Aspects of Newspaper Language - newspaper coverage with focus on the example of the Harold Shipman case

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

20 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1 Introduction

2 The Language in the News – pure facts or subjective ideas?
2.1 What is News?
2.2 Newspapers
2.3 News Style
2.3.1 Headlines

3 The linguistic structure in the Press
3.1 Oral models in the Press
3.2 Linguistic tools in newspaper language – an overview
3.2.1 Transitivity
3.2.2 Lexical Structure
3.2.3 Interpersonal Elements Modality Speech Acts

4 Conclusion



Newspaper articles

1 Introduction

Media are the dominating presenters of language in our society. News language has a mass audience, it´s the few talking to the many, and thus has enormous power and influence in the world. This term paper will analyse some important works of linguistic theory concerning the language in the news, especially focussing on the print language of newspapers. Chapter 2 wants to give a brief introduction into the field, that means it gives some definitions extracted from different sources to the general meaning of newspaper language. The theoretical background knowledge like e. g. explicit linguistic tools that are characteristic and exclusively found in newspaper language are being presented in the following chapters. Here, I will try to demonstrate in how far the role of linguistic structure is extremely important in the construction of language in the news. The explained analytic devices will be better illustrated by examples taken from select British newspapers, all dealing with the Harold Shipman case, one of the most spectacular event in British media. Harold Shipman, a British general practitioner, was the most prolific known serial killer in the history of Britain who killed around 250 patients from the 1970s to 1998, mainly elderly women who lived alone and were otherwise in good health. He was eventually caught after he ineptly forged a new will in the name of one of his victims. Shipman was convicted on 15 sample charges in 2000 and sentenced to life imprisonment. “Dr. Death” (the media gave him this nickname) committed suicide in 2004, without admitting to or explaining his crimes.

The style of the Sun newspaper is very different from that of the Guardian, and the readerships of the two papers are very distinct in socioeconomical terms. Therefore, the reports by four different British newspapers concerning this topic are being examined and compared, namely the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mirror and The Sun. After all, this paper wants to prove that news is a representation of a construction of social and economic values, and not a value-free reflection of “facts”. It is written to look at the way the news texts present, and to a certain extent create or at least influence, aspects of our (in this case the British) culture and society.

2 The Language in the News – pure facts or subjective ideas?

Dealing with news writing or the language through which news are written, there are some main characteristics. It encompasses not only a specific sentence structure and vocabulary but the order in which stories present information. In addition to this, their tone and the readers and interests they shall satisfy are not less important. According to Fowler, the ‘content’ of newspapers is not facts about the world, but in a very general sense ‘ideas’ (Fowler 1991: 1). Thus, according to his thesis / theory, language in the Press is a social construction of ideas, beliefs or values and thus definitely not objective and neutral. This collides with the journalist´s self –image of impartiality and neutrality. However, contemporary research results revealed some interesting facts disproving this claim: the alternative picture of news practices looks different. Fowler also calls language in this context ‘a highly constructive mediator’ (Fowler 1991: 1).

“Thus, news is a practice: a discourse which, far from neutrally reflecting social reality and empirical facts, intervenes in what Berger and Luckmann call `the social construction of reality´.” (Fowler 1991: 2)

This again shows why the role of linguistic structure is so important in the construction of language in the news.

Even while the British press is seen as free, there are certain points that need to be taken into consideration here, before it is possible to accept (or reject) this view of the British press as “free”, and decide exactly what it means when talking about press freedom. What is news? What is a newspaper? Do newspapers contain news and to what extent?

2.1 What is News?

The word news is a late Middle English term and means “tidings, new information of recent events”. This definition could be regarded as a useful description of what a newspaper delivers, but it is not satisfactory, because everything that happens anywhere in the world is a recent event. Thus, someone has to decide which of all the events that happen every second are to be included in a specific newspaper, and also which are to be excluded. As a logical fact, newspapers cannot include everything. Generally, these decisions are seen as editorial control, they are being made by the editor. What Reah criticizes in this context is the aspect that the readers have little or no control over what is or is not being presented and that the majority of readers are not particularly aware of this issue. The reader is not able to comment on the decision which information is excluded because he will probably not be aware that the omitted item of information exists (see Reah 2002: 4). To Reah, the selection of items to put on the news pages may also affect the way in which the reader is presented with the world. As an example, she mentions the front page stories about attacks by dogs on adults and children a few years ago. The animals suddenly became “monsters”, “devil dogs” and other horror creatures. This presentation in the media had been the prime mover behind changes in legislation not only in Britain, but also in many other countries, such as Germany (Reah 2002: 4).

2.2 Newspapers

For the purposes of this paper, newspapers – in our case the national British press - will be classified into 3 kinds (taken from Tunstall 1996):

- broadsheet papers (the Independent, the Telegraph, the Times, the Guardian)
- middle-range tabloids (the Express, the Daily Mail)
- tabloids (the Star, the Mirror, the Sun)

In her book, Reah also deals with the interesting question whether newspapers contain news. She mentions a fascinating aspect:

“An editor of the New York Times once said that about 60 per cent of the content of his newspaper was advertising.” (Reah 2002: 2)

This statement and several analyses clearly demonstrate that the major content of a newspaper is not news reporting. She concludes her analysis of the two newspapers (Guardian and Sun) with the following sentence:

“The main point is, however, that in both papers, sport, entertainment and advertising occupy a greater number of pages than does news, and the percentage of page space in both cases demonstrates the importance of advertising content to both papers.” (Reah 2002: 3)

2.3 News Style

News style or news writing is the prose style of short, front-page newspaper stories. Specifically, news writing strives to be intelligible to the vast majority of potential readers, as well as to be engaging and succint. Within the limits created by these goals, news stories also aim for a kind of comprehensiveness. They attempt to answer all the 5 Ws: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and occasionally How? as well. The point is not comprehensiveness per se, but to satisfy reader curiosity. Journalists try to anticipate readers´ likely questions and answer them. Among the larger and more respected newspapers, fairness and balance is a major factor for the presentation of information. Commentary is usually confined to a separate section, though each paper may have a different overall slant. Editorial policy extends to the use of adjectives, euphemisms, and idioms. Papers with an international audience for example, usually use a more formal style of writing.

2.3.1 Headlines

The main function of a headline is to attract a reader to a story and –if it appears on the front page- to the paper. Because of the highly limited space on a page it should encapsulate the whole story in a minimum number of words.


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Aspects of Newspaper Language - newspaper coverage with focus on the example of the Harold Shipman case
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Englisches Seminar)
Legal Language
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ISBN (eBook)
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Aspects, Newspaper, Language, Harold, Shipman, Legal, Language
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Denise Sajdl (Author), 2006, Aspects of Newspaper Language - newspaper coverage with focus on the example of the Harold Shipman case , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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