Language and journalism

The instrumental relation between language and journalism has yielded productive lines of inquiry in critical discourse analysis, conversation analysis, corpus linguistics and sociolinguistics (for a recent overview, see O'Keeffe, 2012). These systematic and detailed studies have pointed to ways in which news texts make particular worldviews seem common- sense. They have taught us about the structure, form and functions of news discourse. They have described interactional aspects of broadcast news and multimodal aspects of online news. However, investigations of media language have tended to remain 'unpeopled' and primarily text-driven, with little focused attention paid to the production process. This analytical blind spot was first observed by Jef Verschueren, who in 1985 wrote that discourse analysis of journalism tends to ignore the 'structural and functional properties of the news gathering and reporting process' (1985). More recently, Philo (2007), has argued that purely text-based critical discourse analysis in the work of Fairclough (2003) and Van Dijk (1988) encounters a series of problems specifically in its ability to show: (1) the origins of competing discourses and how they relate to different social interests; (2) the diversity of social accounts compared to what is present (and absent) in a specific text; (3) the impact of external factors such as professional ideologies on the manner in which the discourses are represented; and (4) what the text actually means to different parts of the audience.

Although these critiques present something of a strawman argument as they overstate the absence of a production component in critical discourse analysis and predate the emergence of alternative approaches (Richardson, 2008; Krzyzanowski, 2011), they highlight the necessity of analysing news discourse beyond the purely textual level. A more encompassing, holistic approach to the language of journalism is exactly what one group of scholars belonging to a group called NewsTalk&Text advocates. Building on seminal work by Verschueren (1985), Bell (1991) and Jacobs (1999), and more recent work by Cotter (2010), Van Hout et al. (2011) and Perrin (2013), NewsTalk&Text prioritises 'ethnographic descriptions and [...] insider perspectives on the actual practices and values of news production, documenting how these often differ from the claims of theorists, while simultaneously exploring new theoretical frameworks to better understand and analyse news production practices' (Catenaccio et al., 2011). This small but growing network of language and media scholars has ventured into newsrooms to capture a sense of what contemporary newsmaking is and does. This brings me to the ethnography of journalism.

 
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