On July 20, 2012, a gunman killed twelve people and wounded another seventy in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. The next day, The Washington Post published an article about the shooting of which the intro is presented below.

Excerpt 1

There was a thump, the emergency-exit door swinging open. Then a flood of light pouring into the darkness. A figure wearing a gas mask and black body armour stepped into the theatre. The man paused. In the second row, Jennifer Seeger thought he might have stood there a full minute. “Maybe he’s just dressing up and being silly,” she thought. After all, this was a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Hollywood’s latest Batman movie. (Washington Post 2012, July 21)

Remarkably, these sentences do not provide the reader with any newsworthy information: they do not answer the questions that are by convention addressed in the lead paragraph of news reports about what happened, when it happened, where it happened, and who was responsible (Bell, 1991: 175-185). A narrative format is employed instead to elucidate how the shooting happened, which is indicated by the chronological ordering of events and the description of these events from the perspective of an eyewitness.

According to Peelo (2006), news narratives about high-impact criminal acts serve a specific function: they allow readers to engage emotionally with the people involved and invite them to virtually experience the news events as mediated witnesses. The present study aims to identify and describe the linguistic strategies that are used in news narratives to fulfil this function. Building on the cognitive linguistic theory of Mental Spaces (Fauconnier 1985), we will build upon models for the analysis of narrative discourse (Dancygier 2012; Sanders, Sanders and Sweetser 2012) to develop a model for the analysis of these journalistic stories. This model will then be applied to two news narratives about mass shootings in order to examine how language is used in these narratives to turn readers into mediated witnesses to the shootings.

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