New Capital City Journalism

Power Constellations in Opinion-making and Symbolic Regimes in the Founding Years of the Berlin Republic

(last update June 2000)

This research focuses on the Berlin networks of actors in the realms of politics and journalism at the time of the German government's move to the new capital city. The analysis centers on the media-politics power constellations, their structural changes, and narrative programs. Will the move lead to a change in the kind of journalism practiced in the German capital, which was described during the Bonn period as sluggish and narrow-minded, avoiding stories of private lives and at the same time never wary of close ties to the political parties? Will a new, metropolitan style of capital city journalism begin to grow in Berlin, similar to that found in London or Paris, one which investigates the Berlin Republic as it emerges, forms opinions, but is also able to tell stories of the big city? Will the same informal networks and well-tuned circles of information exchange regroup in Berlin, and how will they work there?

The research is based on ethnographic fieldwork as a participant observer over a two year period. The study of the field included observing and interviewing journalists and politicians at press conferences, official roofing-raising or moving ceremonies and state visits, as well as during informal exchanges. Interviews with strategic media actors such as editors-in-chief, managing editors, publishers, and general managers were conducted in order to gain insights into strategies and goals as well as patterns of cooperation and competition. Field work was complemented with systematic media analysis, including observation of economic developments on the Berlin media market and analysis of reports and commentaries dealing with the move and with »Berlin-in-the-making« published in the German print media (including, among others, the daily newspapers Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, die tageszeitung, Der Tagesspiegel, Berliner Zeitung, Die Welt, Frankfurter Rundschau) in the period studied. Reports in the international press were also analyzed with respect to specific events such as the 1998 federal election or the first parliamentary session in the renovated Reichstag building.

Preliminary results of the study indicate systematic changes in the relationship between politicians and journalists. The previously well-tuned Bonn relationships are being exposed to new working conditions and new competition in Berlin. Here, old rules are being broken – sometimes on purpose – and new rules are just beginning to take shape. An intense phase of strategically-guided maneuvering by media representatives for the best field positions now seems to have drawn to a close. Further analysis will aim to elucidate what specific participatory models in shaping the Berlin Republic each newspaper will continue to pursue beyond the time period studied.

This research is part a larger project (see for example John Borneman, Heinz Bude »Gründung durch Umzug« in: Mittelweg 36, 6/1998) accompanying the relocation from Bonn to Berlin, a process which can be understood to mark the founding of the Berlin Republic. From February 1998 to January 2000, this study was supported by a dissertation scholarship of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and is now being completed with a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Scholarship at the Department of Sociology, Columbia University, New York.