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Overview and Key Findings

Chapter 2 situates journalism in its institutional and cultural context in Germany and the USA. On the institutional level, it compares the two media systems, focusing particularly on market and non-market influences and professional organizational infrastructures of journalism. On the cultural level, it examines the history of journalism in each country and connects it to national repertoires of evaluation. This chapter suggests a pervasiveness of market logics, weaker and more malleable professional boundaries, less occupational solidarity, and a more differentiated journalistic field in the USA. The influence of market and non-market heteronomies are more balanced in the German journalistic field, which is defined by relative economic health, collectivist professional organizational infrastructures, and influence of politics, especially in the public service media sector.

The empirical analysis is written as a continuous rather than a segmented comparison (a la: German case—US case—comparison) and tackles professionalism on different levels: Chapter 3 focuses on sacred discourse encapsulated in mythologies and articulated in moments of occupational consecration. The discourse analysis of journalism award statements and obituaries of journalists is followed by an examination of interview data of reporters of the two press corps engaging in occupational mythologizing. This chapter demonstrates a greater emphasis on the concrete social impact of journalism in the USA, corresponding to the image of the ideal journalist as a change agent of history. The German professional imaginary envisions less immediate impacts of journalism, focusing more on revealing wrongdoing and hidden aspects of our world and shaping public debates.

The following field-research-based chapters examine occupational selfconceptions and cultural practices asserting the professional autonomy of German and US journalists. Chapter 4 maps US and German journalists’ definitions of occupational virtues and ideals, public responsibility, and boundary drawing between “good” and “bad” journalism. US reporters stood out by engaging in much more self-examination in metadiscourse and drawing boundaries more assertively toward each other (implicitly and explicitly). Rhetorically, they strictly separated news and opinion, despite continuous softening of this requirement, and defined their public responsibility in terms of accountability journalism. German reporters stressed the importance of taking positions in the news and were more modest in articulating their responsibility to the public, more as Einordnung (contextualizing) and explaining issues than acting as a countervailing power of politics.

Chapter 5 examines collective dynamics of German and US journalism. Even though competition and solidarity are realities of both groups of reporters, the analysis identifies the US case above all as a competitive press culture and the German case as an associational press culture. While US reporters thrive on competition, German reporters evaluate it as inherently negative. While US reporters contest associational structures, German reporters fall back on them. These differences accrue from varying strengths of market logics, individualism, and collectivism, which also yield different kinds of pack journalism.

The specificity of the research setting—reporters embedded in political institutions—is utilized in Chap. 6 to examine the maintenance of professional autonomy. Source relations constitute a continuous social drama for US journalists and involve meticulous signaling of professional boundaries (boundary performance) and perpetual adjustments of closeness and distance (boundary management), performatively and otherwise. German reporters treated their social context much more matter-of-factly, and their lives were not at all pervaded by the elaborate purification rituals their US counterparts took on. These findings reflect varying levels of historically evolved and symbolically significant institutional distances between media and politics. Yet, despite the consecrated distance, there were substantial deviations of this cultural consensus in the US press corps.

The conclusion of relative porousness and malleability of professional boundaries in US journalism and rigidity in German journalism is further corroborated in Chap. 7. It focuses on resilience and change of professionalism with respect to digital media. For US reporters, the hybridity of traditional and online journalism did not only have practical implications but also changed their professional self-understanding. Even though German reporters used the same media (except blogs), they had relatively little impact on their work and professional identity. Especially Twitter featured US reporters as susceptible to an ethic of transparency, even though it clashed with traditional occupational norms and their greatest defenders in the press corps. I conceive this shift in the US case as a diversification of professionalism.

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