Local News

Disabling JavaScript is legal

"But installing software to defeat their (crappy) protections to me is no different than using pirated Microsoft Office or file sharing services to download music."

Except that pirating software is illegal, and modifying web browser settings is not illegal.

And nothing needs to be installed to bypass the Blade's paywall. Disabling JavaScript can be done within the web browser's settings.

How in the hell does disabling JavaScript equal stealing?

And you don't need to disable JavaScript. Clearing your browser cookies for the Blade website bypasses the paywall.

When clearing cookies or disabling JavaScript bypasses the article limit, then that's not a paywall. I don't know what it is besides lame.

Here's an example of a real paywall:

The Information

Blocking ads is legal

I assume that using ad-blockers is also equal to stealing.

Many media orgs use a business model where they give away all of their content for free, and then they rely on digital ad revenue, which means that they must produce content at scale, which means quantity over quality.

Blocking ads prevents the media orgs from making money. According to some people, that's a form of stealing or financial harm.

But you don't need to install ad-blockers. Disabling JavaScript from within the browser will block most ads.

I guess that web browsers, such as Lynx and NetSurf should be outlawed, since those programs do not support JavaScript.

With Lynx, a user needs to install nothing and do nothing to block ads and bypass alleged "paywalls." Lynx is so limited that it has no choice but to ignore those things.

Blocking or deleting cookies, blocking ads, blocking trackers, and disabling JavaScript can be viewed as safe and secure web surfing, especially for users who like some amount of privacy.

Privacy Badger

Privacy Badger is a browser add-on that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites without your permission, Privacy Badger automatically blocks that advertiser from loading any more content in your browser. To the advertiser, it's like you suddenly disappeared.

If the side effect of blocking cookies, ads, and trackers is bypassing simple article limits, then that's not the readers' fault. Blame the publishers.

Being concerned about online privacy is not the same as using pirated software.

It's not the readers' fault that media orgs employ possibly nefarious third party digital advertising systems. The Blade may be unaware of the crap that their site forces onto readers, but it's still the Blade's fault because it's their website.

Supporting the Blade

If you want to support the Blade in the short-term, then the best thing to do may be to subscribe to Buckeye cable TV and/or Buckeye's internet access.

In my opinion, a person who pays for Buckeye TV/internet but does not pay for the Blade is still doing more for the Blade than the person who pays for the Blade and gets their TV and internet access elsewhere.

Use a real paywall

The Blade should adopt a 100-percent, hard paywall with no way to bypass it, except by subscribing. No free stories should exist. None of that 10 to 20 free stories per device per month. Only subscribers get to see the entire content. The non-subscribers get to see only the title and the opening paragraph of an article.

Why doesn't the Blade adopt that model? Subscriptions with no ads.

stratechery.com: The Local News Business Model

It’s hardly controversial to note that the traditional business model for most publishers, particularly newspapers, is obsolete.

... newspapers have nothing to offer advertisers: the sort of advertising that was formerly done in newspapers, both classified and display, is better done online.

... the future of “local news” would almost certainly be subscription, not advertising-based.

Most local newspapers are simply not worth saving, not because local news isn’t valuable, but rather because everything else in your typical local newspaper is worthless (from a business perspective).

That is why I was careful in my wording: subscriptions will not save newspapers, but they just might save local news, and the sooner that distinction is made the better.

Create a community

The Blade should also eliminate the Facebook comments that appear at the bottom of stories. Currently, a non-subscriber with a Facebook account can add a comment to a Blade story, correct?

Facebook comments are useless. It only adds more bloat to the newspaper's website. It has always been a myth that Facebook's real-name policy leads to more civil discussions.

The Blade should create its own online community for paying customers only. The forum should be private and not viewable by the public. Only subscribers get to read and post in the Blade message board.

The comments do not need to appear at the bottom of each article. The private, subscriber-only message board could exist as its own separate entity at a sub-domain, such as forum.toledoblade.com. Subscribers can discuss the Blade stories and more on the board.

I think that the Boston Globe manages a private Facebook group for newspaper subscribers only, and that's where paying Globe users hold discussions. That's one way for a newspaper to create a decent online community, built around the newspaper and its coverage area.

Perks should exist only for paying customers. And requiring a subscription fee would be a major barrier to entry for participation in the Blade's private message board. This should lead to more meaningful discussions.

Try new things

The newspaper industry screwed up long ago when they decided to give away their craft for free. Maybe nothing will ever be devised to save newspapers at the local level. Subscriptions might not be enough. Local newspapers may need to rely on philanthropy and switch to a non-profit status.

Reducing the physical size of the print newspaper won't help in the long-term. Local newspapers may need to offer more choices to get people to subscribe.

Unbundle. Let customers subscribe to topics or to individual writers.

I would pay for local news, local politics, local business, local editorials, and some other local topics, such as food and the outdoors.

I would pay more to read certain writers, especially if they maintained private blogs or online journals where the writers might publish notes or quick observations that may or may not become stories, but the info is available only to subscribers.

But I have no interest in paying for local sports coverage nor any sports from the Blade. I don't care about high school football nor Big 10 football.

This summer, I subscribed to the digital media startup called https://theathletic.com where an annual subscription only costs about $50. Their focus is on writing while the major sports media orgs migrate nearly all to video. I like reading. I like text.

Currently, TheAthletic covers sports in only a handful of areas: Chicago, Toronto, Bay Area, Detroit, and Cleveland. I joined to read mainly about the Browns.

Just because Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer graduated from Toledo Central Catholic High School, that doesn't mean that I need a local perspective of his play now for the Browns.

But unbundling could have issues too, since more people would probably pay for sports coverage than local political coverage, which means the latter might get eliminated from the reporting.

Print vs web

"Or you could all subscribe if you're local... there is a lot more in the daily paper than on the .com."

More in print? Like what?

In 2017, why would a newspaper place content in the print edition that would not exist on the website?

It should be the other way around because the web has fewer restrictions than a print newspaper. Far more content should be available on the website than what's possible to place in a newspaper.

The Blade should be the Wikipedia of the Toledo area. The paper began in the 1800s. All of its info could link to its own writing. And this info would only be available to paying customers.

The Blade could create database-backed projects, related to the area, and this so-called data journalism would only be available to paying customers to mine.

I stopped reading print newspapers at least 10 years ago. I can't imagine ever reading a print newspaper again, unless I finally try the Slow News Movement concept.

Create a better web UX

As to the web, if newspaper paying customers receive the same web experience as non-paying customers, then forget it.

Subscribers should receive a simple, lightweight, fast-loading, focused web experience without ads, trackers, and other gobbledygook. I would pay well for that product.

I suppose that I would be the only person willing to pay a hefty annual [Blade] subscription fee for content that was displayed simply.

A fast, simple delivery mechanism does not improve bad writing. But good writing, important writing can be lost or ignored when the delivery mechanism is a train wreck.

The counter argument would be, "People who paid for print newspapers still received ads in their newspapers."

I guess that means that people who pay for digital subscriptions should still be abused by web ads.

That's the past. That's ancient thinking. I don't think that a print newspaper business model from the 1980s should be applied to today's online world.

The Local News Business Model

Or better yet, don’t have any ads at all.

A purely subscription-based business model not only drastically cuts costs, it also makes for a better user experience, a particularly attractive point given that users are the paying customers.

Bloated websites

In my opinion, this is a reader-hostile web design.

That's a small Blade editorial that contains under 500 words, along with an unnecessary photo at the top of the page. The relevant content is text.

Drop that link into WebPageTest.org. Below are the results.

At webpagetest.org, I'm mainly interested in the numbers under "Fully Loaded" and the breakdown of what a reader must download.

First View - Fully Loaded:

How does a 500-word editorial become a 3 megabyte download?

It's not the readers' fault. It's not the fault of Craigslist nor Facebook.

When the newspaper industry accepts blame for this kind of abomination, then maybe the industry can save itself.

In olden times, it would have taken three, 3.5-inch, 1.44 mb diskettes to store the download of everything associated with that Blade editorial.

I've mentioned before that the entire HTML version of War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy/Tolstoi is 3.9 mb.

An approximately 500-word Blade editorial is 3.1 mb.

That's messed up.

Humorous April 2016 Wired.com article

A compressed copy of the installer for the shareware version of Doom takes up about 2.39MB of space. Today’s average webpage, meanwhile, requires users to download about 2.3MB worth of data.

I ignore the rhetoric about how once a website's assets have been downloaded, then they get cached, so that the browser does not need to download that bilge again. Allegedly. But that's great for that website if 100 percent true. But visit another media website, and the same thing will most likely occur. Megabytes of crap must be downloaded to read a small article.

BTW, one megabyte of that Blade editorial download was due to JavaScript. That's seriously messed up.

Subscribers deserve better

If the Blade wants to provide a dreadful web experience to non-paying customers, then that's fine. I have no problem with it.

When JavaScript is disabled, that editorial loads completely in the web browser in about one second, instead of taking forever because without JavaScript, many of those 200-plus requests to who-knows-what get blocked.

That fast-loading web experience should be the default web behavior for paying customers. No ads, no trackers, and no useless JavaScript. Pay for less because the focus for customers should be on the content.

From my March 2016 comment that I linked to above:

I feel bad for the writers, editors, and everyone else at newspaper orgs. Their service is needed at the local level, in my opinion.

But this kind of web design [is] indefensible, and I would never support it with money.

I'm only interested in the web experience. I'm disinterested in native apps and PDFs or other electronic versions of newspapers.

Gruber's rants

Medium and the Scourge of Persistent Sharing Dickbars

The SEO folks are the same dopes who came up with the genius strategy of requiring 5-10 megabytes of privacy-intrusive CPU-intensive JavaScript on every page load that slows down websites.

Safari Content Blocker, Before and After

It’s not just the download size, long initial page load time, and the ads that cover valuable screen real estate as fixed elements. The fact that these JavaScript trackers hit the network for a full-minute after the page has completely loaded is downright criminal. Advertising should be respectful of the user’s time, attention, and battery life. The industry has gluttonously gone the other way.

The New York Times on Apple’s Dominant Position in Podcasting

JavaScript has brought the web to the brink of ruin ...

That might be a little dramatic. JavaScript is not the problem. Media orgs relying on an obviously flawed business model that relies on ad systems that rely on abusive JavaScript is the problem.

Gizmodo Investigation Exposes Websites Collecting Form Data Before You Hit 'Submit'

This might sound hyperbolic, but I mean it: I think we’d be better off if JavaScript had never been added to web browsers.

I like JavaScript when it solves problems, makes functions easier, and improves a web experience, especially when logged into a website to perform tasks.

Acceptable ads

New on Daring Fireball: Display Ads

For readers, these are ads that, again, are visually unobjectionable, and which offer the most privacy you could hope for. Not only is there no tracking involved, there is no JavaScript involved. They’re just images, text, and HTML links.

Ethical web advertising. That won't become mainstream because first, the web publishers would need to design with empathy for the readers.

When web publishers directly or indirectly abuse readers with privacy-invasive bloatware, then I see no reason for readers to care about the web publishers.

Let Facebook takeover

I think that back in the spring of 2017, the Associated Press released a new web design. With JavaScript disabled, their home page is blank. Good one.

https://apnews.com

Article pages, however, will display with JavaScript disabled.

This basic text article contains around 750 words and two pointless stock images. It looks benign.

apnews.com: The TV-streaming paradox: Why you may miss the cable bundle

But when submitted to webpagetest.org ... results

First View Fully Loaded

To read 750 words, a user is forced to download eight megabytes of cruft. 1.3 mb of the download was due to JavaScript, and 5.5 mb was for "other".

Other. Even webpagetest.org gives up.

When media orgs require readers to download eight megabytes of data to read 750-word articles, then maybe it's okay that Facebook is eating the world.

Media need to stop blaming others

uBlock Origin, NoScript, Ghostery, Privacy Badger, Quick JavaScript Switcher, etc. are not stealing. It's a wake-up call, especially for the local newspapers. Two years ago, Apple made it easier to block ads. Google plans to add a native ad-blocker to Chrome next year.

Although for Google, that probably is a smart (or devious) business decision, since Facebook and Google own at least 80 percent of the digital ad market.

From my March 2016 comment:

Writers and editors may feel that they cannot do anything about their company's wretched web design, but I disagree because I assume that those people also use the web, and they work at these companies.

Maybe it's time for journalists to care about their companies' websites and business models.

Local means local

In my opinion, a local newspaper (website) should be 100-percent locally-focused. Content that covers regions beyond the Toledo area is wasteful clutter, and I won't fund it if a local newspaper publishes such content.

Naturally, someone will suggest, "Subscribe and simply ignore the non-local content." That's an imbecilic suggestion because that means I pay for that useless content to be published, unless it's unbundled.

Why publish content that can be found elsewhere? The paper should focus only on local.

Overhaul it

Again, maybe nothing will be created to help local newspapers survive, but supporting the status quo has proven to be a failure.

Drastic changes should be tried. Maybe it requires local news startups to form.

More excerpts from The Local News Business Model

... the problem with newspapers: every aspect of their operations, from costs to content, is optimized for a business model that is obsolete. To put it another way, an obsolete business model means an obsolete business. There is nothing to be saved.

... nearly all of the content in most newspapers is not just unnecessary but in fact actively harmful to building a sustainable future for local news.

Start with the front page (of a physical newspaper): most newspapers have given up on having international, national, or even regional reporters, instead relying on wire services. Even that, though, is a waste: those wire services have their own websites, and international publications are only a click away. Maintaining the veneer of comprehensive coverage is simply clutter, and a cost to boot.

The same thing applies to the opinion section: any column or editorial that is concerned with non-local affairs is competing with the entire Internet (including social media).

It’s the same thing with non-local business coverage. Moreover, the cost is more than clutter and dollars: almost by definition the content is inferior to what is available elsewhere, which reduces the willingness to pay.

It’s the same story in what were traditionally the most valuable parts of newspapers: sports and the (variously named) lifestyle sections. There are multiple national entities dedicated to covering sports all the way down to the university level, augmented by a still-thriving sports blogosphere.

Granted, there may still be a market for local sports coverage, but that is a different market than local news: there is no reason it has to be bundled together.

A lot of this content has long since been standardized across newspapers, but the broader point remains the same: absolutely none of it has anything to do with local news, and it should not exist in the local news publication of the future.

... everything must start with the business model, of which there is only one choice — subscriptions.

It is very important to clearly define what a subscription means. First, it’s not a donation: it is asking a customer to pay money for a product.

What, then, is the product? It is not, in fact, any one article (a point that is missed by the misguided focus on micro-transactions). Rather, a subscriber is paying for the regular delivery of well-defined value.

When asking people to pay, quality matters far more than quantity, and the ratio matters: a publication with 1 valuable article a day about a well-defined topic will more easily earn subscriptions than one with 3 valuable articles and 20 worthless ones covering a variety of subjects.

Yet all too many local newspapers, built for an ad-based business model that calls for daily content to wrap around ads, spend their limited resources churning out daily filler even though those ads no longer exist.

A sustainable local news publication will be fundamentally different: a minimal rundown of the news of the day, with a small number of in-depth articles a week featuring real in-depth reporting, with the occasional feature or investigative report.

After all, it’s not like it is hard to find content to read on the Internet: what people will pay for is quality content about things they care about (and the fact that people care about their cities will be these publications’ greatest advantage).

A subscription business is just that: a business that must, through its content, earn ongoing revenue from customers. That means understanding what those customers want, and what they don’t. It means focusing on the user experience, and the content mix. And it means selling by every member of the organization.

Were a new publication to come along, offering a five minute summary of Madison’s local news of the day, plus an actually relevant story or two a week with the occasional feature or investigative report, I’d gladly pay, and I don’t even live there anymore.

What I won’t do, though, is bother visiting the Wisconsin State Journal because there simply is too much dreck to wade through, created at ridiculous cost in service of an obsolete business model.

Leave the past behind

Local newspapers, like the Blade, are rooted in the 20th century. Good reporting today, however, still requires skills that were used decades ago. I'm talking about archaic things, such as the perceived usefulness of newspaper editorial boards.

I enjoy reading the Blade editorials, but editorial boards making political endorsements seem bizarre and outdated, especially with the popularity of social media, where everyone can publish endorsements to the world.

In my opinion, it's a sign that a newspaper will never adapt to the modern world when it's old-ass thinking believes that its editorial board can summon politicians and business people to private meetings.

What makes newspaper editorial boards so special? If the Blade wants an interview with a politician, then a reporter can request it like any other media org or any citizen.

It seems that newspaper editorial boards still believe that they wield power and influence over the local area, like they did decades ago. That's a serious lack of focus on how to keep local newspaper coverage alive. I'm not funding that antiquity.

The editorial boards should end the practice of activist journalism. No better example exists than the Blade's whacked, multi-year, failed mission to save the Seneca County courthouse from demolition. I don't consider Tiffin, Ohio to be local. This kind of money-wasting reporting does not deserve to be funded.

Investigating local government is not activist journalism. That's simply journalism.

Legitimize

March 2016 Blade editorial said:

Few Toledoans would suggest that the city should have fewer police officers and firefighters ...

Relative to the population, Toledo has more police and fire people in 2017 compared to 1970. And politicians today want to add more police. Fine. But what are the logical reasons?

That Blade editorial failed to mention a single reason why we should maintain or increase the number of police officers and firefighters.

Anything that is tax-payer supported should be open to scrutiny and discussion, and those entities should welcome the spotlight.

When a taxpayer-funded entity accuses investigative reporting as being negative or attacked-base, then that makes the entity being investigated look suspicious.

I infer from that Blade editorial that certain taxpayer-entities are off-limits to scrutiny. If true, then that's an illegitimate news organization.

All of the so-called Gems of the area should welcome scrutiny.

In March 2016, Hensville opened business(es).

Six months earlier in the fall of 2015, Hensville announced that it would open around St. Patrick's Day weekend in 2016, and it met that schedule, which seems like a rare achievement. A nearly impossible achievement. Unless ...

Excerpts from jimavolt's March 2016 post:

On a more serious note, yesterday I was inbibing with some experienced bar people who laughed that Hensville was able to jump through all the pre-opening inspections, re-inspections and permits from the Toledo Building Inspection, Lucas County Health Department, Toledo Fire Department and Ohio Liquor Control.

These inspections are required AFTER CONSTRUCTION IS COMPLETED in order for mere mortals to get an occupancy permit for a bar / restaurant.

I was downtown last weekend and Hensville construction was not completed. No way the construction, inspections and permits got done in 3 days. I even heard that there remains exposed wiring in several areas through the Henhouse.

In recent years, many small businesses have missed their initial target open dates by at least 6 to 12 months but not Hensville.

If nothing was amiss with how Hensville managed to open on time, then that's a story because it contrasts sharply with how Black Cloister, Kengo, Maddie & Bella, and others have missed by a wide margin their planned opening dates.

Such a story could be helpful to other first-time small business owners. How in the hell did Hensville do it?

Such a story, however, might expose the bloated bureaucracy that exists in local government.

Such a story, however, might expose the inequalities that exist among politicians and business people. If you are a first-time small business owner who is not politically connected, then you might have a tougher road to traverse, compared to someone or some org that is perceived as being more important to the area.

Maybe such a story was published.

Conclusion

Making suggestions like subscribe to the Blade because it's a local business, or trying to guilt people into subscribing by claiming that disabling JavaScript is equal to stealing does nothing to help local news coverage in the long-term.

In my opinion, these weak-ass suggestions only enable the slow death of the local newspaper.

The web has existed for over 25 years. The local newspaper industry has failed to adapt. The newspaper industry harmed itself. Being concerned about a few readers who bypass article limits ignores the real problems.

It's the media orgs' responsibility to innovate products that citizens want to buy. It's not the citizens' responsibility to fund flailing media orgs with the hope that magic occurs some year that makes them sustainable.

In January 2017, some designers gathered to present ideas on how design might improve news orgs. Here's one that I liked.

zeldman.com: Digital Newspaper Design Challenge

Mike Swartz, Partner at Upstatement, a design and engineering studio in Boston, took on the challenge to smaller publications (such as his original hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Mike’s presentation, “information OS for a city: redefining the opportunity for local media,” turned the journalistic prowess of a good local paper into a superpower, connecting readers to their city.

Here's the PDF version of Swartz's presentation titled The Future of Your Local Newspaper - An exercise in rebranding and re-imagining a newspaper as a local media brand for the 21st century

Swartz presented some interesting concepts, including special print publications, but will local newspapers try radical ideas?

Created by jr in August 2017