20 good reasons to stick to the crossword

'The real solution is to weed out the junk and just read the good stuff. The clues are in the headline'
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The Independent Online

"When you see a headline saying that someone is quitting one of the main political parties to join the other one, my advice is simple. Don't read the story, unless you have actually heard of the person concerned. It will be a complete waste of the time, because you will never hear of that person again."

"When you see a headline saying that someone is quitting one of the main political parties to join the other one, my advice is simple. Don't read the story, unless you have actually heard of the person concerned. It will be a complete waste of the time, because you will never hear of that person again."

The speaker is Professor Quentin Corset, a specialist in Applied Newspaper Studies at Toynbee University (formerly Poly Toynbee). He has devoted the last five years of his life to developing a method of getting through newspapers faster, and now he has perfected it by producing a list of rules telling you which stories to ignore.

"People think they can try to read papers faster and faster," he says, "but that doesn't work. You just read the same old junk at a higher speed, and probably remember less of it. The real solution is to weed out the junk and just read the good stuff. The clues are all in the headline. The headline will tell you whether there is a story or not. The clearest clue is the presence of the word 'may'. Any headline using the word 'may' can safely be avoided."

Could he perhaps give an example?

"Surely. Here's one from a recent paper: 'Concorde black box may contain crash answer'. What does that tell us? It tells us that the details of Concorde's last flight may be contained in the flight recorder. I think we all knew that. It also tells us that there are no new developments in the case, but the paper is loath to let it drop. So it prints a non-story. Something we don't need to read. Actually, the headline could also have been 'Concorde black box may not contain crash answer', which would also have been true, but papers have a resistance to being downbeat.

"The point is that lots of stories are just printed to keep the reader aware of a certain story, rather as companies play music down the phone line to callers who are on hold. Almost every story about peace meetings between Israel and the PLO are on that level, as are Northern Ireland peace-process meetings, French-Corsican meetings, Fiji stalemates and so on.

"News should be about things that happen. This is no longer true. News is now about what people say will happen. When politicians promise to do things, or the other side threatens to do something, or someone insists that someone else do something, nothing has actually happened. For that reason I would never read a story under a headline which contained such words as 'vow', 'threat', 'urge', 'undertake', and so on. Or, of course, 'bid'."

Pardon?

"More time is wasted over bids to get World Cup venues, bids to sell the Dome, bids to do this and that than real events. So, golden rule No 3 - avoid headlines with 'bid' in. Rule No 4, avoid headlines with 'Liam' and 'Patsy'."

Pardon again?

"There are some characters who catch the press's fancy and whose every move is reported, even though no member of the public has the faintest interest in what they do. Years ago it used to be Liz and Richard. Now it is Liam and Patsy, and Liz and Hugh, and Madonna, and Vinnie..."

How many rules are there, to guarantee profitable newspaper reading?

"Oh, lots, but only about 20 important ones. Avoid all stories under headings containing the word 'leak'. Avoid all stories about 'new figures', because all new figures are contradicted the next day by other new figures, and in any case all new figures are actually old figures which have only just got published. Avoid all stories which involve an apparent change of heart..."

Meaning?

"All headlines which claim that someone in the public eye has rethought his position about something. It's almost always got a hidden agenda. There was a lovely example in The Times the other day of a headline which had two changes of mind in the same headline... Got it somewhere... yes, here we are!"

And Quentin Corset flashes a cutting which says: "Tories Revolt Over Portillo U-Turn On Tax".

"See what I mean?" he says triumphantly.

One certainly does. But if you eliminate everything according to the Corset rules, what is there left to read?

For the first time he looks taken aback. Then he brightens up.

"The crossword?" he suggests.

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