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Unbearable news (zainamro.com)
423 points by zuhayeer on Dec 15, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 157 comments

I always plug my news website, https://legiblenews.com/, when I read about the state of news on the web because I too feel this frustration. It got so bad I decided to create a news website that:

1. Loads in one request. Seriously, load it in your browser with the network inspector open. One request.

2. Is private. I don’t care who reads it. I provide this as a public service and have no interest in running targeted ads.

3. Links to source content. This is the worst thing about news websites today: the articles summarize complex issues and rarely link to source documents because they want to keep you on their website and pump you full of more ads. I joke that “you might accidentally learn something if you click one of the links” because it loads Wikipedia articles.

I get why people read paper news. It’s private, no pop-ups, and is fast. Legible News is as close as I could get to that. I hope you enjoy!

I too thought about these issues. There are two major problems I see with news websites these days:

- facts mixed with opinions - cherry picked and maliciously re-ordered facts

The first one you seem to have taken care of

The second one I’m thinking of some solutions:

- random order (per visit) of news item on the page - each news item focuses on one information at the same time - each news item comes with “context”. This is the hard part because context can be cherry picked and ordered.

Do people read news about facts or opinions? I think the latter was actually more valuable. People follow their favourite columnists and reporters on papers because of their in-depth analysis and opinions on issues, rather than plain cold facts.

But that is a major problem right? You are consuming digested news that is obviously biased. There is no way of getting out of your bubble if you consume news like this.

There is a spectrum between difficult to consume raw news and completed digested news.

I read hacker news via someone here's project:


(I don't load the embedded third-party stuff)

I'm...I'm amazed. Holy flip. This IS the future we wanted!! This is incredible. I'm actually not even going to use hn anymore.

In fact I think this may be a hint at making better link aggregate sites in general!

Thanks, this looks great. I can only wish it had RSS.

> Loads in one request. Seriously, load it in your browser with the network inspector open. One request.

And this matters... why?

I think it's about the principle of it, or for people who like well-designed, or at least sensibly-designed things. If I'm going to read short bit of text then surely one request is sufficient.

Do you browse the internet with the dev tools open to the network tab? Seems like a weird thing to obsess over, considering 99.9% of people won't even notice how many requests you have. Makes it a lot easier to build a UI from a RESTful API (meaning more reusable code). Obviously I'm not suggesting making 100 tracking requests, but just fetching data over multiple API calls? Why the hell not?

I like it but what's the editorial line ? Who choose and write the headlines ? Which country is that from ?

I like it! A bold or italic for the sub-heading would seal the deal for me. :)

The style is nice, but the choice of content is pretty limited. I'm missing a lot of important (IMHO) items. I do like the focus on some world affairs at least.

I subscribe to the paper version of my local paper because it is so much easier to actually get information from. It's so well designed. I think the reason people have gravitated to online news is herd mentality. What I like about paper news: my focus is more under my control. I can evaluate and skim whole articles at once. I am not constrained by what if visible in the window. Also, no distractions. Every time I open my computer or phone I am waylaid by distractions. I am a software / AI engineer and I think we have created a dystopia.

One thing I am seriously afraid of is that our tech dystopia will drive local newspapers out of business. I hate to think of what that will do for corruption, inefficiency, everything. Just awful. I dread the day my local newspaper announces they are ceasing publication. The reduction is staffing over the last 15 or 20 years is incredible. I think the San Jose Mercury went from 1800 to 35. That is depressing.

Yea, pretty much 100% the web is destroying news. Everyone wants a free ad supported product now and the only way that model works is if you get enough page views. So news websites have to prioritize content that generates views, rather than good reporting. Which is slowly killing journalism.

This is a massive oversimplification.

The old paper journalism business "prioritize[d] content that generates views, rather than good reporting" all the time. It was called "yellow journalism", it incited the Spanish-American War, and it was the business model of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. In other words, if you are an excellent journalist, you get a prize named after the guy who founded and ran the Gilded Age equivalent of Buzzfeed.

Each US city used to have maybe dozens of newspapers of varying quality and bias. (This is similar to the UK newspaper landscape--in fact, the lower end of that landscape includes the Daily Mail, which translated its tabloid journalism model rather seamlessly to the era of clickbait.) What started killing print journalism was radio and later TV journalism, which were far less substantial (because they lacked the information density of the written word) but far more appealing (because of the ease of consumption and the stimulation of sound and video). This is what culled the vast newspaper markets down to the city-wide monopoly or duopoly system. And because the remaining newspaper readership consisted of the more literate and invested members of the population, print journalism briefly had more journalistic value.

Then cable news disrupted the broadcast networks, talk radio disrupted the editorial oligopoly of the major newspapers and TV news, and finally the internet broke the whole thing wide open. Including the glorious period of time when "blogs" were considered a serious threat to "legitimate journalism".

In your theory, why did literate and engaged people abandon print journalism for Internet but not TV?

Because the written word is more sophisticated and information-dense than the spoken word, which means print had to be displaced by another written medium.

Because this theory gets the timeline right but the value judgements wrong. The people who stuck with print were people who preferred to read the news rather than watch or listen. You can call this “literate” but the trope that reading is some higher form of media needs to go away.

People who were previously “engaged” with local newspapers are now the commenters on news sites.

> The people who stuck with print were people who preferred to read the news rather than watch or listen. You can call this “literate” but the trope that reading is some higher form of media needs to go away.

IIRC, media studies consistently showed a weak positive effect of print news (the more consumed, the more people learned) on knowledge of current events and a stronger negative impact of both radio and TV news (the more of such “news” was consumed, the less people knew about actual events.) The idea that print is, in practice, a higher form of media with regard to news is pretty strongly substantiated.

Audio and, especially video are great for conveying emotion, but except for very specific kinds of information aren't a great vehicle for conveying complex information.

> The idea that print is, in practice, a higher form of media

Is proven by causation, not correlation. There's a difference between "the consumption of media" and "media consumers".

Correlation when controlled for other explanatory factors is as strong as evidence gets for causation; real “proof” of material facts is never incontrovertible the way mathematical/logical proofs can be.

> The people who stuck with print were people who preferred to read the news rather than watch or listen. You can call this “literate” but the trope that reading is some higher form of media needs to go away.

Sorry, but it is. Functionally literate people can read and comprehend many more WPM than are typical for human speech. As a consequence, written media are fundamentally capable of much higher information density than visual or audial media, with the exception of certain types of visual or spacial information which can still be printed or included with the written word.

And that would matter if the goal of writing was maximizing information density. Surely you wouldn't say that gzip is the highest form of the written word.

That’s such a fatuous analogy that I have to conclude that you are deliberately missing the point.

This is a good point. Communication, across various mediums, propogates ideas. Information density is interesting, but this style of thinking overlooks persuasive impact.

I don't watch videos online if I can help it, because they're too slow. If I do, because there's no transcript available, I crank up the speed to x2 or x4 to mitigate the frustration.

Any "persuasive" impact from video is lost on me because I'm bored and frustrated after about 30s of watching (and that's after skipping the first 30s of "welcome to my youtube channel, today we'll be doing what the title says we'll be doing, as you know because that's why you clicked on this link" waste of time).

Plus Craigslist.

Reuters and the WSJ are old proofs that people ARE willing to just pay for quality news.

Note also that national news is fine; it's local news that's in trouble.

This has always been the case in physical news as well. You live and die by your readership (views). Real money always came from ads.

Yeah, but the market effect is very different when readers view articles individually verse having to buy the entire paper.

If you are trying to sell a whole paper, you need a mix of content to attract all the readers. Once you have all the sports fans in your area buying your paper, you aren't going to get more by adding more sports articles. You need to make sure all the areas are covered.

With individual articles being the unit of currency, you need every single article to generate as many clicks as possible. You can keep adding more of the same and getting more clicks.

This is the flaw that people ignore in all "unbundling" efforts. When things are unbundled, people will only make things that have huge audiences. Bundling allows niche things to be made.

> If you are trying to sell a whole paper, you need a mix of content to attract all the readers. Once you have all the sports fans in your area buying your paper, you aren't going to get more by adding more sports articles. You need to make sure all the areas are covered.

This also depends on how much competition you have. If there are maybe half a dozen competing newspapers, outrageous gossipy headlines and perhaps the promise of a nude woman on page 3 will sell an entire newspaper to a specific target market towards which you can tailor your advertising. Another newspaper can make lots of money by targeting a different market segment.

This is how clickbait works, too. Buzzfeed, Huffpo, Brietbart, and the Daily Mail could have all been paper newspapers that someone would buy in a competitive enough newspaper market. One of them is!

I'm torn because unbundling also allows for niche publications to get the readers who are interested in reading a few articles but not enough to pay for a full subscription to a publication they may or may not like. I guess another solution to that would be the heavily-discounted "intro" period offer or x-free articles per month. For me there are a few magazines I enjoy reading the occasional article from but don't want to pay for a subscription because the costs would quickly get out of hand.

But I acknowledge that paying per article could hurt the "subsidies" within a paper, for example the revenue from sports section readers helping pay for investigative journalism, leading to a race to the bottom as you point out.

This is ignores that when a niche is saturated, you have to do something different to avoid losing to the strongest competitor.

Back in the day a very significant percentage of revenue came from the classifieds.

The San Jose Mercury-News used to be hugely profitable for exactly this reason. They had the biggest classified section of any paper in the country. The Monday edition was maybe 4X as thick as its modern equivalent.

I have heard this. Does anyone have numbers to back it up?

Craigslist killed the newspaper.

Yes, the advertising section.

> Real money always came from ads

This could still be the case, but it should work more like craigslist.

Craigslist has completely dominated the old market for classified ads, and it did it without having to keep a vestigial newspaper attached.

I just use an RSS reader.

This. At a minimum RSS keeps you off bloated sites for headline/article browsing. Some sites like Arstechnica give you full text RSS feeds with their subscription.

This is completely true and frustrating. It is possible to have fast loading web pages that incorporate decent levels of ads but making that change is hard.

I track 60 or so news sites (mostly US and EU based) and as of today:

  On a "Fast 3G" connection
  the average article takes 45 seconds to load 
  and is 3.8mb in size.
Article Performance Leaderboard (Site): https://webperf.xyz/

Data and Speed Tests: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1c1zhkdvWE0WvG84TT3Cz...

The Harry Potter ebook is 1.3MB in size yet we wrap 25kb text of a news article in all this unnecessary crap.

It is all avoidable, even without AMP.

"The New Yorker

The average load time is 102.127 seconds

431 requests"

Author is asking for "text-only"; this of course only requires one request.

   curl -4o https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/high-gear-current-cinema-anthony-lane | tr -cd '\11\12\15\40-\176' | sed 's/</\
   &/g;s// /g;s/ *//;' #tab |sed -n '/./{/sectionBreak/,/<\/div>/p;/figcaption/,/<\/figcaption/p;}' > a.htm

   firefox a.htm
We do not need a complex, graphical browser that autoloads resources and runs Javascript in order to request or display a page of text-only content. "Reader Mode" is great but it is not available for every website.

The time spent by the browser on those 431 requests is significant. What if a simpler client was used, e.g.,

   time printf "GET /magazine/2015/05/25/high-gear-current-cinema-anthony-lane HTTP/1.1\r\nHost: www.newyorker.com\r\nConnection: close\r\n\r\n" |openssl s_client -connect www.newyorker.com:443 -ign_eof > /dev/null

   curl -4o /dev/null https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/high-gear-current-cinema-anthony-lane

   time tnftp -4o /dev/null https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/high-gear-current-cinema-anthony-lane

   time links -dump https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/high-gear-current-cinema-anthony-lane > /dev/null
Guess how many seconds this one request takes when we do not use a popular graphical browser to make it

The Tale of two cities is around 785kB, as demonstrated here !

3 seconds is the fastest??!

p.s: HN takes 950ms on 3G with no cache.

The Guardian website, whilst not perfect according to the standards of the article and some other posts, is very performant. They have ads and other dynamic content, but load is deferred on this stuff and wrapped properly to avoid reflow, so the entirety of the article text is immediately readable. Just for interest, see also their tech blog [0] and their entire frontend on GitHub [1].

I can ignore ads, but what I find incredible on major (insert news/tech/whatever here) sites is the reflow from not properly reserving space for both ads and lazyloaded images. The following seems particularly to be a problem on mobile and in apps like Apple News: load a page, scroll to the meat of the article, then experience 1, 2, 3 page jumps as stuff loads in above your scroll position.

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/info/series/digital-blog [1] https://github.com/guardian/frontend

I've been to talks by Guardian devs (on more than one occasion) where they talk about the techniques they use to make the site as performant as it is. From critical path css to font fallbacks etc. Variants of this talk over the years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfweWyVScaI

I applaud their efforts, but am continually underwhelmed by the final result. Without an adblocker the website is simply too slow, jumpy and exhibits strange behaviours that I'm not sure the problem can be solved - as long as advertising pays (most of) the bills.

I often find switching off Javascript helps with the reflow issues.

can't agree more with both of these comments -- JS has zero user value for news sites, only contributes to annoying. and reflow on most news sites is intolerable -- it's like FOUC in the old days (flash of unstyled content), but way worse because of all the different ways assets get loaded and laid out.

> I suggest they become more creative with their business model or at least try to see the value in moderation.

The vast majority of news sites were free from the get-go, with the NYT being one of the first major websites to put up a website [0]. That's roughly 20 years of giving free content out on the web. The author is (partially) right that "the article text is all anyone really cares about". The thing is, plaintext is absurdly easy to disseminate and copy.

for most of the history of newspapers, ads were themselves a reason to get the newspaper, especially for coupons and classified ads. Of course, print ads, like print pages, were much more deliberately and better designed than what we experience today online.

[0] https://www.niemanlab.org/2016/01/20-years-ago-today-nytimes...

The San Jose Mercury-News and WSJ both had full-content websites before NYT.

The Mercury-News even had a selective email feed of wire service content called Newshound. For $5 a month, you got up to 5 "hounds" (sets of search criteria), and every article matching your criteria was individually emailed to you, whether a wire story, a syndicate story, or one internally generated within Knight-Ridder. This was in 1993 if not earlier yet.

Yeah definitely the Merc News was a pioneer on the web and in many other ways: https://archives.cjr.org/feature/the_newspaper_that_almost_s...

It's hard to imagine now, but papers like the Merc News – thanks to basically having a virtual monopoly – were basically printing presses for money. They most definitely had the capital to fund ventures that could save the company, such as their own Craigslist or Groupon. And I believe they and other news companies did blow a good chunk of money on failed tech ventures. In hindsight, they should've continued throwing money at greenfield projects, since just about any longshot success would've been better than the current state of things. But it's too easy and reductive to say, "Well the news industry should've just invented Google/Facebook if it really wanted to survive".

For those who care about text only news:

NPR has http://text.npr.org

CNN has http://lite.cnn.io

I've created http://noslite.nl for Dutch news

It looks like at some point in last 7 hours CNN closed lite.cnn.io. Now it shows a single "Main story": "Please update to the latest version of the CNN app".

What a zinger at the end. Point well-made. :)

Not sure that speed is really the factor that matters. That content loads quickly and would exacerbate that there’s frequently little worthwhile content. The internet has stretched communication to be a nation and worldwide thing. Eventually we’ll figure out that local concerns matter more - until then we’ll have to suffer through some really bad media that doesn’t affect any of our lives while most of our communities crumble due to lack of attention.

Agree. Focusing on web application performance is entirely beside the point. Most modern news sites are typical modern web applications.

The issue is that the value of the words themselves has changed, both in the economic sense as well as culturally, not to mention the problem of the erosion of trust.

Nowadays I can't even go to news websites so I get my news primarily from HN, Twitter, or Reddit, where news is condensed and I rarely get to see the other point of view (in other words, good journalism).

Obviously I understand they need to make money, but at the same time most of the news articles even posted to HN have some limit to reading (even with JS blocked). Maybe a student pass would be good for students like me. I don't think I'll have a problem paying for them... but then I'll have to manage each of these subscription.

It would be nice to have a Netflix for news (to pay for all news subscriptions in one go).

A lot of articles with "mandatory" JS can be read just fine with Lynx/Links. Better with Links -g.

News is unbearable, but not because of the format. Recognize that reading the news becomes habit because the news of the day becomes useless fast.

I realize that this is a contradiction from me, a HackerNews reader, but I feel that part of the reason I come here is for inspiration - on new technologies, ideas, and new code (show HN). When I refer to news earlier, I'm talking about the stories and articles you might have found in a newspaper. They may contain inspiration but IMO are much more clickbaity and only written to fill space.

Agreed. I cannot stand news from major news sites. Good articles exist on smaller sites, where there is a legitimate attempt to cover something interesting in a thorough and well-researched manner (for example today I just read this: https://www.quantamagazine.org/to-decode-the-brain-scientist...). But good articles on mainstream sites are rare. Most of them just make me angry.

It used to be that I was just contemptuous of mainstream news and annoyed by bias. Apart from basic critical reasoning skills, back in 1998 I took a course on mass communication and learned a whole host of dirty tricks they use, and it's just gotten worse sense then. Now it's gotten to the point where it's maddening to see brazen deceptions promoted by mainstream sites, and just absolutely sickening and not a little bit terrifying to see this huge push toward "authoritative" news sources by the likes of YouTube and Facebook.

So, given that there's so little I can do to stop the onslaught of deceptive, grossly misleading propaganda, I try to ignore it for the sake of my own emotional health. (That includes Hacker News, which I rarely visit anymore)

The problem with the newspaper/news industry is that the value their audience places in the product is less than the value that advertisers place on access to that audience. Additionally the cost to generate and deliver that product exceeds what the audience is willing to pay and in many cases the value of that audience is low enough that even advertisers don't offer enough to cover the costs.

Print newspaper subscription revenues were pretty much a break-even with the costs of delivery. That does not include the costs of paper, ink, printing press and associated personnel, or the cost of actually staffing and running a newsroom. A large part of both their revenue and audience attraction was the classifieds section, which was killed off by craigslist.

I think is somewhat of a solved problem via PressReader.com or it's variant. Depending on where you are getting access is free if you have a library card.

Whether using it via browser or dedicated apps, it's as close to reading a real newspaper as can be. I particularly like the low-noise way of aggregating comments on articles. If there is comments with an article, a little indicator with the the number of comments is shown which can be clicked to read or ignore as desired.

Economically, there's something very strange going on with the net today. Aside from streaming video and perhaps some specialized apps like games, for the vast majority of people, they're just fine as long as they can move around a few MBs every day, mostly in text. Even photo sharing doesn't use a huge amount of data, relatively speaking.

But to get to that paltry amount of data we actually need, we have to sift through 50, 100 times as much garbage, all of it related to engagement or advertising.

For people who have transfer caps or end up in "jail" when they use too much internet, it puts them in a really odd place. We're charging them to pay for us to do things we want to do, not things they want to do on their own. Then, when we charge them, if we're lucky we reach our goal: more usage of our site or the user buying something they normally wouldn't, both of which involve spending even more money. This seems a bit like the old "heads I win, tails you lose" joke. There is an illusion of choice, but not really.

The signal-to-noise-ratio looks much like that of email's. 99% of email traffic is spam. It gets filtered quite successfully in most cases. Still the penetrating few fractions of a percent make enough money for spammers to persevere.

I wonder if this could be the endgame state of all add-related tracking, heavy ads, etc on the web.

I looked for UNIX/BSD/Linux related news that would be really important, not just usual bullshit, pointless 'small' things or PR from companies.

... and I failed. I was not able to find one or several such news sources.

The nearest thing that I was able to find was 'In Other BSDs' series from https://www.dragonflydigest.com/ page, but it is very limited and small.

In all that I decided to create my own 'Valuable News' series, with latest (weekly) episode available here: https://vermaden.wordpress.com/2019/12/16/valuable-news-2019...

It may sound as shameless self promotion, but I really was not able to find such news source ...


There's LWN.net

Or go back to the original form, but delivered digitally: a mix of news, editorial content, and paid ads, all served from the same server, with no moving banners, pop ups, sticky headers, third party servers, scroll-alongs, click-to-read more, etc.

This. Small unobstrusive ads, with a custom CSS so they are either for mobile or PC. No flash, no popus, no moving banners. Just a small square with a picture/promotion.

CNN exists in the form suggested here.

Posted: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21798835

> I'm more than ready and willing to pay for a text-only version of every news website like the ones provided by NPR and CNN.

The article already mentions that.

Get an RSS reader.

The 3rd paragraph mentions the text-only versions of both CNN and NPR.

From a user perspective: Just stop visiting those websites. The internet echo chamber will repeat those exact same articles a million times (not kidding)

Until we stop visiting these places their business model works and they are doing what they should be doing. There might even be an advantage in filtering out low end machines.

A more constructive idea imho would be to fix it with more sensible implementation of the circus. Like the article in the link demonstrates you can append an entire book to an article. You can also progressively load images and videos for dozens of advertisements without turning the page into a tragedy of bloat. 20 assets??? More like 200-500!

It isn't that what they want is so ridiculous, it is the way it is implemented. You should have one analytic implementation producing data used by all 50 advertisers in stead of each having their own combined with additional 3rd party ones for each.

Advertisement providers should deliver a usable product for their client where usable doesn't refer to ease of implementation for the news agency. They should make an effort to promote in stead of bothering people.

> Advertisement providers should deliver a usable product for their client where usable doesn't refer to ease of implementation for the news agency. They should make an effort to promote in stead of bothering people.

For what it's worth, this was Adsense back in the 2000s. At a time where banner ads were characterized by obnoxious "smack the monkey" flash games, Google's ads were clean, fast-loading, and un-obtrusive. They looked different enough from normal text to be clearly recognizable as an ad, but otherwise plain and tasteful.

However the sad truth is that, to some extent, bothering people is the desired goal of advertisers. Their goal is to get the attention of a customer and if they annoy some others in the process, it doesn't matter because the one customer they did get is worth it.

Safari 13 for MacOS allows you to selectively, or universally, see most news sites in reader view without having to select each time. Most other browsers have add-ons that do a similar thing, and Instapaper and Pocket, among others create text-only versions of most articles.

Most of those also work outside of adblockers, so, even when an adblocker is detected, the news/text reader displays the article text when the adblocked page won't (examples include Wired and the Los Angeles Times).

There is probably still some significant overhead in loading and parsing the original page, but, as some have pointed out, the lag is usually "acceptable" even on the original page.

There appears to be some added value in using these various strategies in multiple browsers.

"I'm more than ready and willing to pay for a text-only version of every news website like the ones provided by NPR and CNN."

How much is the author willing to pay? He is going to subscribe to "every news site"? That seems like it could get costly. Chances are, he can only afford to subscribe to a few newspapers. If he provides a list of those sites, maybe someone would help him get the "text-only" reading experience he wants.

"Text-only" is within the user's control, not the website's. It matters what software the user chooses to use to retrieve and view the text. If the software is financed indirectly or directly by ad revenue, then "text-only" is likely to be more difficult.

This is why the author is complaining. He is using a browser funded directly or indirectly by advertising. He is therefore at the mercy of the browser authors and the website operators.

Of course news sites know how to create fast, easy-to-read websites. There is no point in complaining about poor usability and bloated websites, because it's just a symptom of a decease. The internet in its current state is ill-equipped for making good journalism a sustainable business. Google and other search engines are a direct threat to good quality news media. The search engines took the lion's share of advertisement revenue from news media and made them starve of cash. They encourage click-baity headlines and shallow articles, do not protect or poorly protect from stealing/copying content. This is the real problem.

Bloated websites are horrible, but they are a symptom, not a decease. There is not point in complaining about symptoms.

The comparison with newspapers is good. This is what news websites would have looked like if the decease had been cured.

Maybe news papers should get back to their roots. Embed ads To users who don’t pay (don’t use google ads, embed them, like they used to working with companies).

Further offer good coupons based on the users location and offer more coupons if they register for $3 / month subscription

They should easily be able to make decent money this way.

> Text only.

I have a good experience reading news and blogs via links.


links -dump "https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/13/science/hermit-crabs-weal... | less

Firefox, Brave, and likely other browsers have "reader mode" which does this same thing and doesn't reduce you to CLI usage.

Just tried it now on a few different sites. The content is burried in a lot of cruft, such as navigation menus, footer links etc.

How do you get rid of that?

"Just tried it now on a few different sites."

Which sites?

links -g works better than Lynx, altough Lynx supports Gopher.

I had this same experience quite recently. First thing that popped in my brain was, "Wow. Paper newspapers have awesome UI," then I realized how ridiculous that was a few seconds later.

But it is true - they have had decades of experience crafting good headlines.

It's also really clear what the news of the day is. I can't think of a news site that has "front page news".

All of them today are lists of headline news, and prolonged exposure to clickbait makes headlines less appealing. It's the main reason I've never done a paid subscription to one; I just don't know what to read.

I also don't want videos or sound playing. I hate it when an article goes into a video without text; I'm here to skim something in 15 seconds, not 3 minutes. I'm glad Firefox blocks autoplay videos.

> And if it isn't already clear that news websites are bloated, in order to prove it to you, I've embedded A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens on this page in its entirety, and you probably didn't even notice.

Ya got me :-) Very clever way to make the point.

it's got me reading the book. ooh, those nasty royals!

The problem is that revenue from paying subscribers is not enough. For most newspapers, ads are needed to run a profitable digital business. Ads cannot be removed for paying subscribers, since paying subscribers are precisely who advertisers want to target. And if you want to display ads on the internet, you have to track people just like your competitors Google and Facebook do.

> If news companies believe their core purpose is the dissemination of valuable information, it would make a lot of sense for them to provide a text-only static version of their website.

I think most serious news companies think they have an important democratic mission. But at the end of the day, the economics have to make sense in order for quality journalism to exist in the first place.

> I think most serious news companies think they have an important democratic mission. But at the end of the day, the economics have to make sense in order for quality journalism to exist in the first place.

I guess the real question that we have to answer as a society is: what's more important: democracy or an unfettered free market economy.

If the answer is democracy, the economics of our society can be changed to make it work for journalism. Maybe those changes will mean some Chicago-school economist's equation won't yield the highest value for some term, but that's perfectly fine. Despite some popular misconceptions, modern economic theories do not communicate the true, revealed nature of human society. The economy needs to serve society, not the other way around.

I think that the necessary conditions for mass market ad supported quality journalism have largely disappeared. Except for perhaps a handful of nationally prominent newspapers, 20th century dailies didn't turn a profit on "quality journalism" (investigative reporting or in-depth analysis). It was too expensive to produce relative to the revenue it yielded even before the Web. But geographic and technological barriers to competition meant that newspapers could command high margins on low-production-cost material (police reports, sports scores, weather forecasts, classified advertising...) and end up with enough money to make employees and owners happy, even after bundling in some prestige reporting that won Pullitzers.

It's kind of like how Bell Laboratories did some unprofitable and groundbreaking basic research back in the heyday of the AT&T monopoly. The lack of competition in AT&T's main line of business inflated prices but also let executives choose to fund a few unprofitable ideas that they considered worthy.

Now competition is fiercer and prices are lower. We're also not getting the positive side effects from monopolies that people had conceptualized as natural features of "the telephone business" or "the newspaper business."

you do not have to track people in order to display ads on the internet, you just incorporate the ad on the webpage, and whoever visits the page sees the ad

Yeah, at a really low CPM. Not trying to justify the awful practice of user tracking, but why would I pay you $3.00 per thousand impressions if you’re going to be showing my ad to demographics that will rarely buy my product?

Companies want to optimize their marketing dollars, so they’re going to pay pennies if you don’t track users.

That sounds an awful lot like how ads in newspapers used to work... you put the ads in the paper, and whoever reads the paper sees the ads.

So why do we let people tell us it can’t be done on the internet?

So why do we let people tell us it can’t be done on the internet?


There is an entire multi-billion dollar industry built upon instilling fear in advertisers that their ads might not be fully "optimized," whatever that means these days. Google is at the head of this list.

Amazingly, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Pepsi, Boeing, and every other large non-tech company managed to become enormous companies by advertising in significantly less targeted ways through newspapers, television, radio, billboards, magazines, etc...

The notion that ads not targeted by Google or Facebook are wasted money is a lie invented by the targeting industry to keep itself in business.

Because now there are cost-effective alternatives that didn’t exist back then.

Computers cut the ads out of the page with no effort.

I don’t understand the relevance of that argument in this context.

Computers can cut ads that do tracking out of the page with the same effort they can cut out anything else from the page.

The difference is that ads without tracking remove the incentive for the user to block them. This is why people don’t cut ads out of the newspapers before reading. If the ads in newspapers were cameras, analogous to the tracking used in online advertising, you’d see people expend that effort. Just as you see people blocking ads online.

Plenty of people block ads because the ads themselves are annoying. People don’t cut ads out of paper newspapers because it’s more annoying to do that than it is to just ignore the ads.

It's been tried. What that usually means is you manage the ads yourself, or it's some really small ad network which doesn't have that many advertisers on it competing to give money to the website. Advertisers are as lazy as anyone else, they don't want to have to deal with numerous agencies to deploy ads, they want one, maybe two, and would certainly like it a lot if they had some metrics to show their boss.

> The problem is that revenue from paying subscribers is not enough.

Nope, it's enough. News is just not what you think, it's far from simple business. The biggest value news outlets provide to people who own them is the value of influence and controlling the narrative. So they are deliberately chasing after the eyeballs to spread their influence and no business model that narrows the audience much is even considered.

This is the first time I've noticed that you can no longer grab the scrollbar in Chrome (on Mac, visible when you scroll).

If I can't drag the scroll bar to the bottom, what other ways are there to scroll all the way down fast?

(Other than using another browser of course.)

- On a touch screen including a laptop you can scroll with your finger.

- Space scrolls down several lines.

- Scroll wheel

- Up and down arrows scroll down a line at a time.

- Page up and page down scroll down almost an entire page leaving what was the bottom-most section previously now the topmost section so that readers aren't disoriented or lost. Some apps let you configure this overlap size.

- If you like vim you can add extensions to your browser and use j and k. - Home and End keys go to the very top and very end respectively.

- Windows you can hold down middle mouse and drag to scroll. This isn't common in linux where people rely on middle mouse paste but is possible to configure


On Mac this is apparently called "smart scroll"


If you just want it on chrome there is an extension


In general however you do it grabbing the scrollbar in chrome is inefficient. You must grab a smallish UI element on the side of your screen. Your keyboard and mouse are always at hand.

> smallish UI

Scrollbars back in the day were large and thick.

Scrollbars are a better visual indication of the ability to scroll than a way to actuate said scrolling. This is why they are smaller. Even thicker scrollbars were still a small part of the screen.

Do macs still have end keys? Or page down at least?

I'm using Chrome 79.0.3945.79 (up to date) with MacOS 10.13.6 (not as up to date), and can grab the scroll bar.

Cmd + Down arrow works

If anyone in the comments can figure out a sustainable business model for news that doesn't involve bloat-inducing ads or unrealistic expectations of consumers paying subscription fees, I'll Venmo them (money to buy) a beer.

I've been thinking for a while about this now, and I feel micropayments would probably have a huge impact around this. Maybe have a library app with most of the publications where you load some money in and for every article that you read halfway through (kinda like the Spotify model for incentivising artists) it automatically pays them from your end. The main fallacy I see here is that you need to have money all the time in your account before you could read or you won't be able to read any articles. One way to mitigate this is that for every article you read you have the option of saving it later so you have something to read. The second one could be to show them ads.

P.S. I've been working around building an app for this for a while now.

This doesn't actually work. Micropayments from readers will never substitute for ad revenue, and convenience isn't the reason.

Even if you removed all friction from the system, and had the government mandate every citizen of the United States 18 years or older automatically has $12 per month taken from their pay (a typical content service subscription cost) and put in a microtransactions fund to distribute to the sites you read, you'd only be covering about 20% of what US advertisers currently spend. An 80% revenue cut would put most newspapers out of business: it certainly wouldn't let them remove their ads while operating as they currently do.

The reason micropayments will never add up is that advertisers have more to spend than consumers. They have more to spend because a portion of every purchase consumers make is funding that advertising. When you pay your car loan, buy groceries, fill your prescriptions, you're giving advertisers money to spend. And you're giving them a lot more per month than you have left over to fund your own microtransaction pool for the month.

Wow, I did not think from that perspective at all. Thank you for giving an in-depth overview too. I need to think of some way that works as a value add for the newspapers and provides a better reading experience for users.

This hits the nail on its head: Convenience in payments is such a great factor in making such models successful. People should be able to make these small and (individually) insignificant payments without having to jump through three factors of hoops.

Start a counter movement and make dry, accurate news, with a humoristic undertone (ha-ha this is barely interesting, but it's accurate!)?

Posting content with little to no validation of fact isn't a valid form of journalism and isn't any kind of "counter movement" IMO. That's called a gossip column or tabloid.

I don't understand why paying for single articles isn't more popular. It's the same for streaming services: I should be able to pay for that one TV-series I want to watch, or that one movie that's only available on that one streaming service I don't have.

I mean, you can do the latter already. You can buy a season or a single episode of a show on iTunes, Amazon, etc. You can also rent or buy single movies across many different platforms.

It’s just absurdly expensive compared to a streaming service. This is partly due to legacy pricing (I don’t think the price of a movie or TV show has gone down in many years, and all the providers charge the same) but also because I’m sure a lot of revenue for subscription services comes from people who buy the subscription but don’t use the service.

Transactions (micro or not) have wall-time, monetary and psychological overhead. If you split this among dozens of items and providers it only gets worse.

Paying per article may make sense for in-depth analysis, investigative journalism and other large pieces. But for the daily news it's probably just too small a unit.

There is Blendle, which I find pretty nice: it’s like 25¢ per article and you put money into an account ahead of time.

I've been really happy with Scroll (.com). $5/mo to remove ads on some news sites. The money goes directly to the publisher, minus the company's bit. It's really good now, and I wouldn't complain if the price went up as the site list expanded.

Firefox has solved this problem, at least for me:


Cmd + Shift + R on Safari/MacOS I believe.

I forgot which newspaper website it was (some big name) offered me to either subscribe to see the full presentation or go to the text only version, which I did.

It was a delight.

ps: not only web based newspapers goal aren't aligned with users, I feel an unbearable hypocrisy of internet being passed as the disruptive revolution of the old world when in fact it's exactly the same (text, ads, survival, bias) but coated in even more fallacies. At least newspapers have a price tag somewhere.

> The core of the problem is the fact that the incentives of these companies and their users are not aligned at all. Maximizing revenue at all costs is every news website's motto.

For further reading, see this one: (I presume this is a classic in HN circles, not sure) https://stratechery.com/2015/popping-the-publishing-bubble/

I was actually looking at the source-code of the page first to see if it has any CSS (to my surprise it actually has a stylsheet with only two rules, for performance reasons it would have been a lot better just to have it directly in a style tag). Once there I was wondering what's up with all this text and thought the entire site was a single-page-application where you could read all his articles :)

Hmm .. also some google analytics at the bottom.0 under the book

I still use log parsers (awstats and matomo) .. really am just interested in number of unique/non-crawler visitors and don't care about the rest really.

Regarding the style of the site (this made me chuckle): https://zainamro.com/brutalist

OMG this made me laugh so hard.

Pointing out that a news site can be faster with less stuff on it is besides the point. That’s the easy part. Point out a way that news outlets can pay their bills efficiently with dozens of people on staff—the ones that actually gather the news to fill your feed. Because if news sites can’t pay for a staff, they can’t offer their service to the public.

That’s the only way it’s going to work.

Software & data undergo diffusion, such that they will always expand to fill all available resources. Unless it's designed with very specific limits, it will always continue to expand. In 10 years we will be filling up terabyte hard drives on our mobile devices, but a quarter of that will be operating system/app data/cache.

Ads are the monster, but developers are at least partly to blame. Most news and magazine sites could be served up as single pages, but instead are implemented as Javascript-heavy single page applications that load 50 different elements asynchronously, because it’s just so much more fun to build that than it is to write HTML and some CSS.

The advice to use the text only versions for NPR and CNN is solid advice.

I think news is negative and by and large news organizations serve elite interests. In the USA this is mostly to make democrats hate republicans and vice-versa (the slave class, formerly known as the 'middle class', is thus easier to manipulate and control). Since I like to keep my news ingestion to 5 or 6 minutes a day, I use The Guardian's (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news) free morning email of top stories. Really a nice service.

Also compared to corporate/elite lacky news sites like MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, etc., I find Democracy Now (https://www.democracynow.org/) to be a breath of fresh air.

I contribute to The Guardian and Democracy Now.

> The advice to use the text only versions for NPR and CNN is solid advice.

Is it?


You can access some 10 stories, not much more. There is no apparent functionality beyond that.

At least for NPR, their text interface is a step in the right direction - but a slap in the face at the same time.

You should consider adding, "The Intercept" to your regular rotation.


Edit; I also like The Drudge Report and RealClearPolitics because they're kind of just raw feeds of a bunch of articles that may not surface on choosier aggregators.

Wingnut partisan sources will always be a breath of fresh air to you when they're on your side. Right wingers feel the same way about Fox.

I think that Amy Goodman on Democracy Now is about the furthest a person could be from a “wingnut.”

I agree that too many people are overly devoted to either Fox News or MSNBC. Just my opinion but these two “news” services seem to care most about fracturing US civil society. We need more acceptance that in fundamental ways most Democrats and Republicans want the same things: opportunity for their children and themselves, security of our country, etc. It does not make money to run news stories that bring people together.

Touché. I agree with you about user fatigue and have already changed news sites I check for this reason. Also it was very effective and rewarding demonstration for those of us who read to the end…of the article not the book.

The final point would perhaps be made a bit better if the embed was the same width as the article. I was wondering why there was horizontal scrolling when the content fit on screen at first.

I wonder if it's even possible in this day and age to run a subscription news service and still be viable. Are people even willing to pay for good journalism anymore?

> Are people even willing to pay for good journalism anymore?

They never were; subscription prices never paid the bills for most publications, they just provided “paid circulation” numbers to support advertising sales, since paying subscribers were an indicator actual readership as opposed to copies printed that no one actually read.

Wall Street Journal is subscription only. I think it's a great publication and I've been a happy paying member for 5 years.

The majority of news sites don't even make a profit despite how desperately they try to monetize every inch of their website.

I dont even bother reading on the actual site anymore. I just save them to Pocket and read a clean text-only version on it later.

This was worth the read just to discover text.npr.org. Much better on mobile than their app for me.

with all that shit on the news pages, I use RSS (kriss RSS on a RPi-zero server) and read the articles on spot, plus -on the RSS ,again- the articles are clean from ad crap.

noscript makes many news sites more bearable—of course, there are some which whitewall you—which can sometimes be bypassed with reader view—but sometimes not :(

> I'm more than ready and willing to pay for a text-only version of every news website like the ones provided by NPR and CNN.

This may be true of you individually, but not you statistically. We used to have more minimalist news sites, but they were outcompeted by sites heavy with trackers, banners, ads, and all the other cruft we love to hate. This is largely because, given the option between paywalled quality and free crap, most consumers end up choosing the latter.

> Maximizing revenue at all costs is every news website's motto

I find this statement truly idiotic. The last time I checked almost all legit newspapers, that support quality journalism, are financially struggling, experimenting with paywalls and desperately looking for a business model that could support real journalism in this "everything is free on the internet" era.

From the users point of view uBlock origin does a pretty good job with the ads and https://github.com/iamadamdev/bypass-paywalls-chrome for quite a few paywalls. Of course that leaves the question of how the papers will make a living.

+1 for pun :)

I think as a society we are waking up to the fact that we don't like how the market shapes many, many industries.

We know that the market isn't perfect from Economics 101. Public goods, free rider problem, and other basic issues show us that market forces and rational players alone will NOT provide the best outcome for society.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_goods_game https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free-rider_problem

We currently have three systems of distribution in our society - pure capitalism / globalism, regulated capitalism, and government run programs:

1. pure capitalism is where there is very little regulation or market intervention

2. regulated capitalism is where policies, penalties, or subsidies exist to shape behavior of companies in ways that market forces wouldn't

3. government run programs (or other similar programs) receive funding and try to deliver a service for free or heavily subsidized at cost

There are some markets / areas of consumption that are running well in our country (that we as a society are happy with the cost and quality of service provided). These include:

- Food, clothing, most consumables, physical goods, hobbies / activities, recreational media, etc.

Some markets that are not running well are:

- Housing, education, transportation, news media / information dissemination, health care, etc.

Now, there's 3 ways of affecting change:

1. Add in policies, penalties, or subsidies to an existing market to enforce specific behaviors

2. Reduce or modify policies to revert specific behaviors or combat inefficiency

3. Create a sustainable fund / program to allow the service be delivered without market forces attached

Unsurprisingly, these all require government intervention. It's why most people are so vested in the political situation of the present, because our government is the only power that can shape markets and solve these problems.

There is one other route - the public comes together does #3 - creates a fund / organization that is meant to provide the good and service without market forces attached. Now, unfortunately the public lacks a huge factor to sustainability - the ability to tax. So whereas funds from government can be sustaining because of taxes, funds from the public have to rely on a large endowment or other such thing in order to be self sustaining.

Local news, news reporting, and social media currently exist under system #1. But they need to move to #2 or even #3 if it turns out we really don't like giving the market what it values - our time on ads and our data for ads. Or even worse, giving the market the ability to shape our thoughts and public discourse.

> I think as a society we are waking up to the fact that we don't like how the market shapes many, many industries.

That's known for at least a century. If you look carefully, it's know in some form for as long as people has talked about markets.

It wasn't for lack of knowledge that governments abandoned market intervention. People (as a collective) have some funny ways to form their opinions, they some times become radicals, moving from one kind of extremism to another, without stopping for a second to think they may be wrong before completely changing their opinions into the opposite of what they just were. If anybody has a good idea why this happen, it would be interesting to listen.

I think it's because capitalism has a "soft correction" mechanism, which is consumer activism. Because complaining and boycotting kind of works as a defense mechanism against market forces, it masks the underlying systemic problems.

Because of this, many people don't actually know how the market shapes industries. We have so many activist conversations and so few policy conversations in public discourse, it reflects what people, even smart people, think about their ability to affect change.

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