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Stenography and Chronicler Duty

Uncritical reproduction of source information and communication is another manifestation of a lack of professional autonomy. Stenography is a common terms—the notion of assiduously recording and reporting every word politicians say. An equivalent but much less dismissive German term is Chronistenpflicht (chronicler duty)—meticulously chronicling legislative processes and government actions.

LCA and LP reporters perceived this as an outdated conception of professionalism. Like other, more traditional LCA members, one senior reporter saw Twitter and blogs in combination with the intense competitive environment as throwbacks to a form of “bad reporting where people let their sources do too much of the work for them. So you become more of a stenographer than an actual reporter. There’s been a lot of that going on” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 17, 2010). Another reporter, not coincidentally good friends with the previous one, mentioned in the context of pack journalism: “A reporter is not a stenographer. We don’t just write down what people say. If we’re doing our job right, we’re trying to find out what the truth is. So even if you’re on that story with the pack, you can be covering it better than the pack” (Interview, LCA reporter, September 13, 2010).

LP reporters talked more specifically about the obsoleteness of chronicler duty. One senior radio reporter said that, contrary to his and his competitor- colleagues’ professional self-conceptions two or three decades ago, “we don’t understand ourselves as chroniclers today—to reproduce precisely what happened in what commission or plenary session. Instead we write stories. We try to get to the heart of an issue” (Interview, LP reporter, November 22, 2011). He saw this not so much as a shift of professional values but as a consequence of reduction of news staff and space for political news.

One newspaper reporter told me of a recent discussion between LP correspondents, which followed a complaint by a politician who used the Chronistenpflicht to argue that he had to be quoted in a certain news story. The reporters discussed whether this duty still existed nowadays. He thought that it subsisted “only on a very minor scale, only with superimportant topics. [For example] if the Minister-President steps down, of course I have the Chronistenpflicht and can’t say ‘whatever, lets play that on the day after tomorrow’” (Interview, LP reporter, November 10, 2011).

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