This chapter mapped the inventory of professional symbols and narratives with which political journalists in the USA and Germany operate. Some of these cultural representations point to media systemic differences discussed in the introduction, like political parallelism and stronger state interventionism in Germany. The striking prominence of interventionism in US journalism award statements and its relative absence in Germany corresponds to survey research that suggested greater importance of the watchdog role (Weaver and Willnat 2012)11 and a larger milieu of “critical change agents” in US journalism (Hanitzsch 2011). Beyond rather abstract institutional arrangements and scale values on survey item, this chapter has explored the imaginaries of professional journalism behind institutional realities and occupational roles and the relation between different symbols of professionalism.
Corresponding to other core elements of journalistic excellence— aggressiveness and competitiveness—US Journalists aspire to be active change agents of history, influencing power relations and public opinion on the basis of rational-critical scrutiny. This ideal is often referred to as adversarial journalism, which in the words of Tom Wicker means “crossexamining, testing, challenging, in the course of a trial on the merits of a case ... [A journalist of this type] is ‘opposed’ only in the sense that he or she demands that a case be made” (Wicker 1978:289). German journalism, on the other hand, is content with deepening understanding and revealing truths about the world, be it through efforts of investigation or reportorial immersion. Journalists on this path distinguish themselves by deliberateness and self-effacement. Their place in German society is that of interpreters and shapers of debates rather than agents of history.
Related to this, there is a stronger requirement of symbolic distance between journalism and politics in the USA, which will be a recurrent theme in the following chapters (especially Chap. 6): US obituaries ascribe less definite ideological positions and political entanglements to journalists, they more strictly exclude non-journalists, especially politicians, from professional consecration, and reporters assign less formative significance to political events than distinctly (symbolically co-opted) journalistic events. The controversy at the HNP in 2012, moreover, indicated uncertainties over criteria of excellence in German journalism. The fact that the committee of this prestigious and highly endowed journalism award had to vote three times with a draw before deciding to split the award in deliberations speaks for itself.