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

Upheaval and Diversification of Professionalism in the USA

Related to an overall acceleration of news production and a proliferation of news channels in conjunction with the reduction of news staff, LCA journalists experienced a steep increase in workload. All reporters in the LCA had some, most of them extensive online duties: publishing advance online stories before the final story for the print edition, blogging, tweeting, producing multimedia content, and so on. As mentioned above, they saw blogging as the game changer in state political news making.

But far from perceiving it uncritically, many LCA journalists—particularly those who were only indirectly affected by it—disapproved of blogs’ emphasis on immediacy and speed: “What happened when blogging accelerated and the instant posting on your news website accelerated is ... the emphasis on speed took away from judgment, took away from being able to evaluate things” (Interview, LCA reporter, April 11, 2011). Another reporter said: “You’re doing blogs and you never stop to worry,” before mentioning her issues with repetitive strain injury, which she attributed to “writing all day” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 23, 2009).

Even one of the most Twitter-resistant and generally digital media- critical reporters, which I referred to as Ned above, produced volumes of news reporting for print and online that were inconceivable for an LP reporter. He told me that he used to write one story per day, occasionally one per week when he was working on a project. Many LP newspaper reporters still operated that way, while Ned’s workload had reached different dimensions: “The other day, I did four stories. ... All four go on the internet. ... Two will end up in print with me updating it with newer information for the print version. It’s just become nonstop” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 17, 2010).

Ned constituted a one-person bureau and was busier than most of his competitor-colleagues. Scheduling an interview with him and later days when I shadowed him were true challenges for me. When we finally did the first interview in May 2010, he took his computer with him for lack of a smartphone, frequently refreshing his web browser as he was waiting for a Supreme Court ruling to be released. The interview, though it turned out to be an engaged conversation, was initially overshadowed by this distraction:

This interview is a perfect example [of how this job changed]. I can’t sit here and give you 100 percent attention. Every four or five minutes I’m having to update because—and I shouldn’t have to be doing this. It’s all about feeding the web. I mean normally ... I could sit and talk for an hour. But I’ve sort of got this fear that if I see “[name] versus” case come up, it’s like: I’m flying out of here, because I’ve got to quickly read a 200 page court case and get it out to the web . on a really complicated legal issue. (Interview, LCA reporter, May 17, 2010)

When I shadowed him a year later and followed him doing rounds through the Capitol, I asked him at one point whom he was trying to meet. Ned responded: “Just one out of 15 people” (Fieldnotes, LCA, May 10, 2011). His concern regarded not only the stories of that day but several other stories coming up, including one for the weekend edition. While we walked further, I told him that the more I learned about the State Capitol, the more I felt I could only scratch the surface. He said it was similar for him, describing his job as being a “fire fighter” who was on constant “damage control” and could only cover the most essential stories while leaving many others on the wayside.

While it is interesting that even the most traditionalist LCA journal- ists—Ned being one of them—were much “more digital” than any LP reporter in my study, there were differences between those who were pulled into the digital era and younger journalists who grew up in it. One of the latter types said: “I’ve always kind of been with the internet. I think it puts increasing pressure to get things up quickly, it allows less time for contemplation and digestion, which I think is probably bad” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 18, 2010). Another, even younger reporter echoed this sense of digital nativeness, expressing no connection to the traditional news production cycle:

The idea to me of news happens, you write about it whenever it happens and send it to the web, put it online—that to me is much more natural than: the first edition deadline is seven o’ clock, the second edition is 8:30. (Interview, LCA reporter, May 4, 2011)

These two journalists, next to a handful of others, were driving forces of digital media adoption and new forms of engagements in the Albany press corps. The contrast to young LP reporters, who did not distinguish themselves as pressing ahead with digital media at all, could not have been starker. The most tech-savvy reporters in Munich were mid-career and in their forties.

Yet, reporters in both contexts saw themselves under tremendous and almost unmanageable time pressure. This has long been a basic condition of journalism, which in the USA James Carey traced back to the introduction of the penny press in the early nineteenth century when “the value of timeliness was generalized ... into the cardinal value of journalism” (1986: 164).

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