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Occupational Culture and Democracy

As indicated above, one of the main interests of this book is how journalism serves democracy under different circumstances. Peter Dahlgren argued that in order to reach a deeper understanding of the public sphere we need to not only “examine the institutional configurations within the media” but “we must also be attentive to the sense-making processes in daily life, especially in relation to media culture” (Dahlgren 1991: 9). The argument developed in this book was that the cultural and moral principles that guide journalists in their work play a key role for sense-making in the public sphere.

It seems expedient at this point to evaluate the democratic performance of journalism in Germany and the USA by means of normative democratic theory. Because most of these works deal with the public discursive manifestations of journalism, the findings of this study need to be translated into hypotheses how journalistic professionalism affects public discourse.

In relation to Ferree and others’ (2002) typology of four normative theories of democracy, the two occupational cultures satisfy the demands of these theories to a different extent. One feature that distinguishes representative liberal theories from others (participatory, discursive, constructionist) is that it emphasizes the dominance of expert and elite voices that are to be subjected to accountability. While state house correspondents are by definition focused on elites, US reporters were not only more aware of public opinion by civil society actors protesting at the Capitol but also gave more voice to these actors as a consequence. Partly this is a function of spatial arrangements, specifically the lack of a no-protest zone around legislative buildings as in Germany (see Chap. 5). However, these arrangements are not arbitrary but shaped by the same political culture that also shapes journalism. On the other hand, the greater emphasis on accountability and investigative journalism in US journalism fulfill representative liberal theory’s criteria of transparency better than German journalism.

Another salient difference, considering Ferree and others’ (ibid.) typology, concerns the discursive mode facilitated in the public sphere. Representative liberal theory prefers discourse defined by detachment and civility. While this is the preferred stance of US journalists themselves, at least traditionally and performatively, considering the range of occupational practices (including online and advocacy variants) in the US case as well as the voices they make heard in the news, German journalism seems to conform more to this ideal. The finer distinction regarding discursive styles, the range of styles journalism voices (emphasized by participatory liberal theories) or the deliberativeness of discourse (fostering dialogue, mutual respect, and civility, as claimed by discursive theories) would need to be studied systematically by comparing news coverage. This study would also need to emphasize journalists’ own contribution to public debate since Ferree and others were mostly interested in journalists as debate facilitators rather than participants.

Such a study would need to combine standardized content analysis of online and legacy news coverage with an unstandardized analysis of news coverage on specific events and short time periods (e.g. scandals, important political decisions, etc.) generated by press corps. The former can especially measure synchronicity and homogeneity of news coverage, the amount and form of anonymous sourcing included, the diversity of voices, discursive frames, and news forms presented. The event-based analysis could explore how news is generated collectively by press corps, including by looking at feedback loops between competitors and online and offline news.

Based on this study, its strengths and limitations, I suggest that future comparative research on journalism and political communication should focus on the following issues:

There is a lack of qualitative research in the fields of comparative media and political communication research. Large-scale surveys of journalists and content analyses of news in different countries point to key differences of journalism and political communication cultures (Pfetsch 2001). They need to be complemented by research designs that can explore something as complex as occupational culture—which involves collective imaginaries, myths, narratives and a range of cultural practices—with sufficient depth. This requires multilevel studies of professionalism as discourse and as selfconceptions of practitioners.

The prevalent reliance on standardized methods also accrues from a theoretically thin understanding of culture, which could be remedied by using analytical tools of cultural sociology and field theory. It is telling, for instance, that the growing literature on professional boundaries in journalism studies largely ignores the molding influence of macro-cultural structures on these boundaries, which Michele Lamont’s extensive work on the subject would help enlighten (Lamont 1992, 2000).

There also needs to be more comparative research on the connection between journalistic professionalism and the news. These studies should examine how normative commitments of journalism in various countries generate specific news outcomes and shape public spheres (cf. Albxk et al. 2014 for an exception). There is also a disconnect between comparative media and political communication research, on the one hand, and research on digital media and online journalism, on the other. The former is predominantly limited on legacy media and the latter lacks cross-national comparison, insinuating that changes in one (often times the USA) media system apply to all media systems essentially (for rare exceptions see: Benson et al. 2012; Humprecht and Buchel 2013).

Finally, this book should also be understood as part of the larger effort of strengthening or rather bringing back sociological explanations to the field of media studies and, conversely, the study of media to sociology (Benson 2004; Jacobs 2009; Waisbord 2014). The role of sociology in media studies is to not content with narrow explanations but to pay attention to the role of structural (including cultural), institutional forces, and Vermachtung (power-drivenness) in mass-mediation processes. I hope this book has made a modest contribution in this direction.

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