Differentiation

The stickiness of the polluting attribute of pack journalism attached to press corps entails counterperformances by political reporters and reporting that actually counteract the mainstream. In that sense, competition may generate as well as prevent pack journalism. As one reporter put it, “pack journalism is the ... inverse of competitive journalism” (Interview, LCA reporter, April 28, 2011). Competitiveness may mean to join but distinguish oneself within the pack or to go in a completely different direction:

If you see everybody going right, strongly consider going left. Because if everybody is going there, presumably if there is anything really substantial there, it’s gonna get covered, right? But what’s all this other stuff that’s not gonna get covered when twelve reporters go one way? So you have to - you can’t ignore the pack, where they’re going. You have to look into it; you have to figure out - if that’s the best use of your time. (Interview, LCA reporter, September 13, 2010)

Sometimes the pack story was best served by a short piece, he continued, and then there was room to turn the focus elsewhere, either completely different issues or other aspects within that story. To him, both could mean he was doing a good job: “Even if you’re on that story with the pack, you can be covering it better than the pack. And that’s still going against the pack.”

The pressure to conform operated between competitor-colleagues as well as between news organizations and their state house correspondents. Though correspondents stressed their autonomy of news decision-making and though conformity mostly occurred as anticipatory obedience, some reporters acknowledged pressure from editors. On several occasions during my research in Albany, I have overheard reporters arguing with their editors over the phone. The problem often seemed to be differences of background knowledge and news judgment, or as one young LCA reporter put it diplomatically: “There is a danger [that] the editors sitting in their shiny buildings in offices on the top floor are a little disconnected from the stories sometimes” (Interview, LCA reporter, April 16, 2009).

As with other especially sensitive subjects, few reporters spoke about how it affected them personally but talked about it in more general terms. One radio journalist in the LP said pressure from editors concerned newspapers more: “They say that they receive this pressure ‘we need this’ or ‘when they have it we need it too’” (Interview, LP reporter, January 24, 2012). A former newspaper journalist in the LCA who was given “free reign” in his current situation said: “I think editors or producers or whatever might not necessarily have their feet on the ground, know lay of the land, understand what’s going on [but] feel like they can dictate news coverage ... I think that’s a classic media problem” (Interview, LCA reporter, April 28, 2011).

LP reporters did not highlight this as a particular problem. In fact, more often they pointed out how they resisted pressures of conformity. One of them said: “If I don’t consider something an issue, I bring that argument forward to my editorial department and then we keep our hands off it. We don’t jump on every bandwagon, heaven knows” (Interview, LP reporter, December 1, 2011). There were also more LP journalists who denied the existence of pack journalism altogether. They explained this by the different regional constituencies they served, the different topical emphases of their outlets and the variety of news commentary they produced. However, several informants indicated that there was a hard core of reporters who were at the Landtag most often, who constituted the mainstream and had some influence on what others were doing. One spokesperson referred to them as a “boy group which does not distinguish itself much in its news coverage” (Interview, LP spokesperson, April 23, 2012).

 
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