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The Benefits of Reading Newspapers

I‘ve spent most of my career as a journalist, working for newspapers and magazines in New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong. Journalism teaches you many important things, two of which are highly relevant to students of English in Hong Kong. Firstly, it’s extremely beneficial to read newspapers and magazines regularly, and secondly, simple, easily understood language is vital. I’ll focus mainly on the first point in this article, but read to the end for tips on how to write like a journalist.

Many young people consider newspapers boring, irrelevant and old-fashioned. They are far from it. Newspapers are the best tool for boosting your knowledge and understanding of what’s happening around you. Not only will you benefit from this deeper awareness of the world, but so will your grades. You’ll also impress your parents and friends if you can discuss things you’ve read in newspapers. If you can talk about the latest world events and politics, you’ll do better in oral examinations too. Reading newspapers will make you more articulate, knowledgeable and confident.

While we’re seeking new sources of knowledge, we can use newspapers to look outside our usual frames of reference. To do this, I like to read newspapers from different parts of the world. For example, I read the Sydney Morning Herald to get an Australasian perspective, the Guardian and Daily Mail to find out what’s happening in Europe, the New York Times to get a North American perspective, and the Jerusalem Post to get an English-language perspective on the Middle East.

We can also learn practical things from reading newspapers. For example, I started to read the financial pages of newspapers when I was a student. Though I didn’t study finance at university, by daily reading of the financial pages, I was able to get a grasp on financial and economic terms. This has helped me throughout life – enabling me to understand investments and terms like ‘debenture,’ ‘bond’ and ‘blue-chip stocks’ – and I have newspapers to thank for my financial literacy. You can find similar benefits from reading about a range of specialist topics, and I’d particularly recommend engaging with content on technology and science, which are essential in our rapidly changing world. You never need to be intimidated by articles on difficult topics. If you find a word you don’t understand, simply look it up. If you do this regularly, newspapers and magazines become a great teaching tool.

As well as articles on current events, there are other aspects of newspapers that are enjoyable and educational. Have you ever done a newspaper crossword? Push your language skills and general knowledge to the limits by doing crosswords from different countries. Another part of the newspaper I find interesting is the obituary column, which tells us about well-known or important people who have died. I read these every day to learn about those who have made great contributions to politics, law, business, sport, fashion, and more. Recently, I’ve been fascinated to learn about James Lovelock, a British scientist who died at the extraordinary age of 103. He was a great inventor, who pioneered a device that detected chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which damage the ozone layer. He also came up with the Gaia theory, which argues that the world is like a living organism. This was much ridiculed when Lovelock suggested it, but is now respected by scientists as giving people a better understanding of the Earth’s fragility. Reading about his life and other people like him is not only educational but inspiring.

I hope you enjoy reading newspapers so much that you consider writing them. Journalists help people understand the world, and to do that, it helps to write clearly. In my career, I’ve learned a few tips that I can share to get you started. Journalistic writing is characterized by short, simple sentences. Generally, adverbs and adjectives are avoided unless absolutely necessary. For example, this sentence wouldn’t work in a newspaper: ‘The large, untidy, 40-year-old man, who happens to be a barber, was swiftly sentenced to life imprisonment for the heinous, horrible crime of killing his dear wife.’ Instead, it becomes: ‘A male hairdresser, 40, was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing his wife.’ Journalistic writing goes straight to the point. It must be clear, precise, accurate and relevant.

It’s interesting to note that many great novelists started as journalists, including Charles Dickens, Joan Didion, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, and Susan Sontag. George Orwell was a writer, journalist and broadcaster, and his rules for writing still remain the best guide for journalists and aspiring writers. He stressed that we should avoid using unnecessary or meaningless language, as well as cliché and pompous expressions. The aim of the journalist is to tell the reader information in the simplest, clearest way possible. To learn more, read his list of rules, then sign up to our new Writing and Publishing course to start work on your writing dreams today.