Genre 4: Editorial or Opinion Piece
In terms of rhetorical acts, the 2010 texts were primarily descriptive. By 2011, there is an increase in texts that are to some degree evaluative. The increase in texts in the editorial or opinion piece genre in 2011 suggests that writers have begun to consider that they are now able to put the 2010 events into context, with the purpose of making judgements about them (and the first anniversary is a motive to do so). The opinion piece genre is characterised in genre literature by the use of lexis that is rich in emotion and judgement, modal expressions that interpose the writer’s view on the propositions made and rhetorical persuasive features.
The editorial and opinion pieces in the 2011 data set are typical of the genre in that they exhibit judgement on the part of the writer. In these pieces it becomes more common that the writer takes responsibility for the proposition, rather than attributing it to another source, as is characteristic of news reports. The following extracts are examples of opinion pieces:
If the BP oil spill hadnt happened! | Deep Sea News #dsn #ocean RT: One year after the BP disaster, tell the President no new drilling: #B.
(The Right Blue via Twitter, 27.4.2011, my emphasis)
Ironically, while American oil companies are banned from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, other countries are not. (CaptainKudzu, 27.4.2011, my emphasis)
OPA [Oil Pollution Act] requires our state—like any other party harmed by the oil spill—to present a claim to BP before resorting to a lawsuit. Although Florida has at least three years from the date of the oil spill to assert its legal rights under OPA, we intend to file a claim with BP this summer. If BP does not do the right thing and pay that claim, I will not hesitate to take BP and any other responsible party to court. (Tampa Bay Times [Florida], 27.4.2011, my emphasis)
The first example is from a news digest piece that gathers together tweets and retweets them, the second is a blog and the third is a fragment of a letter to a newspaper. These three pieces are interesting in that they convey judgement and evaluation through diverse strategies. The first tweet of the first example makes use of the modal clause “If (only).. .then”, but uses only the “If” to indicate modal intent, perhaps reflecting the necessary economy of Twitter communication. The second retweet uses an imperative with no specific addressee—“tell the President”—to convey the writer’s view. In the blog, the comment adjunct “ironically” serves to indicate the writer’s view, while the rest of the proposition is an unmitigated declarative. The letter from the Florida Attorney General takes a much less conversational but no less direct tone. The lexis is formal and legal (“OPA”, “party”, “assert its legal rights”, “file a claim”) but the text is unequivocal in its expression of judgement through social sanction (Martin & White, 2005) in the phrase “If BP does not do the right thing”. In the three pieces the authorial position is being conveyed partly through the resources of modality, as might be expected, and partly through other linguistic resources—here choice of mood and the Appraisal System (lexis).
Earlier, I mentioned argumentation and persuasion strategies as characteristic of evaluative genres, and these are also found in the 2011 edito- rial/opinion texts. The following piece is an online newsletter reflection on the rising price of oil:
Looking for reasons why benchmark Brent crude is trading around $120 per barrel? There are plenty. Rapid economic recovery in emerging economies in Asia, political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and constrained supplies from the deepwater Gulf of Mexico are a few. (EI Finance, 27.4.2011)
A number of persuasive rhetorical strategies are exhibited in this short extract. The piece exhibits a Preview-Detail structure (Hoey, 2001; Winter, 1994) where the topic of reasons for high oil prices is raised, and reasons are enumerated. The fact that three reasons are chosen gives a balanced tricolon pattern to the final sentence. It is typical of persuasive argument (Cockcroft & Cockcroft, 2005) that the writer asks a question (“Looking for reasons...?”) that his subsequent argument will answer. The reasons are presented as fact, not opinion, with no mitigating expressions. This style of writing continues into the 2012 texts, and a similar tone is found in the extract below:
We’re living in a world of radical transparency. It’s changing the rules of marketing and offers enormous opportunity for those who get it right, and public humiliation for those who don’t. (Campaign Middle East, 27.4.2012)
Again, this is an evaluative piece, offering an assessment of the current marketing environment in the form of unmitigated declaratives, with no modal terms. This phenomenon might be called “opinion-as-fact”.
These examples of opinion pieces exhibit extreme variation in both channel and tone, but all share the generic aim of expressing opinion and evaluating phenomena. To achieve this, writers use not only modal expressions, but also lexis of affect and judgement and rhetorical strategies.