Dear news media: Create news for people who have never read a newspaper
James Tyner

I give college students a history assignment that requires reading Actual newspapers. I have discovered that many do not know how a traditional newspaper “works.” For example, the position on the page and the type size used in the headline signal the importance of a story. They don’t know that a news story (but not a “feature” story) is written in the “inverted pyramid” style, with the more important parts near the top and increasingly minor details at the end; readers are not expected to read every word. The first paragraph (called the lede) includes the basic who, what, when, where, why and how facts, so a reader in a hurry can read only this part of each story to gain an overview of the day’s news. Evidently, those who start by reading parts of the paper when young and gradually expand their reading, absorb the conventions of newspaper presentation that give better understanding of the content. Those of my students who have never read newspapers are sometimes baffled by what they see. Some can not reliably distinguish some types of advertising matter from news content, nor can they recognize the difference between news and opinion articles. l suspect that the newspaper producers who try to lay out web presentations of their content mistakenly expect their readers to understand these conventions of form. They need a test population (college freshmen?) to sample their layout to discover what needs to be adjusted for clarity.

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