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Reader Response in the Digital Age. Letters to the editor vs. below-the-line comments. A synchronic comparison.

Eller, Monika

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Heralded by some as the biggest revolution of the Internet, with great egalitarian and democratic potential, web 2.0 and social media are frowned on by others as sites where users constantly compete to take centre stage, more often than not by sharing everyday banalities, thus flooding the web with “tedious piffle”. While it is true that it has never been so easy to put in your two cents’ worth, the concept of user-generated content – one of the buzzwords of today’s participatory web – can look back on a long tradition in newspapers, where letters to the editor have always been a highly popular way for readers to make their voices heard in public. In their move online, most newspapers added comment sections to their websites, thus taking readers’ letters to the digital level and providing the basis for the present synchronic study, which compares 1,000 below-the-line comments posted on the websites of the Guardian and the Times to 1,000 letters to the editor written to the same newspapers by addressing, one by one, four common claims about, or (mis-)conceptions of, this form of user-generated content.

The analysis begins on the micro-linguistic level, comparing the data sets in terms of their orthographic, typographic, lexical and syntactic features and addressing the claim that the language used to communicate on the Internet differs substantially from the language used in other contexts. The focus then shifts to the interactional structures found in the two genres and the question of whether below-the-line comments, as a form of web 2.0, are really more interactive than traditional letters to the editor, which are commonly perceived as a means of ‘talking back’ to the newspaper or journalist rather than a forum for interactive debates among users. The discussion then moves on to matters of face, (im-)politeness and identity construction by first investigating the face-threatening act of criticising others as well as the act of providing positive feedback. This analysis was inspired by the fact that the two genres, although clearly related, are perceived very differently: while comment sections are often associated with aggressive and uninhibited verbal behaviour and numerous calls for their closure can be found, such concerns have not been voiced about letters pages in newspapers. Moreover, it has been claimed that via online comments, more and more private topics are entering the public sphere, thus leading to an increase in subjectivity and personalisation. This last claim is addressed by exploring strategies of personalisation and the moves used to construct an expert identity. The comparative analysis is thus concluded with a focus on the domain of social behaviour, investigating the different means contributors employ to create their own identity and that of the people talked about or addressed.

Document type: Dissertation
Supervisor: Glauser, Prof. Dr. Beat
Date of thesis defense: 6 November 2017
Date Deposited: 03 Jan 2018 11:07
Date: 2017
Faculties / Institutes: Neuphilologische Fakultät > Anglistisches Seminar
DDC-classification: 400 Linguistics
420 English
Controlled Keywords: Diskursanalyse, Textanalyse, Pragmatik, Höflichkeit, Unhöflichkeit, Leserbrief, Kommentar, Identität
Uncontrolled Keywords: discourse analysis, genre analysis, pragmatics, letter to the editor, below-the-line comment, online comment, reader response, journalism, politeness, impoliteness, identity
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