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Examining Collective Action in Journalism

Most importantly for the purpose at hand, such an agitated news making momentum was inconceivable for the German press corps. One reason is the difference in social media adoption between the two groups, which will be discussed in Chap. 7. Another one is the distinct positioning of journalistic fields toward each political realm (Chap. 6). Above all, it has to do with how reporters and their news organizations relate to each other, which will be explored in this chapter. Media scholars have been concerned with problems involved in the introductory episode under the heading of pack journalism, which is usually understood as an effect of competition between news organizations. Pack journalism subsumes syn- chronicity of news decision-making and interpretation of issues, which lead to homogeneous news coverage across news media.

There are tensions between covering issues that conjure general attention (e.g. a presidential election), where “the desire to be unique is far outweighed by the risk of being different” (Shoemaker and Reese 1996:125), and covering issues that only become news stories because of the risk of deviation. The original meaning of the term “pack journalism” is narrower than that, however. It is rooted in the idea of groupthink in situations where reporters cover the same issues over a long period of time, in close proximity to and mutual awareness of each other, for instance on the campaign bus (Crouse 1973). In these situations journalists do not only think alike but also directly share ideas and confirm news judgments with each other.4 Aside from these particular social circumstances, Zelizer (1993) argued that the “interpretive community” of journalism also exhibits affinities in its disembedded state, where homogeneity arises from collective interpretation and the generation of shared discourse. Other media scholars focused on the alignment of news judgment by reading and watching each other’s work specifically.5 Upsides of pack journalism received less attention: a pack going after a scandal in an aggressive manner can be more effective in ensuring public accountability than a dispersed group of individual reporters.

Whether positive or negative, such collective dynamics shape public discourse in important ways. Yet, media scholarship tells us little in terms of how different layers of pack journalism (agenda setting, collective interpretations, which may be based on interaction, groupthink and the news itself) interact in different contexts. This chapter explores how fields and occupational cultures condition pack journalism and competition more generally.

Competition has distinct meanings attached to it in the USA and Germany, related to the cultural commitments and relative powers of commercial logics in each journalistic field. This chapter further demonstrates that both competition and solidarity evoke different forms of pack journalism.

The following section provides important context about the two settings, especially the press associations in Albany and Munich, their purposes and structures, spatial arrangements and work routines. The following discussion focuses on press corps as competitive and solidary social arrangements and how they countervail political pressure. The final section dissects different dimensions of pack journalism, which are then related to the fields and occupational cultures in the conclusion.

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