Newspaper Industry's Hideous Modern Web Designs

"The modern web is becoming unusable" - [1]

created Dec 19, 2019 - updated Dec 21, 2019

Dec 13, 2019 - zainamro.com - Unbearable news

It's obvious that newspaper websites use horrible web designs when their print products are better options.

Excerpts from the above post:

The other day while in the library, I decided to pick up and read a few newspapers lying around. To my surprise, I found the experience refreshing even with the banner and full-page ads. It was nice that for once, everything was static and load times were zero (basically the time to turn the page).

In stark contrast, news websites today have become so bloated that it can be quite unbearable at times. It's as though every news website feels the need to load 50 different resources per page when in reality, the article text is all anyone really cares about. It's astonishing to me that, coming into 2020, many of these websites are very noticeably sluggish.

It's that way for nearly all media websites and not only local newspaper websites. And that writer is being kind by describing media websites as being only "sluggish." In my opinion, the media websites would need to be improve significantly to reach sluggish status.

Excerpt from a February 2017 danluu.com post titled Web bloat:

... most sites are so poorly optimized that someone who has no idea what they’re doing can get a 10x improvement in page load times for a site whose job is to serve up text with the occasional image. Popular themes for many different kinds of blogging software and CMSs contain anti-optimizations so blatant that any programmer, even someone with no front-end experience, can find large gains by just pointing webpagetest at their site and looking at the output.

More from the December 2019 zainamro.com post:

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. Many argue that this advertisement and paywall monstrosity they've created is necessary for them to even exist in the 21st century. If this is truly the case, I suggest they become more creative with their business model or at least try to see the value in moderation. These websites are slow and unusuable, even for paying subscribers in most cases, and I sense the outcomes of long-term user fatigue will emerge with time.

I've expressed the following sentiment many times over the years.

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.

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'll even let you sprinkle a little CSS and Javascript here and there if you must, as long as your site isn't slow after the page has already loaded which has apparently become the news industry standard.

This last part of the above post is fantastic.

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. Yes, all of it. Scroll down.

Here are the webpagetest.org results for the zainamro.com post that also contains the novel A Tale of Two Cities.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
12/19/2019, 9:26:30 AM
First View Fully Loaded:
Total download time: 1.619 seconds
Total web requests: 6
Total bytes downloaded: 339 KB

A classically great novel combined with a short web post can be downloaded in under two seconds over a fast internet connection.

I'm surprised that the total download size is only 339 kilobytes. That's including the novel. I'm not going to calculate a word count for that zainamro.com post that contains the novel. Obviously, the word count is in the tens of thousands.

Let's compare to our local newspaper website the toledoblade.com.

Here's a Dec 18, 2019 Blade "article" titled Imagination Station hosts 'topping out ceremony' for theater project

The article contained around 460 words, counting the title, sub-title, by-line, date, and article body.

The article also contained one large photo of the construction site. I don't know why the photo needs to be so big, but whatever. A small or medium-sized photo could be used that's clickable to load the large version if desired, but that would make too much sense.

Anyway, here are the webpagetest.org results for that Blade article that contained under 500 words.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
12/19/2019, 10:09:25 AM
First View Fully Loaded:
Total download time: 14.332 seconds
Total web requests: 422
Total bytes downloaded: 3,189 KB

Web browsers for unsuspecting readers would download over 3 megabytes of crapware to view a small news article that contains one photo.

"Unsuspecting reader" means someone who reads the web with shields down. I like to disable JavaScript. I use browser add-ons Privacy Badger and uMatrix.

422 web requests??? Reading the Blade's website could be a security and privacy concern. 71 web requests and 1.2 megabytes of that download went to JavaScript. WHY??? It's unnecessary to force readers to download that much JavaScript to read a small text article and to view one image. But this is modern web design.

With shields down, the Blade still uses the disgusting infinite scroll design for its article pages, meaning that when scrolling to what should be the bottom of the article page, the Blade's hideous design automatically loads in another article and so on.


The Hacker News thread related to the zainamro.com post contains 152 comments.

A comment:

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.

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.

Unfortunately, most media orgs support Google's AMP, which shows how clueless media orgs can be, regarding technology and providing reader-friendly web designs. But the media will continue to blame Big Tech for problems that the media and especially the newspaper industry have caused themselves.

It's not Craigslist's fault that the newspaper industry received most of its revenue from classified ads. Its not Craigslist's fault that newspaper websites started giving away their craft for free on the web in the mid-1990s.


My recent posts:

Excerpts from the last post listed above:

Below is some additional info about the web version of the book War and Peace. In printed book form, it's over 1000 pages long.

Comment from a May 2017 Hacker News thread:

I can read "War and Peace" as an HTML document on my 7 year old cheapo Android phone. The browser even "streams" the data, displaying each chunk as it loads over a slow connection.

HTML version of WAR AND PEACE By Leo Tolstoy/Tolstoi:

The Kindle version is 5.2 MB.

One web article hosted at the mercurynews.com is larger than the Kindle version of War and Peace when unsuspecting web readers download several megabytes of crapware.

The above Blade article that contained approximately 460 words was a 3.1 megabyte download while the plain text version of War and Peace is a 3.2 megabyte download. One small Blade article is nearly the same size as War and Peace.


Back to the HN thread, another comment:

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!

And the reason why media orgs, such as the Blade, want readers to use the media orgs' native mobile apps is because native apps can invade our privacy and force ads onto readers easier than their websites. Users have less control with native apps versus reading websites via web browsers that permit add-ons.

Another HN comment:

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.

All of those features CAN exist within a properly designed website, such as what I use to read the Toledo Blade, which is a slightly enhanced version of the best designed media website https://text.npr.org.

text.npr.org article: In Uncrewed Test, Boeing's Starliner Capsule Fails To Reach Space Station

No distractions. text.npr.org article pages contain hardly any navigation links at the top of the page, and the bottom of the page contains four general info links. It's a clean, lightweight web page that focuses on the article. What a revolutionary concept: focusing on the article content, instead of obliterating the reading experience by using pounds of crapware garbage.

webpagetest.org results for that text.npr.org article:

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
12/20/2019, 10:29:12 AM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 0.380 seconds
Web requests: 3
Bytes downloaded: 4 KB

Obviously, npr.org's business model is different than the Blade's. The Toledo Blade is owned by Block Communications, which owns internet service and cable TV businesses that are profitable. The Blade loses money. The Block family's profitable businesses subsidize the Blade. Yet even with the Blade propped up by other businesses, the Blade CHOOSES to create an atrocious web reading experience even for subscribers like me.

That's why I don't use any of the Blade's digital offerings. I have no interest in a print product, unless it was a weekly or bi-weekly zine format that focused on longform local journalism.


When I use my Blade web reading app to read the Blade's story above about the Imagination Station, these are the webpagetest.org results.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
12/20/2019, 10:42:34 AM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 0.616 seconds
Web requests: 2
Bytes downloaded: 4 KB

That's a massive difference, compared to the Blade website, and my web app dynamically creates the page for me to read. My web app fetches the page for the Blade URL, parses out the JSON that exists within Blade article page, and displays what I want by using a template that I created. Simple. It's the article. The annoying, useless images are not displayed. If embedded code for video or photos exists within the JSON for the article body text, then I display that too.

The point is that my Blade web reading app focuses on the article content. I pay $12.99 per month for a Blade digital subscription. I would pay more if the Blade maintained a website that functioned similar to what text.npr.org offered or what I created, which uses a small amount of CSS to display the page better, according to my typographical preferences.

But us readers have our own typographical prefs, which is why I believe today's web should function like the original web concept where READERS control the typographical display of content that gets downloaded to their computers.

That's the point of my test project here: http://md.soupmode.com/home.md. I don't create text/html pages at that test site. I create text/plain pages that use CommonMark, which is one group's attempt to create a standardize version of Markdown. I don't have a Markdown web browser. I use Markdown viewer web browser add-ons for Chrome and Firefox. I, the reader, controls how article pages get displayed. I control the typography by uploading my own custom CSS. The browser extensions come with themes too. A real Markdown browser would allow power users to upload CSS while offering non-tech users the ability to create typographical profiles via point and click menus.

But sticking with simple HTML pages, such as what's created at text.npr.org, https://danluu.com, and with my Blade web reading app, I could click reader mode in Safari on my iPhone or in Firefox on my laptop and read the articles how I desire, based upon the small number of typographical options that exist within those browser reader mode functions.


This is the Blade article about the Imagination Station displayed in the following ways:

For the Blade's version of the article, this is the top part of the article with the image that is unnecessarily large.

And this is the disgusting garbage that is displayed at the bottom of the article on the Blade's website. With more scrolling down, the article page uses the infinite scroll feature to display another article.

Pathetically, subscribers are subjected to the same hostile web experience, which is why it's difficult to have sympathy for local newspapers when they mistreat paying customers like this. Journalists who cover the media landscape fail to report on their industry's horrible web designs. I cannot believe that Blade journalists are ignorant about their newspaper's hostile web design for paying customers.

This is the bottom of the Blade article when displayed within my Blade web reading app:

The link points to the article, hosted at the Blade's website.

Yes, my Blade web reading app probably violates the Blade's terms of service even though I'm a subscriber. But as I have mentioned many times here, the Blade's web design is a violation of human decency.


Of course, knucklehead comments exist in that HN thread like this one:

Yea, pretty much 100% the web is destroying news.

That's a perverse version of reality. 100 percent of the blame for the problems of the newspaper industry belong to the newspaper industry. Allegedly, the Toledo Blade has not made a profit since the early 1980s. The first website appeared in 1990 or 1991. How is the web blamed?

I'll have to locate the links, but I have read stories that claimed that financial problems started in the newspaper industry in the 1970s and/or 1980s. The newspaper industry's woes did not begin when the Mosaic web browser was released in the early 1990s nor when Craig Newmark started is humble email list in 1995.

More from that moronic comment:

Everyone wants a free ad supported product now and the only way that model works is if you get enough page views.

Everyone? I don't want a free, ad-supported local media product, and neither does the author of the zainamro.com. A significant number of us will pay money for quality products, whether it be handmade arts and crafts, food, clothing, and media.

The person who wrote that comment probably wants that kind of media, and then the person assumed that equated to "everyone."

The Toledo Blade and many other local media orgs have chosen their business models that they use for displaying digital content. No technology org, such as Google, Facebook, or Craigslist, forced the media orgs to make dumb choices.

I/we pay or donate money to our local public media station WGTE, the Toledo Blade, The Athletic (for Cleveland Browns coverage), and Fruity Knitting (a YouTube channel about the fiber arts). One of my brothers pays for my subscription to thelandondemand.com as a gift. That site covers Cleveland sports.

That commenter concluded with:

So news websites have to prioritize content that generates views, rather than good reporting. Which is slowly killing journalism.

That might be true, but that was a choice made by the newspaper/media orgs. Users did not force that choice onto the media orgs. The media orgs chose to enslave themselves to social media silos and search engines for referral traffic.

Excerpts from an interesting reply comment:

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).

I don't watch local TV news. We don't have cable nor satellite TV. Occasionally, I watch the Sky News channel over the YouTube app on our Roku TV, but I consider television to be the worst medium for consuming information.

I'm always surprised when I read studies that show that a large percentage of information consumers get their "news" from local TV news programs. Local TV news programs contain hardly any local news. I'm guessing that viewers watch for the weather and sports. Maybe it's simply a passive way to waste time. Local TV news is loaded with commercial breaks. It's a slow and annoying method to consume info.

More from that reply comment:

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".

The newspaper industry whines a lot about the so-called duopoly that Google and Facebook have over digital advertising, but did the newspaper industry complain about its monopoly or near monopoly over local advertising prior to 1980?

In the glory days of the newspaper industry, apparently, the industry worked to protect is near monopoly over local advertising. Today, the newspaper industry wants government to end the Google-Facebook duopoly on digital ads.

The newspaper industry always blames someone else or something else for its problems. When the industry accepts 100 percent of the blame for its idiotic decisions, then maybe it will have a chance to recover, but that won't happen.

The newspaper industry is still rooted in 19th and 20th century thinking even in the digital age, and it's almost 2020. That's why I say all of the time that local media will be a part of the future digital media landscape, but the future will not include today's newspapers. The local media orgs of the future do not exist today in most locales.

The future business models of new local media orgs will either be 100 percent hard paywalls where the content is only available to paying customers, or it will be donation-based, similar to public media where the content is free for all, but it's funded by a small percentage of donors.

The future local media org should not show ads of any kind. They should not accept donations nor support from big, local businesses, which could be donating money to receive favorable press coverage. We need an adversarial local press that has the courage to investigate EVERYTHING with NOTHING off limits.

The future local media orgs may need to run as non-profits too.

I may not trust local media orgs that are funded entirely or even partly by the Google and Facebook news initiatives. Media orgs that accept money from Google and Facebook don't seem like the independent press.

Another HN comment:

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.

That's three years before Craigslist launched its website.

Reply comment:

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.


That HN thread contains opinions of many stripes, such as this one:

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 that's how future local media orgs will operate, then I would prefer to create a Facebook account over paying for local news.

Many local newspapers are not profitable even with display ads. And the idea that subscribers should be shown ads on websites is an example of the archaic thinking that exists within the newspaper industry. Again, maybe future local media orgs should adopt the non-profit model.


Back to the main point of this post: bloated newspaper websites. Here's another HN comment:

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.

webpagetest.org results for a Guardian opinion that contains a few hundred words and one smallish, useless stock photo.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
12/21/2019, 10:08:38 AM
First View - Fully Loaded
Download time: 13.552 seconds
Web requests: 463 - WTF?
Bytes downloaded: 2,226 KB

13 seconds to download completely an opinion over a simulated fast internet connection. ???

Sadly today, a simple text-based news article that is "only" a 2.2 megabyte download is considered small. But 2.2 megabytes is still massively too big.

Again from that commenter: "The Guardian website is very performant." No, it's not. Maybe it is when compared to other newspaper websites, but when a simple opinion piece requires the web browsers of unsuspecting readers to make 463 web requests, then something is seriously wrong with the website, and the word "performant" does not apply.

Nearly 50 percent of the bytes downloaded, 1.128 megabytes, were for JavaScript. That's unacceptable for a website that someone calls performant.


And back to how I read the Toledo Blade, which relies on a simple, lightweight, fast-loading, empathetic web design, my web app uses the Blade's RSS feeds. Their feeds show a snippet of each article. When I display the results of the feeds in my web app, the article links point to my program that dynamically fetches the Blade article and displays the contents humanely.

This is the homepage of my Blade web reading app.

That seems self-explanatory. Sections exist for local news, opinion, sports, etc. I included the sports section because the articles produced by the Blade's outdoor writer appear in sports.

When I click the local news link, I see this screen. My app displays the contents of the Blade's RSS feed, except the article links point to one of my programs.

Do the web pages in my Blade web reading app look boring? I don't know. What's the definition of "boring?" I definitely do not use modern web design because I want my Blade web reading app to be useful. My app focuses on the purpose of the Toledo Blade: the reporting.


  1. Dec 20, 2019 HN thread titled "The modern web is becoming unusable."

https://omarabid.com/the-modern-web

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21848468 - 184 comments

HN comment that sums up the disgusting web designs, used by many media orgs.

It's amazing that any content would require Javascript. Web applications I understand, but content (particularly news) should have no need for scripting.

Two quick examples: politico.com and cjr.org both display blank pages with JavaScript disabled in "modern" web browsers, but both will display content when viewed in text-based web browsers, such as elinks and Lynx, or when using the uMatrix browser add-on in a "modern" web browser. When JavaScript AND CSS are disabled, then the content for those two websites will be displayed.

Many websites, such as WaPo, do not display images when JavaScript is disabled. The HTML img tag was created around 1993, I think. Hello?

Then we have websites, such as the toledoblade.com, that display no content regardless of what browser is used and what tech is disabled because the Blade's website is sort of SPA-ish. It's not exactly a single page application, but instead of article pages containing HTML text, the Blade's article pages contain JSON text. Code needs to execute on users' devices in order to display plain text.

The Toledo Blade started in the early 1800s. Most of the content that it has produced has been text. But now in 2019, the Blade has failed at text. How can a newspaper expect to survive in the digital age when it fails at text?

More from the omarabid.com post:

In a nutshell, if I can describe my browsing experience in 2019.

  • Websites asking to login, register or enter an email.
  • Websites asking for your phone number after you gave up your email.
  • Websites asking to allow HTML5 notifications.
  • Websites downloading 50Mb of data and making hundreds of requests to serve 6Kb worth of text.
  • Websites that are not functioning because they have too much JavaScript.
  • Websites that are not functioning because some of the JavaScript was caught by uBlock Origin.
  • Websites asking to turn off the Ad Blocker.
  • Websites asking to accept the cookies in 41,484 different ways.
  • Websites asking to download their mobile app which is non-native and requires around 200Mb of storage.
  • Popups to buy a deal or download some random crap.
  • reCaptcha with random street images; that are sometimes impossible to solve.
  • CloudFlare DDoS protection thinking I’m a bot.
  • Youtube running a 2:30 minutes ad for a 3:30 minutes music video.
  • Video or Website not showing up because I’m not in said country.
  • Linkedin that keeps sending dozens of emails despite unsubscribing multiple times; and somehow evades the Spam filter

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