Weibo News Package: A Systemic Functional Perspective on the Text-Reader Relationship


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date30 Dec 2021


Social media provide an alternative site for news reporting and news reading, which changes the relationship between a news text and the associated reader(s) in various ways. On the one hand, the storytelling of news differs significantly across newspapers, news websites and social media platforms. On the other hand, audience choices go beyond “reading a story” to multimodal and interactive activities due to technical and semiotic affordances in the new media age. In particular, the interconnective feature of social media facilitates active users to perform the new social behaviors such as likes, reposts and comments in response to the original news text. In China, social media have become the major channel for netizens to read news anytime and anywhere. It is necessary to undertake research into the changing social relationship between news and reader(s) through the lens of readers’ feedback in order to understand both what social media share and what audiences react to/on.

The thesis focuses on the multimodal news package covering a posted story and the following comments via the Chinese social media of Weibo. Drawing on Systemic Functional Linguistics and Social Semiotics, the study explores the news text-reader relationship by analyzing visual-verbal evaluative resources featuring the multifunctional nature in the news text and in the comments. Appraisal, the descriptive approach to evaluative language and other semiotic systems, is used in the study to examine the realization of interpersonal meanings across Chinese characters, news photographs and emoji within the multimodal news package. The analytical framework of Discursive News Values Analysis is employed to identify positive/negative news values and the relevant news actor as an evaluative source/target through visual and verbal modes in the story.

The multimodal discourse analysis of news and comments is related to the social issue of a car quality dispute between the local Mercedes dealership and a buyer in Xi’an, China in April 2019. The data of news texts and news comments used for analysis in the thesis was sampled from People’s daily and Global Times, representative of the official and metropolis news media respectively in China. A mixed-methods approach is adopted in the analysis of Chinese news and comments in order to demonstrate both a general picture of linguistic patterns across texts and a detailed description of visual-verbal devices within texts.

The news values analysis reveals the similarities and differences in the construal of Positivity/Negativity and Eliteness/Personalization in the Mercedes car quality stories reported across the newspaper, the website and the Weibo network of People’s daily. The findings further show that the news value decisions of a news organization (People’s Daily) are dependent on technical affordances (verbally dominant, verbally-visually collaborated or visually dominant resources) and readers’ demands (knowledge, information or interactivity) in terms of the newspaper, website and social media news reportage. Regarding the People’s daily and Global Times comments on the same news event of car quality, the corpus-assisted appraisal analysis discloses the actualization patterns of verbal evaluation between the People’s daily and Global Times readers. A number of reading positions are discovered through visual-verbal evaluative choices across the news text-reader relations, reader-reader relations and extra text-reader relations. In the comments, emoji are utilized to symbolize evaluative meanings or/and to play the interpersonal role of bonding icons in the co-construction of reading positions with language. Some of the evaluative techniques across language and emoji at readers’ disposal are consistent with the news values promoted by news organizations, whereas evaluative mismatches indicate that there is a discrepancy between particular news values and what are perceived as newsworthy by readers themselves. This partly reflects the shift of storytelling from “what readers need to know” to “what readers want to know” in China’s interactive journalism.

The current study provides detailed examination and discussion of news values construction and readers’ evaluative response in Weibo news package from the interpersonal perspective. The focus of the study turns to the under-researched field of news reception, i.e. how the media-reader relationship can be influenced by readers’ feedback. The thesis has social and theoretical implications for research into the changing landscape of Chinese news discourse and audience studies. Socially, the analysis in this study suggests that readers’ comments can influence news value decisions and enable users to become directly engaged with news storytelling and sociopolitical issues via Weibo. Theoretically, a responsive model of readers’ evaluative patterns has been built for a better understanding of the social media news text-reader relationship towards a positive and harmonious online communication. In addition, the interface research of news discourse and news comments in the Chinese context facilitates to develop the two-way communication in a constructive tendency for the government and the public.