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Social Relations in the Press Corps

I did not notice any social or symbolic significance of the position of the LCA president. At the beginning of my field research, I was referring to the LCA president at the time as “your president” to other reporters. Neither did they find this designation funny, nor did they immediately know whom I was referring to. There were hierarchies in the LCA but they were not formalized. While Fred Dicker claimed the position of “dean of the press corps” and some outsiders also attributed it to him, he was also the most controversial figure within the LCA.

Office space assignments reflected corps hierarchies to some extent, specifically seniority and organizational influence: the shelf housed the New York Times, NYS Public Radio, The Buffalo News (the latter two r epresented by two of the most seasoned reporters in the LCA) and Newsday. The rather spacious AP office, accommodating two to three reporters and one photographer, was a separate room with a door and more than four times as big than that of Bloomberg News (accommodating one reporter). Two Time Warner stations, YNN and NY1, shared by far the tiniest office. Three, sometimes four people worked crammed together, mind you that on-the-ground television production requires much more equipment than print production. In my mind, this asymmetry was only partly conditioned by the fact that these stations had rather recently staffed up. It certainly also had to do with the relatively low professional status of TV journalism. Apart from hierarchies, spatial divisions also reflected competitive lines since direct competitors (e.g. New York Daily News and New York Post, NYS Public Radio and WCNY, Bloomberg and AP etc.) were not in direct earshot of one another.

Besides the fact that workbenches in the pressroom were shared, social relations within the LP were structured differently than in the LCA. The chairman of the LP at the time, Uli Bachmeier of Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, was highly regarded and his position had significance. This had partly to do with his seniority, which was a precondition for being chairman. LCA reporters of all ranks take annual turns, sometimes grudgingly, on the association presidency, on the other hand. In the LP, furthermore, leading reporters who generated the hard core of topical foci of state house coverage were also social leaders, who not only appeared to “work sources” but also their competitor-colleagues when they sat side by side in the press gallery.

Judging from my informants, an average state house reporter was in his early 1940s in the LCA and mid-1940s in the LP, white, male and has been working as a journalist for about 20 years. Half of LCA reporters I interviewed had been on this assignment as state house reporters for more than 5 years (10 on average), half of my LP informants 10 years or longer (12 on average). The disparity between mean and median in the LCA accrued from the fact that there were more reporters who had been in Albany for a relatively short time, counterbalanced by several who had been there for decades. Seniority was distributed more evenly in the LP.

Unless state house correspondent positions were fixed-term (e.g. Newsday) or a step in the organizational career (e.g. The New York Times), being the state house correspondent was in many cases a long-term or final position of a journalistic career, especially in regional newspapers. This was even true for LP reporters, many of who were planning to retire in this position. Especially for young journalists, being a state house reporter was a springboard to move on to other ventures. In both case studies, several journalists had switched news organizations but stayed on their beat at some point in their careers. This is only reasonable, assuming that some news organization would want to hire journalists who already have expertise and connections in state politics. Other news organizations utilized periods of institutional reconstitution, that is, when a new administration came into office, to build up young reporters. New York Times reporters typically did not stay on the state house beat for much longer than 4 years.

Because of the diversity of career structures, circulation and professional status of news organizations did not simply map on to the social hierarchies within the press corps. Some regional newspaper correspondents had been on this beat for decades. Most of them enjoyed great esteem among their peers, which had to do with their expertise, institutional knowledge, and past journalistic accomplishments. It also had to do with the fact that long-established and broad source networks procure exclusive and more nuanced stories and story angles, distinguishing their coverage from their competitors’.

Both settings were, furthermore, male-dominated, on the political as well as the media side. Because of this, several female reporters talked about their gender as an impediment in their job. One female LCA journalist did not like the undertone it had for her to hang out with (mostly male) sources after hours. Even more importantly, several women felt they needed to assert themselves much more to earn respect of their peers than men. This is also discussed in the portrait of Elizabeth Benjamin quoted in Chap. 4, which pictured her as particularly tough and relentless, an impression I shared from observing her from a distance (she declined several of my interview requests). As Benjamin herself said in that article, “You don’t have that many options as a woman in Albany or in politics in general ... You’re either written off because you’re a woman and it’s a boys’ club, you’re viewed as a sex object, or you’re a hard-arsed bitch” (Meares 2010). Older women especially criticized Benjamin for being “too abrasive and not deferential enough to the politicians she interviews” (ibid.) on TV.

A statement by Benjamin’s friend Jimmy Vielkind (at that time of the Times Union) in this context was characteristic for the aggressive masculinity of the state house culture: “In the halls of power, people respect power ... As many of us remember, sometimes the only thing you can do to make a bully stop picking on you, and take you seriously, is to punch him in the nose.” I have found the use of metaphors of violence for describing power relations in the media-politics game typical for young LCA reporters and not at all for LP reporters. They talked about “kicking someone’s teeth in,” “crucifying” or “beating the shit out of someone” to illustrate publishing a damaging news story about a politician.

 
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