The growth of competition in broadcast television, in weekly magazines and, most recently, on the Internet inevitably has impacted newspaper circulation. Changing lifestyles with greater emphases on recreation and other outdoor activities also apparently have caused the decline of newspaper circulations. (1) In addition, the difficult readability of newspapers may be another reason for continuously dropping circulations.
Journalism scholars have attempted to analyze the readability of mass media such as newspapers and magazines. (2) Fusaro and Conover noted that if the readability levels of a newspaper demand too much of a reader's skills, reader satisfaction will be reduced. (3) Burgoon, Burgoon and Wilkinson argued that newspapers should lower their readability levels if they want to appeal to more readers. (4) Because longer sentences mean more relationships between words and require the reader to expend more mental energy, they might reduce reader satisfaction. (5) If newspapers are difficult to read, readers may turn away from them as a source of information.
Visuals are often discounted or ignored in word-oriented journalism. However, several scholars pointed out that photographs are popular with readers and call attention to news stories. (6) Hynds, for example, concluded that most newspapers were seeking to make their pages more attractive and understandable through greater use of pictures, drawings, cartoons, and diverse colors. (7)
Even though business news is very critical for industry and general readers, few researchers have examined the content of business news. In 1938, Carswell, a financial writer on the New York World-Telegram, criticized newspapers' over-emphasis on Wall Street and argued that the editorial point-of-view must be reoriented to the average reader, not the investor. (8) Barkin examined the changes in the business section of three major dailies from 1931 to 1979 and found newspapers covered the stock market less and international business more. (9) Feldman and Aronoff also found newspapers moved away from straight news coverage, such as lengthy earnings reports, to stories oriented toward the implications of domestic and international economic policies and problems. (10)
The Internet is the ideal medium for business news. Because of its real time information and its visuals, more people rely on the Internet to check market fluctuations. The purpose of this study is to examine how the most popular newspapers and Internet Web sites in the U.S. covered business news, especially focusing on readability and content differentiation.
Three newspapers (Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and New York Times) were selected based on circulation. (11) Three business news Web sites (CNNfn, CNBC, and CBSMarketWatch) were selected based on the number of visits to those sites. (12)
The variables for analysis were average sentence length, Flesch reading ease score, Flesch-Kincaid grade-level readability, the visual type and subject of stories.
Average sentence length is the average number of words per sentence. The Flesch reading ease score is calculated using average sentence length and number of syllables per 100 words. The Flesch-Kincaid Index uses the number of syllables per word and words per sentence to calculate a grade level required for reading. Visuals were analyzed based on the type: photos, computer graphics and data format. (13) Stories were classified in terms of their specific content area, which in turn belonged to one of nine categories: 1) national economy, 2) international business and trade, 3) legal and regulatory issues, 4) individual firm, 5) industry profiles 6) executive profiles, 7) stock market, 8) consumer guides, 9) others. (14)
The unit of analysis was the article. The front page of The Wall Street Journal and the business section front pages of USA Today and The New York Times were content analyzed. …