When questions readers might ask. Direct quotes

When reading news articles, we often get caught up in the drama, but in order to analyze an article we need to look at it differently. In this lesson, we’ll discuss exactly how to do that.

Basic Format of an Article

It’s easy to turn on the news or flip open a newspaper and take in what we hear or read. But when reading or listening to the news, we should not only be learning new information but questioning what is being presented so that we can become critical thinkers rather than sponges that absorb and believe whatever is told to us.A news article is a report of a current event or issue and it is expected to be a balanced account so that different viewpoints are acknowledged without slanting the article with any favoritism or bias.There are three basic elements to look for in a news article:

  1. The Lead: This opening paragraph includes who, what, when, where, how and why.
  2. Explanation: After the lead, the writer includes other important facts or details to inform readers and to anticipate and answer any questions readers might ask.

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    Direct quotes from witnesses or people involved on both sides are also included here.

  3. Additional Information: This section can draw parallels between this issue or event with similar cases or reference similar historical incidents.

How to Analyze an Article

Analyzing an article takes asking some important questions:

  • Who is the audience for this article? Is the way it is written (vocabulary, amount of detail) appropriate for that audience?
  • What main points or arguments are being made, how are they supported, and are those sources reliable?
  • Is the writing style engaging through interesting and varied word choice?
  • Is this article an example of unbiased reporting by presenting different points of view?
  • Is there any evidence of propaganda?

Four Types of Propaganda

Propaganda is biased or misleading information used to promote a particular political cause or idea. There are many forms of propaganda, but we’re going to discuss four types that are often used in relation to current events.

Name calling or stereotyping gives a person or idea a bad label by using a disparaging name that’s easy to remember. It’s used to make people reject a person or idea without examining the label’s real meaning. A few examples are ‘Tree-Hugger,’ ‘Red Neck,’ and ‘Dumb Blond.

‘ In news stories they might not use name calling outright, but they may rely heavily on stereotypes by only interviewing people who can be distorted into fitting that stereotype so that the article is one-sided.Plain Folks convinces the audience that an idea is good because it is what the vast majority of people want. An article might use this tactic by writing statements like, ‘This is the will of the people,’ or ‘Most Americans want. .

.’ without actually knowing what the majority wants but using it to persuade the reader to agree.Artificial Dichotomy tries to claim that there are only two sides to an issue, and it is used to trick the audience into thinking there’s only one way to look at that issue when there are probably many different sides that aren’t being mentioned or explained. If a person from a country commits a crime and then a journalist writes an article using distorted facts and half-truths to condemn the country where that person came from, painting an us-vs.-them scenario in which we are all good and they are all bad, that would be an artificial dichotomy.

Scapegoat transfers blame to one person or group without fully investigating the issue. For instance, to blame a president for all of the country’s problems would be using that person as a scapegoat because problems build over years. The president isn’t the only one who has power in the government, and individuals and groups contribute to those problems.

Analyzing Shadid’s Article

Let’s analyze an example to apply what we’ve discussed. ‘In the City of Cement’ is an article written by Anthony Shadid, the Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post until December 2009. In 2010, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his rich, beautifully written series on Iraq. ‘In the City of Cement’ is an article from that series and was written in 2009.

As I read Shadid’s lead, try to identify the who, what, where, when, how, and why. Also, try to see if you can tell who Shadid’s audience is based on his writing style.’BAGHDAD – There is a hint of an older Baghdad in old Baghdad. You might call it more of a taunt. It’s there at the statue of the portly poet Marouf al-Rusafi, pockmarked by bullets, who gives his name to an untamed square. Around him revolves a city, storied but shabby, that American soldiers have finally, ostensibly, left.’Shadid begins with a powerfully descriptive paragraph, but he also cleverly weaves in information into the lead.

  • The who: Iraqis in Baghdad and American soldiers.
  • The what: American soldiers have left Baghdad.
  • The when: present day since Shadid uses present tense verbs like ‘is’ and ‘revolves.

  • The where: Baghdad, Iraq.
  • The how: American soldiers left after warfare, which is referenced through phrases like ‘pockmarked by bullets,’ ‘untamed square,’ and ‘storied but shabby.’

It doesn’t go into specifically how the American troops pulled out of the area, nor does it say why, but it does say that they have ‘finally, ostensibly, left’ hinting that they were there for a long time and may return. How do we know Shadid’s audience? Well, through the phrases already mentioned, we can tell that he uses an advanced vocabulary and doesn’t feel the need to explain why American soldiers are there. So, he’s most likely writing to educated adults who already know about the Iraq War.Let’s look at an excerpt from the explanation section.

As I read it, note any important facts, details or direct quotes. ‘U.S. combat troops finished withdrawing from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities on June 30. . . Their concrete is everywhere – from the sprawling Green Zone to the barriers and blast walls that line almost every street – reorienting the physical, spiritual and social geography that for more than a millennium was dictated by the lazy bends in the Tigris River.

. . In time, though, those walls may matter less than the deeper forces that six years of an American presence hastened. Baghdad is now a city divided from itself. Shiite neighborhoods rarely have Sunnis. Sunni ones, far less numerous today, no longer have Shiites.

Christians have all but left.’Shadid provides facts about when U.S. combat troops finished withdrawing, and mentions specific details like barriers, blast walls, and the Green Zone. Shadid doesn’t explain this though because he’s assuming his educated audience will already know.Shadid also chooses his words very carefully. By using the word ‘millennium,’ which contrasts the six years of an American presence in Iraq, Shadid conveys that though damage has been done, Iraq’s long history completely eclipses the time the U.

S. has been in Iraq. He then shifts the focus from the American-Iraqi conflict to the religious conflicts within the country to inform the reader about another perspective on the state Baghdad is in and why. Though it would be easy for a writer to generalize the Iraqis or the American soldiers with stereotypes in order to slant the article one way or another, Shadid refrains from using propaganda.Let’s see if we can answer whether or not this article is an example of unbiased reporting by looking for different points of view.

‘From Beirut to Cairo to Baghdad, the Arab world’s great capitals have all lost a measure of tolerance, receding behind walls, psychological and otherwise. . . The Americans created none of it, but facilitated all of it, giving space to the region’s worst impulses. . . Saddam Hussein brought a coarsely martial style to an earlier Baghdad.

. . Vendors use the walls as billboards. .

. The government scrawls on them its authoritarian vision of law. .

.’Respect and be respected,’ one motto reads. . .’These walls will be removed when the people of Iraq finally wake up again,’ said Wissam Karim, a 28-year-old soldier. . .

Maysoon al-Damluji an architect and lawmaker from a prominent family stops short of blaming the American troops. ‘It’s just young men with guns. . . You don’t expect an army to take care of a city.

‘ ‘In order to answer whether or not we think this is a biased or unbiased article, we need to again ask ourselves if there’s any propaganda. Is he blaming it all on one person or a particular group as is the case in scapegoating? No, he simply states what has happened and how different people feel about it. Does he use the plain folks tactic to make statements like ‘Most Iraqis or most Americans think. . .

?’ No, he avoids generalizations. Is he creating a black and white picture of two sides to create an artificial dichotomy? No, Shadid connects Baghdad’s situation to other Arab capitals, brings up Iraq’s past, uses the perspective of a soldier, and a female architect/lawmaker with direct quotes to create an unbiased article.In Shadid’s conclusion, he discusses Damluji’s solution to the problems in Baghdad as a city needing to be rebuilt. ‘Owners would become shareholders in a company that would renovate and resurrect a portion of the city that stretches nearly two miles along the Tigris. .

. ‘It will take a while,’ she admitted. ‘It’s far more difficult to build than to demolish.’ ‘So, what are Shadid’s main points, how are they supported, and are his sources reliable? Well, he’s informing the reader about the current condition of Baghdad. He wants to describe the damage but he does not want to blame anyone. He supports these points by citing facts about past conflicts, current internal religious issues, and countries with similar struggles. He uses facts and specific details to show that although Baghdad is struggling, the focus is on moving forward.

Direct quotes from various perspectives all support Shadid’s points. His sources are reliable because he is speaking to locals there who are witnesses.

Lesson Summary

There are three basic elements to look for in a news article:

  1. The Lead: This opening paragraph includes who, what, when, where, how and why.
  2. Explanation: After the lead the writer includes other important facts or details to inform readers and to anticipate and answer any questions readers might ask. Direct quotes from witnesses or people involved on both sides are also included here.

  3. Additional Information: This section can draw parallels between this issue or event with similar cases or reference similar historical incidents.

Analyzing an article takes asking some important questions:

  • Who is the audience for this article? Is the way it is written appropriate for that audience?
  • What main points or arguments are being made, how are they supported, and are those sources reliable?
  • Is the writing style engaging through interesting and varied word choice?
  • Is this article an example of unbiased reporting by presenting different points of view?
  • Is there any evidence of propaganda?

Propaganda is biased or misleading information used to promote a particular political cause or idea. Propaganda techniques include: name calling or stereotyping, plain folks, artificial dichotomy, and scapegoat.

Learning Outcomes

This lesson could enhance your capacity to:

  • List the three elements of an article
  • Remember the questions you should ask yourself when analyzing an article
  • Convey knowledge of the four types of propaganda
  • Analyze an article using the elements mentioned in this lesson
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