How easy to read are our newspapers?

Is the English language being "dumbed down" as it goes global? Not necessarily. Newspapers and magazines have always tried to be reader-friendly, to their particular readers, at least. So an article by HL Mencken, a famous American journalist from the early 20th century, contains fewer long words than a New York Times column by William Safire, who began his career in the mid-1950s.

But first let's look at some newspapers and magazines. This is how The Straits Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker and The Economist fared in the reading test.

How easy to read are our newspapers?

You can calculate the readability of any website by typing in the URL on this page:

It breaks down the words by the number of syllables, shows the average number of words in a sentence, and gives the Flesch Reading Ease score and the Gunning Fog Index score. The higher the reading ease score, the easier it is to read, and the higher the "fog index" score, the harder it is to understand. You can see more on the tests on the Juicy Studio page and in Wikipedia.

Simply because something is easier to read does not mean it is better, of course. The Economist has the highest "fog index" score and the lowest reading easing score, but it is certainly a pleasure to read.

Here are the reading ease scores for three top American journalists – Mencken, Safire and Maureen Dowd – and Barack Obama, who is just as great with words. The articles analyzed are The National Hymn by Mencken, How to Read a Column by Safire,  and Don't Send In the Clones by Dowd. Also analyzed is the preface to the 2004 edition of Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama.

Readability test for Barack Obama, Maureen Dowd, William Safire and HL Mencken