"Turf Wars": Journalists' Claims
to Political Communication Jurisdiction
in the New Media Era
American journalists have long sought to build and sustain the public's
acceptance as their primary providers of political news and
commentary. Among the strategies journalists have employed over the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries to ensure that such forms of
political communication work tasks become accepted as their bailiwick,
is the issuance of jurisdictional claims in the public sphere.
statements have included, among other things, journalistic articles and
editorials, prospectuses, libel courtroom testimony, advertisements,
obituaries, and autobiographies, among other things. And while
journalists have managed to win various measures of jurisdiction over
such work roles, like all groups who do so, they are always
to challenges from other groups who at times seek to encroach on
This paper concerns a possible challenge to journalists' jurisdiction
over the provision of political news and commentary, one brought
by technological innovation. During the past few years, new and
emerging technologies have begun to reconfigure the old political
communication terrain by bringing Americans an array of new media
products. Joining the older journalistic political news and information
products are new political communication services, such as cable
channels and information superhighway newsletters devoted entirely to
the provision of political news and commentary. Also recently,
technology has provided Americans with a new version of the town hall
meeting. Often referred to as electronic town halls (ETMs), these
technologically-inspired political communication vehicles electronically
link politicians to citizens across America, thereby bypassing
journalists in the process. All of these new services have something in
common: They come to Americans with promises that they will provide
much better brand of political communication than they're used to
getting from the journalists who provide the old services.
While mass communication scholars have studied various aspects of the
impact of new technologies on the media and political environments,
have directed their attentions to the impact of such on the broader
occupational structure of journalism. Research for this paper
exploration of this topic by asking whether new
political communication forms have triggered a dispute over
political communication work tasks. The following section further
explains the paper's theoretical underpinnings, as well as explicates
its research questions and method.
Sociological Occupational Theory
A view that technology can often be a fundamental precipitator of
occupational and professional development is widespread among the
members of the sociological discipline. Among such scholars is Andrew
Abbott, who has recently articulated a historical sociological model
that attempts to explain many aspects of professional development.
Abbott argues that group competition for control of work tasks is
crucial to the development of occupational group boundaries, and to
ignore such struggles is to miss the true histories of occupational and
In addition, Abbott argues that groups compete together within broader
work systems for control of professional work tasks. Within such
systems, he explains, groups are interdependent, and change is often
counterprogressive. As a result, even the most powerful groups can
jurisdictional control due to the impact of historical forces
their control. According to Abbott:
In reality the professions are a diverse lot--winners and losers, public
officials and private individuals, autocrats and subordinates.
profession has gone from rags to riches, not a few the other
claimants have never found a niche in the system at all. Yet
are a part of professional life. Beyond this diversity. . .
development of the formal attributes of a profession is bound up with
the pursuit of jurisdiction and the besting of rival
While some of the more common precipitators of change are social,
economic, and political movements and events, new technologies counts as
one of the most potent precipitators of jurisdictional crises.
According Abbott, emerging technologies create new jurisdictions and
changes old ones both rapidly and often. In addition, he says, "Just
technology creates jurisdictions, so also it destroys them."
In light of such thinking on occupational development, this paper asks
whether the emergence of new technologically-inspired political
communication products has precipitated a jurisdictional crisis within
the political communication work system. To explore this question,
research examined traditional journalists' statements about such new
political communication products to determine whether they include
messages that suggest their political news work roles are threatened.
The paper's focus is narrowed to examining the possible impact of four
of the newer political communication services: cable television's
political affairs channels, National Empowerment Television (NET);
electronic town hall (ETMs); electronic forums (EFs); and, finally,
Newspaper and magazine articles, columns, and editorials published
since 1992 that focus in whole or in part on these four political
communication forms were examined in the research. The following more
specific research questions was explored in the examination of such
texts: Do the authors of the articles, editorials and columns examined
specifically discuss the occupational roles of journalists and, if
what themes appear within their statements?
To answer this question, the paper employs the simplest qualitative
literary analysis. While it is recognized that closer textual
might be used later to explore whether journalistic statements
connotative messages as well as more denotative ones, since this is
earliest exploration of these questions, the simplest analysis is
employed. The following section provides additional information about
the political communication forms studied in the paper, along with
Four major new forms of political communication in presidential
election campaigns and presidential politics emerged during and since
the 1992 campaign that are possible sites of jurisdictional disputes
between journalists and politicians arising from the use of new
technologies. Three of the four, ETMs, EFs, and talk shows, will be
discussed in this section, with the remaining form, National
Television, discussed in the final section of the findings.
The first political communication form studied in the research, the
electronic town meeting, or ETM, was proposed by candidate Ross Perot
a means of promoting direct democracy. Although never put into
the ETM concept drew substantial coverage during the campaign. The
ETM is patterned after the New England town meeting, which is
on citizens, not politicians, and which is a process concluding with
majority vote that becomes the law of the town. An ETM must include
elements of discussion, debate, deliberation, and voting.
The second, electronic forums, or EFs, have been incorrectly called
electronic town meetings, even though in reality they are quite
different forms of political communication. Used during the campaign by
Perot, President George Bush and then-Gov. Bill Clinton, as well as
during the Clinton presidency, the EF involves the appearance of one or
more candidates, or the president or other office holders, before a
television studio audience. With a television station or network host
and the possibility of satellite hookups with other television studio
audiences, the candidate or office holders answer questions from the
public, represented by the studio audience.
They differ from ETM's in that they are no more than a televised
exchange between the politicians and people present in the studio, with
no deliberation and voting on questions of public concern. Although
offer less opportunities for public input, however, they resulted in
increased voter interest and turnout, and helped clarify the
The third form of political communication, talk-show democracy,
involves the appearance of a candidate or office holder on regularly
presented radio and television talk and call-in programs, such as
King Live," Donahue," and "Arsenio."
The potential jurisdictional dispute generated by these new political
forms of communication would center on the challenges presented to
traditional role of journalists at the center of political
communication, mediating between politicians and the public. The ETM
would eliminate journalists as the agenda-setters and interpreters of
political discussion, putting control of the political communication
process in the hands of politicians, or President Perot, who would
communicate directly on television to an audience of the electorate who
would then be asked to respond by voting on an 800 number, by
or on computer. Instead of simply eliminating the journalist's
as the ETM does, the EF replaces journalists with non-journalists in
studio audience who usurp the role of asking questions. The
format also replaces the traditional political journalist, only in
case with the non-journalist media personality, such as Larry King
ETMs, EFs and Talk Shows
A search of the National Newspaper Index found 88 news and opinion
articles focusing in all or in part on these three new forms of
political communication from January 1992 through December 1994. Of the
88 articles, 16 discussed the new media technology as a group; 19
focused on the ETM concept; 28 were about EFs, or televised electronic
forums; and 25 were about the use of talk shows in political
Three themes emerged in the coverage. The most frequently articulated
theme, that journalists are being bypassed by politicians in the
political communication process, was embodied within 32 of the articles
(36%). A second theme, that the increased role of politicians raises
questions of manipulation and control of political communication, was
apparent in 12 (14%) of the 88 articles. A third most frequently
theme, concerning the role of the public and other non-journalists,
as talk-show hosts, as interviewers replacing journalists, also was
expressed in 13 of the articles (15%).
Journalists' concern about the threat posed by these new forms of
political communication to their jurisdictional work boundaries is
reflected in the overall coverage. Of the 88 news articles, columns and
editorials examined, 46 (or 52%) mention at least one theme
the disputed work jurisdictions. Excluding articles covering EFs,
two-thirds of the articles (40 out of 60) discussed at least one
jurisdictional dispute. Twelve (75%) of the general new media articles
mentioned at least one theme, as did 12 (63%) of the 19 articles
ETMs concept and 16 (64%) of the articles about political aspects of
talk shows. By contrast, only six (21%) of the 28 articles discussing
EFs mentioned any jurisdictional issues. Mostly, these articles
the content of the EFs, including the questions of the audiences and
responses of the candidates or office holders.
The following sections provide quotes that illustrate the range of
journalistic concerns about their work roles.
A. Bypassing Journalists
The language used by journalists to express the most prominent theme,
that the providers of new forms of political communication bypass
traditional journalists, reflects their concerns about protecting their
work jurisdictions. Of the 32 articles that emphasized this theme,
were found in general new media and talk show coverage. Eleven of
new media articles (68%) and 14 of the 25 talk-show articles (56%)
commented on the old media being bypassed by the various new political
In the articles focusing on the general topic of the new media,
relatively neutral terms, such as "unfiltered" and "unmediated," were
used to describe the impact of the new forms of political
as well as more charged terms, such as "unedited" and
In a 1992 election postmortem, the Wall Street Journal noted the
used by Bush and Clinton, "with voters asking questions directly,
without any filtering by journalists." The article reported:
. . . The regular press -- TV and print -- played no role in either
event, except to report on what they saw and heard. That's the
idea. The essence of the new media is that it is unmediated.
There is no
filtering by professional journalists. Voters seem to like that
But in the same article, a more pointed evaluation is found in
reporting that Perot's cable-TV interviews enabled the candidate to
avoid "inquisitive reporters asking tough questions."
Another Journal article used the idea of a "diminished role of
reporters who actually show up for events," while another article
described the process as bypassing the "critical judgment of traditional
journalists." The motivation for politicians, the article reports,
that the network news story has been focusing less on the politicians
and more on the correspondents, as the media become more mediated:
What's even worse . . . is that the network TV reporters "have become
increasingly negative, adversarial and antagonistic. . . .They
seem contemptuous of politicians. The politicians don't like
whole lot, either. And so the name of the game has become: Bypass
Donaldson." The answer, or a good part of it, anyway, is
where hardly anyone ever asks negative, adversarial, or
Other terms also suggest tension between journalists, politicians and
the public. All the new technologies, the New York Times suggests,
share one feature: "they allow politicians to speak to voters more
directly, without the interference of network television news
reporters." And satellites allow politicians to reach voters "with no
intervention from the news media."
In the Christian Science Monitor's view, the political strategy was
"to get the conventional press out of the way, to cut out the
in delivering their messages," as Perot's "end-run of the
press was nearly absolute." Precipitating the new forms of
communication, according to a Washington Post article, was the
dislike of the media "pre-chewing their political food" and its
for "direct access to the primary sources of information." The
added that the public no longer saw the media as "their agents in
campaign process," rejecting the idea that the media are "neutral
observers who have no real role in the action."
The Post also reported that the new process says "to hell with the
word-twisting media middlemen," and a Newsweek article echoed
theme in a comment on a Perot satellite rally, which they claimed
brought him to followers "unspun by journalistic chatter." The
in a column asserted that appearing on talk shows spared Perot "the
abrasive, arrogant (from the critics' point of view) questions of the
Bypassing the traditional media was also a paramount issue in articles
about talk shows, with 14 of 25 articles (56 %) mentioning this
With Bill Clinton's appearance on Arsenio Hall's program, "the
battleground shifted even more toward the talk show arena and away
traditional and more serious venues like newscasts and press
The combative tenor of the jurisdictional dispute over talk shows was
also shown in a column by Marvin Kalb, director of Harvard
Shorenstein Barone Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy, who
wrote that the public links "the old media with old politics -- and, in
their minds, both be damned."  Within the context of this
media reported the mainstream media's difficulty of interesting
politicians in appearing on journalistic programs, such as "Meet the
Press" and "Prime Time Live." The New York Times found "the programs
that were constantly getting short shrift were those that feature
experienced political reporters." In an exchange between Sam Donaldson
and Ross Perot:
Mr. Donaldson, too, has had difficulty booking the candidates on "Prime
Time Live" . . . . Mr. Perot said he wanted a live interview to
"directly" to the audience.
"I said to Perot,, 'Look, I'm not going to turn my cameras over to
you," Mr. Donaldson said. "'Buy your own network.'"
The Washington Post reported that the networks, trying to adapt to the
talk shows in "the year the network news boys dropped off the bus,"
offered politicians access to their own talk shows, such as "Today" and
"This Morning." The candidates were then able to "bypass the es
tablishment news media." The talk shows also connected candidates to
viewers "unedited and unfiltered by Washington reporters." The New
Times viewed Bush's appearance on a talk show as evidence of the
of "efforts to bypass traditional television news coverage."
The issue of bypassing the media was less important to authors of
articles about ETMs and EFs. Only three ETM articles (16%) and four EF
articles (14%) discuss this issue. For example, as a utopian concept
that was proposed as a technique of governance, the ETM, according to
the New York Times, offered "the promise of a magical, technological
answer to . . . the shallowness of a debate framed by the forces of
The Washington Post wrote that the ETM was attractive to the
electorate, "but the media would push him toward much greater
specificity." As a proposed tool of governance, the ETM was seen in a
New York Times column as a direct challenge to the core historical
tasks of journalists:
For much of this century, journalists decided which issues to press
Presidents on. They also relayed most of the communications
politicians and the public. . . .
Early in his campaign, Mr. Perot advanced the notion of an electronic
town hall. The media reacted as if he said he's been receiving
radio signals. Mr. Perot jeeringly told reporters he had
figured out why
the idea of an electronic town hall drove them "crazy": it was
they wouldn't be the only one to get to ask the questions any
Writing that "one of the big losers in the new media would appear to be
the old media," the Wall Street Journal lamented that "traditional
reporters . . . have almost forgotten what a news conference looks
The EF, which was employed during the campaign and Clinton's
presidency, also drew a few comments on bypassing of journalists,
although the articles primarily reported on EFs as news stories. An
example of a comment on the work jurisdiction of journalists included
one issued in a Wall Street Journal article that said "town hall
meetings also are one of the administration's main methods for going
over the heads of the media."
Coverage of EFs tended to blend positive comments with the negative,
such as the Washington Post, which noted that Clinton's "talkathons"
flew "under the radar of the Washington press corps," on the one hand;
on the other hand, the article found a positive side to the EFs:
White House reporters say Clinton's road show contrasts with their
limited opportunities to question him and his senior aides.
"There's a certain jealousy factor," said Matt Cooper, White House
correspondent for U.S. News and World Report. "We would've liked
a news conference with him before he hauled off to Detroit and
glitzy town meeting."
But Cooper said town meetings are a good opportunity for citizens to
see the president in action. "It's wrong for the media to think
itself as high priests, the only beings blessed with the ability to
questions," he said. "The press asks too many 'gotcha'
the hope is to elicit a gaffe."
B: Control and Manipulation by Politicians
A second prominent theme in the coverage centered on the role of
politicians in the new media, with 12 articles out of the 88 articles
(14%) discussing the concern of political manipulation and control.
but one of the articles raising this concern were discussing the ETM
concept. The fear of demagoguery and the tyranny of the majority were
prime causes cited in these articles. They serve as examples of
journalistic efforts to shore up their occupational boundaries.
Journalists, they seem to be saying, rather than politicians, ought to
be trusted to provide the nation's citizens with political news and
According to the New York Times, for example, the ETM proposal leaves
unclear "who is going to be leading and who's going to be led."
another Times ' article was a warning that with Perot in charge of the
ETM, the process could be manipulated through selection of speakers,
questions and audience members. Yet a third Times' article
that with Perot in charge of his toll-free line to launch his
the electronic vote "inevitably turned out his way.
Part of the problem was attributed in the Times to the television
medium itself, so that "whoever controls the pictures wins the
argument." The fear of demagoguery ran strong in the Times' coverage of
the ETM, which posed an "enormous potential for manipulating the
emotions of people." The Wall Street Journal quoted a source as
that the meetings "could be controlled and manipulated by
. . (such as they have) been used in the past by such tyrants as
Napoleon and Mussolini." The danger, a Times columnist Anthony Lewis
asserted, is that the ETM could be "manipulated: shaped by ideologues
and demagogues." In another column, Lewis asked: "Who will "make
the people understand the issues? The opportunities for manipulation
overwhelming." In an editorial, the Times cautioned that in
format, Perot "would be in charge of producing the programs,
facilitating loaded selection of speakers, and scripting of questions."
This manipulation, according to the Christian Science Monitor, could
"alter the balance of power between the executive and legislative
branches of the government, and, in the process, diminish journalism's
checking function on government. . ."
The third most prominent theme on the work jurisdiction of journalists
expressed in the articles studied in the research focused on the
the public and other non-journalists in this work system. Thirteen
of the 88 articles commented on the role of the public and talk-show
hosts as replacements for journalists as questioners in the political
process. All 13 articles were about EFs and talk shows, in which the
public and others were seen to be supplanting the journalist.
Reporting and commentary on the role of the public asking questions
tended to be ambivalent. Examples include aWashington Post article
quoted a Clinton campaign aide as saying that "real voters . . . ask
questions that come from the heart and really affect their lives."
Journalist Tim Russert added that "the softer interview shows complement
the hard-news programs." Balancing these positive statements, the
article criticized talk shows "for their lack of aggressive questioning.
. . . the format allows the candidates to offer canned responses
little or no follow-up."
A Clinton appearance on a network talk show, the New York Times
reported, was "warm and appeared to be dominated by representatives of
interest groups or questioners who were familiar with and friendly
toward Mr. Clinton."
The public was viewed at times as capable questioners, as the New York
Times reported that Clinton at times had "stumbled into lively
encounters." But the idea that journalists ask better questions also
persisted. According to the Washington Post, "call-in formats allow
candidates to speak in generalities with little fear of contradiction,
(while) network reporters are more adept at probing for
Another challenger to the journalistic task of asking questions was the
talk show host, who generally was thought to be inferior to the
journalist. A New York Times source suggested that "as smart as Arsenio
Hall might be, I doubt he asks the kind of questions Dan Rather
Martin Kalb Times' column noted that "many talk show hosts are not
trained journalists," yet it sketched out a
turf war . . . between the talk shows and traditional evening news,
between electronic populism and an elite corps of political
. . and the high-salary stars in New York and Washington
barnyard of Chicken Littles,' to quote from columnist David
In articles about EFs, the same issues appear. Questions from the
public were thought to be easier for politicians, with some exceptions,
and a balanced view is taken on the role of the public. The White
was seen as favoring "tough questions" from the public because "the
questions are almost never as onerous as reporters' queries." At
EF, by contrast, Clinton "was peppered with tough questions on the
subjects he has sought to avoid from reporters in Washington. . . .
questions were as focused, and diverse, as any White House news
For both talks shows and EFs, the journalistic discourse offered
examples of acquiescing to a complementary role for the public while
retaining an important role for journalists. For example, aWashington
Post editorial warned journalists against claiming a privileged
position in the process, yet argued for the granting of an important
role to journalists. Disclaiming the media "priesthood," the Post
It is a journalists' myth that ordinary folks always ask their
politicians softball questions, whereas we in the press ask all the
searching questions. The press, we think, ought to be wary of
itself up as an ordained priesthood whose intercession is
reach the president or ask him questions. The very idea latent
phrase "going over the press's head to the people" is that there
something illegitimate about a president's talking directly to the
But in the next sentence the Post urged that the media should retain
its "normal functions:"
The point is that this should not be seen as an excuse to close the
press out of its normal functions. There should be regular press
conferences, and we note that Mr. Clinton is being pretty slow about
these. But there is no reason whatever for him not to speak and
often to the public directly in these other kinds of forums as
National Empowerment Television
In sharp contrast to these findings are the responses of journalists to
National Empowerment Television--NET--a 24-per-hour cable channel
launched December 6, 1993 in Washington, D.C. According to NET's
founders, the channel promises to provide Americans with a radically
different brand of public affairs programming than they've used to
getting from mainstream journalists. Launched by the unabashedly
conservative Free Congress Foundation, NET positions itself as an
alternative to C-Span and PBS. As its leadership puts it:
NET is must-watch television for public policy wonks and junkies, the
C-SPAN crowd looking for more spice and pace, and the PBS and
policy crowd looking for more real-time coverage. In short, NET
C-SPAN with an attitude.
NET pledges to offer Americans new links between themselves and
Washington, and that NET is more populist and independent in that it
isn't controlled by "liberal, elite" mainstream journalism.
their dedication to "empowering Americans with the strongest weapon
available--the truth. . . , " they "Reconnect Americans to Washington,"
by routinely opening their Washington studio's phone lines to
At first glance, NET's programming resembles standard journalistic fare
offered on cable, as well as on the networks. Programs with titles
as "Dateline: Washington," "Capitol Watch," "CATO Forum," and "Full
Disclosure," feature familiar journalistic fare such as theme music,
traditional news stand-ups, and panels. But on closer analysis, NET's
public affairs programming offers a different kind of journalism--a
brand of journalism practiced by politicians rather than by
While some of NET's programs are presented by professional journalists,
albeit journalists with distinct political views, such as their
"Insights with Robert Novak" program, others, while being billed as
journalistic are hosted by politicians rather than journalists.
The star of one such show is Newt Gingrich, who plays a key role these
days in NET. For example, Gingrich stars each week in NET's regular
program, "Progress Report," and the channel also regularly airs his
controversial series of lectures, "Renewing American Civilization."
Featuring Gingrich so prominently has helped bring NET a lot of media
attention lately. For example, he chose one of his weekly "Progress
Report" segments on which to voice his controversial views on cutting
funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In addition, he
recently garnered more attention for the channel by attending an NET
fundraising dinner that cost $50,000 per plate to attend.
Scrutiny of Gingrich's "Progress Report" show, and some of NET's other
programming reveals a key difference between NET and mainstream
journalism. On his "Progress Report" program, he performs as a
journalist, rather than strictly as a politician. On a recent segment
aired early in March, for example, Gingrich starts the show by
the audience the news from Washington. And later in the show, he
as a journalistic interviewer of its guests, one of them an editor
the Wall Street Journal.
"Direct Line with Paul Weyrich," is another example of a show billed as
journalistic, but led by a politician. President of the Free
Foundation, and NET's president and chief executive officer,
Weyrich cut his career teeth in the 1960s in mainstream journalism,
since then, although he has been involved in journalism, his
conservative political agenda appears to have driven whatever
journalistic activity he has been involved in.
How have mainstream journalists reacted, if at all, to NET's brand of
journalism? Is there developing a discourse within journalistic
about NET's providers that frames them as usurpers of traditional
journalistic occupational roles? An examination of 78 newspaper and
magazine articles, columns, and editorials published around the
since 1992 revealed little interest among their journalistic authors
framing NET as a threat to journalist's traditional work roles.
Instead, journalists have commonly been much more interested in NET's
ideological position and connections to Republican and conservative
politicians. In fact, journalists only published a handful of articles
on NET until last November when Gingrich became a household word.
then, journalistic coverage of NET has increased, but such has
been driven by the press' fascination with Gingrich and to the
over possible congressional cuts to the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, rather than concerns about the possible encroachment of
traditional journalistic work boundaries by politicians.
The texts studied in the research most commonly characterize NET as a
politically-conservative example of one of the journalistic
brought to Americans via new technologies. They are focused on the
novelty of the all-public affairs and news channel, rather than on
questions of who is providing such programming.  Some of the points
raised in the columns were the following: NET claims to be populist,
in reality exists solely to spread a regressive conservative
political agenda; NET largely exists to serve Gingrich's interests;
is using Gingrich to feather its own nest; despite NET's claims that
they are providing Americans with more choices, NET wants to take away
Americans' choices; NET is more efficiently and economically run
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and, as Gingrich and others
suggested, ought to be considered a replacement for it; NET's brand
plebiscitary democracy will make a mess of government, much as has
happened in California.
Only one journalist introduced a question of occupational roles, and he
did so only peripherally. The title to Thomas Goetz'
1994 Columbia Journalism Review article, "I'm Not a Reporter, But I
Play One on GOP-TV," seems to insinuate that politicians are posing as
journalists. But the article itself did not expand on this
the rest of the journalists who wrote the articles, editorials and
columns examined in the research, the article frame those who produce
NET largely as political conservatives who offer a political
journalistic product rather than encroachers on traditional journalistic
Intra-Professional Dialogue on Jurisdiction
The spectrum of these journalistic responses to both the threats and
potential of the new media is reflected in the comments of Bill
publisher of Nieman Reports, and a panel of journalists brought
together by the Nieman Foundation. Kovach finds opportunity for
journalists to sponsor town meetings and spark community activism as the
new media take on the role of "community hearthstone" that community
newspapers originally filled. If journalists "fail to take part in
providing the information base and the forum for community
participation," the democratic process will "either find an
source of information or fall prey to control by rumor, prejudice
sted interest information." Nieman Foundation panelist Leonard
Jr., executive editor of theWashington Post, also perceived
opportunities" for journalism, as electronic democracy creates a
for journalistically produced information. "The electronic democracy
does not cancel out good journalism. It will, in fact, be dependent on
good journalism," Downie believes.
The other panelists, by contrast, offered gloomier forecasts on the
impact of electronic democracy, reflecting on the expanding role of
public as it encroaches on journalists' work. Lawrence Grossberg,
president of NBC News and PBS, called the public the new "fourth
Where does that leave journalists? I would suggest that far from having
the commanding position that journalism used to have, in many
it is now in the position of a Greek chorus. . . . as "old
of their proverbial wisdom and hopelessness."
Panelist Matthew Wilson, executive editor of the San Francisco
Chronicle, agreed that electronic democracy has blurred the identity of
journalists, as "all of you are communicating to all of you. Each
you becomes a broadcaster. Each one of you becomes a
Grossberg found that talk show hosts such as Oprah Winfrey, Phil
Donahue, Geraldo Rivera, Larry King and Rush Limbaugh also are usurping
the role of journalists. Wilson predicted that funding to
journalists' work of "gathering the news and delivering it" will
disappear. "So, the world is changing in a very rapid and dramatic way.
I believe it's going to be good for democracy and good for the
I'm not sure it's going to be good for journalism."
The new media have left journalists in a search for a new role,
according toWichita Eagle editor Davis Merritt, who said he believes
that journalists "don't have much of a future in the information
business as it's developing." The answer, Merritt argues, is for
journalists to define themselves as in "the business of democracy" based
on "public journalism," which he defined as a journalism growing
pragmatic recognition that people flooded with contextless,
episodic, value-neutral information can't make effective work of
Analyst Andrew Blau, director of the communications policy project at
the Benton Foundation, sums up the argument that the new technology
"radically undermined" the press's roles of organizing information,
evaluating information, organizing a public and paying journalists for
the value added to information.
This paper explores, in light of sociological thinking on occupational
and professional development, whether new technologically-inspired
political communication products might be precipitating a jurisdictional
crisis between journalists and others who reside together within the
political communication work system. To study this, a total of 166
newspaper and magazine articles, columns, and editorials published
across the country from 1992 to the present were examined to determine
whether they specifically discussed the occupational roles of
journalists viz-a-viz those of the providers of four new forms of
political communication: electronic town meetings, electronic forums,
televised talk show democracy, and National Empowerment Television.
findings detailed above suggest that traditional journalists are
concerned that non-journalists involved with political communication
services may be encroaching on their traditional work jurisdiction as
the citizenry's primary providers of political news and commentary.
However, it appears that there are differences in how they perceive
relative dangers posed by these political communication services.
example, in discussing the general concept of the new media, as well
electronic town meetings and talk shows, journalists disseminated
substantial journalistic reporting and commentary about the roles of
journalists, politicians and the public in these communication forms.
Journalists, however, paid much less attention to jurisdictional
that might come out of electronic forums, and almost no
questions were raised about the startup and development of the
cable television network, National Empowerment Television.
Among the jurisdictional themes that emerged in the totality of
coverage examined of these new political forms of communication,
journalists primarily expressed concern about the bypassing of
traditional news media and journalists by politicians seeking to
communicate directly to the public in an unmediated and unfiltered
format and by the public seeking access to politicians without mediation
by journalists. A second concern expressed in the news articles and
commentaries was the control and manipulation of the political
communication process by politicians in the absence of journalists. A
third question, although met with more ambivalence than the first two
themes, was the usurpation of the traditional journalists
function by both the public and talk show hosts, themselves not
Journalists also raised different questions in their news articles and
commentaries, depending on the particular form of political
communication. When journalists were discussing the new media
technologies in general, the most commonly-raised concern expressed by
journalists focused on their being bypassed in the process. The
held true for news and commentary about the emergence of talk shows
new political communication forms. In discussing talk shows,
and EFs, discussion also focused on the question of the role of the
public and other non-journalists, such as talk show hosts, in usurping
the occupational territory of journalists.
Neither the question of bypassing the news media nor the role of the
public as interviewers came into play in journalistic responses to
ETM. The overwhelming issue for journalists in responding to this
of political communication was the danger of control and
the process by politicians.
The research findings strongly support the contention that the
emergence of new forms of political communication using both existing
and new technologies has opened new sites of occupational struggle
between journalists, on the one hand, and politicians, the public and
other non-journalists, on the other hand. Four examples of these new
political communication forms, ETMs, EFs, talk shows, and NET, have
shown that journalists' jurisdiction over the provision of political
news and commentary has been challenged as these new forms restructure
the political communication system.
In general, and in some specific cases, journalists have made claims on
the work tasks that these forms have disturbed. In other cases,
by their silence on jurisdictional issues, journalists may be ceding
some of their traditional work tasks. Even as they comment on some new
forms, such as the political aspects of talk shows, journalists do
claim that they have exclusive jurisdiction over their traditional
as interlocutors of political figures, but only that they not be
excluded from carrying out their traditional roles even as the public
gains more direct access to politicians in the communication process.
Only the future will show whether traditional journalists claims
stand or fall to the challenges that clearly are being brought
their long-held roles in the political communication process.
 Patricia L. Dooley, "Development of American Journalistic Work in t
and Nineteenth Centuries: Politicians, P
olitical Communication, and Occupational
Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1994).
 Dan Nimmo, "The Elect
ronic Town Hall in Campaign '92: Interactive Forum or Carnival
mbe?"; in The 1992 Presidential Campaign, ed. Robert E. Denton Jr. (Westp
CT: Praeger Publishers, 1994), 207-226; F. Christ
opher Arterton, "Campaign '92:
Strategies and Tactics
of the Candidates," in The Election of 1992, ed. Gerald M.
Pomper (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House, 1993), 74-109; Michael Schudson,
"The Limits of
Teledemocracy," American Prospect , 11
(Fall 1992), 41-45; Edward Horowitz, "Talk Show
ics: The Match that Rekindles American Democracy?" (Paper delivered at As
for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Con
ference, Kansas City, MO,
 Andrew Abbott, The System of Pro
fessions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor
icago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).
Abbott, System of Profe
Abbott, System of Professions, 92, 143-4.
ott, System of Professions, 92. For a discussion of the various forces t
upset a particular group's jurisdiction over professional work
tasks, see especially
 Klaus Bruhn Jense
n and Nicholas W. Jankowski, eds., A Handbook of Qualitative
Methodologies for Mass Communication Research (NY: Routledge, 199
1); Roger Chartier,
"Texts, Printing, Readings," in Th
e New Cultural History, ed. Lynn Hunt (Berkeley:
rsity of California Press), 154-75.
 Theodore Becker, "Teledemocrac
y: Gathering Momentum in State and Local Governance."
Spectrum: The Journal of State Government, 66 (Summer 1993: 14-19.
James M. Perry, "Expect Candidates of the Future to Tap 'Teledemocracy'
'New Media," Wall Street Journal, 4 Nov., 1992
, sec. A, p. 16, col. 4.
 Timothy Noah, "Clinton Campaign Uses Tec
hnology to Bypass Traditional News
Outlets, Reach Vote
rs Directly," Wall Street Journal, 17 July 1992, sec. A, p. 14,
 James M. Perry, "Call It New Media, Teledemocr
acy or Whatever; It's Changing the
Way the Political S
ystem Works," Wall Street Journal, 24 June 1992, sec. A, p. 22,
 Elizabeth Kolbert, "Technology Adds a Personal
Touch," New York Times, 9 June
1992, sec. A, p. 11, c
 Marshall Ingwerson, "Electioneering Moves to a New State o
f the Art," Christian
Science Monitor, 4 Nov. 1992, p
. 8, col. 1.
 Dan Balz, "Candidates Skirt News Media, Favor Direct
Delivery of Message,"
Washington Post, 19 May 1992,
sec. A, p. 1, col. 2.
 William Booth, "New-Age Rally Falls Prey to
Familiar Bugs," Washington Post, 30
May 1992, sec. A,
p. 10, col. .1.
 "Wiring Up the Age of Technopolitics," Newsweek,
15 June 1992, 25.
Richard J. Cattani, "Is Perot the Media's Pino
cchi?" Christian Science Monitor, 10
June, 1992, p. 18
, col. 1.
 Tom Shales, "Perot's Paradox: He's Slippery, But Not Sl
ick," Washington Post, 9
June 1992, sec. E, p. 1, col.
 Marvin Kalb, "From Sound Bite to a Meal," New York Times, 3
July 1992, sec. A, p.
 Elizabeth Kolbert, "Talk Shows Wrangl
ing To Book the Candidates," New York Times,
6 July 1992, sec. A, p. 1
0, col. 1.
 Howard Kurtz, "Networks Adapt to Changed Campaign Role
," Washington Post, 21 June
1992, sec. A, p. 19, col.
 Howard Kurtz, "Canned Candidates: Talk Shows Are Forums For Pa
Washington Post, 12 June 1992, sec. A, p.
 Andrew Rosenthal, "Bush Considers Following His Rivals on TV
Talk Programs," New
York Times, 16 June 1992, sec. A,
p. 10, col. 1.
Michael Kelly, "Perot's Vision: Consensus by Compu
ter," New York Times, 6 June 1992,
sec. A., p. 1, col
David Gergen, "Outsiders: Can An Amateur Like Ross Perot Sha
ke Up the Election
Process?" Washington Post, 29 March
, 1992, sec. C, p. 1.
Jon Katz, "Dial-a-President," New York Time
s, 16 Nov. 1992, sec. A, p. 13, col. 2.
Perry, "Expect Candidates
Jeffrey Birnbaum, "Town-Hall Sessions Evolve for Clinton into
Strategic Tool," Wall
Street Journal, 9 May 1994, sec.
A, p. 7, col. 2.
 Howard Kurtz, "Inaugurating a Talk Show Preside
ncy," Washington Post, 12 Feb.
1993, sec. A, p. 4, col
 "Ross Perot, One-Way Wizard," New York Times, 24 April 1992
, sec. A, p. 34, col.
 Kelly, "Perot's Visio
n," p. 1.
 Margot Slade, "Ross Perot or Superstoe? Science Fiction
Got Their First," New York
Times, 4 Oct. 1992, sec. E, p. 4, col. 1.
 Walter Goodman, "And Now, Heeeeeeeere's a Referendum!" New York T
imes, 21 June
1992, sec. C, p. 5, col 1.
, "Perot's Vision," p. 1.
 Perry, "Expect Candidates," 16.
] Anthony Lewis, "Not a Rose Garden," New York Times, 1 Feb. 1993, sec.
A., p. 13,
Anthony Lewis, "Governing b
y Television," New York Times, 7 June 1992, sec. C, p. 7,
"1-800-Trouble," New York Times, 13 June 1992, sec.
A, p. 22, col. 1.
Hugh Carter Donahue, "Ross Perot as Master of
the Media," Christian Science Monitor, 24
June 1992, p. 18, col. 1.
Kurtz, "Talk Show Campaign, 14.
 Gwen Ifill, "On TV, Clinton
Finds and Audience that Listens," New York Times, 16
une 1992, sec. A, p. 21, col. 1.
 Gwen Ifill, "Clinton and Gore Re
turn to the Call-In," New York Times, Oct. 7 1992,
sec. A, p. 12, col.
 Kurtz, "Networks Adapt," 19.
 Elizabeth Kolbert, "Whist
le-Stops a la 1992: Arsenio, Larry and Phil," New York
Times, 5 June 1992, sec. A, p. 18, col. 5.
 Kalb, "From Sound Bi
 Birnbaum, "Town-Hall Sessions," 7.
 Thomas L. Fri
edman, "Clinton lays base for new sacrifice to boost economy," New
York Times, 11 Feb. 1993, sec. A, p. 1, col. 3.
ive! It's the President!" Washington Post, 12 Feb. 1993, sec. A, p. 26, c
 Such rhetoric is included in promotional literature distri
buted by NET, as well as
published in various periodicals by its founde
rs. See, for example: Paul Weyrich, "TV
s New Links Between Citizens, Politicians," Insight on the News, 14 Jan.
1994, p. 29.
 A biographer says that from 1960
to 1966 Weyrich served as news director,
d program director for WLIP/WAXO-FM, Kenosha, Wisconsin; as a political
reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel; and, finally, as n
ews director at KQXI, Denver,
Colorado. After this six
-year stint in mainstream journalism, Weyrich started doing
press work for politicians, and began to launch a number of his own
enterprises, including serving as publis
her for Family, Law and Democracy Report from
 See, for example, the following: Edward H. Sims, "Looking
at Washington--End CPB
Aid?" Home News, 12 January 19
95; Reed Irvine and Joseph Goulden, "Public broadcasting
in the line of
fire," Washington Times,," 19 December 1994; Cheri Pierson Yecke,
"News media's liberal biases were alive and well in '94,"
Potomac News, 15 January
 See, for exam
ple, these articles, columns, and editorials: Marlys Matuszak,
"Gingrich a threat to speech, choice," Capital Times, 12 Decemb
er 1994; Dave
Eisenstadt, "Dems mull drive on info hig
hway,"New York Daily N ews , 27 December 1994;
John Lovas, "Think loca
lly, act globally," Palo Alto Weekly, 25 January 1995; Reed
Irvine and Joseph C. Goulden, "The Gingrich Bombshell," Washingto
n Inquirer, 16
December 1994; "Newt TV," Russell [Kan
sas] Record, 23 January 1995; "Republicans
gut PBS, NPR," Waterloo Courier, 2 January 1995.
 Thomas Goetz,
"I'm Not a Reporter, But I Play One on GOP-TV," Columbia Journalism
Review (September-October 1994),
Bill Kovach, "Me
dia's Chance to Interact With the Voters," Nieman Reports 46 (Fall
Lawrence Grossberg, " The Emerging Electr
onic Democracy," Nieman Reports 48 (Summer
Grossberg, "Emerging Electronic Democracy," 53.
berg, "Emerging Electronic Democracy," 53.
 Grossberg, "Emerging E
lectronic Democracy," 53.
 Grossberg, "Emerging Electronic Democra
 Grossberg, "Emerging Electronic Democracy," 55.
Grossberg, "Emerging Electronic Democracy," 56.