Desktop version

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

Collective Wisdom

Besides negative effects, correspondents saw advantages of constituting a corps, specifically underscoring its collective wisdom, which consists of the partly shared background knowledge of the political field they covered. “It’s basically a group of experts,” said one LP reporter, “media outlets send people permanently to the Landtag because part of the political business is to have contacts, to be able to assess issues, to know what that guy said three months earlier” (Interview, LP reporter, May 15, 2012). Collective wisdom involves exchange of ideas between reporters. Especially newcomers benefit from more experienced reporters’ contextual knowledge and assessments. One young LCA reporter mentioned having just benefitted from collective wisdom on the day of the interview:

I just wrote a budget story and before I wrote it I talked to four competitors—I consider them colleagues—from different newspapers and asked what they thought about the day’s news. ... The pack has an informed opinion, you know. We don’t make this shit up. Are there dangers to that sort of groupthink? Absolutely. Are there benefits to it? Yes. I think it can lead to more insightful coverage in many ways. (Interview, LCA reporter, May 18, 2010)

The reason for the defensive undertone is that his larger point was to confront the pack journalism critique. He argued that the pack possesses a vast stock of knowledge of state politics, most of which can never be published while almost all of it informed journalistic assessments, even the most minuscule details: “I know which legislators are drunks. I know which legislators make unwanted advances toward women. I know which legislators are stupid. I know which legislators are smart. And that affects my thinking” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 18, 2010). LP reporters, some of whom were not at the Maximilianeum constantly (in contrast to almost all LCA reporters), were more open about relying on their competitor-colleagues’ assessments. An example is this very experienced mid-career journalist who had been covering Bavarian state politics for decades but whose current job for a national media outlet did not require constant presence and attention to minute details:

You exchange views. I can ask somebody who is always [at the Landtag], from Stiddeutsche Zeitung or Augsburger Allgemeine, like: “I got the feeling that everybody is against Seehofer in the CSU. What do you think?” Then he says: “No, you are on the wrong track there.” These assessments are quite important and they are beneficial. (Interview, LP reporter, March 23, 2012)

State house reporters saw another positive consequence of highly informed pack reporters in that they were more easily defying and exposing spin. According to one senior radio reporter, being an LP correspondent meant “to be immersed in the issues and therefore not fall for bluffs as easily” (Interview, LP reporter, November 22, 2011). One LCA reporter gave an example of how the pack was more effective in “spotting discrepancies” than other reporters: When a former Governor publicly supported a federal law, this reporter asked him why he had not reformed the law on the state level when he had had the chance 5 years earlier. The answer was not convincing. It was such a question, the reporter imputed, which made the Governor realize that “holding press conferences away from the Capitol made it a lot easier for him because he knew he had ... a pack or a group of reporters here who knew his record inside and out” (Interview, LCA reporter, February 10, 2011).

State house reporters also believe that constituting a knowledgeable pack puts pressure on politicians to be more responsive. One of them referred to a recent scandal involving former minister of education and cultural affairs, Monika Hohlmeier:

As the classic course of scandals goes, it induces something like a pack formation, where you go “ok, we want to know that everything is put on the table” and suddenly there are two dozens of journalists underway to investigate on this one matter and then some things are revealed. In this respect there is a pack, a pack of hounds, if you will. That does happen but it is very rare that it happens unidirectional. (Interview, LP reporter, November 7, 2011)

A political scandal of career-ending proportion was indeed a rare occasion. Occasionally, LCA reporters brought up instances when appearing in greater numbers was an advantage. One reporter told me about a common practice of ganging up with competitor-colleagues to stake out politicians: “I’ll get Erin from NY1 ‘cause she has a TV camera. ... It does help sometimes ... If it’s only one or two [reporters], they might think they can get away with it” (Interview, LCA reporter, February 11, 2011). Another reporter mentioned the Troopergate scandal during Governor Eliot Spitzer’s tenure as an instance where the pack was helpful:12

When you have a group of reporters hitting you hard with questions, it’s a lot more difficult to just be dismissive of a question. ... If one reporter asks something, you can kind of bat it away and then the next reporter follows up with a totally different question - it’s done, you know. But if a group of reporters are making it an issue . it kind of bubbles it up to the surface of the public consciousness. It also puts them on, you know, where they have to give real answers. And it allows you to find discrepancies in their stories. (Interview, LCA reporter, February 10, 2011)

Another LCA reporter used “ganging up” less in physical than discursive terms when the press corps relentlessly focused on critical issues in the news. He named political efforts of ethics reform as a direct consequence of the extensive news coverage on corruption in New York State politics that he and his colleagues generated in recent years.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics