Evaluation in media discourse

European perspectives

by Ruth Breeze (Volume editor) Inés Olza (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 286 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 207


Despite the apparent novelty and fluidity of the media today, there is strong evidence that patterns are emerging which both reflect and extend the evaluative paradigms previously observed in the print and broadcast media. In this complex scenario, discourse analysis offers a rich and varied methodology for understanding the different types of evaluation conveyed through media texts and the way these project, reflect and develop their relationships with their audience. The chapters in this volume draw on a variety of analytical tools, including appraisal analysis, argumentation theory, multimodal approaches and corpus linguistics, to address the issue of evaluation in media discourse. The theoretical underpinning for these chapters ranges from corpus-informed discourse studies, through critical discourse analysis and semio-communicative approaches, to Bakhtinian perspectives. Although the chapters are all in English, the scope of the volume is broadly European, covering aspects of the British, Spanish, Dutch and German media in their traditional and online manifestations, as well as contrastive studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Introduction (Ruth Breeze / Inés Olza)
  • Stancetaking and inter/subjectivity in journalistic discourse: The Engagement system revisited (Juana I. Marín-Arrese)
  • Concession in evaluative argumentative discourse: The semantics, pragmatics and discourse functions of but and although (María de los Ángeles Gómez González)
  • Evaluation in the headlines of tabloids and broadsheets: A comparative study (Laura Alba-Juez)
  • Negotiating futures in socio-technical controversies in the media: strategies of opinion orientation (Paola Catenaccio)
  • The banality of evil. A study about translating “los desaparecidos” in the German and English press (Frank J. Harslem)
  • “A life well lived of a lady well loved”: The power of appraisal in the comments section (Isabel Corona)
  • The evaluative potential of colonial metaphor scenarios in (written) media representations of Spain’s economic expansion. Spanish investors as forceful aggressors or audacious pioneers? (Jasper Vandenberghe)
  • Re-articulating critical awareness about racism in public discourse: Changing one’s mind on the Black Pete debates in the Netherlands (Jan Zienkowski)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index

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This volume brings together a series of chapters that reflect key aspects of the research programme of the gradun project (Grupo de Análisis del Discurso, Universidad de Navarra, ICS), to which its coeditors Ruth Breeze and Inés Olza belong. Since it was founded in 2010, GRADUN’s core research has centred on public discourse, and more specifically, on media discourse, involving both team members and other colleagues in the application of a variety of analytical approaches to this important subject area.

The vast, swiftly changing scenario of public discourse, and the ongoing changes in its production and reception, mean that scholars must strive to keep up to date with this complex phenomenon, and to come up with more scientific responses to it. Although media discourse has always been a challenging topic (its inherent polyphony has been the object of many well-grounded analyses), today it presents us with certain characteristics which oblige us to tackle decisive issues such as: the progressive obliteration of differences between professional (or institutional) messages and non-professional ones; the nature of real-time interactions in the media between broadcasters/journalists and audience/readers, or enunciators and receptors; the ever-present possibility of recontextualisation and (de)legitimation of messages at different points along their routes of transmission; media effects on the use of formal and informal register and on discourse genres; and many other aspects. All this is happening in a framework within which multimodality is increasingly the rule rather than the exception.

Researching public discourse is almost the same as analysing evaluative discourse, and a wide range of conceptual paradigms and methodological approaches is available to this end. In the present volume, each author exercises his or her legitimate freedom in the choice of framework and analytical method. The highly argumentative texture of public discourse is constituted by an abundance of interwoven evaluative threads which give consistency to its overall pattern and ← 7 | 8 → tone, but the analysis of just one such thread often requires considerable methodological rigour. The reflections and proposals outlined in these chapters afford valuable insights into some of the multiple variables that affect the construction and interpretation of media messages.

Readers will be able to appreciate the depth, balance and sensitivity of the analyses offered here, which are the result of the authors’ expertise and familiarity with the topics and texts that they discuss. I have no doubt that these studies, in addition to being significant in themselves, will lay solid foundations for future research on evaluation in media discourse. I would like to express my gratitude to the editors of this volume, and to all the authors who contributed to it.

Manuel Casado-Velarde

Principal Investigator of the Project “Public Discourse” (GRADUN)

Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra

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Any attempt to analyse evaluation in media discourse today has to address a vast and multifarious phenomenon. Although approaches devised originally for researching on print media still offer important insights, they usually need to be adapted and refined for use with multimodal and interactive media. This book provides a series of studies addressing various points across the spectrum of media discourse, from the traditional print media, to newspapers in transition, to online media and the blogosphere. Here, we consider briefly the nature of the challenges that our authors have faced, and comment on the way in which the different contributions engage with the themes running through the volume as a whole.

Media and media discourse

The concept of media discourse is both simple and complex. In a very straightforward sense, media discourse clearly refers to the messages (conveyed in language and other semiotic systems) that are sent through some broadcast system to readers/viewers/users who are not physically present. But in a deeper sense, media discourse is also a powerful and profound social phenomenon with far-reaching implications for the ways people understand the world, and for the ways societies are formed and transformed. In the words of van Dijk (1985: 5), in the context of the media, discourse is not an “intervening variable” between media institutions or journalists and their audience, but is rather “a central and manifest cultural and social product in and through which meanings and ideologies are expressed or (re)produced.” ← 9 | 10 →

It is evident that media discourse is essentially a public discourse, directed towards a specific audience but not limited to that audience. It can be defined as a form of discourse that is on-record, that is, it remains in the public arena for an indeterminate period of time, so that it can be read, heard and analysed many days, weeks or years after it is produced. For this reason, we can say that the positions and exchanges enacted in the public media have always been – to varying degrees – open-ended, inviting stance-taking, reaction and reflection on the part of their audiences, perhaps long after the event. However, changes over the last twenty years have meant that this openness has expanded to such an extent that it is almost impossible to track all the routes of transmission, retransmission and reaction of even one simple message.

Today, the presence and importance of media discourses in all our lives are beyond dispute. Yet at the same time, the conventional understanding of the media as being embodied in specific institutions with more or less defined ideological positions has been destabilised. It is hardly necessary to say that the media are undergoing fundamental changes both in terms of production and reception. The emergence of new media has utterly transformed both the way media discourses are created, the type of producers who create them, and the nature of the responses that they can receive. Traditional media institutions like newspapers now include video, interactive graphics and comments pages, television programmes have websites and chatrooms, social networking sites allow individuals to “broadcast” public or personal images, text and video to vast audiences. All these media are characterised by increasing interactivity, in that they no longer simply send out messages to their audiences, but rather emit contributions of different kinds within an ever-closer network of reciprocal communication. Indeed, new technological affordances invite the public to increasingly active participation, which challenges the type of control that was previously exerted by the print and broadcast media. The main changes that have emerged over the last twenty years can be summarised as follows:

  1. The accessibility of online media and web publication now calls into question the relationship between what were once understood as “the media” (television channels, newspapers, radio stations) and other forms of media production to which individuals ← 10 | 11 → or organisations can easily obtain access (blogs, websites, podcasting, social media).
  2. Readers/viewers/listeners no longer receive and react in isolation. The recipients of media messages can respond to them, and trigger further responses, leading to an extension of the cycle of process and production, and to heightened interactivity with media producers.
  3. Interaction is increasingly multi-directional, as audiences interact with each other as well as with media producers by submitting comments, taking part in opinion polls, linking photos, and so on.
  4. The social media have a “ripple effect” which means that their ephemeral character is attenuated: consumers or commentators can easily pass their messages on to hundreds of other people, who can add or react to them and pass them on again (O’Keeffe 2011), which raises new questions about how media messages are generated, stored and propagated.
  5. Earlier media tended to offer stable systems with relatively clearly defined technological affordances; however, 21st century media place highly complex combinations of modes of communication at the disposal of any interested user, making multimodality the norm rather than the exception (Serafini 2014).
  6. Time scales are changing radically and lag effects are dwindling, because audiences can interact with media producers and each other in real time.

These transformations raise many complex questions for those who study media discourse, ranging from the nature of media languages themselves (formality, informality, in-group and out-group discourses), to the nature of what can truly be described as a media discourse (the discourses found in social media, “official” media, discussion forums, multimodal combinations). Importantly, the study of media discourse has to take account of the growing importance of non-professional and non-institutional media (such as reader comments, twitter, or blogs and video logs or “vlogs”) as the much-vaunted generation of “digital natives” takes the floor (Hoechsmann/Poyntz 2010). Additionally, it also has to problematise further the (already complex) relationship between ← 11 | 12 → production and consumption of media discourses. And, perhaps even more importantly for our present purpose, it has to develop analytical tools that can deal with complex multimodal discourses in a principled way.

In this book, the concept of media discourse adopted is broad, in order to encompass a range of publications, media and texts. News reporting and newspaper discourses are discussed in several of the chapters, with specific attention to the different characteristics of each publication and genre, and the changes in traditional newspaper conventions that are currently emerging in online formats. PAOLA CATENACCIO centres on media positioning towards a controversial topic in the main print version of four leading UK newspapers that are influential in the shaping of public opinion: The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and The Times. JUANA I. MARÍN-ARRESE also focuses on The Guardian and The Times, but contrasts evaluative resources across three genres: opinion, leading articles and news. The German and US media are also represented, in the chapter by FRANK J. HARSLEM about the term “los desaparecidos”, which originated during the Argentine dictatorship, and which came to be used as a culturally-loaded loanword in both English and German. Harslem turns our attention to developments in media language over time, and to the use of specific lexical items in two weeklies, Der Spiegel and Time Magazine from 1976 and 2011. JASPER VANDENBERGHE also takes a cross-cultural approach, but centres on the print versions of several news sources, concentrating particularly on two major European newspapers, The Financial Times and El País, to explore how they represent Spanish investors in Latin America and elsewhere. His corpora of newspaper articles provide evidence of emotionally-charged societal discourses in the mainstream media of different countries, which may have serious consequences for international relations and understanding.

Since the transition from print to online news formats has unsettled many of the established conventions in genre, register and mode, it is hardly surprising that the traditional divide between “serious” and “tabloid” newspapers is also being eroded. Addressing these changes, LAURA ALBA-JUEZ explores the evaluative resonance of headlines across broadsheets and tabloids in the Internet versions of BBC Online, The ← 12 | 13 → Guardian, The Mirror and The Daily Mail, calling into question some of the received notions about headline language. Her analysis points to considerable overlap between representatives of the traditional tabloid/broadsheet dichotomy, and suggests that changes are under way which destabilise the conventional understanding of the way the British press relates to its readers. Although it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions from this sample, there is some suggestion that this chapter provides further evidence for the “tabloidisation” of the broadsheet press or, at the very least, some erosion of previous distinctions.

Of course, one of the most dramatic differences between print newspapers and online newspapers lies in the degree of interaction with readers. While readers’ opinions were traditionally mediated through a few selected “letters to the editor”, they now proliferate in a multitude of different tones and voices in the comments pages. Bridging this conceptual gap between traditional newspapers and interactive formats, the chapter by ISABEL CORONA explores the dynamics of the readers’ comment pages in the Mail Online, and looks at the way in which readers interact with text and photographs to build – and also negotiate interpersonally – their own constructions of events and personalities. In particular, she asks how this new genre cluster reinforces or undermines the standing of the newspaper as an institution, and how it affects the readers’ understanding of the genre.

The diversity of affordances present in online media is also represented here in the chapters by JAN ZIENKOWSKI and MARÍA DE LOS ÁNGELES GÓMEZ GONZÁLEZ. Zienkowski’s paper looks at how one blogger/vlogger grapples with a racist issue in the Netherlands, while Gómez González explores evaluative parameters in one hundred book and film reviews from Epinions.com, an open platform for consumer reviews. Zienkowski’s analysis sheds light on the social and political implications of blogging, and explores how the subject of his study exploits multimodal affordances to construct an ethical space that enables her to rearticulate her own stance on a controversial issue. Without breaching the genre conventions of the blog, this blogger is able to dialogue with other voices through videos and hyperlinks, engaging reflexively with her own previous stance in order to reposition herself discursively. Gómez González, on the other hand, considers the ← 13 | 14 → linguistic mechanisms of concession and contrast in new media texts, uncovering the fundamentally dialogic style adopted by reviewers in online consumer review platforms, and relating this to issues of alignment and face-work. Concession, it seems, is key to negotiating the complex interpersonal space that opens up in online reviews, and in particular, appears to be used to ward off potential misunderstandings on the part of imagined (or inscribed) readers.

Perspectives on evaluation

This volume takes a broad view of evaluation, understanding that evaluation is not to be found in a list of a priori evaluative devices, but rather emerges in each specific context as a result of negotiation between speakers and hearers (Cortazzi/Jin 2000: 103). Specifically in media discourses, evaluation is an aspect of the way that meaning is negotiated between writers/speakers and their multiple addressees and co-constructors of discourse on many layers and within complex networks. Analytical perspectives on evaluation are almost as diverse as approaches to communication as a whole, so this book cannot aspire to representing even a small number of the available frameworks. Within the limited scope of this volume, a range of frameworks is represented, including Appraisal theory, metaphor analysis, and multimodal discourse analysis.

The highly influential Appraisal framework offers an approach to evaluative language which forms the theoretical background to several of the chapters in this volume (Martin/White 2005). Although this derives from Systemic Functional Linguistics, it is increasingly being used in areas that would perhaps otherwise be associated with discourse studies, as it is particularly suited to handling the multidimensional complexity of media texts. At the same time, it is also increasingly being questioned, refined and blended with other approaches in a generative way. This volume provides case studies involving both the intersection with other methodological approaches, and the critical analysis of Appraisal itself. LAURA ALBA-JUEZ’s chapter draws from Appraisal analysis, but combines ← 14 | 15 → this with other methodologies including multimodal analysis in order to interpret the headline as a discursive phenomenon, and to map its behaviour in online formats. Her study takes in, on the one hand, the syntactic constructions used in the headlines, and on the other, the different ‘ingredients’ or qualitative variables of the Evaluative Functional Relationship (Alba-Juez: forthcoming), whereby evaluation is treated as a function of a number of variables that interact with one another. She views evaluative action as a continuum where intermediate or mixed stances can be identified, and a central “neutral” stance is also possible. Her analysis is of necessity complex, because most of these headlines contain more than one type of evaluation, but it enables her to conclude that in both broadsheets and tabloids, the commonest evaluative combination is that of Heteroglossic Engagement, with the Judgement subsystem within Attitude, followed by Monoglossic Engagement and Judgement (within Attitude). Her rather surprising finding that broadsheets present their headlines monoglossically more often than tabloids do, while tabloids more often project a negotiable stance, surely provides a stimulating starting point for future investigation.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (January)
Discourse analysis Media Evaluation Metaphor Argumentation
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2017. 268 pp., 16 b/w ill., 27 tables, 2 graphs

Biographical notes

Ruth Breeze (Volume editor) Inés Olza (Volume editor)

Ruth Breeze and Inés Olza are researchers at the Instituto Cultura y Sociedad, University of Navarra, Spain. Ruth Breeze is Senior Lecturer in English and author of Corporate Discourse (2015). Inés Olza is author of Corporalidad y lenguaje. La fraseología somática metalingüística del español (Peter Lang, 2011), and is a full-time Research Fellow.


Title: Evaluation in media discourse
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