Why Johnny doesn’t read (newspapers)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the inevitable demise of daily newspapers. Circulation is declining, ad revenue is plummeting, newsroom staffs are being slashed, and stock prices across the board are in the basement.

Of course, there’s been much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over this trend, and pundits galore offering up their opinions on why people have lost interest in reading a daily newspaper. Is it the Internet’s fault? Is it the increasingly short attention span of our youth? Is it the overall economy? Global warming?

By now, you’ve noticed what all those theories have in common: They all make newspapers a victim of outside forces over which they have no control. No one ever seems to ask whether it’s something within the newspaper that could be driving people away. Well, now someone has. John McIntyre, assistant managing editor for the copy desk at The Baltimore Sun, wrote a blog post that suggests maybe the way newspapers are written is confusing readers and sending them elsewhere for their daily fix of news and smudged fingers. He talks about longstanding conventions that people inside the news biz assume readers understand, like using a comma instead of the word ‘and’ in headlines and what a dateline (that all-caps town name at the start of a story) really means. It turns out many readers don’t have a clue. He also points a finger at the incredibly stilted language in which many news stories are written, and how seldom they lead with the most important facts.

The post should be required reading for all freshman college journalism students. That’s assuming there will be any newspapers left for them to work at by the time they graduate.

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