Desktop version

Home arrow Communication arrow Contemporary Journalism in the US and Germany: Agents of Accountability

Spatial Flows of State House Reporting

LCA offices were fixed workstations for specific news bureaus and reporters. Several smaller offices were located in the hallway between the two legislative chambers. In the main pressroom, portraits of past Governors and posters of past LCA shows decorated the walls. Two green leather armchairs with ruptured armrests, next to an even older looking newspaper stand, constituted the social center of the common area. As most of the other interior, both looked as if they had been there for decades. There were several empty desks in the common area, which were used by reporters on temporary assignment at the Capitol. A narrow stairway led up to a halffloor, which reporters called the “shelf” and which was considered the most prestigious space (Dash referred to it as the “inner sanctum” of the LCA).

The press room of the Landtag was not used permanently by LP reporters but only on days when the legislature was in session. The open-plan office had a sterile and more contemporary interior. Rows of desks stringed parallel together, divided by a central aisle. Compared to the LCA space, encompassing several smaller and bigger offices, the LP room was small and reporters shared workstations. The important difference was that several news organizations represented in the LP had their main newsroom in Munich (Abendzeitung, Bayerische Staatszeitung, BR, Munchner Merkur, SZ). Several other outlets (Augsburger Allgemeine, Der Spiegel, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), Nurnberger Nachrichten, Die Welt) provided offices nearby for their correspondents or had main regional subsidiaries/studios in Munich (Satl, ZDF).

On days when the legislature was not in session, LCA reporters sat in their offices most of the time. However, even then there were events they attended in the building and they often met sources while walking through the building. Because of that, some reporters made it a point to regularly get up from their desks on non-session days to walk rounds and see whether they run across someone. On session days, they were out and about most of the time, talking to legislators in the lobby outside the chamber before and after, but hardly attended sessions themselves. This is partly due to the fact that there was an internal broadcast of legislative sessions at the Capitol. These broadcasts were running while reporters filed stories, looking up to the screen on occasion. Another reason why they hardly physically attended plenary sessions is that voting majorities are formed before then—this is similar in Munich.

Often enough, LCA reporters were approached by sources (mostly spokespeople) at their desks, who pitched upcoming events, came by afterward to provide further information or to bring things “in perspective” (also known as spinning). A proactive way how to get sources to talk to them were stakeouts, which occurred whenever there were pressing questions but no official opportunity for journalists to ask them, at least not timely enough. If reporters were aware that a given politician was at a particular location at a certain time in such a situation, they (alone or in a group) staked out the area or passage the politician needed to walk through. With this strategy, they in a way forced politicians to talk to them.

The problem with stakeouts was that reporters often did not know when officials appeared exactly, which meant that they waited for long stretches of time (sometimes hours). As a consequence, these waits were opportunities to talk among competitor-colleagues. The LCA room was also conducive for casual conversations. During my fieldwork, befriended reporters regularly dropped into each other’s offices or talked within open spaces of the LCA room. Shelf reporters typically chatted in the middle of their shared office space at the end of a workday.

On session days, LP reporters were also outside of the pressroom most of the time, roaming around and conversing with sources. They spent more time than LCA reporters watching legislative session from the press gallery of the plenary hall. When Minister-President Seehofer attended plenary sessions, he usually came to the Maximilianeum earlier to talk to the press. Because of this, a bunch of reporters usually awaited him. Seehofer used these conversations to send specific messages, share assessments, and sometimes break news. Though the scope of news was hardly earthshaking in this context, it was significant enough so that many reporters found it essential to be there. One spokesperson derogatorily said about this practice that Seehofer acted as the “public chatterbox” and stood there to “throw some bones,” which diverted media attention away from the legislative process (Interview, Bavarian spokesperson, April 23, 2012).

Most conversations between journalists and sources took place at the Steinerner Saal (stony hall) on the third floor of the Maximilianeum. Despite an occasional bunch revolving around a politician, I have not witnessed or heard of stakeouts in the way they happened in Albany, involving reporters hovering in front of offices. When I talked to LP reporters about the significance of spatial access to politicians, many referred specifically to the Steinerne Saal as the most important place to obtain valuable information or capture moods during session days, which could only be accrued through eye-witnessing and face-to-face conversation. Though LCA reporters equally emphasized direct interaction as important, there was no single place of such centrality as an informational stock exchange at the Capitol.

LP reporters usually talked casually with various people at the Steinerne Saal or waited for someone specific to talk, often about issues unrelated to the political agenda of the day. TV reporters typically met politicians at the Steinerne Saal but took them next doors to escape the noise for interviews. There was also a buffet in the passage that connected the Steinernen Saal to another hall. Over coffee and snacks, journalists used several bar tables there to converse with sources as well.

The Landesgaststatte, a restaurant on the first floor ofthe Maximilianeum, was the second most important informational stock exchange for reporters. They had their own corner with bar tables on the right side of the counter, overviewing the rest of the room, which was furnished with regular tables. One of my informants told me that in an effort of “associational lobbyism,” as he put it, the LP pushed their corner through when the Landesgaststatte was reconstructed 2 years earlier. They had a similar place in the old room but the layout for the reconstruction did not include it originally. It was mostly relevant for journalists to observe, for instance, who was having lunch with whom, and to talk among themselves.

Another important difference to Albany was that there was a noprotest zone surrounding the Maximilianeum, which is typical for legislative buildings in Europe. Furthermore, it was not possible to just enter the Landtag. One had to book a guided tour, have an invitation or proof of being a journalist. The first time I was at the entrance of the Maximilianeum I looked around when I was jogging by and immediately drew a suspicious look from a policeman. The next time I only had a day- pass and was told where exactly I must go and that I could not just roam around freely.

My first visit to the State Capitol 2.5 years earlier could not have been more different. Though there was a security gate and scanner, the State Troopers did not even ask me why I wanted to enter. The building was truly open to the public, including activists and protesters. Visitors accessed the building through one of three security gates, two on the first floor at the east and west entrances of the Capitol, one through the underground concourse that connected the Capitol with other state government buildings on Empire State Plaza. Because the public actively used this access to express their will, part of journalists’ attention was focused on protest actions, which frequently accompanied political processes. Journalists’ views on organized protests in the Capitol were rather cynical, however. Some activist groups handed out schedules to LCA reporters in the mornings, which listed protest actions that would take place on a given day at the Capitol. It appeared to me that the more organized protests were the less interesting they were to journalists. They missed the spontaneity and authenticity of activism in “the good-old-days,” which resonates with Sarah Sobieraj’s (2011) ethnographic findings on the media-activism nexus. Journalists were compelled to cover protests for their news value, which consisted of performative representations of public will parallel to the (often dry) policy debates.

To give a concrete example, state budget negotiations in March were always instances when numerous interest groups populate the Capitol to make their claims heard. One day before the passage of the 2011 budget, one particular group of about 35 protesters blocked the entrance to the executive offices, as they had announced beforehand. They wanted the press to witness them being handcuffed and led away by the police. As expected, after they refused to leave voluntarily, State Troopers read each protester their rights, restrained them with plastic handcuffs and led them away without much resistance. Besides rolling TV cameras, there was always a member of the police videotaping such instances for documentary evidence.

I talked to one TV reporter on such an occasion, who expressed annoyance about how staged protests were. She felt she had to cover them, however, because otherwise some producer would complain on the next day. It would not be a separate story, she added, but an element of her state budget story of the day. One senior competitor-colleague overheard our conversation and said that, back in the 1960s, protesters would have just stormed the Governor’s office screaming “freedom.” But now it was all set up, he added wearily, “you are here, you’re gonna go here, and then you will be arrested” (Fieldnotes, LCA, March 23, 2011).

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics