cjr.org's Cures for Local News

created Apr 3, 2020

Mar 31, 2020 cjr.org story titled Curing local news
for good

The article author failed to suggest that media orgs should make their websites usable. How can the rest of these suggestions be taken seriously when maybe the main method for accessing the content, the media's own websites, is not considered? Apparently, the author believes that the media's websites are fine.

A fast-loading, lightweight, usable website does not guarantee media success, but a horribly-designed website, which is the norm for the media, can deter readers. Users won't complain about being unable to load and navigate bloated websites. They will simply move on.

First of all, the cjr.org website is blank when viewing the site in an up-to-date Firefox or Chrome web browser with JavaScript disabled. This is one example of modern web design, which is ruining the web. For security and privacy reasons, it's legitimate to disable JavaScript when viewing Web of Documents-type of websites, such as cjr.org.

In order for me to see cjr.org content, I have to disable CSS when I disable JavaScript. I do that easily when using the uMatrix browser extension in Firefox.

Or I could view cjr.org in the Links2 web browser, since Links2 does not support JavaScript nor CSS.

It's understandable why the author of the above cjr.org article failed to mentioned the terrible web design of media orgs, since the author is oblivious about cjr.org's own absurd web design.

The author made several suggestions, and each could be debated long and hard. I'll list the suggestions without excerpting the author's details about each point.

Excerpt from the beginning of the article:

On the one hand, local news organizations need urgent help in order to keep their doors open and provide information to residents. No, it doesn’t make sense to abandon the newspaper chains right now, as Ben Smith has argued in The New York Times. But it is true that before the coronavirus outbreak, the local news system was already teetering and twisted. Government policy must help develop a better local system, not just prop up antiquated models.

I don't know about increasing government involvement to prop up local media orgs. Wouldn't that be one of those slippery slope conditions?

If people don't have an interest in accessing and supporting local media orgs, then subsidizing these outlets with tax dollars seems wasteful. The media orgs will exist with little to no audience.

And if the media orgs primarily exist due to tax dollars, then the future risk is that the government has a "say" over what media publish.

If the local media is so important, then why are the orgs struggling to survive? Why aren't people funding these media outlets if people view them as essential?

Do people believe that journalists are volunteers? We spend money on a lot of entertainment and non-essential things, although that could be abruptly ending. Why can't local media orgs attract more subscribers and donors?

Here are the suggestions from the cjr.org author:

The article mentioned the words "ads" and "advertising" a total of 10 times, but "web design" never got mentioned.

For local media orgs, I say, f*ck their ads. When I use MY computer to view a local media org's website, I will prevent ads from being displayed. I did not give the local media permission to execute programming code (JavaScript) on MY computer.

I would only change that behavior if local media orgs, such as the Toledo Blade, produced a quarterly security and privacy audit that explained why a single article causes unprotected web browsers to make hundreds of web requests.

Currently, I pay $12.99 a month for a Toledo Blade digital subscription. But with the economy struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and due to the high probability that our household income will be reduced significantly in the coming months, then we will have to reduce non-essential spending, which could mean ending our digital Blade subscription. I can use the saved money to help pay essential bills. A lot of things will be reduced and eliminated to save money for essential expenditures. I'm unsure about whether I consider my digital Blade subscription to be essential

Regarding my Blade subscription, I don't use any of the Blade's digital products, and we don't receive the print product. I read the Blade with my own web app that I created because the Blade's website uses an inhumane web design, like most media orgs.

If the Blade's website functioned similar to how I read the Blade with my web app, then I would consider keeping my Blade subscription if or when our household income decreases due to the Covid-19 economy.

Since I subscribe, then I should not be served ads when I log into the Blade's website. The ads and the horrible web design should be presented to non-paying customers. The customers should receive a better user experience. But the Blade uses the SAME web experience for subscribers and non-subscribers. The latter, however, will eventually see a paywall message.

Here's a Blade editorial that is approximately 440 words long, and that's counting the title, the sub-title, the by-line, the date and time stamp, and the body of the editorial. 440 words. It's all text. The Blade has been publishing text since 1835, yet ...


From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/3/2020, 4:17:40 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 11.690 seconds
Web requests: 398
Bytes downloaded: 3,226 KB

71 web requests and 1.4 megabytes of the download were for JavaScript.

398 web requests? How is that not a potential security and privacy problem for web readers?

3.2 megabytes downloaded? The raw, plain text version of War and Peace is 3.2 megabytes, and in printed book form, War and Peace is at least 1,000 pages long. A 440-word editorial is as big a download as the plain text version of War and Peace. That kind of failing is so bad that it should be honored with a sarcastic award.

Here's my copyright-violation version of the same article. It's the same text. My version conveys the same message.


From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/3/2020, 4:26:45 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 0.251 seconds
Web requests: 2
Bytes downloaded: 4 KB

No JavaScript needed.

My version exemplifies humane web design. It's useful web design. And it's the web design that should be offered to paying customers. My version shows that the web is fast.

When a local media org that has published text since 1835 FAILS at publishing text in 2020, then it does not deserve to be funded.

Often, I see comments at Mediagazer.com from journalists who order us to support local news. I don't need the order, since I do support the Blade with my subscription. But I have never seen poor web design mentioned as something that needs corrected by local media orgs.

What in the hell is the following? How is this not a crime? It deserves ridicule by media critics and by people such as the cjr.org author.


From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/3/2020, 2:22:43 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 41.292 seconds
Web requestrs: 737
Bytes downloaded: 18,202 KB

14 megabytes of the download were for video. Why not link to the video, instead of embedding the video?

But what's worse is that 144 web requests and 2.8 megabytes of the download were for JavaScript. That's beyond hideous. This is so bad that modern web design does not get the blame because modern web design CAN be done simpler and still be useful if desired.

It's now at the point that a PDF version of a web article is smaller than everything that's downloaded when viewing the web version.

This ProPublica article unfortunately uses nearly 800 KB of JavaScript. That amount of JavaScript is considered "tiny" by today's media web design standards, but why is any needed?

Health news website that uses an unhealthy web design.

First View Fully Loaded:
From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/3/2020, 2:37:16 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 11.692 seconds
Web requests: 292
Bytes downloaded: 3,033 KB

WTF? 74 web requests and 1.9 megabytes of the download were for JavaScript. From what I observed, it was a text article.

A couple years ago, I contributed to Block Club Chicago's crowd-funding program because the project sounded like an interesting new local, digital media startup.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/3/2020, 1:21:07 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 6.357 seconds
Web requests: 90
Bytes downloaded: 1,878 KB

Relatively speaking, that page weight is light, compared to most media orgs, but it's not lightweight. It's still too bloated.

1.4 megabytes of the download were for JavaScript. ?!?!? If I launched a local, digital media startup, I would treat the web readers better.

I would love to see these media orgs explain why they need to use so much JavaScript. And in the case of the Blade, why does an unsuspecting user's web browser need to make nearly 400 web requests?

NPR maintains two websites, but only one uses a good web design. The other is probably using a modern web design.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/3/2020, 2:35:01 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 13.791 seconds
Web requests: 108
Bytes downloaded: 6,603 KB

1.2 megabytes of the download were for JavaScript.

5 megabytes of the download were for images. ?!?!?!?

I saw only one, useless stock image in the article.

The web article, however, included a three-minute audio segment that I heard on our local public radio station yesterday. Maybe webpagetest.org called the embedded audio an image. I assume that the embedded audio was included in the download size.

The article did not mirror the audio segment word for word. Each content was a different version of the same story. I like the idea of including both but maybe not with the audio embedded into the article. Why not link to it?

Here's the same article, published at NPR's better-designed website.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/3/2020, 2:58:47 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 0.375 seconds
Web requests: 3
Bytes downloaded: 4 KB

What a shocking difference. Same article from the same media org. It's a text article. The useless stock photo added nothing to the bloated article.

The text.npr.org version shows that a simple text article does not need JavaScript to display text. What a revelation.

Media orgs should look to text.npr.org for web design inspiration. Media orgs could start with the design used by text.npr.org and then enhance slightly as needed, such as adding some CSS to improve typography without impacting download time. Include images only if the images add to the article. But the media should keep the images small to medium sized, especially if most people read the web on mobile devices. Again, the publishers can LINK to bigger versions of the images.

If the phrase "make every word count" is important then why not apply the same attitude toward images? The media need to end its addiction to using useless, stock images that only add to the data being downloaded.

For video and audio, the media should link to those heavier pieces of content, instead of embedding the content. The media must assume that EVERY visitor has a super fast internet connection and a computer with a brand new CPU.

The media need learn how to be humane and empathetic with its web design choices.

Apr 7, 2020 update


Here's another of my copyright-violation versions of an objectionable media web design.


From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/7/2020, 1:34:41 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 0.281 seconds
Web requests: 2
Bytes downloaded: 8 KB

When I lowered my browser's shields when viewing the original article, I saw no images nor video. The body of the article was text.

Here are disgusting and obscene test results for the original article.



From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/7/2020, 1:23:19 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 33.062 seconds
Web requests: 1327
Bytes downloaded: 7,771 KB

That kind of media product does not deserve to be funded. For security and privacy reasons, it might be better for humanity if that site no longer existed.

1,327 web requests???? That could be the most that I have seen, or it's one of the top three worst offenders.

7.7 megabytes for a text article. The plain, raw text version of War and Peace that can be read in a web browser is 3.2 megabytes. A printed book that is over 1000 pages long is half the size of this article, which is long-ish at about 2,000 words.

How can 2,000 words require a 7.7 megabyte download?

121 web requests and 2.2 megabytes of the download were for JavaScript, which is appalling.

347 web requests and 3.2 megabytes of the download were for images. The media org should be required to explain this type of atrocious web design.

The nola.com article is a small, text article.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/7/2020, 10:16:36 AM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 28.991 seconds
Web requests: 784
Bytes downloaded: 9,708 KB


The text article was slightly over 300 words long. That's counting everything related to the article: title, author, contact info, etc., and the body of the article.

329 words requires a 9.7 megabyte download. Come on. Does not deserve to be funded by the public. What in the hell is going on?

125 web requests and 2.8 megabytes of the download were for JavaScript.

When will journalists, especially tech writers, pummel media orgs for unleashing these wretched web designs on the public?

A user's web browser would make 784 web requests to read one article.

A user's web browser would make 1327 web requests to read one article.

And the media hypocritically criticizes Facebook and other social media orgs for bad practices. When I see local media orgs publish web designs this obscene, then I root for Facebook, and I don't use Facebook.

I did not mean to create my version of the nola.com article. I placed the content in my JavaScript editor to get a word count, but I left it up in a browser tab. My simple JavaScript editor has an auto-save feature.

Anyway, here it is and the webpagetest.org results.


From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
4/7/2020, 2:03:46 PM
First View Fully Loaded:
Download time: 0.221 seconds
Web requests: 2
Bytes downloaded: 5 KB