Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

In the wake of a string of negative and scandalous headlines including infighting, allegations of sexual abuse and at least one official police investigation, the Swedish Academy, the Stockholm-based organization responsible for selecting winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, has announced it will not name a winner this year.

In an official statement, the Academy announced it would be naming two winners next year, assuming all this drama has died down by then. It’s probably a good move. Some inside the group have admitted the Academy was “too deep in crisis” to make any important decisions at the moment, and that may be putting it mildly. The stories coming out of the Academy recently are the stuff of weekday soap operas or tabloid newspapers, not supposedly stoic and cultured literature enthusiasts.

The statement, released by Academy secretary Anders Olsson, read, in part: “The present crisis of confidence places high demands on a long-term and robust work for change … We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the Academy before the next laureate can be announced.”

This reasoning places the blame for the abstention squarely in the realm of public relations. Public confidence in the Academy has been shaken, and some positive change is necessary to repair that breach. That’s a fairly straightforward — and accurate — assessment of the situation, according to many close to it. That’s not to say all of this is within the purview or influence of members of the Academy to do anything about it. The first thing they have to do is distance themselves from the sexual abuse allegations made against Jean-Claude Arnault, which have already cost at least one Academy member their lifetime appointment, and have diminished the reputation of another.

It wasn’t Arnault’s behavior directly that caused criticism to be directed at the Academy, but the leadership’s response to the allegations, which many found wanting, to say the least. The response — or lack thereof — to the allegations effectively split the Academy down the middle, leading at least seven members to publicly dissociate themselves from the group and at least one prominent leader to resign her lifetime appointment.

The major focus for the Academy, at least for now, it taking the next steps to move forward and do what it can to fix this rapidly-evolving mess. At present, current leadership doesn’t seem to have a very focused plan. Not surprising, given that these are largely uncharted waters for the group. Taking the time to build a message and to get everyone on the same message is a good first step.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of leading PR agency 5WPR.