News Media and Scandal: Balancing News Media's Socio-Political and Commercial Roles - A Case Study on the 2012 Libor Scandal
Despite the potential for conflict between news media’s idealised socio-political role and its practical commercial role, a qualitative content analysis of the coverage of the 2012 Libor scandal in four newspapers, The Times (London), The Financial Times, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, revealed that these aspects of news media are in fact complementary. Although it is often argued that the commercial function of news media is prioritised over its social and political roles, the commercial aspects of the coverage of the Libor scandal did not overwhelm or significantly compromise the political watchdog role of the media. In fact, the unexpectedly large divide in coverage between the UK newspapers and the US newspapers signifies that the divide between domestic and foreign news is significantly more important than the divide between news media’s idealised socio-political role and its commercial aspects. The unexpected similarities between specialist and mainstream publications significantly contributed to this divide between domestic and foreign news. This suggests that scandals represent a unique case in which dramatic mass interest imperatives combine with critical public interest imperatives. The results of the analysis suggest that an equal fulfilment of both watchdog and newsworthiness imperatives – demonstrated by the UK press – can offer a comprehensive investigation of, and increase public concern for, issues within an international scandal. A strong emphasis on news values and construction of a personalised narrative by these newspapers enabled the scandal to attract and maintain audience attention. Their coverage also featured a strong emphasis on the morality of the scandal and used official political sources in order to inform the public of something they needed to know. In contrast, a lack of fulfilment of both watchdog and newsworthiness imperatives – demonstrated by the US press – can result in a weakening of public attention and debate about foreign issues that directly affect domestic political and economic policy. The US coverage failed to emphasise news values or construct a personalised narrative, which stripped the scandal of resonance. It failed to aggressively question the individuals involved and demand official investigations, failed to emphasise the substantive social impact, and used a limited range of sources. This resulted in the US press failing to construct a scandal frame.