Alarming news

Research project
Inactive research
Project period
2018 - 2019
Project owner
The Department of Journalism, Media and Communication

The Swedish Civil Contingency Agency (MSB)

Short description

A study of the distribution, extent and effects of confirmed and denied alarms in the news.

Project plan:

The use of the term alarm has increased in Swedish news media since the turn of the millennium. However, most often it is not the case of actual alarms or warnings, but rather of the concept being used as a semantic device in order to dramatize an event. How many times the term actually refers to alarming events, i.e. events or conditions that expose the public to risk or danger, is unclear, as is the frequency of alarming news that do not build on confirmed information.

Between 2000 and 2010, major Swedish news media introduced so-called news alerts, that is, news notifications sent to smart phones immediately after something important or sensational has happened. People who subscribe to this kind of service are offered the latest news both more often and with a shorter delay than before. Current data on how many Swedes that receive news alerts are missing, but foreign studies indicate that 25-40 percent of smartphone users do so on a regular basis.

Research suggests that news alerts have contributed to a higher speed of news production and less time for journalists to check facts, which in turn increases the risk of publishing of unverified and incorrect data. Content analysis of news alerts shows that this is managed, among other ways, by the use of uncertainty markers, i.e. words and expressions that signal that the information is preliminary. The analyses also shows that the language of news alerts is more emotionally charged and dramatized than news language in general.

Crises, risks and serious threats, such as bombs, weather warnings and contaminated water, are events that the public quickly needs to be informed about. Questions to be asked in this context are whether this kind of news appear more frequently since news alerts were introduced, to what extent they are published without an actual risk or crisis being confirmed, how frequently the news are followed by official denials or statements of false alarm, and what effect they have on the public’s trust in media and official emergency alerts.

The purpose of this project is to analyse the distribution and effects of media reporting of alarming news.

Research questions are:

1. What is the distribution of news alerts through smart phones, how many do they reach?
2. How has the news reporting of confirmed and denied alarms in major Swedish news media changed after the introduction of news alerts?
3. How has the introduction of news alerts affected the public’s awareness of crisis, and their trust in media and official reports on confirmed and denied emergencies?


a) The analysis covers Swedish conditions only,
b) The analysis is conducted on the largest Swedish news media within press, radio and television,
c) The content analysis focuses on a limited number of specific alarms and alerts.


Reports on research questions 2 and 3 will be completed and presented to MSB in December 2018. Research question 1 will be initiated in autumn 2018 and reported to MSB in June 2019.