This paper seeks to understand how whistleblowers package their claims to increase awareness of their case. Why some cases of external whistleblowing catch the media’s attention while others remain largely unknown or ignored? We present the results of an inductive study that offers insight into five qualitative cases from the French banking industry between 1998 and 2013. In these cases, present or former employees have sought to unveil organizational frauds to an external audience.
Our findings show that stories of whistleblowing are based on different kinds of framing assets: in terms of discourse, issues that are framed as explicitly shocking, serious, high stakes or indisputably illegal are more likely to be effectively “bought” by the audience. The seller’s ability to deliver a clear, coherent, rational, and chronological discourse is also of major importance. In terms of practices, transgressing organizational rules in order to blow the whistle, for example stealing confidential documents, is likely to be a double-edged sword. However, contextual factors, such as the issues being “fashionable”, or already included on the political agenda, are likely to influence the outcome of the process. We draw on our findings to build an empirically grounded framework showing how whistleblowers sell their stories, with the aim to guiding future business ethics and research in this area.