Open Access (free)
Living with scandal, rumour, and gossip

This book illuminates the personal experience of being at the centre of a media scandal. The existential level of that experience is highlighted by means of the application of ethnological and phenomenological perspectives to extensive empirical material drawn from a Swedish context. The questions raised and answered in this book include the following: How does the experience of being the protagonist in a media scandal affect a person’s everyday life? What happens to routines, trust, and self-confidence? How does it change the basic settings of his or her lifeworld?

The analysis also contributes new perspectives on the fusion between interpersonal communication that takes place face to face, such as gossip and rumours, and traditional news media in the course of a scandal. A scandal derives its momentum from the audiences, whose engagement in the moral story determines its dissemination and duration. The nature of that engagement also affects the protagonist in specific ways. Members of the public participate through traditional oral communication, one vital aspect of which is activity in digital, social forums.

The author argues that gossip and rumour must be included in the idea of the media system if we are to be able to understand the formation and power of a media scandal, a contention which entails critiques of earlier research. Oral interpersonal communication does not disappear when new communication possibilities arise. Indeed, it may be invigorated by them. The term news legend is introduced, to capture the entanglement between traditional news-media storytelling and oral narrative.

In this part of the book, the analysis of the relationship between the interpersonal and the mediated dimension of the public scandal is taken a step further. The chapter shows that these dimensions are more or less interwoven, a circumstance to which media researchers have not paid much attention because they have usually chosen to focus on the media themselves, employing a narrow definition of the ‘media’ concept. The overall question is: How is a media scandal possible, and through which media is it created? On close examination, it becomes clear that scandals have been mediated for centuries, and that general person-to-person conversations about them have played a notable part in that process. In a historical perspective, the oral distribution of news should in point of fact be considered a form of mediation.

in Exposed

To a greater extent than the preceding chapters, this one deals with journalism and politics as arenas and examines how the two of them interact today. Through analysis of qualitative interviews with Swedish high-profile journalists, it paints a complex picture of the relationships of reporters to the emotions that the exercise of their profession may evoke. Special attention is given to journalistic culture – the normative cement that creates coherence and meaning in the everyday lives of journalists, where spoken or silent agreements, rules, and routines govern journalistic work and the production of news. Many journalists are aware of being caught up in behaviour based on group pressure and a common driving force, rather than on individual reflection and critical consideration, when a scandal is in the offing.

in Exposed
Open Access (free)

The introduction provides a detailed survey of existing research in the media-scandal domain. The author’s own perspectives are introduced, with an emphasis on ethnological and phenomenological theories which demonstrate the importance of understanding the scandal as a cultural phenomenon. The purpose is partly to explore the emotional experience of being the main figure of a media scandal, partly to study the complex media system that creates the scandal. What does the scandal feel like for the person who is affected by it, and what can these emotions teach us about both people and media? This book brings out more or less forgotten universal human existential aspects of media scandals, among other things by paying attention to the emotions of the affected parties.

in Exposed
Open Access (free)

Only a tiny proportion of the cultural regulatory system to which people must relate can be communicated through signs in the street or in law regulations. A considerably greater part of our understanding of the circumstances and restrictions of the community happens through informal talk, for instance in the form of gossip. The media scandal as a phenomenon reveals these often unspoken and emotionally regulated cultural agreements. It makes the boundaries of cultural life visible, allowing us to examine those boundaries by talking about them and exploring them emotionally together. What the book has brought out is the circular character of the news food chain where gossip, journalism, the exercise of public authority, and political considerations form an intricate network, without clear hierarchies or directions for the flows of information. In this sense, gossip-influenced and gossip-dependent journalism is not by definition bad or inferior. Undoubtedly, more studies on news journalism need to be conducted with respect to its oral, informal methods – not least now, in the midst of the shift of journalism from industrial production to an emotionally charged networked environment.

in Exposed

This part of the book presents fundamental themes in the interviews with the central figures of the scandals and their partners. Several respondents testified to how their previously ‘given’ existence was transformed into an unfamiliar and terrifying chaos where nothing was the same. Every one of the affected people testified individually to tangible feelings of unreality and loneliness in the wake of the media scandal, a loneliness that was both voluntarily chosen and forced on them. Many of them dwelt on the experience of being stared at. Some people with a superficial or non-existent relationship to the protagonist of the drama seemed to respond to the scandal by staring intently at the scandalised person from a distance. Others demonstratively averted their eyes. It is a function on the part of the scandal, the author argues, that it causes guilt and shame in the affected individual as well as a feeling of being deprived of dignity in the full glare of publicity. Scandals are shame- and degradation-rituals, symbolic occasions where people are exiled into the guild of the guilty.

in Exposed
Open Access (free)

This chapter is different from the others. This is partly because the main figure in the case that is described in detail is an anonymous private individual, partly because the story can be included in the concept of public shaming, with some folkloristic elements, rather than in that of a media scandal, although the two are related. The material is suitable for illustrating enduring relations between the local and the medial, between text and talk, and between journalism and gossip. The concept news legend is introduced, to pinpoint the narrative contagion and passing-down that take place among journalists and other news providers, in cooperation with the news audiences.

in Exposed