I saw Malcolm Coles’ post on Google’s reading level scores for UK newspapers and thought it would be fun to do the same thing for US news sites. Last week Google released a new search filter that allows users to refine search results by reading level. So what reading level does Google assign to major news sites in the US?
I was going to look at top 25 US newspapers online according to Journalistics but I decided to include a wider variety of news sites. So instead I pulled out the US news sites from my comparison post on news site social media engagement to come up with a sampling of newspapers, magazines, TV, wire services and Web-only news organizations.
How do the US news sites stack up? Google assigns the majority of content on all of them an intermediate reading level which makes sense since that level appeals to the widest audience. But which sites are aiming high or low?
Among the news organizations I checked, here are the sites with the greatest percentage of content at a basic or advanced reading level:
Most Basic Content
- ABC News 41%
- Boston.com 29%
- CBS News 28%
A commentary on mainstream TV news? There’s probably a joke about Boston residents here too but I’m not touching that.
Most Advanced Content
- Bloomberg Businessweek 11%
- The New York Times 7%
- Reuters 7%
Bloomberg Businessweek has a much higher percentage of content at an advanced reading level than any of the other sites. Must be some smart folks over there.
Here are all the scores. The sites are arranged alphabetically:
The Christian Science Monitor
The Huffington Post
Los Angeles Times
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
The Washington Post
NPR is pretty far back. I thought their directory said how smart and advanced their listeners are!
Very interesting piece. Have you come across any definitions of the three categories (“Basic,” “Intermediate” and “Advanced”)? I read Google’s explanation of how reading levels are determined; however, they do not put the terms into any perspective. For example, does “Advanced” mean 12th grade reading level, collegiate reading level, post-graduate? Any clarity would be greatly appreciated.
Adam Sherk says
James – I’m afraid I don’t know any details other than what’s in the “how reading levels are determined” section of the help page, which I agree is vague. The video on that page uses elementary school students as the example for “basic” and scientists as the example for “advanced” but that is intentionally over-simplified.
Thanks, Adam. I couldn’t view the video, so that is helpful.
This would be a very useful educational tool if you specified what qualifies as “basic”, “intermediate”, and “advanced, either by standard grade or lexile level.
Adam Sherk says
Hi Sam – I’d point you to Google’s help information on how it defines the reading level, but unfortunately they discontinued the reading level filter earlier this month.