Mediating newspeople: Cultures of writing and the mechanisms of change at three daily newspapers

Date of Completion

January 1997


Anthropology, Cultural|Journalism|Sociology, General




The past few decades have seen rapid changes in the technology of news production, in the financial health of news organizations and in the demographic balance within American newsrooms. Amid this tumult, there are other forces questioning the way newsgathering is practiced and the way news is defined. As part of the process of questioning journalistic practices and traditions, some print newsrooms have seen the rise of clusters of editors and reporters whose beliefs and activities also have significantly affected the transformation of American print newsrooms in apparent counterpoint to prevailing economic and technological trends in journalism. These groups are part of phenomena I call "cultures of writing." Cultures of writing are ideological frameworks--or systems of values and beliefs--that are manifested in sets of relationships centering on distinctive methods of reporting and styles of writing. This research examines cultures of writing at three mainstream daily newspapers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Record-Journal of Meriden, CT, and The Providence (RI) Journal Bulletin. It shows how the newsrooms of these newspapers in the mid 1990s were the consequences of multipartite processes expressed as regularized negotiations between members of writing cultures, or 'elite' journalists, the interests of the fiscal proprietors of the organization, the interests of the readers and the interests of the larger newsroom. Elite journalism constitutes a tactic through which American reporters and editors have had to contest the sense of lost autonomy and contend with changes external to the newsroom by reconstituting the newsgathering and news writing processes. The practices and beliefs of cultures of writing not only challenge older notions of the role of objectivity but seek to replace it with a renewed and transformed sense of what constitutes news. ^