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Competition

The ways reporters described and evaluated competition in the two case studies was strikingly different. LCA reporters described competition in extreme terms. One senior who was particularly hard-nosed and unperturbed by regular media commotions said: “the competition here is fierce. It’s so fierce that it drives me crazy” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 17, 2010). While LP reporters agreed that competition was “sporting,” relationships between reporters were “collegial” and some claimed there was no competition at all, few mentioned exceptions who pursued a more competitive agenda. There was only one exception I could discern, a reporter of a regional newspaper whose competitiveness consisted of disseminating exclusive advance stories through news agencies. One of them referred to this practice as “pseudo-exclusivity,” exemplified by a politician who leaks a few pages of a much longer bill to a reporter, who then turns this in a scoop without knowing the rest of the text:

[It means] that I am in a way instrumentalized in that [the politician] gives me these five pages, which happen to benefit him and that he wants to place somewhere. It happens sometimes. And then you ask yourself what is exclusive about that if it appears somewhere a day in advance. (Interview, LP reporter, April 17, 2012)

Apart from the fact that competition in the press corps was assessed as more intense overall, the principal rivalry was between New York City tabloids. “Epic newspaper battles” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 11, 2010) is how one reporter described this relationship, aside from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, which had just introduced its “Greater New York” section in April 2010.8

Although most newspapers represented in the LCA served distinct regional markets, the growing pervasiveness of online journalism, especially blogging and tweeting, meant that competition radiated all through the LCA. One radio reporter mentioned: “I do find I get pulled into online stuff. You know, I’m definably influenced by the blogs. And I want to have stuff out there, too, if the blogs have it. ... You have to sort of do a little bit of everything” (Interview, LCA reporter, February 11, 2011).

As newspapers became “more like wire services” through online journalism, news agencies faced increasing pressure. Though the AP Capitol bureau was rid of its main competitor United Press International (UPI) in the mid-1990s, newspaper blogs started to become a competition for immediate news in the mid-2000s. One newspaper reporter, who was very critical of blogging, said that it induced a change of strategy and eventual improvement of AP coverage:

I think the AP is focused on more substantive stuff now. ... “The budget of $132 million includes a tax increase of blah blah blah,” rather than “so- and-so reported today that Shelly Silver may be against a property tax cap, based on a knowledgeable source.” The AP used to throw that shit on the AP wire. They don’t do that anymore. They let the blogs do it and I think that’s smart. (Interview, LCA reporter, May 5, 2011)

He believed that because the AP had to accept not being able to break news as often as they used to, they focused on being first to publish more fully substantiated stories suitable for print publications, which usually require higher standards than blogs. Thus, the competition through social media, which he was the first to point out had worsened journalism, also had some indirect positive effects in his mind.

The most significant difference between LCA and LP, however, was how reporters evaluated competition in general. To German reporters, competition was inherently negative. US reporters, even those few who described competitive anxieties (all of them were female), were quick to point out the merits of competition.

When for the first time in her career a direct competitor had entered the press corps, one LCA reporter first experienced this new situation as frightening. She said it led her to sometimes cover stories because her competitor-colleagues followed them, even though she originally deemed them as irrelevant. Ultimately, she described it a positive experience, however:

In a way it was good, because I work harder now. ‘Cause I think: “I’m not letting them get that. This is gonna be mine!” And I have to say, actually it has sharpened me in a way that the print people go through that all the time. And it’s tough ‘cause you want to be friends with people. But, you know, if they get something you don’t [get] it’s hard to take. So, that’s been new for me, because I was here for [many] years with essentially no competition. (Interview, LCA reporter, February 11, 2011)

She added that she also benefited from her company’s response to the new competitive situation: they provided her with new equipment. Several other LCA reporters talked about the benefits of competition and some said they were thriving on it. One senior reporter mentioned this in the context of the economic decline of the newspaper industry: “I wished there were more jobs for more people. I relish the competition. I like the competition” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 5, 2011). Another young journalist, who had just transferred from another beat to Albany when I interviewed him, found the competition in the LCA “huge,” which he attributed to the fact that many journalists have settled there: “You have people who have drilled down deep into this government, everything that’s going on, and they are competing against people who have similarly drilled down and that just raises the level” (Interview, 24 February 2012). When I asked him what about US journalism he is proud of, he said: “one of the things I love about it is that competition.” Apart from the fact that LP journalists perceived their particular competitive situation as pleasant, many of them drew boundaries in respect to the highly competitive environment in Berlin, which some described as a “shark tank.” One reporter said that one danger of a press corps was the formation of a clique:

It can generate a certain herd movement within the Landtagspresse sometimes, which has the advantage that the competitive pressure is not as incredibly great as in Berlin, for example. At least that’s our sense. Berlin media are focused on producing exclusive reports, come hell or high water. And that means they sell some far-fetched stuff ... That happens less here [in Munich]. (Interview, LP reporter, November 24, 2011)

One LP reporter, who used to work in Berlin, contradicted this by saying that competition within press corps always seemed more relentless from the outside than it really was. The default was collegiality, he said, before describing a scenario from the time he was still reporting in Berlin and one of his direct competitors came too late to a press avail. Rather than rubbing his hands with satisfaction over the competitive advantage, he filled him in about what had been said, up to the nuances he discerned as important (Interview, LP reporter, April 17, 2012). Another reporter who had working experience in Berlin said that Minister President Seehofer introduced the Berlin style of media-politics relations in Munich, which consisted of informal background discussions and using the press for stirring political conflicts (Interview, LP reporter, January 24, 2012).

Apart from some exceptions, LCA journalists hardly ever referred to Washington D.C. Only one had a particularly negative opinion of the Washington press, which he discussed in the context of the Judith Miller case:9

Ironically, I think there is something about the competitive environment of the top levels where having access to inside sources becomes more important. The people who get that access do it sometimes in unscrupulous ways and they are rewarded for it by advancing in journalism. I think it’s kind of unfortunate. (Interview, LCA reporter, March 16, 2011)

There were some ambiguities between individual and organizational competition. On the one hand, individual qualities of correspondents often explained their competitive advantage. On the other hand, reporters emphasized that they competed with their competitor-colleagues’ outlets rather than the person. On the first point, one LP reporter, who himself worked for a very powerful news outlet, said that sometimes being the paper of record does not matter much: “Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung is a very important newspaper because they have a very good Landtag correspondent [Uli Bachmeier] who knows very much and who has the best contacts” (Interview, LP reporter, December 5, 2011). Long-established relations and being funny were other qualities he saw as reasons why politicians were so keen to talk to Bachmeier specifically. He also mentioned that there were several newspapers with similar influence as Augsburger Allgemeine, whose correspondents were not nearly as successful.

On the second point, when I asked one LCA reporter whether competition between individual correspondents or newspapers was more important in the LCA he said: “There is this sort of pride that your news organization has it first. Not that ... I beat him. What drives me more is just that somebody has to give us credit for breaking the story first” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 17, 2010). Reporters in Albany and Munich explained the competitive relationship with regard to stories of the day (“pack stories”) where reporters would talk about the key issues and help each other out. Regarding enterprise stories or scoops there was no exchange, of course.

During my field research I have experienced reporters talking about issues underlying news stories as well as not filling each other in about stories they worked on. One day, I had a conversation with a young reporter in the hallway of the State Capitol, who was simultaneously easy-going and inquisitive, witty and aggressive and seemed to enjoy making people uncomfortable. When a journalist walked by from a newspaper that is a direct competitor of his, he asked him in an off-hand kind of way where he was going. The competing journalist, who I experienced as a stern character, shrugged and responded: “I can’t tell you, sorry” (Fieldnotes, LCA, February 24, 2010).

 
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