Violence against women (VAW) has lately turned a key theme in political, social and
institutional discourses, and has hence permeated the agenda of newsrooms. Bordering
on the line of potentially ethical costs (Tabbert 2016), media coverage of VAW often
focuses on IMPACT (in terms of newsworthiness) for the community, which frames, as
suggested by audience research, a portrayal of VAW that can encourage and legitimate
particular views and attitudes (Bullock & Cubert 2002; Fairbairn 2015). Scholarly
research has noted a media drift towards an overrepresentation of femicide vis-à-vis other
forms of ‘less-newsworthy’ violence, which may lead to routinisation and, thus, distortion
of audience perceptions (Carter & Steidner 2004; Formato 2019).
Against this background, research has drawn attention to news values (NV) as ideological
factors in understanding the focus and shape of news stories, as governed by the decisions
of news reporters on ‘what counts as news’ in specific contexts (see Bednarek & Caple
2012, 2014; Bell 1991; Cotter 2010; Fowler 1991; Richardson 2007; van Dijk 1988). For
Bednarek and Caple (2014), it is precisely the relationship between texts, NV and
audiences that configures NV as socially-negotiated constructs and enables them to
convey and disseminate ideologies through discourse. Although some recent work has
focused on the ideological nature of news values as applied to a range of social and
political discourses (see, among others, Baker et al. 2013; Baker & Levon 2015; Formato
2019; Fruttaldo & Venuti 2018; Huan 2016; Lorenzo-Dus & Smith 2018; MolekKozakowska 2018), there is lack of scholarly research on the use of news values to
construct VAW discourses of the press. This study aims to fill that gap.
In this paper, we examine the way SP, UK and US media outlets use NV to discursively
represent female victims of violence against women (VAW) contrastively in seven
quality dailies (3 SP; 2 UK; 2 US) in a purpose-built corpus of ca. 9,500 articles over a
5-year period of time (2015-2019), gathered using the online news database Nexis UK.
Drawing on CADS (Partington et al. 2013; Gabrielatos & Duguid 2014), the present study
uses Discursive News Values Analysis (DNVA) (Bednarek & Caple 2017; Potts et al.
2015) as analytical framework. This work contributes a cross-linguistic, news values
account of VAW press discourse, while exploring the ways in which gender-related
identities are built across socio-cultural and linguistic contexts.
As regards our findings, the DNVA framework has proved particularly useful in
identifying and coding linguistic patterns that help articulate discursive constructions of
female victims across numerous contexts. However, the qualitative analysis has revealed
the need to populate the DNVA model with some further sub-categories for more nuanced
analyses to capture the meaning potential of some NV for particular audiences. In this
study, these subcategories relate to four NV in the corpus: NEGATIVITY, IMPACT,
POSITIVITY and ELITENESS.
Discursively, our results have substantiated the unequal presence of two interdependent
discourses: a discourse of death, violence and suffering and another of institutional and
social support. Thus, while positively acknowledging the possibility of a discursive
hierarchy of NV in this particular context, our analysis also poses the problem of multiple-
coding of NV. As for the portrayal of NEGATIVITY, the higher number of occurrences and
of collocations construct SP VAW discourse as potentially more ideological, if not
sensationalist, thus exploiting audiences’ interest in crime and violence. Regarding
NEGATIVITY + IMPACT, UK/US dailies are in some measure less permeable to images of
extreme violence when reporting on VAW crime. This NV seems to be at maximum
degree in SP treatment of the body of the victim, which provides further evidence for
certain dramatic and explicit stories, often disguised in reports of censure and criticism.