Bloggy Monday—A slow-loading ombudsman; Herman Cain; and bad hed Edition

By Jack Shafer
September 26, 2011

Another Slow-loading Ombudsman If newspaper ombudsmen have any right to exist—and I’m not suggesting that they do—it is to intervene in a way that solves reader problems. A reader has trouble with home delivery or billing? Expedite, Mr. Ombudsman! A reader can’t get the editors to correct an error? Persuade the editor to amend his ways, Mr. Ombudsman, or shame him in a column.

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Paxton ignores this maxim in his most recent column, “Post Web site loads too slowly.”

After fielding complaints from dozens of bellyaching readers who say the Post‘s website takes forever to download pages, Paxton explains what the Post webmasters have explained to him: Post pages load slowly because they’re are larded with ads, videos, photos, and “plug-ins” that allow the viewing of various kinds of content. And that’s not all. They’re also filled with tracking and marketing code, which compiles dossiers on where viewers come from, and where they go, and helps determine which ads to display on the Post page.

The tech staff tells Paxton that they’re aware of the snail-speed of their pages—”in recent days, a ‘SWAT’ team was formed to examine page performance,” Paxton writes. But the tech staff has greater priorities than page-loading right now, he writes, like redesigning pages for the politics and polling pages, and improving Post apps for mobile devices.

Acting more like a Post PR representative than the paper’s ombudsman, Paxton conveys how important ad revenue and tracking information is to the Post‘s bottom line. He concludes by declaring the paper must make faster page-loads “a higher priority.”

Had Paxton stepped out of his bubble and called a tech-head not employed by the Post, he would have learned Post readers tormented by slow-loading pages can receive instant relief! Every Post page will load like a featherweight if users customize their Internet browsers to block ads and kill all that crazy code loading in the background. DotTech offers this primer on how to block ads on four top browsers. The NoScript plugin for Firefox prevents JavaScript, Java, Flash, Silverlight, and other plug-ins from loading automatically. Chrome users can block JavaScript and plugins with the Safy extension, and Internet Explorer users can follow these ad-blocking and Java-filtering tips from ghacks.net.

I don’t oppose Web ads: How do you think my salary has been paid for the last 15 years? I don’t think most readers are opposed to ads, either. What they hate are poorly implemented ads, and underlying faulty tech that makes ads load slowly, says my Reuters colleagues Anthony DeRosa.

So be your own SWAT team, Post readers—intervene yourself to make pages load faster—because the ombudsman is clueless and the Post tech staff would rather serve future readers than satisfy existing ones.

Why Is the Press Ignoring Presidential Candidate (fill in the blank)? A few weeks ago, Ron Paul supporters and some members of the commentariat (Roger Simon, Jon Stewart, et al.) were  protesting that the press unfairly ignored Paul after he finished No. 2 in the Ames straw poll. This gripe was slightly ridiculous: Ron Paul gets more stories written about him than he does votes. Having run for president with Stassen-like persistence (1988, 2008, 2012), Paul and his policy views have become pretty well known—thanks to previous stories in the press.

Besides, where is it mandated that coverage be apportioned by the percentage a candidate wins in a straw poll or primary? As this Houston Chronicle blog post from Sept. 14 indicates, a candidate has a lot of control over what sort of coverage he gets. At the time of the post, neither Michele Bachmann nor Ron Paul had scheduled press conferences to coincide with their speeches at the upcoming California GOP convention. If you want to make news, the blog noted, make yourself available to the press.

At the risk of being blogged to death by Paul fans, I’m satisfied that the Ames straw poll coverage got it just about right—the real news was that Michele Bachmann clobbered the field and that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry lost big. That Paul made a decent showing did not remake the campaign.

Now that Herman Cain has unexpectedly won the Florida straw poll, surely the commentariat will throw a similar pity party for the man from Godfather Pizza. But only 2,657 delegates voted, and Cain got only 996 of them. If you expect election coverage to be proportional to three-figure winning vote totals, you might want to consider remedial studies in both politics and journalism.

Bad Hed Whenever reading editorials or op-eds, I hear the voice of former (1986-1992) New York Times Editorial Page Editor Jack Rosenthal in my head. Rosenthal famously banned his editorialists from using “should” and “must” in their copy, as Timothy Noah reported in a 1999 article for George magazine, because the words mark the absence of a logical argument.

Rosenthal told Noah that should-and-must editorials sounded as if the Times was giving orders. “You must, by God, because we said so, and we’re the fucking New York Times,” Rosenthal said.

Few newspaper sections violate the Rosenthal prohibition with as much enthusiasm these days as the Financial Times‘ op-ed page, where they place should-and-must in headlines! Give a gander at these recent op-ed heds:

“Britain should bite the bullet and back a eurobond,” Aug. 25.

“HP should have avoided a big bang,” Aug. 25.

“The U.K. must escape its longest depression,” Sept. 2.

“Why we must listen to what bond markets are telling us,” Sept. 7.

“What the world must do to boost growth,” Sept. 9.

“The world must demand that Europe act to rescue its currency,” Sept. 19.

The Financial Times should hire Rosenthal at his day-rate to stamp out these lame heds. No, it must!

******

Although it should take Rosenthal only about an hour to set the FT straight. Got any other 60-minute missions? Send your ideas to Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com. For 60-nanosecond updates, see my Twitter feed. (This RSS feed rings every time a new Shafer column goes live. This hand-built one rings every time a correction is filed.)

PHOTO: A loggerhead turtle reaches the water after making its way across the sandy beach towards the sea at Gnejna Bay, in the north of Malta August 11, 2011.  REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

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