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Esser, Frank (1998). Editorial Structures And Work Principles In British And German Newsrooms. European Journal Of Communication, 13:3, 375-405.

Esser, Frank (1998). Editorial Structures and Work Principles in British and German Newsrooms. European Journal of Communication, 13:3, 375-405.




  Editorial Structures and Work Principles in Britishand German Newsrooms ᭿ Frank Esser   A B S T R A C T ᭿ Work in newsrooms can be organized in various ways followingdifferent principles. For historical reasons, German and Anglo-Saxonnewspaper offices operate quite differently. Whereas British and Americannewspapers favour centralized newsrooms with a high division of labour,German newspapers tend to decentralize their work by maintaining manymore branch offices which produce complete sections of the paper. Inaddition, employees in German newsrooms have more responsibilities andperform a greater range of journalistic tasks than their Anglo-Saxoncounterparts. The reason is that in Germany a ‘holistic’ understanding of journalism prevails; editorial work is regarded as an ‘integrated whole’ notto be broken up. As the present study demonstrates, editorial work can bemodelled on different organizational principles — each having advantagesand disadvantages. The known and established routines of one country areneither the only ones nor necessarily the best. This article sets out tocompare British and German newsroom structures, discusses character-istics, causes and consequences of the different models and evaluates themin context of the respective journalistic systems. It also demonstrates thatin newsroom analyses, ‘open’ and ‘closed’ organizations as well as ‘personal’and ‘organizational bias’ must be distinguished. ᭿ Key Words cross-country comparison, journalistic tradition, newsroomorganization, political communication, quality improvementFrank Esser is Assistant Professor at the Institut fuer Publizistik, University of Mainz, 55099 Mainz, Germany.[email: [email protected]] European Journal of Communication Copyright © 1998SAGE Publications(London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi), Vol. 13(3): 375–405.[0267–3231(199809)13:3;375-405;005102] 375  Introduction Organizational analysis in cross-national perspective In mass communication research, some Anglo-Saxon scholars seem tobelieve that organizational structures and routines in newspaper officesare the same everywhere. There are, however, fundamental differencesbetween countries, although from just looking at the final product onewould hardly assume it. An organization can be defined as the social,formal and economic entity that employs media workers in order toproduce media content. It is goal directed, composed of differentparts, and bureaucratically structured — members perform specializedfunctions in standardized roles (Turow, 1984; Shoemaker and Reese,1991).Newsrooms have similar bureaucratic characteristics compared toother organizations. Responsibility is divided, authority is structured,seniority is rewarded. The main goal of a media organization is to deliver,within time and space limitations, the most acceptable product to theconsumer in the most efficient manner. To carry out this goal, a newsorganization must assign roles and develop a structure which allows itsmembers to cooperate in an optimum fashion. It is an importantdiscovery that newspapers in different countries developed differentorganizational structures and thus different organizational roles to attaintheir prime goal. The interesting question is: what are the characteristics,causes and consequences of the different models? And what are theadvantages and disadvantages, how do the different editorial structuresaffect journalistic freedom, professional autonomy and media content? Forsome time I have been interested in identifying the factors which go tomake up the specific journalistic mentality or ‘identity’ of a country(Esser, 1998). There have been several attempts at allocating the factorsinfluencing the journalistic identity to different spheres surrounding theindividual media worker. Shoemaker and Reese (1991) distinguish fivedifferent spheres (see Figure 1).This article concentrates on two of these spheres. It sets out toexamine the influence of the organizational settings and the established routines in newspaper offices. Detailed organizational analyses are still rare,particularly from an internationally comparative perspective (Allen et al.,1993). Whereas the journalists’ personal attitudes, values, beliefs, theirprofessional roles and ethics are well researched (Weaver, 1998), theroutines and constraints imposed by the media organization are often EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION 13(3) 376  neglected, though their importance has been repeatedly stated. Over tenyears ago, Weaver and Wilhoit (1986) wrote in their survey report The American Journalist  : The most significant finding [is] that factors in the organizationalenvironment — as opposed to education and background — were mostpredictive of journalistic role orientation. ... The organizational contexttends to be perceived by most journalists as the most influential factorwith regard to newsworthiness. ... The newsroom context is extremelyimportant in ethical decision making. (Weaver and Wilhoit, 1986: 117,126, 137) In their follow-up study in 1996, the authors again stressed theimportance of organizational structures (Weaver and Wilhoit, 1996:49–176).The first clear indication of different editorial structures in thenewsrooms of different countries came from Donsbach and Patterson(1992). Based on survey data of newspaper and broadcast journalists of five different countries (Great Britain, Germany, the US, Sweden andItaly), 1 the authors concluded from the responses that there must beconsiderable differences in the way newsrooms are organized. This holds,according to the authors, in particular for the division of labour andeditorial control. Donsbach and Patterson, however, were not able to givea precise picture of how the editorial structures in the respective countrieslook, or what the historical srcins of the differences are, or how they areto evaluate in context of the respective journalistic systems. These are thevery questions the present study addresses. For reasons of space theanalysis is confined to Germany and Great Britain. There are a lot of similarities between British and US-American practices and manydifferences to German practice. Societal/system-level influencesInfluences from outside the media organizations/pressure groupsOrganizational influencesRoutines of media organizationsIndividual media workers Figure 1 Spheres influencing ‘journalistic identity’  Source : Shoemaker and Reese 1991: 209. ESSER: EDITORIAL STRUCTURES AND WORK PRINCIPLES 377   Method  The following synopsis is based on a comprehensive comparative analysisof British and German journalism, taking into account the respectivejournalistic traditions; structural characteristics of the press markets,media law, ethics and self-regulating bodies; working conditions; unions;training and other factors. This article focuses on the institutional sphere,that is on a comparision of job profiles, tasks and responsibilities,organizational and hierarchical structures as well as work routines andprocesses in British and German newsrooms.As a participant observer, I visited two major regional dailynewspapers in the UK and one in Germany. I stayed two weeks at the Birmingham Evening Mail  (circulation 192,000) and the WolverhamptonExpress and Star  (197,000) and seven days at the  Koblenz Rhein-Zeitung  (246,000). These newspapers were selected after extensive talks withexperts in both countries (staff of the Centre for Journalism at CityUniversity in London, and of the International Association for Newspaperand Media Technology [IFRA] in Darmstadt, Germany). The mainselection criterion was that the paper should be as typical as possible of the respective country. Being German, I visited two British papers just tomake sure that I understood the British system properly.The newsroom analyses were based on a research design drawn up byHans Mathias Kepplinger (see Esser, 1998). The main sources of information, besides observations, were in-depth interviews with all keyfigures in the newsroom. Before I present some of the main findings, Igive a general overview of the fundamental differences, giving specialattention to the historical srcins of the divergent features. Fundamental structures and their historical srcins Division of labour in the newsroom — not usual in Germany The principle of the division of labour is a typical characteristic of Anglo-Saxon newsrooms. Even small newspapers employ different people fordifferent areas of work. This led to a variety of job titles which even differbetween Anglo-Saxon countries (e.g. the British  subeditor  corresponds tothe American copy reader  or rewrite man .). A different picture emergeswhen you look at the German practice. While you need almost a dozenjob labels to describe the members of a British newsroom, all Germanmembers call themselves  Redakteur  (i.e. editor or desk worker). TheGerman  Redakteur  has, however, a much broader job profile than theBritish or American editors. He or she can be described as a multi- EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION 13(3) 378  functional all-rounder. The editorial division of labour in Germany wasnever carried through to the same degree as in other countries. Journalism is instead being viewed as a ‘holistic’ occupation which has tobe looked at as an integral whole.The official definition of the German redakteur reflects thisunderstanding: All those count for redakteur who regularly play a creative part in theeditorial side of newspaper production by the way of (1) gathering, lookingand sifting through copy and picture material as well as selecting andpreparing them for publication; (2) contributing to reporting and com-mentating with own copy and/or pictures; (3) dealing with the editorialplanning and production (design and page makeup), (4) and/or coordinat-ing all these activities. 2 This definition demonstrates that news reporting, writing editorials,editing and technical production are all regarded as equally relevant forthe job profile of the German redakteur. In British newsrooms, bycontrast, these tasks are divided up among at least four differentprofessional groups — reporters, subeditors, leader writer  and  page planners/design subeditors (see Tunstall, 1971; Hetherington, 1985; MacArthur,1991; Negrine 1993).Many journalism scholars stress the low degree of division of labourin German newsrooms. Forms of division of labour had, compared to the situation in the US, neverbeen a distinctive feature in German news organizations. In manynewsrooms until today, every journalist performs the different work stagesgathering/investigating, writing and editing as one integrated whole.Especially at small and medium-sized newspapers, everbody does every-thing if necessary; a formal role segregation is the exception. (Weischen-berg, 1992: 287) This assumption was backed empirically by the study of Donsbach andPatterson (1992). The authors wrote: As a consequence [of our findings], it is very likely in German journalismthat the same individual will report an event, edit his or her report andwrite an editorial comment. At the same time, journalists in the US — andto a lesser degree in Britain and Italy — will have responsibility of only oneof these tasks. (Donsbach and Patterson, 1992: 9) This practice even remained unchanged when the German newspaperpublishers introduced new computer technology. At the time of introduction (late 1970s, early 1980s), they struck a deal with thejournalists’ unions to ensure that the new computer systems were ESSER: EDITORIAL STRUCTURES AND WORK PRINCIPLES 379