Text only news websites

updated 14 March 2021

Sites which aren’t text only, but I highly, highly recommend anyway:

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 CNN and NPR that have enough mainstream news to be of value and which are strictly text only.  The Guardian is one of very few newspapers that has a publicly open API, and someone has built an excellent clutter free way to browse each day’s edition, if you don’t mind it being up to the minute.

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…

 

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
  • Less likelihood the page will reflow (due to DOM changes by javascript)
  • Usually no advertising
  • Usually no irritations like cookie warnings
  • Overall, less stressful

Site by site:

CNN’s text service is the most well-known, I’ve listed what I see as the pros and cons:

Advantages:

  • plenty of stories (40)+
  • very fast, clean presentation
  • few HTML->text conversion issues

Disadvantages:

  • 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

Today’s Guardian – this is absolutely beautiful (also includes photos).  Swipe right to navigate stories.  Not made by The Guardian – uses their API. Blog post on how it was built.

NPR – formatting is a bit cruder and only 10 stories on homepage (tip: click ‘News’ and you get 15) (they’ve added more)

Apps:

The Reuters app isn’t strictly text only but it does have an offline mode and supports iOS dark mode.

It is still available for old devices too – e.g. iPod Touch 4th generation – supports offline mode. Not strictly text only, as there are photos at the top (imho, Reuters has the best/fastest range of news photos).  Still loads quickly on hardware that was released in 2010.  Most content sections still working. iPod Touch only weighs 100g so comfortable to read for long periods and easily slips in a bag (just don’t use it for anything that requires up to date security).  Turn javascript off in Safari settings to make websites bearable.