Counterfactuality and disnarration in news stories : reimagining real events

Lambrou, Marina (2023) Counterfactuality and disnarration in news stories : reimagining real events. In: Ensslin, Astrid , Round, Julia and Thomas, Bronwen, (eds.) The Routledge companion to literary media. London : Routledge. (Routledge literature companions) ISSN (online) 9781003119739


This chapter begins with the question of what might have happened had JFK Jr not died in a tragic accident at the age of 38, prompted by the headline ‘JFK Jr. would have run for President’ ('Town & Country', 17 October 2017). The 'what if?' dimension in news stories that is, the alternative scenarios that are generated as a consequence of counterfactual thinking (Dannenberg, 2008), are explored and discussed to understand why these types of stories are newsworthy. Another dimension of storytelling, ‘disnarration’, which describes ‘the events that do not happen but, nonetheless, are referred to’ (Prince, 1988) and result from the dismissal of the fictional alternative path in news stories is also explored using a discourse-analytic approach (Bednarek and Caple, 2014; Lambrou, 2019). By drawing on narratology and psychology to analyse examples of news headlines of near-miss stories, alternative scenarios appear to be triggered by counterfactual thinking, particularly where the news value NEGATIVITY is prominent, leading to the audience speculating on what might have been. The chapter discusses disnarration and the counterfactual thinking against real-world events for a compelling understanding of why disnarration is pervasive in news stories and argues for DISNARRATED, which undermines the expected ‘crisis’ in a news story, to be considered as an additional news value.

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