Tag Archives: literacy

You want some adverbs with that?

The Sunlight Foundation has published a (seriously wonky) report that measures the grade levels at which our congress critters speak. Their study covers 1996 to this 112th Congress, in both the House and Senate. It’s getting a bit of notice around the buhlogospheric-system and deservedly so. Fascinating stuff.

They say that congressional speech has dropped a full grade level in that period, with Tea Party freshman accounting for much of the most recent decline. (Which Senator speaks at the lowest grade level? Can you guess? Rand Paul bitches!)

The whole thing is here and there are a few interesting sidebars on their blog as well. I don’t think it’s at all clear from the study (I did say it’s wonky) if the change has any significant effect on clarity or successful communication, which after all, is the point of language. But even if utility is unaffected . . .

This grabbed my attention.

Today’s Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level, down from 11.5 in 2005. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 grade level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level. . . .

Ssshh, don’t tell the kids now . . .

Here we go again – Time Magazine knows not to challenge its readers.  It’s American readers that is.

American television news is so over, we have to go to Al-Jazeera and El Arabia for news of our own wars

American broadcast and cable news operations don’t even bother anymore, not even in the traditional 6:30 pm network news slot, once the ‘big boy’. The final word. The program elevated by Walter Cronkite (CBS) and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (ABC NBC – thanks Don) and someone on ABC (who was it before Birnkley moved over?).

Those shows now run perhaps 19 or 22 minutes, of which they devote a precious few to reminding us who they are and how great they are and thank each other for doing such a great job while letting us know, breathlessly, that every interview is ‘exclusive’. I even heard Brian Williams recently refer to their reporter in Libya as ‘the only network broadcast reporter in the square right now”. which meant that maybe ABC and CBS were taking a bathroom break. But no matter, heady stuff anyway – for them.

After all the chest thumping, they spend perhaps 6 or 7 minutes on the ‘news’ of the day (which this week includes updates on the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor.) And finally, there is a ‘report’ on some new weapon or medical breakthrough or cute animal – most of these appear to be video press releases.

The cables do a little real news, but mostly they opt for that cheap-to-produce stuff featuring poorly informed – but insistent – gasbags, opining on the political matters of the day.

Today, that is what passes for the news on American television. (There are exceptions of course – PBS News Hour,  Fareed Zacharia on CNN and – only occasionally anymore – 60 Minutes. I’ll add my own local news – they often do a very decent job.)

And then there’s the BBC. The venerable British Broadcasting Company is serious about reporting and committed to informing their viewers, listeners and readers. Look at this from their website. Now that’s committment – one click brings the world to the world.