D.C. is a two-daily-newspaper town, at least nominally. That’s valuable on many levels, but it’s a particular benefit for sports fans, as it should increase the amount of smart writing on the local teams.
Which makes it a pity that the Washington Times’ online presence is so glutted with ads that it’s more or less unusable. Even up against the Washington Post’s browser-slowing, memory hog of a site, the Times’ awfulness stands out.
Here’s what happens when you click a link to a Washington Times sports story on mobile* :
At first, it seems like everything is OK. The page seems to load. The trouble starts a second later, when the content is completely covered up by a full screen video ad for the Outdoor Channel.
Once that closes, a banner for Unjury medical-quality protein hovers over the bottom of the screen, while a Madden NFL Mobile ad cycles through a banner on the top. The Madden ad rolls up and disappears, although a bit hangs out and flickers cheerfully as you scroll.
So far, this is pretty standard online advertising, annoying but not atypical. With the interstitial ad cleared, you’re looking at the lead picture from the article, as normal. Then, before you even get to the headline, an embedded video player rambles about Chef Robert Irvine working out with the Golden Dragons.
Only after that do you get the headline, the byline, the dateline, and—finally!—two paragraphs of sweet, sweet sports news… immediately followed by “Web Offers,” an embedded suite of fake stories, randomly chosen from a pool.
Each of these ads is a picture that runs the width of the screen, accompanied by a come-on-you-know-you-want-to-read-it headline. Your scrolling must be precise, lest you accidentally click on:
…A stock photo of a woman looking depressed, with: “Breast tenderness affects millions of women each month. Is there anything they can do?” Scroll.
…A picture of four fingers, two a livid red, two frighteningly pale: “4 Blood Pressure Drugs That Should Be Banned.” Scroll.
…A TD Ameritrade ad that is actually relieving in its banality. Scroll.
…A young woman in Daisy Dukes and a tanktop hiding her face with handcuffed hands as a police officer guides her by the elbow: “New Rule in Maryland Leaves Drivers Shocked & Furious.”
Scroll, and finally you’re back to the article.
This “Web Offers” section can get pretty gnarly, showing pictures of diseased wounds and swollen feet, which is exactly what I’m looking for when I click on a story about new Caps center Mike Richards.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I almost never make it through an article. I’m also not exaggerating when I say that I now rarely bother clicking at all, unless I’m on an actual computer—where the layout improves the signal-to-noise ratio of the page—with a good ad blocker running. (Yes, I’m aware of the questionable morality of ad blockers. I’ve worked through it.)
It is a genuinely terrible user experience; tweets about this are met with levels of agreement you generally only see for tweets complaining about Randy Wittman.
It’s not just readers that are noticing—it appears that the Times is aware as well. I reached out to Adam VerCammen, their director of Advertising and Sales, to ask him about the situation.
“We’re in the process of revamping the experience for all visitors to our website, and are always working to refine and improve a business model that ensures our loyal readers continue to get the free content they’ve come to enjoy,” he says.
Hopefully they mean it, because they’ve assembled a good sports staff, a nice mix of up-and-coming enthusiasm and veteran experience—not just some random ex-bloggers they scraped off the street—and it would be nice to be able to read their work without dodging eight pictures of oozing sores.
But until the revamp is done, though, D.C. is less a two newspaper town, and more a one-newspaper-and-one-overcaffeinated-ad-circular town.
*For precision’s sake, this specific example is from an iPhone 6, first on the native browser on my third-party Twitter client, then on Apple’s default Safari browser.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery