Yet Another Self-Referential Rhetorical Critique: Martin Robbins, "This is a news website article about a scientific paper", The Guardian, 9/27/2010.
In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?
I've learned something already: standfirst is an alternative jargon term for kicker, dek (or "deck"), sub-hed (or "sub-head"), etc. Or perhaps these are all subtly different technical terms rather than dialectal variants…
Anyhow, standfirst is not in the OED, though it can be found in Grant Barrett's Double-Tongued Dictionary.
Moving onward with Robbins' self-referential article:
In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of "scare quotes" to ensure that it's clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.
In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research "challenges".
And so on. I have to say that Robbins is describing a relatively high-quality piece of science journalism. He faults it for lack of insight and courage:
This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like "the scientists say" to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist.
But in my experience, all too many such articles are blindly credulous or even extravagantly hallucinatory.
This kind of rhetorical-critique-by-self-describing-template is getting to be common. For some others, see "The rhetorical structure of a cable news story", 3/10/2010; "Pragmatics as comedy", 1/28/2010; and the many links in those posts and (especially) their comments.
[Hat tip to Andrew Jones.]
[Update — Courtesy of sep332 in the comments below, here's a similar exercise from Stephen Colbert: "Stephen wins an Emmy", 8/23/2010:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Stephen Wins an Emmy|
Speaking of which, who's going to join me at the March to Keep Fear Alive ("Never forget — 'Reason' is just one letter away from 'Treason.'") in Washington on Oct. 30? ]