Introducing the VIB story

The story (henceforth: the VIB story) is concerned with increased government funding of biotechnology and nanotechnology research (Van Hout, 2010). Two Flemish research institutes, the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC) are awarded five-year research contracts by the Flemish government. This was an unplanned story that was brought to the attention of senior reporter Rutger (a pseudonym). A spokesperson for the Flemish Minister of Science had called Rutger to ask if he was planning on attending the press conference. Hearing that he was not, the spokesperson then informed Rutger that a press release would be sent round and that the slides used during the press conference were also available. Rutger asked some questions about the story, made notes on a notepad and said he would have a look at the documents.

Rutger was one of my key informants. He enjoyed special status in the newsroom: during my fieldwork, he was promoted to adjunct desk chief and won a professional award for journalistic excellence. Rutger occupied the workspace directly next to me and so I was able to observe him throughout the entire production process: I overheard him taking the call, I sat next to him at the story meeting, I was able to record his writing process with his informed consent, conduct an interview with him shortly afterwards and collect the source material that was emailed to him. I did not gain access to his telephone notes. The software ran from the moment he started writing until he filed the story for copy-editing. If linguistic ethnography is about making sense of communicative processes, then understanding how editorial agency is organised and structured was a crucial step in my learning process. I now shift my focus to how agency is practised by following how Rutger writes an unplanned story on science policy. In keeping with the analytical tenets of linguistic ethnography, I start from the description of agency in the immediate situation and then work outward, i.e. from the data, and interweave ethnographic knowledge and relevant analytical frameworks in an attempt to relate my observations to wider issues in journalism. I pick up the story as Rutger introduces the VIB story at the 2.00pm story meeting.

Extract 1 is based on an audio recording of the story meeting during which Rutger introduces the VIB story. The story meeting was attended by nine members of staff and myself. The extract is first presented in Dutch and then in English to increase readability.

Extract 1

DS_W16_D4_eco. Rutger introduces the VIB story 10 minutes into

the story meeting.

  • 1 Jef: William d'er is vandaag over gecommentarieerd
  • 2 William: ja? ik heb gene commentaar gezien ma k'em vanalles
  • 3 Mitch: en kijk ge ge praat weer voor uw beurt he
  • 4 Jef: 't is wa da ge zegt
  • 5 William: wist gij het Mitch?
  • 6 Mitch: ja natuurlijk wist ik dat ik word daar mee wakker
  • 7 ik luister d'er naar en dan sta ik op
  • 8 Rutger: ja ja om half acht ja
  • 9 Koen: of valt hij terug in slaap (lacht) al die commentaren
  • 10 Kaat: ik gok op dieje in slaap vallen (lacht)( )
  • 11 Walter: kheb Pieterke Pieter dan al voor z'n tekenfilms gezet
  • 12 ( ) om ( ) (gelach)
  • 13 Rutger: er is ook nog euh- (gelach)
  • 14 Jef: goh, gij begint daar nu al mee?
  • 15 Koen: j a, da's ongelooflijk dat wordt een ramp die opvoeding zoiets
  • 16 Rutger: de ondertekening van het nieuwe beheersovereenkomst
  • 17 tussen de Vlaamse Overheid en euh het VIB en IMEC
  • 18 die krijgen 20% meer geld
  • 19 Koen: wat? twee maand?
  • 20 Walter: drie
  • 21 Koen: drie maand en hij zet hem al voor de tv (gelach)
  • 22 Rutger: moet daar aandacht aan geschonken worden?
  • 23 Mitch: 60 lijn- op 60 lijntjes op eco 4, nee?
  • 24 als ze meer geld krijgen?
  • 25 Rutger: ja 20 procent ( )
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