Postjournalism: Subjective modality in the guise of objective modality

Postjournalism passes off the opinion as the fact, the connotation as the denotation, the attitude as the referent. To put it simply, in postjournalism, reporting is commenting. A chapter from “Postjournalism and the death of newspapers” (2020).

Subjective modality in the guise of objective modality is one of the constituting features of postjournalism.

The hallmark of postjournalism lies in its radically different semiotic modality. By separating facts and opinions, classical journalism distinguishes objective modality (the utterances refer to aspects of reality as existing, non-existing, possible, probable, etc.) from subjective modality (the speaker’s attitude toward the utterance’s referent as to desirable – undesirable, proper – improper, just – unjust, etc.). At the level of good practice, this distinction was always committed to by the demarcation of facts from opinions.

Journalism of fact was believed to refer to reality. Opinion journalism emphasized the opinionated navigation of facts but still referred to reality. Postjournalism validates the significance of current events seemingly under the objective modality of existing/non-existing or possible/non-possible, but within the subjective modality of right/wrong and good/bad. To put it simply, in postjournalism, reporting is commenting.

To blame this on the personal propagandist intentions of journalists would be an easy call to make. However, this is a systemic environmental setting: the redundancy of news has decreased the value of fact reporting and increased the value of opinion and expertise. So, journalists have learnt to compress facts and opinions together and sell ‘two for the price of one’. And on top of this, the business need for politicization has had its corrupting final touch. The deliberate intentions of journalists can only come into play after that, filling already polarized molds with concrete content.

Postjournalism passes off the opinion as the fact, the connotation as the denotation, the attitude as the referent. Subjective modality in place of objective modality can be referred to as the notion of “enunciative modality” that Foucault used in The Archaeology of Knowledge. Enunciative modality reflects the view of the speaking subject at the moment of speaking, though formally it represents a picture of the world. Analyzing discursive formations, Foucault referred to a 19th-century doctor who would observe and gather documents, data, correlations and methods, sole for the purpose of making an arbitrary use of them, modifying “his position as an observing subject in relation to the patient” (Foucault, 2002 [1969], p. 37).

Objective reality itself is not the final interest of such reality representation; the final interest is a useful application of a constructed picture of reality. Within ‘enunciative modalities’, the representation of reality is concerned “less with the formation of conceptual systems, or the formation of theoretical choices, than with the status, the institutional siting, the situation, and the modes of insertion used by the discoursing subject” (Ibid., 72).

Postjournalism disregards truth not in favor of lies (lies are a byproduct) but because truth is useless. Truth just is not needed when ‘enunciative modalities’ are at play. Instead of truth, other forms of verification take command, such as relevance, adequacy, authenticity, justice, usefulness and, most critically, dissemination. Meaning production needs to comply with what is useful – or demanded. In postjournalism, even fact-checking is used as a rhetorical gimmick.

***

Subjective modality in place of objective modality does not distort the picture of the world – it creates the world. With the merging of the subjective and objective, the signified collapses into the signifier, causing the post-truth effect of self-referentiality. The picture absorbs the world and starts preceding it exactly in the way Baudrillard saw it in The Precession of Simulacra, where he wrote:

Simulation is no longer that of territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – that engenders the territory. (Baudrillard, 2012 [1981], p. 388.)

The capacity of the subjective modality to create the world can also be illustrated by the linguistic category of performativity: an ability of some utterances to become actions. The performative are, for example, promises or the figures of politeness: we do what we say by saying it. As Roland Barthes noted in The Death of the Author, writing is no longer “recording, notation, representation”; rather, it is “a performative, a rare verbal form (exclusively given in the first person and in the present tense) in which the enunciation has no other content than the act by which it is uttered – something like the I declare of kings or the I sing of the early bards” (Barthes, 1977 [1967], p.145).

The performative power of utterance involved in agenda-setting is even more evident as its significance is established by its distribution. Dissemination on a sufficient scale can make any utterance in the media or on social media divinely performative, as if it is the Word of Biblical God that was ‘in the beginning’ and from which everything commenced.

The enunciative modalities, the precession of simulacra and other theoretical critical deconstructions became reversed into the colloquial usus within postjournalism, allowing the picture of the world to actually replace the world, not just in a post-structuralist sense of this phenomenon but on behalf of the audience. The ability of journalism to induce the demand for news blends nicely with the ‘ability’ of simulacrum to precede reality and induce Baudrillard’s “hyperreality”, or, in the news media, a needed agenda, which becomes social reality for adherers of these or those views.

The donating audience wants the picture of the world to comply with the audience’s view of the cause, not with the actual world. If the truly subscription-based media, say, Venetian avvisi, had taken such an approach, they would have failed. When readers pay for information, they want world reflection, not creation. For the donscription-based media, subjective modality is a survival mode. Postjournalism is not descriptive; it is normative.

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Andrey Mir

Excerpts from “Postjournalism and the death of newspapers. The media after Trump: manufacturing anger and polarization”

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More on the state of the arts:

Philanthropy funding of journalism: noble corruption

Scheduling the extinction of newspapers

Ownership of the media: it is not what you think it must be

Advertising-driven media: merchants of happiness

Negativity bias takes the lead when news is paid by readers, not advertisers

The news media: watchdogs prefer the paywalled garden

Journalism in search of a cute little monkey

Postjournalism: from the world-as-it-is to the world-as-it-should-be

Polarization studies are media studies

The New York Times: from “We are not American Idol” to “We are not resistance” (which is gone, too)

Sourcing: news supply in the media. The switch from news to opinions and from bureaucrats to “experts”

Postjournalism: Discourse concentration

The Trump bump in the news media: commodifighting Trump

Media business: why subscription mutates into membership

Interjections and emojis: the digital reversal of literacy back to the origin of language

Factoid. Validation by dissemination

The tectonic turn of the news media away from advertising

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Categories: Decline of newspapers, Future of journalism, Post Truth Fake News, Postjournalism and the death of newspapers, Trumpism and Fake news

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4 replies

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  1. Rage on social media: signaling intensities instead of feelings – Human as Media
  2. The eternal failure of selling news – Human as Media
  3. How both old and new media polarise society for profit (or survival) – Human as Media
  4. The hamsterization of journalism and cannibalism of news teasers – Human as Media

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