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A Day in the News

A Stylistic Analysis of Newsspeak

by Massimiliano Morini (Author)
Monographs VI, 182 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 251

Summary

A Day in the News is the linguistic description of a single day in the life of the British press – Wednesday, 19 August 2015. Employing a variety of tools and methods – from multimodality to pragmatics, from close reading to computational stylistics – Morini looks at nine different «journalistic worlds» and their respective «Newsspeaks». The results are often revealing: by providing its readers with an accurate idea of the universe projected by each paper, this study revises many received ideas on the clear-cut boundaries separating «popular» from «highbrow» journalism.
In the process, A Day in the News also sums up more than three decades of work on the language of newspapers, and provides a general analytical method for journalism in the digital age. The three chapters of the book focus, respectively, on the multimodal features of newspapers and their e-editions; on the quantitative prominence accorded to certain wordings and topics in each newspaper; and on the ideological/evaluative slant with which news items are presented and commented. Throughout, the focus is not on some outmoded notion of journalistic style, but on the degrees of proximity or distance presupposed by different formats, layouts and linguistic registers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • 0. Introduction
  • 0.1 Style and the news: purpose and plan of the book
  • 0.2 The corpus
  • 0.3 A brief history of news stylistics
  • 1. Multimodal stylistics and the news
  • 1.1 Proximity and distance: a multimodal appeal
  • 1.2 The weight and size of news
  • 1.3 The battle of first pages: size, type, colour
  • 1.4 The concrete poetry of headlines
  • 1.5 What kind of news? Newspaper topics and genres
  • 1.6 Photojournalism
  • 1.7 Online journalism
  • 1.8 Conclusion: news and entertainment
  • 2. Corpus linguistics and the news
  • 2.1 Linguistic proximity vs distance: easy reading and direct appeal
  • 2.2 The news in numbers
  • 2.3 Linguistic distance/1: personal and social deixis
  • 2.4 Linguistic distance/2: register and processability
  • 2.5 Keyness
  • 2.6 Conclusion: spoken vs written newspapers?
  • 3. The news in close reading
  • 3.1 Introduction: coolness and warmth
  • 3.2 Evaluation and emotion in the news: suspects, bombers, terrorists
  • 3.3 The stylistics of (complex) arguments: e-cigarettes and e-cigs
  • 3.4 Sensational stylistics: shark attack!
  • 3.5 The stylistics of popular culture: star footballers, booze and crashes
  • 3.6 Conclusion: to draw a moral or adorn a tale
  • 4. Conclusion: getting closer and closer
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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Acknowledgements

Thanks are due to Donatella Montini and Riccardo Capoferro, who invited me to speak at their Rome conference on Capire la forma / Framing Form (19–20 February 2016); to the academic journal Fictions, for hosting my article on “Bombers and Terrorists: The Stylistics of News Stories”; to the DISCUI department of the Università degli Studi di Urbino “Carlo Bo”, for financing this research; and to Paola Venturi, for correcting the proofs and helping me make Monday sense of the Sunday papers. ← 1 | 2 →

← 2 | 3 →

0.  Introduction

0.1  Style and the news: purpose and plan of the book

Tho’ the other Papers which are publish’d for the Use of the Good People of England have certainly very wholesom Effects, and are laudable in their Particular Kinds, they do not seem to come up to the Main Design of such Narrations, which, I humbly presume, should be principally intended for the Use of Politick Persons, who are so publick-spirited as to neglect their own Affairs to look into Transactions of State. Now these Gentlemen, for the most Part, being Persons of strong Zeal and weak Intellects, it is both a Charitable and Necessary Work to offer something, whereby such worthy and well-affected Members of the Commonwealth may be instructed, after their Reading, what to think: […] I resolve also to have something which may be of Entertainment to the Fair Sex, in Honour of whom I have invented the Title of this Paper. (Bond 1987: 15)

When Sir Richard Steele inaugurates the Tatler on 12 April 1709, his first writing act is trying to identify the readers for whom his periodical is intended – as well as a reason why these people should choose his publication over others already in existence. These prospective readers, Steele says, are people who “neglect their own Affairs to look into Transactions of State”, and the main purpose of the paper must be to instruct them on such affairs, and help them to form correct opinions (they have to be “instructed, after their Reading, what to think”). Moreover, the editor proposes to have something less serious – more in the line of general “Entertainment” – in every issue, so that women readers can be drawn to the pages of the journal.

While these statements of intent are partly literal – the Tatler is certainly meant for women and for “publick-spirited” people who want to know what is going on in the world – they are also demonstrably ironical and satirical. The very people for whom Steele purports to write are presented as “Persons of strong Zeal and weak Intellects”: and given this damning characterization, it is almost inevitable to read some ← 3 | 4 → ironic implicature in “publick-spirited” and “worthy and well-affected Members of the Commonwealth”.1 As for women, they are courteously termed the “Fair Sex”, and told that the paper has been named in their honour: but the paper is named “Tatler”, and the suspicion immediately arises that this class of readers is being castigated for their interest in mere tittle-tattle. Strangely enough, Steele seems bent on alienating the very people he appears to be ingratiating.

The reason for this apparent contradiction can only be that Steele’s intended readership is composed of all those who are able to understand and appreciate his jokes (at their own expense, or at the expense of all those who are not able to understand them). By adopting a falsely humble tone and a highly ironical stance, the editor both elects an ideal readership and endows them with a strong sense of kinship with his periodical. Thus, the identification between reader and writer/journalist does not only depend on the content of these opening statements, but also – and perhaps decisively – on their style. The projected readers2 of this passage are those who understand the style and use a similar (conversational, written) style themselves.

The present study explores the language of nine English newspapers at this intersection between style and reader projection: in the following linguistic and multimodal analyses of the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Star, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Sun and The Times, style is looked at not as an end in itself – i.e., as what makes one newspaper radically different from another – but as a means to the end of attracting one’s perceived and/or chosen readership. ← 4 | 5 →

In this sense, the aims of “news stylistics” cannot help but differ from the ones traditionally set for literary stylistics. In their seminal 1981 monograph on Style in Fiction, Geoffrey Leech and Mick Short defined the goal of their discipline as “explaining the relation between language and artistic function” (Leech and Short 2007: 11); and in his 1996 study of The Language of Poems, Plays and Prose, Short defined a three-way route (from description through interpretation to evaluation) which explicitly posed the question of literary value (Short 1996: 3). But since there is no intrinsic artistic function to the language of news – though occasionally, considerations of artistry may apply – any evaluation of “newsspeak”3 can only be linked to the strategies whereby each newspaper addresses its audience. Rather than a “monist” view of style which treats texts as ultimately unchangeable and irreplaceable, the present study shares Leech and Short’s “dualist” view: “every writer necessarily makes choices of expression, and […] it is in these choices, in a particular ‘way of putting things’, that style resides” (Leech and Short 2007: 16). Only, in news stylistics, these ways of putting things are compared with each other as reader attractors, rather than mere “style markers”.4

An interesting bridge between the notion of “style” and the idea of reader attraction is provided by Allan Bell in a long 1984 essay on “Language style as audience design”. Bell is not specifically interested in journalistic language, and his main focus is spoken and conversational style, rather than its written counterpart – but his intuitions on how people adapt their linguistic habits to their audience have important repercussions on the study of media communication. ← 5 | 6 →

Bell’s understanding of style is essentially sociolinguistic: he observes that individual conversational styles change according to the audience addressed by the speaker at any given moment. The word “audience” is deliberately vague, because it has to accommodate all the roles comprehended in Goffman’s (1981) “participation framework”, revisited by Bell to fit his theory. In any given communicative situation, there may be addressees (people who are known, ratified, and addressed), auditors (participants who are known and ratified, but not addressed), overhearers (people who are known to be there by the sender, but are neither ratified nor addressed), and eavesdroppers (who are not known, and take part in the communicative exchange either intentionally or by chance; Bell 1984: 159). The actual or potential presence of each one of these figures may have a bearing on the kind of style chosen by the sender, and in Bell’s estimation these interpersonal factors are much more important than any other sociolinguistic conditions like topic and setting (Bell 1984: 159; Fishman 1972: 17–21).

Biographical notes

Massimiliano Morini (Author)

Massimiliano Morini is Associate Professor of English Linguistics and Translation at the University of Urbino «Carlo Bo». He has published extensively on translation history (Tudor Translation in Theory and Practice, Ashgate 2006) and theory (The Pragmatic Translator, Bloomsbury 2013), as well as literary and multimodal stylistics (Jane Austen’s Narrative Techniques, Ashgate 2009).

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