The Impact of Grief

Experiences of participating as a mourner in the news



The aim of the thesis is to investigate the experiences of mourners of participating in news reports about grief in connection with crime and accidents. There are two overarching research questions. How do the bereaved experience their encounters with, and treatment by, journalists - what do they think of journalists’ motives, strategies, methods and ethics? How do the bereaved use journalism, i.e. what are their motives and strategies for participation, and how do they perceive their relations with journalists and the consequences of having been interviewed?

The theoretical underpinnings are provided by scholarship on source relations, (encounters with and negotiations between journalists and news sources), news constructions (narrative components and patterns in grief journalism) and journalistic ethics, with a particular focus on an ethics of proximity, i.e. the ethical dimensions of people’s relations and encounters.

The empirical material is comprised of qualitative interviews with 22 respondents who featured, in their capacity as mourners, in Swedish news reports of deaths connected with crime and accidents. A strategic sample was made with the aim of attaining as much variation as possible among respondents above all in their relationship to the deceased and cause of death, but also in terms of the attention given to the event in the media, the number of contacts with journalists, and how contact was made.

The perception of the respondents is that journalists wanted to talk to them because the event had news value and was of general interest. In dramatic cases, the victim’s next of kin, in particular, felt that journalists also had commercial motives. As the respondents see it, the strategies used by journalists can involve trying to persuade the bereaved to participate, and steering them so that the news interview and text can be shaped in accordance with established narratives of grief journalism. Some respondents said journalists had shown them respect, while others felt they had been treated with a lack of consideration. The findings are ambivalent in that journalists’ methods were experienced positively by some respondents and negatively by others. Involvement in news reporting can offer redress, giving respondents a chance to pay tribute to the deceased. It can also provide comfort, as it can be incorporated into the mourning process and make it possible to share one’s grief both with people one knows and with strangers. The study also found that respondents have strategies of their own. In their dealings with journalists, they can negotiate for control by insisting on reading the text before publication or favouring journalists they perceive as more sympathetic and resisting those they dislike. Respondents’ relations with and perceptions of journalists can be conflictual or consensual, and characterized by a passive or active attitude. Journalists can be seen as allies and potential assets, or as enemies and a source of insecurity. If the death was dramatic and attracted considerable media attention, relations become more conflictual, with respondents who feel cornered liable to ‘attack’ journalists. This can be triggered by shock. However, shock can also numb close relatives emotionally, making them indifferent and their attitude one of passive acceptance.

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    Doctoral Thesis (peer reviewed)
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Forsberg, A. (2015). The Impact of Grief: Experiences of participating as a mourner in the news. Diss. Stockholm: Stockholms universitet.