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Corps Solidarity

At their base, press corps are competitive social arrangements, which is what the following sections will primarily focus on. Apart from rivalry, there is occupational solidarity, camaraderie and in some cases friendship that transcend competitive divisions, which is captured in Jeremy Tunstall’s (1971) notion of competitor-colleagues. All correspondents in this study saw their competitors mostly as colleagues, in a way as substitutes for newsroom peers. One LCA reporter, who had been on the Capitol beat for only a few years when I interviewed him, said: “I think it’s very warm, I feel I gain a tremendous amount from them, I feel proud that I have earned their respect on some level” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 18, 2010). Another young LCA reporter described the camaraderie that accompanied competition similar to many others, including LP correspondents:

LCA has an odd camaraderie. Well, if one of us, unless it’s a super scoop, you know, exclusive story that we don’t want to share, for the most part they’ll [be] like: “Oh, so and so just said that - you might wanna get that for your story.” Because we know that we’re all pretty much working on the same daily stories. (Interview, LCA reporter, April 22, 2010)

Despite the fact that all LCA reporters described the press corps as very competitive, they also said that the relationship to their peers was very collegial. One of them told me that he had a particularly bad day when I interviewed him. His editors wanted him to follow up on (and ideally disprove) a news story by Fred Dicker, who he jokingly referred to as “the devil” on a different occasion (talking to others in my presence). He was distressed about this because he found the story was “bullshit.” He mentioned that two of his competitor-colleagues tried to console him and went for coffee with him. He added that he considered them friends (Fieldnotes, September 8, 2010).

LP reporters described the press corps in more positive terms than their US counterparts: as harmonic, as a home or a clique, as a backing and source of collegiality that they would not have otherwise. One young reporter said:

I find the cooperation extremely collegial. What sometimes happens is that you help each other - when you don’t get a quote or when you are just lost or when you don’t reach someone. If a colleague becomes aware of this, you get help. And I find that fantastic because this is a job where you are often a lone wolf. I really appreciate that and it is very friendly, too. Many colleagues are close friends. I find that beautiful. (Interview, LP reporter, March 26, 2012)

LP and LCA reporters mentioned stories about mutual assistance, especially about sharing quotes, over and over again. They seemed to believe that press corps appear as packs of self-interested individuals to outsiders such as myself, who would be surprised by this mutual support. Besides sharing quotes, reporters also shared assessments with each other. One young reporter, who constitutes a one-man bureau like many others in the LP, said he appreciated the possibility of feedback from other journalists. One LP reporter was grateful that competitor-colleagues in the LP were so cooperative: “Because everybody cannot be everywhere at the same time, you help each other out. I appreciate this very very much, really. There is no competitiveness in this sense. ... The matter of course and friendliness with which this happens I find very very positive” (Interview, LP reporter, December 6, 2011).

One senior LCA reporter, who one younger admirer repeatedly referred to as “God,” said he was generally very competitive and reticent when it came to talk about his work. He told me that he helps out competitors if they are on the wrong track, however, “because I’ve been here for so long. If I hear a reporter say something that I know is like, ‘you’re missing something there,’ I’ll tell them” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 17,

2010). He added that this kind of sharing has increased in recent years while the press corps had been decimating.

Besides these similarities, informal mentoring between senior and junior reporters was something I only heard about in Albany. One journalist who was frequently mentioned as a mentor was Jay Gallagher from Gannett News Service, who passed away in May 2010. Gallagher had supervised several reporters when they were reporters or interns at the Gannett bureau earlier in their career and some have continued to receive mentorship by him as competitor-colleagues, especially in the years before he died.

Another important contrast concerns formal associational solidarity in Munich. The LP acts as an interest group not only in theory (the bylaws) but also in practice. Several informants pointed to instances when the executive board of the association sprang into action when reporters were intimidated, outcast, cut off from access to events or information or pressured through their superiors to be removed from the beat or even fired.

One reporter told me that under Minister-President Edmund Stoiber, his press office frequently just did not call back, which ensued in a complaint by the LP, defending collective interests in this instance. The LP took action when one spokesperson “lied offensively,” he added, next to more mundane procedural issues, for example, pushing for plenary sessions not to be held in the afternoon in consideration of editorial deadlines (Interview, LP reporter, November 10, 2011). There were more extreme examples in the corps history, however. One senior reporter told me about a former competitor-colleague from a regional newspaper who encountered strong political headwind:

Reporter: For example - that’s already 20 years ago - they wanted to get a colleague of us ... fired in connection with [a political scandal] and he indeed lost his job because he reported too critically about the former Minister- President, Max Streibl. The Landtagspresse is a good measure to push back against this.

MR: Did [Landtagspresse] file a complaint?

Reporter: Exactly.

MR: And how did that.

Reporter: Well, the colleague then went to Spiegel; he had an offer from Spiegel—from Donaukurier to Spiegel! Those were different times. But Donaukurier fired him under pressure from the Minister-President who wasn’t Minister-President for much longer. (Interview, LP reporter, March 21, 2012)

This case was reported in the press. One article quoted from the LP resolution, which called on the Minister-President to make amends: “There was ‘political pressure exerted in the case of Wolfgang Krach, according to information of the association.’ The association observed ‘political interventions against journalistic work with concern.’” (Englisch 1992). The resolution also evoked constitutional principles by arguing that press freedom meant “to respect and endure political evaluations, even if they do not conform to one’s own view” (ibid.).

The LCA did not defend the interests of individual members in this sense. There were instances when politicians ostracized particular reporters, but this did not entail concerted action by the association. As mentioned above, the LCA took action for collective interests at times, however. In my interviews, only one reporter referred to such “concerted efforts.” He said the LCA would sometimes send complaint letters when a government agency blocked public records that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): “It will carry some weight, because it is everybody, you know. There is some political weight behind it, ‘cause nobody really wants to upset them” (Interview, LCA reporter, September 13, 2010). He spoke in the third person because he himself was not a member anymore although he had an office in the LCA space. Though there was nothing wrong with it on principle, he said that he did not like the image the LCA projected: “The public looking in sees a club of people who are supposed to be competing and I don’t think it looks good.”

When I asked reporters about the purpose of the association, most of them referred to the LCA show and assignment of office spaces. Apart from the Times bureau, another reporter—who happened to be friends with the reporter quoted above—said he had never participated in the LCA show because he found it “too cozy” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 17, 2010). He differentiated between organized associational and informal solidarity between individual reporters, approving the latter.

Informal solidarity was exclusively bestowed to permanent members of the press corps. State house reporters made dismissive remarks about journalists who were not part of the press corps. This included journalists who reported on state politics from remote locations and those who were on temporary assignment at the Capitol or other scenes the press corps traveled to (e.g. party conventions, the Governor’s campaign trail). One young reporter told me he only trusted his competitor-colleagues to ask relevant questions at press conferences:

We see that sometimes with television reporters who come to the Capitol but who are not always at the Capitol and who sometimes ask question that [make] you think “what the fuck kind of question was that you idiot! You waste a question asking about underwear, dumb ass!” you know, whereas there are other questions that are unanswered. (Interview, LCA reporter, May 18, 2010)

This distinction also related to local journalists in town that LCA correspondents encountered on the road with politicians. I asked another young reporter about how it was being on tour with the Governor and whether he perceived tensions between journalists who followed Cuomo constantly and local journalists on the scene:

They ask really dumb questions. They ask very provincial questions—which is understandable; it’s their job to ask the local question. ... You get varying levels of it. Some people ask the appropriate local question—if you are a local TV reporter, that your viewers want to know. Other people ask: “what are your goals for..,” you know, stuff that’s just stupid and shows you got this assignment an hour ago. ... Also they are very star-struck, which is weird.

It’s a strange thing. (Interview, LCA reporter, May 4, 2011)

As is so often the case, LP reporters expressed similar sentiments in a much more cautious way. When I asked one LP reporter whether there were benefits of reporting from outside the bubble, he told me about a story he and his competitor-colleagues covered. A commentary by an off-location journalist appeared, which diverged from the press corps’ assessment. He attributed this to a “lower level of information” on the part of the commentator: “It is more independent but maybe sometimes less competent. That’s the downside” (Interview, LP reporter, June 13, 2012). Another reporter said he sometimes wondered about journalists commentating on party conventions who were not even there. He said that Augenschein (close inspection) was key because “politics has a lot to do with interpersonal relations” (Interview, LP reporter, January 24, 2012).

At a press club panel discussion in Munich, the chairman of the LP, Uli Bachmeier, told the audience about an instance where a reporter from Berlin came to a CSU party convention at Wildbad Kreuth. That reporter had asked sources about possible future personnel changes in the state cabinet, received one speculative assessment and turned it immediately into a news story, which was distributed in advance through the news agency DPA. After the panel discussion Bachmeier was further interviewed about this occurrence and said that nobody from the LP would ever do that: “just because somebody says something, which is obviously speculative, and sell it as a fact - that’s not admissible” (CBCTV 2011).

State house reporters were concerned about news organizations withdrawing correspondents in the recent past. One could imagine that they would be happy about this since fewer reporters mean less competition and greater discursive influence of those who remain. Far from it, they loathed withdrawal of correspondents because they thought it weakened the press corps and lowered responsiveness of politicians. They were also worried that state political news coverage would deteriorate when more of it was produced from afar, without necessary backstage knowledge. These concerns were weaker in the LP as it had experienced less thinning of its ranks.

 
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