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A lecture from an arts class

Listen to part of a lecture from an arts class.

Prof: Hello again. [ahem] Well, we’re near the end of our unit on newspapers. I’m going to talk about our national newspaper, USA Today. Some of you might recognize it as the topic of this week’s reading assignment. US [chuckles; false start] USA Today is now more than 25 years old. When it began, few expected it would last this long. Well, not only has it lasted, it has thrived. USA Today is the largest-selling daily newspaper in America. It is also distributed in many countries around the world. But that’s only part of the story. The real success of USA Today is the way it changed the newspaper industry. USA Today changed the way papers look. It changed the way reporters write. And it changed the way papers gather and deliver news.

USA Today set out to be different. Newspapers at that time were, um, in trouble. Fewer people were reading them. The papers were full of bad news about crime and killing. They had long stories. They didn’t have color photos and graphics., and many could not include the latest sports scores. USA Today changed all that. It had shorter stories, most of which did not jump, or continue, from one page to another. It used color photos, and colorful charts and graphics. It did not have much international news, but it did have lots of sports, entertainment and human-interest stories. It was trying to appeal to younger readers. These readers had been raised watching television, so they had trouble, uh, paying attention to longer stories. They wanted, erm, to be entertained, not informed. At first, many people laughed at USA Today. Other newspapers called it “McPaper.” They were comparing it to McDonald’s fast food, which isn’t, um, very healthy. It fills you up, but it doesn’t have much nutrition. They said McPaper was the same way — it looked good, but the news it had wasn’t very important. People said USA Today “dumbed down” the news. Does anyone know what “dumb down” means?

S1: Yeah, I think it means to make things too simple. Like, you want to make it easy to understand, but you make it too easy. So it’s like writing for a little child.

P: That’s exactly right. If you make something too simple, people get mad. They think that the writer thinks they’re stupid. But a funny thing happened. More and more people started reading USA Today. About a year after it started, it had a circulation of more than one million. Today, its circulation is past two million. Question?

S2: Yo, what does circulation mean?

P: Circulation is the number of papers that are read each day. It means [false start] It means that USA Today distributes more than two million copies of each issue. When other papers saw this circulation grow, they became worried. So, they started to, uh, copy USA Today’s style. Their stories got shorter, and they started using lots of color photos and charts. They replaced quote unquote serious news with feature stories. Soon, it became normal for newspapers to look like USA Today. But it wasn’t only appearance that made USA Today so popular. One very big reason for its success was timeliness. Timeliness means its ability to report the latest news. Daily newspapers have a deadline, which is the time they have to stop writing and start printing the paper. The deadline often caused papers to leave out news. This was especially true of East Coast papers and, erm, West Coast sports scores. Basketball, football and baseball games would end on the West Coast at 11 p.m. But that’s 2 a.m. Eastern time. This was too late to put the score of the game in the next day’s paper. USA Today, however, used satellites to transmit news. It could set later deadlines, so it could include the West Coast scores. This, alone, caused many people to buy the paper. Yes?

S3: But today most papers use satellites. So why has USA Today’s circulation kept growing?

P: Excellent question. Uh, actually, USA Today has changed. It still looks colorful, but it’s started to become more like traditional papers. It’s stories are getting longer, and it has more international news. It changed because people are changing. The paper needed to appeal to more, um, educated readers, because they’re the ones with money. Also, it needed to sell more papers overseas. International readers don’t want “dumbed down” news.


assignment – 1. a task or piece of work that somebody is given to do, usually as part of their job or studies

2. (of somebody) (to something) the act of giving something to somebody; the act of giving somebody a particular task

chuckle – an act of laughing quietly

thriveto become, and continue to be, successful, strong, healthy, etc.

distribute – 1. to give things to a large number of people; to share something between a number of people

2. to spread something, or different parts of something, over an area

gather – 1. to come together, or bring people together, in one place to form a group

2. to bring things together that have been spread around

3. (something) to collect plants, fruit, etc. from a wide area

entertain – to interest somebody or make somebody laugh in order to please them

dumb down – it means to make things too simple. Like, you want to make it easy to understand, but you make it too easy. So it’s like writing for a little child.

circulation – the number of papers that are read each day – շրջանառություն

nutrition – food that is needed to grow and be healthy

issue –  an important topic that people are discussing or arguing about

feature – something important, interesting or typical of a place or thing

timeliness – means its ability to report the latest news – ժամանակին

deadline – the time they have to stop writing and start printing the paper – վերջնաժամկետ

satellite – an electronic device that is sent into space and moves around the earth or another planet. It is used for communicating by radio, television, etc. and for gathering information.

transmit – to pass something from one person to another


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