Written by Dan Pugh
As a college student, I rarely have time to read the news as much as I would like. I have to be economical with what I read. Part of that means picking good sources (BBC, Reuters, New York Times, The Economist, etc.). The more important part is reading for comprehension.
To read news effectively, one must know why they are looking for in the news. As a college parli debater, I look for news that fits into a policy discussion. I disregard tech and sports headlines, unless it is technology that opens policy or ethical discussions (i.e. the Google glasses or the Penn State case). I particularly focus on articles that propose solutions to problems. Those are the gold mines of parli research. They are the must-reads.
Unfortunately, news stories rarely come with policy suggestions and the pros and cons. The more likely scenario is that you find a series of pieces that you need to put together to use in a debate round. One of the challenges of reading the news is trying to put all the pieces together.In order to understand the individual articles, comprehend the context. If I know the basics of a situation, the individual pieces fit together. There are a few simple steps to follow.
1. Skim the article. Look at the major points and then get a basic outline of what the article says.
2. Think about the context. What are the major issues surrounding the article? If an article takes place in a certain country, what are the current policy issues with that country? If the article is about a sector of domestic policy (immigration, energy, etc.), what is the policy discussion about that issue?
3. Evaluate the article within the context. Think about the major parts of the article again. Are any of them relevant to the context?
It is a simple concept, but it is useful keep the steps in mind. My favorite example of using a seemingly pointless news story came at NCCFI (National Christian College Forensics Invitational) last season. Before the tournament, I skimmed an article from the Economist on how Iran had the strongest or second strongest concrete in the world. There are some good quotes, but a careful examination of the context makes it better. One of the major policy alternatives to Iran is for Israel to bomb their nuclear sites. Israel was never mentioned in the article, but it is part of the context. I talked with my team and we did more research on concrete. We created a solvency point based on the strength of Iranian concrete. Since Iranian concrete is so strong, normal bunker busting bombs would not suffice for destroying a nuclear arsenal held underground. It turns out Iran had a nuclear facility underground. My partner and I ran the argument in finals at NCCFI and it was a crucial part of the round.
Stories are good, but application is better. I saw an article the other day on AIDS medication. You can read it here. How do the three steps apply?
1. Find the basic facts. AIDS in Africa can sometimes become resistant to the medication. On face value, this article does not help debaters.
2. Think about the context. The article says most of the problem is in Africa. Where do most African countries get their HIV/AIDS medication? A lot of U.S. aid packages are based on fighting AIDS. U.S. aid is a pretty common policy discussion, so there might be an application there. In parli debate, it is easy to run a cut foreign aid case. Cutting foreign aid means cutting delivery of AIDS medication.
3. Evaluate how the article fits into the context. The article is really helpful. Read the article again while thinking about arguing against a team who is running cut foreign aid. Since that includes AIDS medication, the article can help. The last sentence of the article says “Anyone who stops therapy, even briefly, is much more likely to develop a drug-resistant strain.” That sounds like disadvantage ground. From there, it is easy to see that cutting foreign aid will decrease AIDS medication, which increases drug resistant strains. Since these strains are passed on generationally, the AIDS outbreak will be bigger and harder to combat in the future. That sounds like a disadvantage worth running.
When news articles are examined in context, they are more valuable. Reading the news correctly saves time and gives nuanced, fact-based argumentation that wins rounds.
Dan Pugh is currently the debate captain for Grove City College’s debate team. In high school he captained the Vector Debate Team for two years. He won numerous speaker awards, won Region IX regionals twice, and broke at nationals twice. For Grove City, Dan won the National Novice Parliamentary Debate Championship in 2011, the NCCFI Varsity Championship in 2012, and reached British Parliamentary finals at the Cornell Intervarsity and Ohio Wesleyan debate tournaments in 2012.
Fantastic post, Dan. I can tell you are a super coach.
How do you suggest people entering the world of parli write down these types of points and save them for use at tournaments? For example, did your team write down and store the Iran Concrete info?
Well, for the Iran concrete information, I thought it was so bizarre that I remembered it. For other issues, our team has started working on short “briefs”. They’re not briefs in the sense that they don’t contain quotations. It’s more like an index to a brief. We list the arguments and data to support them. We had a piece of paper with the following on it:
Solvency: Can’t Destroy Iran’s Nuclear Arsenal
A. Some weapons hidden in mountain storage facilities
B. Iran’s concrete incredibly strong
–> Panetta: need to develop new bunker busters to be able to penetrate
C. Impact 1: Can’t destroy their whole arsenal.
B. Impact 2: Wounding Iran makes them more likely to rebuild and more likely to attack in future
–> will attack as soon as capable
That would have been one of about 5 arguments on the Iran Bombing Con sheet. We had a brief on possible courses of action for Iran. We tend to think through big issues (we had a new European Union idea for each tournament) and try to put our thoughts together going into each tournament. I hope that helps.