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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Last Cuckoo

By Revel Barker
I am old enough to remember the days when the Night News Desk always deputed somebody in the news room to read the Front of The Times, to see what they had that was interesting… among the packed columns of small ads.
It didn’t often reveal much (although it was probably more frequently a source of stories to follow up than it is these days) but maybe once a month there’d be something hidden away there: an announcement, an engagement, a legal notice – something.
At the same time somebody would be reading the Letters Page. This was always more productive, for it was where the nobs wrote to get a point across, and often where public statements were first announced.
It was also one of the best written parts of the paper. No journalists, but no end of experts riding their hobby horses. And wit (especially in the last short letter in the bottom right corner), and often wisdom.
After my own paper, The Times Letters was always the first place to which I turned in a morning.
It was a habit I found difficulty in kicking – at least until the Letters went on line.
Nowadays I do my gleaning of the blatts courtesy of the Internet. This isn’t only because I’m an impoverished pensioner: my better excuse is that I live on a rock in the middle of the Mediterranean and sometimes the newsprint copy takes several days to get here.
Still, all well and good. Everything is there, from the columnists to the famous Law Reports. It’s only the Letters Page that gives me gip.
On-line it’s a hotchpotch, a mish-mash, a veritable dog’s breakfast. Every individual letter needs to be accessed separately and individually (unlike the splendid Daily Letters page on the Telegraph site, which makes them all accessible on one click).
That’s bad enough, by merely being user-unfriendly. But worse is that the lead letter is not necessarily the one at the top of the screen. Worse still, for some reason they do not even appear on-line in date order – so the first letter might not even be today’s date. It’s almost as if they have taken a week’s input and jumbled them up.
The Internet is supposed to make things easy.
The first thing web designers learn (and I write, perhaps somewhat boastfully, as former webmaster of one of the first 50 websites in the world) is that nothing should be further away from the start than three clicks. With The Times Letters, the piece you might want to read could be as many as 16 clicks away from the Home Page.
And even then, you might not find what you’re looking for. Even if it’s a letter you wrote yourself.
There’s the rub.
I had written a letter to the paper and I couldn’t find it. I assumed it hadn’t made the grade.
Then I got an email from a chum referring to it (the wondrous benefits of the Internet, eh?). But even then, I couldn’t find it.
There you go.
Something else that couldn’t possibly have happened in our day...

Gentlemen Ranters does not have a Letters page - yet. But readers are invited to click on the Comment link at the foot of any posting and contribute an opinion.- Ed.

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