Free the news!

How would you like free, nearly unlimited access to the online editions of The Gainesville Sun, New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker magazine, and just about every other publication that claims to allow you to view only a handful of articles per month?

Other sites block your access if you’re using a Web browser in “private browsing” mode because it offends some of their more predatory advertisers. (More about that in an upcoming post.)

Well, there’s a simple, non-technical way around both roadblocks. It only has three elements.

First, you need to be using a browser like Mozilla Firefox that has the private browsing mode. Actually, private browsing may not be a requirement, but it certainly helps cut down on the ways websites track your activity, and that’s always a good thing.

Second, again as with Firefox, you need to go into its “options” settings and do a couple of things. Under “privacy” settings, disable “third party cookies.” Again, this is to limit websites’ ability to track and record your online activity. Always a good thing.

Also under the privacy settings, you want to tell your browser to delete all cookies when you close (exit) the browser. This is crucial. Cookies are the primary way publication sites keep track of how many articles you’ve viewed. Exiting from the browser then will essentially reset your article count to zero, allowing you to start again as though it’s your first visit.

There is one potential drawback to this procedure of deleting cookies: it may force you to have to log in each time you visit certain websites you have an account on, since they may also rely on cookies to keep you logged in to them. If this is too much of an inconvenience for you, one workaround would be to use Firefox for viewing news sites and Microsoft Edge or Explorer or Google Chrome or Apple Safari for visiting your favorite social media or gaming sites.

Sites like the New Yorker, for example, say you only get to see a miniscule number of articles or features per month. So when you exceed that count, simply close the browser, then start it up again and go back to the site. Now your article count is zero again, and you can access more articles once again. Rinse and repeat.

Finally, when you’re on one of the publication sites and you get a page that tells you you’re no longer allowed to access any more articles, whether it’s because you’ve exceeded your count or you’re in private browsing mode, you need to reload the page in what’s called “reader view.” Bingo! You’ll get a stripped-down version of that article you were just blocked from receiving. It won’t be the same as what you would have gotten in the first place – it’ll be mostly just the full text of the article, maybe some pictures or maybe not, but there won’t be ANY ads or promotions or other superfluous distractions (remember “flaming logos?”) the original page would have had. It’ll most likely look like a plain-text newspaper column down the middle of your screen, rather than a facsimile of a printed page from a magazine, which isn’t such a bad thing after all, you compulsive reader, you.

Here’s how to reload a page in reader mode in Firefox. You’ve clicked on the link to an article but instead of getting the article, you get a nastygram saying that page is now blocked. Notice that at the top of the window, in the white space containing the page’s URL (the bar that begins “http”) there’s a tiny icon that looks like an open book. Click that book once, then click the circular arrow that should be right next to it. Those two steps will cause the page to reload and you should get the full meat of the article you want to read, without any of the fat. Simple as that.

Repeat as needed, as long as you want. You can keep this up indefinitely, at least until the publications figure out a way to prevent it. But so far it’s worked for years and they haven’t come up with a reliable way to prevent it yet. Maybe they’ll just send me a “take down” letter from their lawyers.

Of course, if your conscience bothers you, just consider using this technique as a way to generate your own free introductory sample before you turn over your credit card number for all these online subscriptions. Or consider your guilty conscience the penalty you pay for trying to be a good citizen and stay informed.

Disclaimer: I have no interest or intent in promoting Firefox; it’s simply the browser I’m most familiar with. Most modern browsers, even those on phones and tablets, offer some implementation of the features I’ve described, albeit with slightly different terminology and in different menu locations.

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