Thursday, April 14, 2011

NYTimes, Washington Post Trying Hard to Get Me to Stop Reading Their News

Recently, two of my most important news sources went through site redesigns that have me questioning whether I'm going to keep reading them at all, or whether I'm going to shift my reading towards more blogs and news aggregators.

The New York Times - apparently convinced that it could resurrect a tweaked version of the utter failure that was TimesSelect, has decided to launch a paywall, limiting readers to 20 free articles a month (though not all reading counts towards that limit). The price: $15 for 4 weeks, for web and smartphone or tablet access (though the first 4 weeks are $0.99). This price is too high. I'm just not going to pay that much for online news; there are too many places and ways to get it for free, and I don't want to pay extra for smartphone or tablet access, which I will never use. I think the magic number for a website-only subscription is $5/month; I'd pay that. I'm curious to see how this Paywall 2.0 works out for NYTimes (early reports say that their post-paywall traffic has fallen between 11 and 30 percent, though whether this is a bad thing depends on the kind of revenue they've gained from paying digital subscribers), and whether they tweak the subscription options for Paywall 2.1.

The Washington Post - if's pseudo-redesign is annoying, then's redesign is criminally bad. I never spent much time on WaPo's front page, so I can't comment on it in-depth, but people generally find the new layout confusing and unappealing. They've stuffed their columnists into either left- or right-leaning boxes, so you can browse the opinion page without ever encountering an opinion contrary to your own, and though I'm sure they don't mean this, this layout implies that political opinions should never be bipartisan.

But the worst part of the WaPo redesign has been the RSS feed system - OMG, such a catastrophe, I don't even know where to begin.

I know RSS feeds aren't quite as popular as they used to be, but for those of us who regularly get our news from more than a handful of websites, RSS feeds let us consume ten times the information in 20% of the time, compared to visiting the websites. In fact, if you don't have an RSS feed, I probably won't bother to try to keep up with your website on a regular basis - it's just takes too much time.

When WaPo launched its redesign, it screwed up its RSS system to such an extent that I'm probably going to stop reading everything WaPo reports except for local D.C. news and a couple of select bloggers.

First, it changed the address of ALL its RSS feeds, for no apparent reason - making me and all other serious readers spend lots of time hunting down the new feed addresses. (Bizarrely, this did not happen with ALL feeds - Ezra Klein's old feed address kept working, for some reason I can't fathom, but all my other RSS feeds broke.)

Second, the RSS feeds now publish WAY too much content, and much of that content is duplicated from or in other RSS feeds. Whereas the old National, Local, Politics, and World RSS feeds each published 10-20 select stories a day, the new versions of the feeds publish 30-100+ stories a day - I can't read that many titles, let alone actual stories. And why does one story get published in three separate places: the Local and Political sections, as well as the "All Opinions Are Local" blog?

I realize that WaPo wants to get as much content to readers as possible, but those of us who use RSS feeds are sophisticated readers - I (and most other RSS readers, I'd guess) subscribe only to those RSS feeds I want to read, and it is a big time-waster if the same story to pop up multiple times in my feed subscriptions. So, WaPo, please figure out how to make the content in each feed more or less exclusive, so I don't have to wade through 300 articles (may of which are duplicates) to find the 5 I might want to read.

WaPo, seriously - please sort out these RSS issues; otherwise, you can add me to your statistics of readers you (mostly) lost because of the site redesign.


  1. I guess the day has finally arrived for these companies to start charging for content. . . I think I'll be a late hold out until just about all companies charge to read. . .

  2. I definitely agree with the news organizations that news is a valuable good and deserves to be paid for in some way (whether directly or through advertising), but $15/month for electric-only access strikes me as too much - $5/month feels right to me.