Journalism as a Craft

On the most basic level, reporters drew boundaries around how journalism ought to be crafted, involving criteria of validity, information processing and aesthetics. German and US reporters were almost congruent in this respect, indicating that norms guiding the practice of news making are very similar in both countries.

Untruth is a principle earmark of bad journalism, which may have to do with simple disinformation on the side of journalists (insufficient or misguided research) or distorted depiction of the truth by sources. It is the responsibility of journalists to avoid both of these pitfalls, which may be intertwined with aesthetic constraints. As one mid-career reporter said: “bad journalism is biased journalism, superficial—where the result is determined beforehand—perceiving things one-sided, blanking out facts if they don’t fit the picture” (Interview, LP reporter, December 1, 2011).

“Picture” in this quote points to narrative imperatives in journalism (Jacobs 1996). Journalists drew boundaries in two directions on this issue: excessive and insufficient narrativity. The first stands in the way of truth, and the second lacks aesthetic appeal. The idiomatic critique “not letting facts in the way of a good story” subsumes excessive narrativity. As one LP journalist puts it: “What happens often, of course: You have a story in mind and wangle your findings so that they become true [within that story]. That’s certainly a bad way [to do journalism]” (Interview, LP reporter, March 23, 2012). Insufficient narrativity is what one LCA reporter referred to as journalism that is “shoddily put together ... like a piece of furniture that is badly constructed” (Interview, LCA reporter, May 11, 2010). To him journalists had a responsibility not to bore readers: “If a piece of journalism falls badly upon the ear or if the writing voice is so bland that it does not honor the language and it doesn’t honor the complexity of actually what’s happening, then why should I read it?” (Interview LCA reporter, May 11, 2010).

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