens of thousands of high-quality indie broadcasts to listeners throughout the U.S. In 2014, PRX celebrated its biggest coup to date when This American Life, one of the most popular public radio programs of all time, ended its 17-year relationship with Public Radio International to give distribution rights to PRX, whose business model allows producers to distribute their shows on the web on their own terms and provides a great platform for creative minds in public radio to share their work with a public increasingly interested in great storytelling.
For proving that virality is a formula and not a passing fad. Digiday is to digital advertising and media what AdWeek is to television, magazines, and other traditional communication. The site has become an important resource and authority in the world of digital media, where what works and what doesn’t isn’t always clear. This includes exploring sometimes troubling new trends like Facebook’s position as the main driver of traffic to media websites, or the emergence of Snapchat as a favorite of Madison Avenue’s old guard. The publisher and platform also regularly hosts summits on the future of digital advertising for companies eager to compete on the web, bringing together innovators like Zappos and Google to share their views on the ever-changing world of web marketing.
For making blogging beautiful again. Ev Williams has mastered the art of blogging not once, but twice. His first popular platform, Blogger, was acquired by Google in 2003, and after a brief layover in the land of Twitter, Williams returned to the world of blogging in late 2012, creating the breathtakingly elegant Medium. The site, which functions as both a platform and publisher, democratizes online authorship, allowing users to publish their own work and share it seamlessly while Medium’s staff develops great content on their site and a series of web magazine spinoffs. The platform has become a hit among the creative crowd, earning a 2014 Webby Award for Best User Experience and Best Visual Design, and two American Society of Magazine Editors (the Oscars of magazines) nominations for its magazine Matter, in the categories of public interest and feature photography.
For letting their readers have a hand in their redesign. While most of the Guardian’s positive press in the last two years has been based on its Pulitzer Prize-winning work with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, more subtle and amazing changes have taken effect on the publication’s website. Over the course of nine months and with the help of 40,000 user comments, the British paper has revamped its U.S.site, carefully highlighting stories that appeal more to its overseas readerships and upping the site’s loading speeds across all devices to a new record-setting standard. All these changes further enhance the publication’s already excellent coverage, up-to-the-minute live blogs, and wonderful visually driven stories (like last year’s Techspolitation: A Graphic Novel). And the publication’s ever-growing U.S. audience is responding in kind, driving 40 percent readership growth year over year.
For setting the standard for great podcast content. Podcasting has undergone an explosion of quality and visibility in the past year, and newcomer Gimlet Media is neither the largest nor best-known producer of that content—but it has emerged as the podcast revolution’s spokesman. That’s largely due to its origins: Alex Blumberg (formerly of This American Life and Planet Money) launched a podcast, called Startup, to chronicle his efforts to launch his own podcasting network (which eventually became Gimlet). It became some of the most insightful, human business reporting of 2014. In the process, listeners also heard Blumberg and his eventual cofounder Matt Lieber (formerly of MTV and WNYC) raise $1.5 million in funding, $200,000 of which came from a crowdfunding campaign in record time. It soon launched a second podcast, Reply All, which is about the Internet, and will continue setting the bar for the kind of quality, highly produced narrative podcasts that are coming to define the medium.
For putting the modern Middle East in sharp perspective. News coverage of the Middle East is clouded by warfare, intolerance, and seemingly endless tragedy, which makes the U.K’s Brownbook critically important. This bimonthly magazine with a visually driven website covers the Middle East and North Africa, and selects inspiring stories (and breathtaking photography) on subjects like Niger’s Wodaabe tribe—who consider themselves the most beautiful people on the planet—and the well-dressed farmers of Iran’s Golestan region. These subjects may seem trivial, but at a time when the region’s humanity seems most at stake, Brownbook reminds readers that at the eye of the storm there is still happiness, creativity and, above all, an unshakable resilience.