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Interventionism, Watchdog Journalism and Its Limits

In accordance with previous comparative media research, the analysis of awards and obituaries in Chap. 3 indicates much stronger interventionist aspirations in the collective imaginary of US journalism. Although investigation and exposure of public officials was not alien to LP journalists, in the first decades of the twenty-first century the LCA reported and helped expose an abundance of political scandals (Craig et al. 2015; Precious

2015), reaching to the highest offices of New York State government, involving corruption and misappropriation of public funds, assault, sexual harassment, adultery and solicitation of prostitutes (a misdemeanor in New York). A number of elected officials were expelled or resigned and the state house press took credit for part of this shakeup. As one reporter told me, “in the last three years or so here in Albany, we’ve probably had 50 years’ worth of history” (Interview, LCA reporter, March 20, 2010). This is, in part, a function of the political environment—New York State politics has a notorious reputation for a reason—but it also has to do with the press culture in place. In Germany, some stories, for instance, the sex scandal rumors surrounding Governor David Paterson discussed in Chap. 5, would not have entered the news because politicians’ private lives are not subject to that degree of public scrutiny in the political culture.

Compared to their Munich counterparts, I found that news organizations represented in the LCA invested more resources in investigative journalism on state politics. Several news reporters talked about working on “projects” sometimes and at least two had been almost exclusively occupied with investigative work for months when I interviewed them. In terms of sheer quantities, however, investigative journalism was not common in either case study, thus confirming Benson’s (2013) finding regarding immigration news coverage in France and the USA. However, the importance of investigative journalism cannot be measured by its mere occurrence relative to other kinds of news but must be assessed in its own terms: the time, human resources and methods invested in it, what it reveals, the social impact it has, and so on.

There were forms of journalistic “intervention” which most reporters rejected. A reference point for many LCA reporters were tabloid practices, which they derided for taking sides, partisanship and unduly simplifying issues. German reporters referred to Kampagnenjournalismus (advocacy journalism) specifically as a despicable practice associated with tabloids.

However, consistent with interventionist imperatives, US reporters gave tabloids credit for uncovering grievances by pursuing issues in a more aggressive fashion. With few exceptions, German reporters were less forgiving of tabloid journalism.

Reporters rejected obedient journalism, less in terms of aligning with than simply reproducing of political messages. US reporters referred to this category as stenography, German reporters used the more dignified term Chronistenfunktion (chronicler function). While it was an obsolete professional role in both countries, traditionalists in the LCA perceived blogging and tweeting as comebacks of some sort.

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