A logical place to start may be to ask ‘what is news?’ Professor Jonathan Bignell suggests that ‘news is not just facts, but representations produced in language and other signs like photographs.’ The newspaper is just one medium of news communication; other media include television, radio, magazines, and the Internet. We will concentrate on a particular news item as covered in three different British daily newspapers, namely The Sun, The Telegraph, and The Times. The story which is being covered is that of the death of a female police officer who was stabbed by a man whilst she was on duty. The medium of the newspaper is particularly interesting as signifiers are presented simultaneously thus offering a concrete display of signs which the reader can consume at their own pace and can also be re-read, as opposed to television or radio news which can only be watched or listened to at particular times. The process of selection is central to the production of all newspapers. This involves selecting events which are considered to be worthy of being printed as news, and excluding news which is considered to be irrelevant, insignificant or unworthy of news coverage. Thus news is a social construct dependent on what is deemed to be important by those who work in the ‘news industry’ based on certain codes of behaviour which have been learned by news workers in order to do their job. The codes of behaviour which have been learnt by news workers undoubtedly depend on the particular newspaper for which they are working.
It could be suggested that in British society most adults would be aware of the conventions of different newspapers. We will attempt to examine the types of sign systems within which a particular news story is encoded in a selection of newspapers, and how these different sign systems may affect meaning. It is clear when looking at The Sun, The Telegraph, and The Times articles, which were all published on Saturday, April 18th, 1998 that each newspaper attaches significance to different news items. This is made clear by looking at the front pages of each newspaper, with The Sun's main front page story concentrating on the relationship of Patsy Kensit and Liam Gallagher, compared to The Telegraph's main story which concentrates on a ‘shake-up’ of scientific committees that advise government ministers on food safety; and The Times main front page story which covers the story of the new National Lottery Big Ticket show which is facing the BBC ‘axe’. Although we will not be concentrating on the comparison of the front pages of the newspapers in this term paper, these examples demonstrate how drastically the different newspapers differ in what constitutes front-page news. The examples also demonstrate the interpretation of newspaper conventions, as we analyse the stories which are considered to be the intended main news of the front-page. As can be seen with the front page of The Sun the main story is clear as it dominates most of the available space on the front-page. However, with the other newspapers the distinction is not quite as clear. The main criteria when deciding on which was the main story of the front-pages of The Telegraph and The Times was the size of the typeface of the headline. This emphasises that the reader comes to the newspaper with a set of codes with which to decode the text, and these codes may differ from individual to individual. This leads to the point that the text is open to a variety of interpretations depending on the ideological standpoint of the reader, and whether the reader is familiar with the newspaper and the codes which. it employs to communicate the ‘news’ which it has selected.
Connotations of the linguistic and visual signs which are presented by newspapers are central to the meaning of the news item to the reader. The connotations of the news item are perceived within a coded framework and there are recognisable codes within different newspapers. It is clear that...
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