We were discussing how to read a newspaper in my introductory speed reading lesson the other night. I always teach my students to read the first and last paragraph in journal articles and newspaper human interest stories (along with headings and visual aids) and the first paragraph in news articles. One of my students said that she had noticed that the writers in our newspaper had started to get creative and were not getting to any facts until about the third paragraph. So the next morning I did a survey by reading all of the first paragraphs of all the articles in our paper. (Being a speed reader really helped with that!)

The first paragraph in most articles that are actually news—business, world affairs, events and even sports are classic journalism style with the facts presented in the opening paragraph. The articles that accompany them are told as a story—as my student was saying. As that paper was the one the day after the tragic events at Virginia Tech, most of the main section was them. There were two main articles—one on the left, a picture in the middle, and the other on the right. The article on the right was straight forward with just the facts and the first paragraph contained the most pertinent information. The article on the left was told like a story -- building curiosity and interest and gradually getting to the facts. Either way, the first paragraph sets the stage for reading the article and you can quickly find out whether it is going to give you the facts you want or if it is told as story. The human interest stories do give the facts two or three paragraphs down, but a news article gives them straight out. By reading the first paragraph, you can determine if you want to read the rest.

You also want to decide if the story is slanted or balanced. For a good many years, the publisher or the current editor of our local paper had a definite political bias-- the headlines and beginning paragraphs all reflected that with the balance or other side of the story not appearing until half way to two thirds into the article. I think they thought we’d stop reading it by then and so I told my students during that era that they needed to look in the middle of the articles for the real story. It has been much more balanced and accurate in the last few years. Sometimes, however you can tell that the story was used “as is” from a press release provided by the White House or something like that—when a news article next to it has opposite “facts.”

Headlines can show a real bias in a publication known for a slanted view—or possible sensationalized to grab attention. You really can only use them to determine the subject and decide if you want to read the article, not to form an opinion. I have see occasions when headlines are actually opposite of the conclusions you can draw from the entire article. Sometimes I swear headline writers have never read the articles.

The last paragraph(s) in a news article are still a summation of what has been going on about that subject forever (i.e. Anna Nichole’s marriage/baby/son/death) that you would only need if you had been on a deserted island for a month or two. But you might read them read if you really have been out of touch.

When I am reading an editorial or an op-ed piece I always read the author, the publication they write for and the first and last paragraph first. These paragraphs are usually good introductions and excellent summations. If I think, “these comments are really wacky!”—I remember what publication they work for. There are some publications with consistent leanings so opposite of mine that I rarely like or agree with anything they have to say. But if I need to get my adrenalin going I’ll read them as well as letters to the editor. Sometimes I actually agree with something they say and my horizons have been broadened a bit.

Author's Bio: 

Bonnie James is President and Co-Founder of Advanced Reading Concepts, a firm started in 1977 that specialized in speed reading courses and seminars.
Bonnie conducts speed reading courses, seminars and workshops through out the country for associations, corporations, the government and the military. She teaches public courses in Columbus OH and summer school courses for teens in several top schools in the Columbus area. Her passion is helping people reach a potential they never knew they had through reading faster to understand more.