Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

The Rhetoric of Speech Presentation in the Israeli Press

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

The Rhetoric of Speech Presentation in the Israeli Press

Article excerpt

Techniques of speech presentation in narrative fiction have been widely described by scholars of both literature and linguistics. In the press, like in fiction, strategies of presentation may be ordered along a continuum reflecting different degrees of directness in reporting the utterances. In the press, speech presentation is a result of a tension between the need to report the statements in standard "journalese" and the wish to communicate a sense of the original utterance. In newspaper headlines, especially in the popular press, direct quotes are rather common. In this way sppech presentation reflects a "rhetoric of trust" and should be viewed as part of creating a "showing" effect and dramatization. In our study we found a relatively high degree of mimesis in popular newspapers, as opposed to quality papers. Another difference lies in the degree of poetical presentation, which is widespread in popular press headlines.

1. Background and assumptions of the Study

News is generated by people. According to Gans (1979), news is first and foremost about people--their discourse and their actions. Segal (1986) claims that there is a conspicuous tendency in the press toward "the personification of politics"; news is frequently presented as a clash between personalities (Segal, 1986:12-15). Thus people become substitutes for the institutions that they represent or to which they belong. Hence the special pertinence of study on how journalists present the utterances and actions of people, the source material of the news.

Studying news items in the radio and print media, we find that a considerable proportion of news reportage concerns itself with the transmission of statements. Politicians and members of other elites "make news" principally by issuing statements or responding to the statements of others. Some news items embody a "dialogue" of sorts between politicians, sometimes conducted face-to-face but usually held at different times and in different locations.

Quotations are inserted in news items for the purpose of serving a rhetoric of trust. A news item so enhanced is portrayed as trustworthy and "true." A direct or "quasi-direct" quote mitigates, as it were, the degree of intervention by the reporter and allows the players, who take part in the event, to "speak for themselves." (1)

In a study we conducted (Roeh and Nir, 1990), we found that about 75 percent of all radio news items contained at least one quotation. In certain cases the utterance itself is the centerpiece of the story; in other cases it is used to support the news item (usually a report on an event). A study of headlines (including subheads) in four Israeli newspapers appearing within one week showed that 40 percent of all headlines in the sample contained at least one quotation. The percentage of quotations is much higher if the text that appears under the headline is included.

Utterances are, by nature, phrased in the speaker's idiolect. When the utterance reaches the reader through the print or electronic media, it undergoes a certain "adaptation" meant to cast it in an approximation of the news report register (NRR). A journalistic report on an utterance by necessity involves some intervention of the reporter (or editor).

It should be borne in mind that the form of intervention is largely dictated by the medium in which the report is presented. In this matter, newspaper journalism differs from electronic (radio or TV) journalism. The technical constraints of the medium aside, there are other factors that affect the molding of quotations. For example, Voice of Israel radio is known to be "statist" and monopolistic, and for this reason is supposed to maintain a "balance" between different social and political viewpoints while refraining from taking positions of its own.

In order to avoid ideological deviations, Israel radio is subject to Knesset (parliamentary) supervision and to the provisions of the Broadcasting Authority Law. …

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