Home Communication Contemporary Journalism in the US and Germany: Agents of Accountability
Boundary-Policing and Occupational Self-Control
Award statements frequently drew boundaries between awarded journalistic achievements and inferior categories of journalism. Sometimes, these juxtapositions referred to trends in journalism or certain locations in the journalistic field, for instance, tabloids. This occurred more often in television award statements, which were generally quite similar in both countries. The individual PA of 1998, which was awarded to Christiane Amanpour, then at CNN, honored her as an exception regarding dominant trends in television:
This past year has seen an abundance of criticism of television news, much of it deserved. By now, we've witnessed many of the excesses and heard most of the reasons: competition, fragmented audiences, the blurring line between entertainment and information, and on and on. Against this backdrop of hype, exaggeration, tabloidization and increasing irrelevancy, the international news reporting by Christiane Amanpour stands out. (Peabody Awards 1998)
In contrast to these tendencies, Amanpour was characterized by “fearlessness and tenacity” and, contrary to the goring attention to “famous faces,” her style of reporting was described as keeping herself in the background and as being committed to issue competence and the subjects of her news stories. The 2001 HJFP honored three journalists of the award’s name-giver's generation who successfully “set standards of independence and quality from former days in television and salvaged them at a time when the obsession with youth and ratings-orientation increasingly define the medium” (Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs-Preis fur Fernsehjournalismus 2001). One of them was Gunter Gaus, a well-known portrayer and interviewer of post-war Germany who later became a politician. His greatest accomplishment was described as “having established a conversational culture in German television which stands out from the general overflow of talk shows” (ibid.).
In respect to new media, boundary drawing sometimes occurred in German award statements and never in US statements. The 2005 TWP in the general category was awarded to Lara Fritzsche for a story about anorexia, which drew from online discussions. The jury used this as an occasion to contrast old and new media while emphasizing the former’s enduring value:
Fritzsche writes about weblogs, in short: blogs. They represent their own, novel and young communicative sphere, which the author skillfully reflects upon. Along the way, Fritzsche shows where the old is superior to the new medium: intellectual distance, condensation and contextualization within a overstraining flood of information. (Theodor-Wolff-Preis 2005)
The 2013 HJFP was awarded to Marcel Mettelsiefen for his reporting from Syria. The jury distinguished his reporting from the increased use of amateur video footage by TV stations: “The authentic pictures of Marcel Mettelsiefen and his levelheaded texts are an indispensable corrective to the numerous YouTube videos from obscure sources”
(Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs-Preis fur Fernsehjournalismus 2013). Other times when award statements thematized online media, they appeared as foreign objects—literally and figuratively. The HNP, even though it formally invited print and online submissions, had not honored online journalism efforts with the exception of the Times Picayune until the end of the study period (2013). The New Orleans daily (at the time) received a special award for the importance of its “articles posted on the internet as a substitute” for the displaced and traumatized Louisiana community (Henri-Nannen Preis 2006). While almost exclusively awarded to traditional newspapers, the PP has been honoring combined print and online journalistic efforts since the early 2000s on occasion and not exclusively in the breaking news category.
Another distinctive feature of German awards to local newspapers was that juries, particularly of the TWP, frequently use statements as occasions to call upon other local newspapers to provide more resources for journalistic excellence. The statement honoring an investigative story about foster parenthood by Jan Haarmeyer (Hamburger Abendblatt) mentioned: “The prize jury wished that more local journalists could invest so much time on an issue and receive so much space for it” (Theodor-Wolff-Preis
2013). The 2011 HNP for investigative reporting mentioned: “Her work ... shows that not only big magazines can assume the investigative control functions of the press. With her dossiers, Christine Kroger remarkably proves that with endurance, tenacity and bravery, a regional newspaper can also fulfill this core task of journalism” (Henri-Nannen Preis 2011).
For the occupation, awards are occasions to critically assess its institutional setting, the media industry. Aside from award juries, honored journalists themselves sometimes use the public forum of award speeches—not only endowing them with momentary professional sanctity but also media exposure—to criticize the state of news media.
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