Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to Read a Newspaper

How to Read a Newspaper for
National and International News

This article was adapted from How to Read a Paragraph: The Art of Close Reading by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-the-art-of-close-reading-part-three/511

To become adept at reading the news, you first must understand that every society and culture has a unique worldview. This colors what they see and how they see it. News media in the cultures of the world reflect the worldview of the culture they write for. Suppose you have two persons reporting on the events of your life — your best friend and your worst enemy. Your best friend would highlight the positive things about you; your worst enemy would highlight the negative things about you. Both would think they were simply telling the truth.

As a critical reader of the news, you must make adjustments for biases. So if you are a Frenchman in France reading French newspapers, you must read the fine print to find out the negative things about France that are being suppressed or buried. If you are reading a newspaper from a country that considers France its enemy, you must, in a parallel way, read to correct for its one-sidedness (its predictable negativity about France).

At present, the overwhelming majority of people in the world, untrained in critical reading, are at the mercy of the news media in their own country.   When reading the newspaper critically you must:
  • interpret events from the perspective of multiple views
  • find multiple sources of thought and information, not simply those of the mass media
  • identify the viewpoints embedded in news stories
  • mentally re-write (reconstruct) news stories through awareness of how stories are told from multiple perspectives
  • assess news stories for their clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and significance
  • identify contradictions and inconsistencies in the news (often in the same story)
  • identify the agenda and interests served by a story
  • identify the facts covered and the facts ignored in a news story
  • identify the points of view systematically presented in a favorable light and those presented in an unfavorable light
These are some of the skills that critical readers of the news develop. To take command of the way the mass media influence your thinking about the world, you must learn how to see through their biases and appreciate dissenting as well as mainstream points of view. Only then can you come to well-reasoned conclusions using a balanced approach. At present, few people have developed the skills to do this.
How to Read an Editorial

To become adept at reading editorials, you must first understand that the goal of the editorial writer is to make a brief case for one side of a controversial issue. His or her goal is not to consider all sides or to do what a writer of a research paper or report is expected to do. Most people read editorials in the following way. If writers are defending what they believe, they praise the editorial. If writers are criticizing what they believe, they criticize the editorial. Therefore, they are unable to gain insights from people with whom they disagree. The fact is that most people are rigid in their thinking and largely closed-minded. There are many points of view into which they cannot enter. There are many ways to look at the world that they never examine or appreciate.

By contrast, critical readers recognize that they have been wrong in the past and may be wrong now. They recognize what they would like to believe while at the same time realizing that they may be prejudiced by that very desire. It is in this spirit of open-mindedness that we should learn to read editorials — especially the ones to which we are least sympathetic. We must learn how to step outside of our own point of view and enter points of view with which we are unfamiliar.

Of course, we should not assume that the editorials in our own culture’s newspapers provide us with a full range of points of view. What we can expect is merely that these newspapers provide us with the range of views held by the mainstream readers within the society. The goal of a newspaper is not to educate readers concerning international and dissenting points of view but rather to make money. And a newspaper makes money only when it caters to the beliefs and preconceptions of its readers. Thus, newspapers rarely present radically dissenting perspectives, and when they do, they emphasize that these are merely opinions.

Critical readers read all editorials with equal sympathy. They read to discover and digest a wide range of points of view, especially points of view that tend to be ignored in the mainstream of the culture. To enhance their breadth of vision while avoiding ethnocentrism and sociocentrism, critical readers search out dissenting media sources.


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