We Don’t Do That

Go read this article by David Roth at the Columbia Journalism Review, it is brutally true. Here is a taste, but do read the whole thing:

It all happened in the way that decline generally happens in American culture, which is one anxious, hopeful, cynical capitulation at a time. We have compressed and corroded and finally collapsed what used to be the core of a publication—its relationship with its readers, and the basic notion that one should not make it hard for them to read.

It goes without saying that everyone involved is perpetually maxed-out and stressed and scrabbling for a dwindling and finite amount of money in an arbitrary and artificially constricted ad economy that runs on wobbly, untrustable, and easily manipulated data. (A friend who works in advertising operations described the work as “a game of catching falling knives.”)

In the last half-decade, ads have rapidly migrated from the sides and top of the page into the actual text. This is the result of pressures created by the transition from desktop computers to mobile devices. The ads need to get seen on a screen with no margins.

The ads that stalk you down the page reflect advertisers’ demands that their ads remain “in view.” And all the clammy unbidden video stuff is exactly as desperate as it looks. Not many people will watch video ads if given any choice in the matter. Taking choice out of the equation helps a lot.

Some sites have deliberately made the experience of reading them for free more assaultive, in order to bully readers into buying subscriptions. For the price of a small monthly indulgence on your end, it can all go back to normal and your laptop’s fan can finally turn off.

And then take a look at the site/forum you are currently reading on, Emptywheel. There is no infinite scroll. There are no ads, pop up or otherwise. There is nothing but…..content. And it is free. If you have a few extra shekels or rubles, consider throwing them Marcy’s way (there are all kinds of links for this on the right margin). It helps. And thank you to all who come here.

25 replies
  1. harpie says:

    Emptywheel dot net,
    Marcy and the team she has assembled,
    AND the people who comment here are THE BEST investment!
    I’m immensely grateful for this community. Thank You.

  2. ernesto1581 says:

    Couple simple ways to cut down the flood of assaultive crap to nothing, or nearly so. They are available for laptop and/or Android & iOS.
    Machines and phones at this house browse with Firefox, Opera, & Chromium. (And there are twigs and leaves all over the floor as evidence.)

    uBlock Origin (absolutely necessary)
    HTTPS Everywhere & Privacy Badger(both from Electronic Frontier Foundation)
    FB Purity (if for some ungodly reason you are still on Facebook.) This one is very customizable — you can dial the crap feeds down to nothing, leaving only that central column of what your relatives and friends are barbecuing this weekend, blocking all else in left and right columns. Get it from fbpurity.com, not from Add-On manager.

    on phones especially:
    consider using Opera as a browser, with its very robust ad-blocking + VPN if you wish.
    Chrome has ok ad-blocking but just because it came with your Android doesn’t mean you have to use it…

    These all work with sites to which you have subscribed as well as all the others you may occasionally freeload on.

    And thank you guys for maintaining this site the way you do, clean & functional!

    • ernesto1581 says:

      I’m sure folks have lots of other suggestions as well…these are basic, like washing your hands with soap for 20 for twenty second or while singing a chorus of God Save the Queen, if you’re Jacob Rees-Moggs.

        • ernesto1581 says:

          Techcrunch interview with Opera CEO Lars Boilesen in 2016 included “surprise” on the part of old-timers at the company that being listed on Stockholm exchange opened them up to hostile acquisition, as well as the observation that:
          “Success in the C market has always eluded Opera, and the partners in the consortium [Kunlun, Qihoo 360, Yonglian et alia] want to reach the countries Opera is already strong in, including India and Brazil.”
          Which explains more than a little.

          I met a couple Opera developers on holiday 10 years ago who showed me the product on a netbook — it looked great. They seemed genuine, kind of throwbacks to a different, less cynical time. ah well.

  3. Honest Insincerity says:

    David Roth is one of the best writers working today. The collapse of Deadspin (where Roth was an editor) was a journalistic travesty, especially, considering the article you’re referencing, because it directly had to do with intrusive advertising and autoplay videos that made reading the site impossible.

    Roth also understood the current president better than anyone. Of his many masterpieces on the subject, I’d suggest “The Man Who Was Upset” in The New Republic:

    “And here at last we are beginning to circle around Trump’s true superpower, and are closer to identifying the small and stubborn thing that defines him. It’s what binds his deliriously incoherent politics, and helps him thread together his wildly far-flung grievances—Trump never forgets a slight, and pursues ancient grudges against bygone New York showbiz figures with the same tireless vigor that he brings to his campaigns against his various Deep State persecutors—into a single rancid system of being. There is nothing artful or concealed about Donald Trump, which is one of the secrets of his strange success as a politician. His lies are preposterous and glaring and never anything but the obvious opposite of what is actually true; his unquestioned desires and deeply held, deeply unreasoning bigotries and petty fixations are all absolutely untouched from the 1988 Rich Guy factory settings; the sheer mass of his annihilating selfishness leaves no room for anything like subtext. Trump is nothing but what he appears to be, and his superpower comes from this. His superpower is getting upset.

    The other one of Roth’s brilliant Trump articles I’d suggest reading is from Deadspin’s last days, and it’s called “It’s Absolutely Fine That Donald Trump Got Booed At The World Series.” It’s sharper and funnier than the article in The New Republic, and starts in on its subject without such a lengthy preamble, though it makes some similar points about the lack of subtext in Trump’s actions. However, the real subject of the article is really the sycophantic press and Roth nails that too…

    “…There is nothing to Trump, or to his politics—no room for subtext, no broader strategy beyond whatever seat-of-the-pants pandering is most immediately apparent, nothing but the wheedling and undignified and insatiable vanity that is always right there to see. This presents a problem for people whose job it is to write or talk about politics. That job, as the elite media has come to understand and pursue it, is to decode and translate The Great Game’s secret significances, contextualize the triumphs and tribulations of its heroes, and parse its finer points of strategy. Given that Trump is always doing exactly what he appears to be doing, and for precisely the reasons you’d expect, the people in these powerful jobs have naturally found themselves glossing and restating what is already quite obvious, or straining to situate things that are obvious and stupid and embarrassing within a context—a system of essential norms and traditions, governed by civility and reasoned discourse—that plainly no longer exists. They respect the office of the presidency so much that they insist on treating it with a reverence that Donald Trump, as its occupant, plainly cannot merit.”

    And thus ends my unnecessarily lengthy puffery of David Roth!

    [Emptywheel is equally great and always appreciated too. I am constantly impressed how this site seems to always be about 3-4 days ahead of the mainstream press on often very complex topics.]

    • bmaz says:

      Honest Insincerity – Thank you for the comment and, while I can see you were here once a few months back, welcome to EW. Please do join in more often.

      Roth really is great. And the old Deadspin really is missed, and not just Roth, but many others too. Anyway, your puffery was perfect, and appropriate. Thank you.

  4. Jan Rooth says:

    Kind of unrelated matters (except for my pocketbook) but it looks like my monthly contributions to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign are coming to an end. So I finally got around to contributing something here via the $10 per month Patreon.

    I’ve been reading Marcy since the Plame trial days. Figured it was about time I stepped up.

    • Rayne says:

      Thank you for your support, Jan, it’s much appreciated. Also very glad to know you’ve been here since before this site launched independently. Jump into comments more often, we’d love to hear from you.

  5. punaise says:

    It is amazing how much (this) one reluctantly tolerates, via the steady erosion the article cites. Trying to navigate salon.com is an assault to the senses. I try to spread my paltry media contributions around to my favorite places in my corner of the lefty bubble (here, TPM, Digby, Washington Monthly, DKos, New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer, WaPo’s Plum Line… ), and there are many more deserving sites that garner my respect if not my scratch (Mother Jones, The Nation, The Atlantic, Charles Pierce at Esquire, to name a few).

    And don’t forget local media such as our very worthy and award-winning Berkeleyside.

    We actually subscribe to the dead-tree version of our less than venerable Bay Area rag, the SF Chronicle. Something about having the sporting section at breakfast, and sharing Jumble with Mme. punaise, an evening ritual. Yet that pricey subscription doesn’t provide for any ad-filtered experience on their popular SFGate site.

    BTW What ever happened to James Wolcott? He was a good read about a decade ago as I recall.

  6. MB says:

    Re: ads and firewalls, etc. It’s an ongoing battle and websites that depend on ads for revenue are constantly adapting. To wit: on the LA Times website, it used to be that if you cleared cookies on a session, you would get to read 3 or 4 articles before having to clear the cookies again. No more – now it’s merely 1 article. On top of that, now they are detecting ad blockers. I use AdBlock which has a “Don’t run on this page” option, so this 2-step process is what I now have to use to read LA Times articles. NY Times seems to respond to clearing cookies and doesn’t yet bother with insisting that ads not be blocked – give them time, I’m sure they’ll get there. Washington Post is simply impossible – I cannot read them at all no matter what I do. The NBA.com website has an enlightened option that I like – it notices and informs you that you are using an ad blocker and then they give you the choice to continue browing the website with ads still blocked without bothering you any further – kudos to them. The “private browser” option which used to work so well has been discovered and obviated by just about everybody at this point. And don’t get me started about those streaming ads on YouTube which supposedly allow you to skip the commercial after 5 seconds…as long as the ad feed doesn’t glitch during those 5 seconds (which it almost always does for me). It’s an escalating war out there when it comes to digital advertising competing for our eyeballs.

    • P J Evans says:

      SFGate doesn’t like adblockers, but they’ll let you read anyway. I wrote them and said I’d whitelist them, but *my* adblocker is telling me they have more than 20 ads on their front page, and that’s way too many for whitelisting.
      (Also, those of us on SS don’t necessarily have the spare money to pay for reading privileges at the better news sites. SS has a COLA that’s about 1.5% below actual increases.)

  7. arbusto says:

    Just recently upgraded my laptop to a 13 in. ultra portable wiz kid machine. I thought the 15 in. lugables so ungainly that I might as well tote my tower and 30 in. monitor around with a portable power station.

    I abhor all forms of tracking so I use an offshore VPN, private browsing and all sorts of ad blockers to no avail. I finally realized, aside from notices from the url I was reading, that my viewing space was reduced to about 4 in. by 3 in.. WTF.

    Thanks Rayne for the heads up on Opera (I’m using on this missive). I guess I’ll just use normal browsing from now on using a different browser, but delete all history after each session. Any takes on open source SRWare Iron for less obtrusive tracking?

    • PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

      Use tor bundle, you can turn off the Firefox proxy through tor if you want and use an existing Conn.

      Their browser bundle is configured to be resilient to browser-based fingerprinting. Things like hash or unique id of webgl adapter, html5 canvas based tracking, audio device uid tracking, etc are mitigated.

      You can test your browser fingerprint uniqueness at https://panopticlick.eff.org/

      • P J Evans says:

        It says my FF isn’t checking 3rd parties for Do Not Track and I have a unique fingerprint.
        Checking other browser now….it doesn’t have a privacy add-on (not available), and it both the other things.

  8. foggycoast says:

    donation made. i work for a website that has no advertising as well. it makes me happy. and it is my attempt to make up for 30 years in the design and advertising world. carry on…

  9. Eureka says:

    I plan my per-annum in the summer again for budgetary reasons — rosalind said people do do that, instead of the ~ monthlies/other periods — but if there is ever an emergency, I’d want to know that, too.

    I love and appreciate all y’all here and for the record Marcy is of Heisenberg (that was my instant, firm, answer-to-self, so likely not the popular response. Tho I did see someone note that Heisenberg would have a dog, not a cat, and on that I agree. Also, I prefer dogs.) *smooches* and thanks.

  10. i0sam0i says:

    This morning was renewing/updating subscriptions to some local (Australia) journalist sites, have just donated to this website, thanks for the work you all do.
    Regarding browsers, I’ve found Brave pretty good for the last 12months or so. Basis is chromium so rare to have an issue with a website and the adblock works a treat. Only use chrome now for one streaming site that doesn’t work with brave.

Comments are closed.