I’ve been a long-time subscriber of the Star Tribune. My parents have been long-time subscribers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I grew up reading newspapers. I will probably (hopefully) grow old reading them.
I say hopefully because, as we all know, the newspaper industry is in trouble. Not “they might not survive the year”-type trouble. More like, “will they be around when I’m retired”-type trouble.
The challenges of running and maintaining a modern-day newspaper have been discussed at length the last few years. Competing with social media. Revenue issues. The list is long.
But, unfortunately, I have another to add to the list today: Readability.
This past weekend, I read an op-ed from one of my personal favorites, George Will (for the uninitiated, Will is a political commentator and journalist who writes regularly for the Washington Post; he’s also a Pulitzer Prize winner).
I like Will because he challenges my brain. I have to read his op-eds SLOWLY. Because they’re full of words and phrases I do not know.
And, therein lies the challenge.
I am a college-educated, upper-income earner living in a major metropolitan area. I’m not a doctor, attorney or academic, but I’m well educated and decently well-read.
And I can’t understand what George Will is often talking about.
Which raises the question: How many people CAN understand what George Will is talking about?
Which raises another question: Who is George Will writing to? Seemingly, the top less-than-one-percent of all people in this country.
And that, my friends, is not a way to sell newspapers.
It’s quite a paradox. On one hand, I love reading Will’s columns. They’re interesting. Insightful. And again, they challenge my brain. It’s partly why I love reading the paper.
On the other hand, our country is getting dumber. There’s just no question about that now.
The average American reads at around a 7th/8th grade reading level.
And, as you may have heard before, journalists are taught to write at an eighth-grade level. My son is in eighth grade. There is no earthly way he could decipher Mr. Will’s Sunday op-eds.
Now, to be clear, the entire newspaper is not written this way. Much of it is easily readable. But all it takes is one George Will op-ed to turn people off. I remember a review of the Messiah my family attended right before the holidays–it was equally as unreadable and full of terms my wife and I had to look up.
Look, I’m not writing this today to pile on daily newspapers. Quite the opposite: I’m writing because I care. I want newspapers to stay around. I believe we need newspapers in our society. And, most importantly, I want to grow old reading the newspaper in my old-man chair.
So please, George Will, I love you, but please stop using big words and write to a level more people can understand. You’re (slowly) killing the newspaper industry.