ARTICLE: Local news are too hard to understand

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Local newspapers are written in a manner which makes the news hard to understand, Ben Wasike of University of Texas Rio Grande Valley writes. The author analysed local newspaper content from 40 US counties and compared that information to census data from those areas.

The author used two measures to analyse the news: the Flesch–Kincaid grade reading level, and the Flesch reading ease scale. They take into account the length of sentences and the number of syllables per word to calculate numerical values which describe the text’s comprehensibility and readability.

The average article is written on an 11.63 grade reading level, meaning that the texts are barely understandable to a high school senior. In addition, the reading ease scale produced an average score of 47.78 – and any score below 50 means that the text is difficult to understand without college education, Wasike explains.

Combined the two scores suggest that many of the readers likely have difficulties understanding the news, as only 77 per cent of the studied population has graduated from high school. Some news types are even more difficult: business news are written on a 12.32 grade level, and hard news at an 11.98 grade level.

The article “Preaching to the choir?” was published by the journal Journalism. It is available online (abstract free).

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