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Witnessing

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Media Witnessing

Abstract

Witnessing is a common but rarely examined term in both the professional performance and academic analysis of media events. Media institutions have enthusiastically adopted its rhetoric, especially for nonfiction genres such as news, sports, and documentary. Such titles as Eyewitness News, See it Now, Live at Five, or As it Happens advertise their program’s privileged proximity to events. Media personae such as correspondents and newsreaders can be institutionalized as witnesses. Cameras and microphones are often presented as substitute eyes and ears for audiences who can witness for themselves. Ordinary people can be witnesses in media (the vox pop interview, ‘tell us how it happened’), of media (members of studio audience), and via media (watching history unfold at home in their armchairs). The media claim to provide testimonies for our inspection, thus making us witnesses of the way of the world. As a term of art, witnessing outshines more colorless competitors such as viewing, listening or consuming, reading, interpreting, or decoding, for thinking about the experience of media. What is the significance of this pervasive way of talking?

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© 2009 John Durham Peters

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Peters, J.D. (2009). Witnessing. In: Frosh, P., Pinchevski, A. (eds) Media Witnessing. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230235762_2

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