Personalization as Cultural Practice: The Interpersonal Component of Language in the Opinion Discourse of British, German, and Italian Quality Press
Melanie Kerschner [+]
University of Salzburg
“Today, the social construction of news is widely accepted among news scholars” (Johnson-Cartee 2005: 186). News is not a naturally occurring phenomenon but a product crafted by news assemblers and news agencies, designed to appeal to the news consumer. News events are selected and news stories constructed with the reader in mind (cf. Murphy 2005). The present research project attempts to give insights into the different interpersonal meanings in British, German and Italian editorial discourse by proposing a framework that depicts the relationship between the discourse participants involved in the production and the reception of such a news text: the journalist(s), the reader(s) and the news actors. The aim is to explore “patterns of interpersonal meaning-making” (Halliday/Matthiessen 2014:42) (cf. Coffin/Donohue/North 2009, Halliday/Webster 2009). Apart from the author’s attitudes, evaluations and judgements of the news actors, the news events and the reader, the author may also try to solidarize with the reader to gain a shared perspective on the news event addressed. The empirical study follows the approach by Landert (2014) who classifies the effect of personalization according to three levels on which it can be realized and the discourse participant(s) it refers to: • the communicative setting (e.g. an opinion-based journalistic genre like the editorial) • the content (e.g. Does the news event that is being addressed involve the reader in any sense?) • the linguistic realization (through the direct address of the reader, personal pronouns and subjective stance) The paper will focus on the latter, that is the effect of personalization through the linguistic realization, more precisely through the use of personal, possessive and reflexive pronouns. This linguistic tool to create “a collective identity that includes the news site as well as the audience” (Landert 2014: 199) will be scrutinized from a cross-lingual and cross-cultural perspective of three different news cultures (i.e. the British, the German and the Italian). Whereas personalization per se has already been subject to quite a number of empirical studies, the presentation will try to highlight the role of news culture in the personalization of news events and to illuminate differences in the degrees of personalization, its function and the role of the reader, an enterprise which has not been undertaken so far. In doing so, the following questions shall be addressed: • To what extent do the use of personal pronouns and their effect in editorials differ between the three news cultures? • Which pronoun dominates editorial discourse: the self-reference to the author to express opinion and describe personal experiences, the inclusive we to solidarize with the readership, the exclusive we to stress the line of the editorial board and to explain their decision making, or the direct address of the audience to relate to the reader? • Which news culture exploits personal pronouns as a means to bridge the discursive gap the most and what effect does it have on the general style of editorial writing?