Structures of controlling the uncontrollable? An ethnography of a newspaper editorial office
Paper short abstract:
Journalists are expected to be inquisitive, critical and independent. Within the commercial enterprises of publishing houses there are however limits to their work. The paper will provide an ethnographic exploration of different kinds of control and open resistance at an editorial office of a regional paper in eastern Germany.
Paper long abstract:
In Western Europe, journalists are assumed to be inquisitive, critical and independent as they embody the democratic principles of freedom of speech and free media. Media are however commercial companies which requires them to take on particular lines in their publications. At the level of the editorial office these potential tensions are played out between journalists, editors, editors in chief and the publisher's representatives. The paper will provide an ethnographic exploration of different kinds of control, control mechanisms and open resistance at an editorial office of a regional paper in eastern Germany. Here many journalists began their career during GDR times. This experience of decades of high control and a brief period of 'entire journalistic freedom' following the Fall of the Berlin Wall has led to a particular work ethic which runs counter to publishers' attempts at controlling journalistic output. Control however is exercised in different ways at a number of levels. Between staff there is a level of peer-control as colleagues wish to live up to their own expectations of what constitutes 'good journalism'. Editors-in-chief act as intermediaries who have to reconcile publishers' demands with their staff's as well as their own interests and convictions. The publisher's representative comes for short visits only -metaphorically and literally dipping in and out in a helicopter- and interacts exclusively with the editor-in-chief. The paper will highlight the role of professional identities for journalists in their attempts to delineate what they produce and in the negotiation of production with editors-in-chief.
Audible anthropology: anthropologists in government