In a prying world, news organizations are struggling to encrypt their online products

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The old-fashioned newspaper, long maligned for its stodginess and sagging profits, has one advantage over high-tech alternatives: You read it. It never reads you.

The digital sources that increasingly dominate our news consumption, by contrast, transmit information across the fundamentally public sphere of the Internet, leaving trails visible to anyone with the right monitoring tools -- be it your employer, your Internet provider, your government or even the scruffy hacker sitting next to you at the coffee shop, sharing the Wi-Fi signal.

A pay scale that doesn’t reward star employees makes hiring the best tech talent impossible. This is why privacy advocates have begun pushing news organizations, including The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Guardian, to encrypt their Web sites, as many technology companies increasingly do for e-mails, video chats and search queries. The growing use of encryption -- signaled by the little lock icon in your browser’s address box -- has emerged as perhaps the most concrete response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the ability of the National Security Agency to collect almost anything that exists in digital form, including the locations, communications and online activities of people worldwide.

Encrypting something as complex as a news site is enormously difficult, according to technical experts within the industry. Several major news organizations offered encryption for some elements of their sites in recent years but largely stopped when problems arose in displaying content quickly and cleanly to readers, said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which tracks the use of the technology. In an era when news zings across the globe at the speed of light, making encryption work properly across an entire site is a challenge worth undertaking, advocates say. “No one has done it for real,” Eckersley said.

In a prying world, news organizations are struggling to encrypt their online products