updated 15 June 2022
TL;DR – start with CBC first…
https://www.cbc.ca/lite/ (Canada’s public service broadcaster).
- a world news page
- high-quality: includes stories from Reuters and Associated Press
- uniquely, a button to allow to you load any individual images you wish to view
- links at bottom of page to equivalent page on full size
- an actual release notes page!
Could an e-reader be what you really want?
(I discuss “save-it-later” apps, reading lists etc. later.)
A Kindle will give you:
- a dedicated email address you can send documents to
- if you combine your e-ink Kindle with the iOS Kindle app, you can load a web page and then use the iOS share screen to send it to a Kindle in 4-5 clicks. The way this works is the text is converted on-device, which means if you are using a site behind a paywall, provided you’ve browsed to the actual page (rather than long-pressing on a link and sharing that) it won’t be a problem and you’ll get the full text. Curiously, Amazon’s server then makes a request for the CSS file before sending the document, but it doesn’t request the actual contents again. The only irritation is this method takes 4-5 clicks each time and gets annoying if you are sending a lot at once.
- Use pushtokindle.fivefilters.org on the desktop. This is nicely designed and lets you preview what you’re sending before you send it. Again the conversion is client side so paywalls aren’t an issue. It makes a nice job of including images and removing cruft from the header/footer (though a well semantically coded source site – think <article> tags etc.) makes this a lot easier.
Kindle benefits: distraction free, front-lit rather than back lit, so more comfortable on eyes, adjustable font size (e.g. set it larger when you are tired), one-tap dictionary (which is a huge time-saver), may be more comfortable to hold than a smartphone due to a combination of overall weight / weight distribution over larger surface area / texture of the device.
In terms of content, you may also find you enjoy breaking up periods of news reading with books – not necessarily because of the topics you are reading about (and for the record about 95% of what I read is also non-fiction) but if you’re reading a succession of shorter articles, there is considerable mental load involved in the choice of deciding what to read next. With a book, it’s much more linear and you can kind of ‘sink into’ it. (Perhaps this is why ‘long form’ journalism has become popular online in recent years – again, this is usually best enjoyed with an e-reader.)
If you’re a Facebook user…
Sites which aren’t strictly text only, but I highly, highly recommend anyway:
- a really nice (friction – minimal clicks – and distraction/clutter free – minimal menus etc) way to read a full newspaper
- nice typography
- low bandwidth – typically 1 small image per page
Thomson Reuters Foundation Trust
Great if you want to escape the mainstream news agenda, where every news organisation is relentlessly flogging the same story. The Reuters foundation is a charitable part of the Thomson Reuters agency and focuses on under-reported news and regions. Often these are stories you won’t read elsewhere but which are still trustworthy and with excellent photograph.
They cover an increasingly wide range of topics and there is bound to be something you are interested in (e.g. climate, technology, cities…) and which I think would appeal to people across the political spectrum – i.e. you can read it without feeling you’re being lectured. Also, if you’re bored with or not interested in a particular topic, just start from one of the other index pages and you’ll avoid it.
In terms of the design, yes there are (good) photographs, but overall it’s very clean and won’t overwhelm you or your mobile device. Navigation, search and tagging are simple and reliable.
There are opinions but they’re not clearly separated from the journalism and “thoughtful” rather than “shouty”.
- Secondly, I’d recommend BBC Future – this is produced by BBC Worldwide (nothing to do with BBC News Online). They publish less frequently but the articles have more depth.
Why are you wasting my time with sites that have images? I’ve specifically asked for text only news sites and I’ve been angrily looking for them for literally… minutes now. Just give the damn list already.
Well OK, but as you’ve probably already discovered, there really aren’t very many left – I can’t magically create more for you.
In my opinion, it’s only CBC, CNN and NPR that have enough mainstream news to be of value and which are strictly text only.
Scroll down for more info on each of these.
I’d also note if you have an eReader (loads of types, not just Kindle) you can use press reader.com to manually save a day’s edition of whatever paper/magazine you want and copy it to your device. It’s not perfect (bit slow to generate the file as everything gets watermarked) but it works and if you have a library card, hundreds of publications are available free.
What you should also be doing:
- use your browser’s reader mode (often you can set this to be triggered automatically for stories on particular websites)
- use a save-for-later app, such as Apple’s Reading List, Pocket, Instapaper… (as an Apple user who tries to stay in Safari as much as possible, I’ve switched from Instagram to Reading List because there’s less friction.)
The (theoretical) benefits to text only news sites:
- Save the time waiting for a page to load, or in situations where bandwidth is extremely limited, the difference between being able to access a site and not retrieve a page at all (better chance of success on 3G networks)
- Quicker to browse a list of headlines on a single page than navigate through a long homepage of photos and video thumbnails.
- Save bandwidth used, preserve more of your mobile data allowance
- Increase battery life on mobile devices (there’s little or no JS to load/process, so CPU load is reduced, and because the data transferred over the network is so much smaller the wi-fi or cellular radio on a phone or tablet is on only briefly and uses less power.
- Less distraction (from other elements of the page) more immersion in content (like reading a book)
- No iframes / social media oEmbeds
- Usually no advertising
- Usually no irritations like cookie warnings
- Overall, less stressful
CNN’s text service is the most well-known, I’ve listed what I see as the pros and cons:
- plenty of stories (40)+
- very fast, clean presentation
- few HTML->text conversion issues
- stories presented in a random order with no categorisation / topics
- opinion items mixed with reporting without being labelled as such
- index doesn’t provide date or timestamp
- often no author name(s) on full article
- no direct link back to full versions of each item
- the live audio stream often doesn’t work
- too narrow an agenda – at times in the past year it seemed CNN were only reporting on Donald Trump
NPR – formatting is a bit cruder and only
10 stories on homepage (tip: click ‘News’ and you get 15) (they’ve added more)
The Reuters app isn’t strictly text only but it does have an offline mode and supports iOS dark mode.