Readability

Newspaper Reading Level

Uncover the importance of newspaper reading levels in journalism. Explore why they matter, target levels, and the surprising differences across publications.

Jess Sawyer

It largely goes unnoticed by the general public, but the topic of newspaper readability is important in the field of journalism. From the local gazette to international publications, those in the news industry need to ensure that their content is easy to read and understand if they want to reach their target audience. But that doesn’t mean that the newspaper reading level is consistent across papers - in fact, the differences may surprise you!

In this article, we’re going to dive into the topic of newspaper reading levels. We’ll discuss why newspaper reading levels matter, what level they usually aim for, and the readability of some major publications.

Why Do Newspaper Reading Levels Matter?

So, why even bother with newspaper reading levels? Well, it’s more important than ever for news publications to tailor their content to their audience.

According to research, only about 25% of people read print-only papers. This means that a whopping 75% are accessing online news content. With this shift to internet-based articles, publishers are now competing with the millions of online content creators who are often covering the same subjects. So, they need to make sure their newspapers are accessible to attract as many readers as possible. And newspaper reading levels play a big part in that.

Journalists need to tailor their content to the reading level of their audience if they want their content to be readable - that is, easy to read and understand. So, if they calculate the reading level of their articles and find that it’s higher than it should be, they can edit their work to make it more accessible to their readers.

What Reading Level Do Newspapers Usually Aim for?

The average newspaper reading level has changed a lot over the years, largely due to the work of Rudolf Flesch and Robert Gunning. Before they started working with publishers in the 1940s, newspapers were often written at a 16th grade level.

As you can probably imagine, this is fairly difficult to read. But together, Flesch and Gunning helped bring front-page stories down to a more reader-friendly 11th grade level, which is roughly where they remain today.

The keyword here, though, is roughly - you’ll still find newspapers both above and below this level.

Which News Publications Have the Best Readability?

While an 11th grade level is still often the benchmark, there is some variation in the readability of major news publications. Let’s take a look at the results of a text data analysis using readability tests to see which newspapers have the best (and worst) readability.

Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test

Yes, the Flesch-Kincaid readability test was partly created by the same Rudolf Flesch who helped revolutionize the readability of newspapers back in the 1940s. It uses the number of syllables per word and words per sentence to score readability.

With a score of almost 14, the Flesh-Kincaid readability test gives MSNBC the highest reading level, making it the most difficult to read. The BBC, on the other hand, receives a much lower score of around 10.

Gunning Fog Index

Now, let’s move on to the test created by Flesch’s associate, Robert Gunning. This one also uses syllables and sentences to determine readability, but with a different formula.

According to the Gunning Fog Index, MSNBC is still the most difficult to read with a score above 15. But this time USA Today takes the top spot as the most readable, scoring under 12.

Dale-Chall Readability Test

Finally, we’ll look at the Dale-Chall test, originally created by Edgar Dale and Jeanne Chall in the 1940s. This one calculates a score by comparing the text against a list of words that would be familiar to 4th graders (don’t worry - it has been updated since the ‘40s).

Once again, with a score above 8, MSNBC has the worst readability of major news publications. And while the BBC and USA Today are still close to the other end of the spectrum, the LA Times is the most readable with a score below 7.

Final Thoughts

The subject may not come up too often, but newspaper reading levels are important in the field of journalism. By aiming for a lower reading level, publications are more likely to attract a wider audience, which is important in a field that’s competing with online content creators.

If you want to check out the reading level of your articles for a similar purpose, then one of the best things you can do is use a readability checker. For example, you can simply copy-and-paste your text into Originality.AI’s readability checker, and it will give you readability scores based on the most popular tests. You can then edit your text (if needed) to make your message as clear and accessible to your readers as possible.

Newspapers and articles are most effective when their audience can understand them. So, the more readable the content, the better.

Jess Sawyer

Jess Sawyer is a seasoned writer and content marketing expert with a passion for crafting engaging and SEO-optimized content. With several years of experience in the digital marketing, Jess has honed her skills in creating content that not only captivates audiences but also ranks high on search engine results.

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