White, Peter R.
Linguistics Department
Sydney University

Peter R. White
33 Marian St.
Enmore, NSW


Strand: discourse English (genre studies)

Title: Inventing Objectivity: modes of narrative and the historical development of the news story in French and English journalism

The paper explores the historical evolution of English and French print journalism as a functional variety of language with special attention to the 'hard news' story, a text type typically devoted to reports of eruptive violence, reversal of fortune, the pursuit of power and moral transgression. It will demonstrate the relationship between the contemporary media's claims to 'factuality' and 'neutrality', and the idiosyncratic generic structure and distinctive configuration of register variables found in modern English-language news reports and to a lesser extent in French-language newspapers. This structure is based on an 'orbital' model of textual organisation in which dependent 'satellites' act to specify a textually and rhetorically dominant 'nucleus'. The distinctive configuration of register variables entails a reweighting of lexico-grammatical probabilities through which key interpersonal meanings are either excluded or severely constrained. The paper will argue that, through the combination of this generic structure with an interpersonally-constrained 'voice', the modern news story becomes a potent rhetorical device by which the media is able to naturalise a particular ideologically-informed model of the social order. This structure and interpersonal orientation will be shown to have emerged in the early 20th century and to have been associated with the rise of the so-called 'media barons' and the development of a mass-market for media products.