Serious and popular press in Britain
Crime news should not be seen as being confined to the popular (i.e. tabloid) press only. A number of studies into the proportion of crime news in daily newspapers carried out in the western world reveal that crime news is an indispensable part of western daily press (Wardle 2008). The style of reporting, the linguistic and non-linguistic means employed by serious papers naturally differ from the strategies and means of the popular press, since different types of press are targeted at different audiences, but it would be wrong to assume that crime news is excluded from serious newspapers’ agenda. According to the National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct, “the public interest” among others also includes “detecting or exposing crime or serious misdemeanour” (www.nuj.org.uk). No matter which newspaper they read, readers, regardless of their socio-economic background, education or informational needs and interests, are encouraged to consider important moral questions evoked by particular events. This may be achieved more easily when readers naturally identify with the victims-ordinary people who found themselves “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, or sympathise with the victims who might be their children or friends. Jewkes (2004) states that any crime that involves children is certain to receive public attention and extensive press coverage, whether the children involved are victims or offenders. Children are typically considered “the future of the nation” and as helpless innocent beings need protection both from their families and the society. When they fall victims to crime, the society should be alarmed. Similarly, the society should be alarmed on finding that children become offenders, because if “they engage in deviant behaviour it is often viewed as symptomatic of a society that is declining even further into a moral morass” (Jewkes 2004: 58).
Thus, for both kinds of press-serious and popular-crime news has a wide social potential which newspapers exploit in accordance with their readership preferences and expectations. Due to economic factors and fierce competition in the media market, it is not uncommon at present that journalists use the same prior text, i.e. a report provided by a press agency, or PR materials, which they modify in both content and language in order to suit the newspaper’s intended readership (Franklin 2008, Lewis et al. 2008, Temple 2008). Therefore, the differences between newspapers consist predominantly in the language and style rather than the amount and type of information provided about an event. Whereas tabloids will adhere to their strategy of “calling a spade a spade”, serious papers, which cherish “objectivity” as their traditional value, cannot afford to make overt evaluations but have other means at their disposal that enable them to communicate evaluations to their readers “between the lines”.
Language is thus not only a mediator of information but also a mediator and constitutor of social meanings, social relations and social identities, or as Fairclough maintains, language is “socially shaped, but also socially shaping-or socially constitutive” (Fairclough 1995: 55).