Don’t take my traditional Internet away!

TPM's sensible business moves make a devoted Web user anxious

Over at Nieman Lab, Adrienne LaFrance has an interesting interview with Talking Points Memo publisher Josh Marshall about his efforts to “formally deconstruct” the idea that TPM is primarily a website. It’s a good, short look at one of the original Web journalism entrepreneurs as he transitions his organization to a greater emphasis on mobile and video.

Which, I realize, is something to be applauded. If readers want to move their consumption from desktops to mobile—and TPM’s numbers show that, increasingly, they do—of course news organizations should be prepared to move with them. And if the economics of video are changing so that pre-roll ads can become a meaningful revenue source, of course news organizations should take advantage. We’ve all seen what happens when media institutions choose not to adapt, and it’s not pretty.

But as one particular, idiosyncratic, prematurely old-fogey-ish member of the audience, I’d like to register a plea: let’s not let the old-fashioned technology of text in a Web browser, meant to be read on computer screen, be forgotten in the brave new world.

I own an 18-month-old Droid2, which runs on Verizon’s network—hardly a cutting-edge smartphone, but not terribly outdated among the non-techie set, either. And I love it. It’s my favorite way to scan Twitter, I can listen to Mets games anywhere, the GPS outperforms my Garmin, Gmail works great, etc., etc.

What I don’t love it for is what I spend the bulk of my time on the computer doing: reading the news. Media-company apps are, in my experience, frustratingly inconsistent. (If anybody at Slate is reading this: I want to be able to read Matt Yglesias’s blog without going through a whole lot of your other “business” content. I can do that on my computer—can I please do it on your Android app, too? And ProPublica: your app may have stopped crashing on my phone. But I wouldn’t know, because I’ve stopped using it.)

I don’t have to use apps, of course. But once you’ve gotten accustomed to broadband speeds, mobile browsing is just barely tolerable. Browsing on sluggish mobile sites—hello, WaPo—is intolerable. Since the ability to click between stories is a basic part of digital news consumption, this is pretty annoying. Also annoying: the browser needs to reload a window every time I leave it and then return. Since I work in Manhattan and spend most of my commute—when I’d really like to be able to read stories that I’ve found earlier—underground, this makes the browser not only slow but unusable for a good part of the day.

As for video… I know that there are people who like to get their online news from videos rather than text, much like I know that there are people who prefer milk chocolate to dark. I just don’t get it.

I’m aware that this is petulant griping and special pleading, not sound business advice. I’m also aware that my own preferences are likely to change as expectations and circumstances change: mobile speeds will improve; media apps will get better; maybe we’ll get wireless in the subways; maybe once I get a tablet I’ll learn to love video. And I’m aware, too, that the thing that I like—text articles on websites—is not going away, at least not anytime soon, just because publishers are sensibly working to give other people things that they like.

Still, I can’t help it: stories like this one evoke the kind of response in me that computer-phobic readers must have felt as they saw resources being shifted from print to the Web. Don’t take my traditional Internet away!

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.