Unseen Text: UK Weather
Text Type: News report
Guiding Question: How do the formal and stylistic features of this text create particular effects?
This text is a little unusual as, even though it’s purportedly a news report, it actually warns people about a future event rather than recount something that happened in the recent past. Nevertheless, anyone familiar with a weather report shouldn’t be too thrown by this aspect of the extract. The Guardian has proven to be a particularly fertile source of texts for Paper 1 in the past, possibly because their journalism is of a high and reliable standard, and possibly because the articles in both print and online versions range widely across different topics, themes and events. If you’re familiar at all with the Guardian you might be surprised at how dramatic and sensational this article turns out to be. You shouldn’t worry about that – in fact, this could form the basis of a strong analysis, as you’ll see in the sample response that follows. As always, this response is just one of many possible ways to analyse this text and your own, individual response can be equally valid.
UK weather: snow and ice warnings cause travel disruption
Dozens take shelter in school overnight after becoming stranded on A30 as bitterly cold temperatures return
Britain faced further travel disruption on Monday as the “mini beast from the east” brought snow and ice to large areas of the UK overnight.
Parts of Devon and south-west England were expected to bear the brunt of the freeze on Monday, with up to 30cm of snow in some parts of the region compared with up to 10cm for the rest of Britain.
Highways England closed the A30 in both directions between junction 31 of the M5 and the A38 in Bodmin due to what police described as conditions “changing rapidly from passable to impossible”.
Eighty-two people were forced to take shelter in a school after becoming stuck on a 64-mile stretch of the A30. They were moved to a rest centre at Okehampton College at the north side of Dartmoor.
Meanwhile Devon County Council confirmed the closure of dozens of schools on Monday, while train services were also said to be affected.
It comes after hundreds of flights were cancelled and sports events called off as plummeting temperatures cast a blanket of snow across the UK on Sunday, with further “disruptive snowfall” overnight.
Mark Wilson, a Met Office meteorologist, said: “It’s going to be a very, very cold start, with a widespread frost and ice around as well.”
The Highways Agency urged motorists everywhere to drive with caution on Monday and pack snow kits of blankets, food, water and a shovel in areas of heavy snowfall.
In Cornwall, an Asda manager said some stores were running low on bread and milk as customers were panic-buying after the original “beast from the east” saw shelves being cleared of groceries earlier this month.
In Cumbria, mountain rescue teams were called to help 15 people stuck in a cafe near Kirkby Stephen while an ambulance crew struggled to reach patients in Langdale, a valley in the heart of the Lake District national park.
One resident, Stephen Chadwick, described how a cliff gave way. Speaking to BBC News, he said: “I woke up this morning, had a cup of coffee at 7.30 … it was like an earthquake and the cliff just went.”
– Taken from theguardianonline, published by The Guardian Newspaper (2018)
This extract is taken from theguardianonline, the digital version of an independent newspaper in the UK. Unlike most news reports, this article seeks not to report on past events as much as it does to warn about future ones: in this case, the probability of severe disruption caused by falling snow and ice across the country. The piece is written in 2018 and alludes to a wider context of climate change and more frequent severe weather events in the news. A convention of news writing in this article is the presentation of an ‘authority-disorder’ narrative, with the weather acting as an antagonist opposite forces of law and authority: the police, supermarket managers who are running out of supplies, ambulance crews who ‘struggled to reach patients,’ and ordinary drivers who were brought to a ‘standstill.’ As such, the report relies heavily on stylistic features normally associated with tabloid reporting, such as sensationalism and the use of dramatic language, to convey this conflict in an exaggerated, and perhaps even distorted, way.
Evidence of sensationalism appears as early as the headline reading ‘UK Weather: snow and ice warnings cause travel disruption.’ The words themselves are not as sensational as the form of headline; it is a slammer, two parts separated by a colon. Used in film titles and major event launches, the slammer has an innate dramatic effect. The subheading develops the drama, giving details of disruption using diction such as ‘stranded’ and ‘bitterly cold.’ The word ‘cold’ is repeated several times in the text and graphic map, including being reiterated as ‘ice’ or ‘snowfall’, and is often modified with words like ‘bitterly’, ‘heavy’ and, at one point ‘very, very cold.’ The overall effect is to overstate the temperature in a sensational way.
So unseasonal is the extreme cold that the report gives the snowstorm a name: ‘beast from the east.’ The word ‘beast’ personifies the weather as if it is an animal and has connotations of violence and predatory behaviour. Occasionally the report uses the active voice when writing about the weather, as if it has the capability of taking purposeful action: ‘cast a blanket of snow’, and ‘brought traffic to a standstill’ are two examples of the writer giving the snow agency against the human world. People are victims, ‘panic buying’ and metaphorically armouring themselves against the beast by packing ‘snow kits of blankets, food, water and a shovel.’ This sentence is structured as a list creating the impression of a soldier kitting themselves out for battle rather than a person going about their daily routine.
That’s not to say the report has no information. Aimed at a UK resident readership, the report mentions a variety of road and place names which the target audience would recognise: for example, ‘Cornwall,’ ‘Devon’, ‘Langdale… in the Lake District’ and ‘Yorkshire.’ UK readers would recognise these names from all different parts of the country and would understand how widespread the disruption is. In this way, the report succeeds in its stated purpose which is to deliver a ‘warning’ to people who live in the UK and might be affected. The report also uses statistics and we find out ‘dozens of people’ were stranded; later this is clarified as ‘eighty people were forced to take shelter in a school.’ If we are to be critical of this statistic, it appears the number of people endangered was not high which possibly explains why more statistics are not used in this report – they are not very dramatic.
Therefore, formal features of newspaper reports which might ordinarily be used to support or justify the story are more often pressed into the service of sensationalism as well. Nowhere is this more evident than in the interviews embedded throughout the piece. While they are usually from authoritative sources such as the police or the MET Office, what they say is often vague or dramatic. The aforementioned ‘very, very cold’ is imprecise and the meteorological office should be able to provide an exact temperature. The police line is that conditions are ‘changing rapidly from passable to impossible’. The word ‘rapidly’ is vague and ‘impossible’ is probably a hyperbole. While the line sounds catchy it is not precise or informative. There may be selection bias at work here, where the writers selected only the most juicy parts of the interviews for print.
Similarly, the images also create a dramatic effect when – like the statistics – in reality they are not actually that dramatic. The second image shows a bus that has slid off the road, but the angle of the photo exaggerates this and accentuates the danger. A closer look reveals no damage or other vehicles close by. In the first image a heavily dressed woman walks past a diversion sign in snow – except the snow is not that heavy and she does not appear to be in any danger at all. The photographs only have drama when placed next to the story, and are hardly apocalyptic in the way the article might wish.
Which brings me to the end of the report and a line that suggests the earth might be ending. Ascribed to a resident, Stephen Chadwick, it uses a simile to say the storm was ‘like an earthquake’. Again, more factual and helpful information has been overlooked in favour of a sensational soundbite. In conclusion, this piece resembles a piece of typical sensationalised journalism where the only surprise is the source – I thought the Guardian was meant to be more balanced and reliable than this!
Categories:Paper 1 Analysis