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Open Access Publications from the University of California

East German Journalists and the Wende: A history of the collapse and transformation of socialist journalism in Germany

  • Author(s): Guzman, Morgan Morille Schupbach
  • Advisor(s): Sabean, David
  • et al.

This dissertation utilizes archival sources and interviews to examine the transformation of the journalism profession in East Germany from the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) through the unification of the two German states. During this period of dramatic political and social upheaval, East German journalists navigated the divide between socialist journalism of the GDR and democratic journalism of the Federal Republic. By embedding the history of this professional transformation within a broader narrative of the history of the collapse of communism in Germany and Eastern Europe, this dissertation identifies how the actions of journalists were largely determined by outside forces. Socialist journalism in East Germany was envisioned as a means to use the media to control the public, but in practice the model primarily succeeding in controlling the journalists. As a result, the profession was at the mercy of larger social and geo-political tensions and was hampered by persistent and lingering structures of control that delayed the ability of journalists to undertake any substantive efforts of reform. However, once those structures eroded, there was a brief window where journalists were freed to reform the profession, and many envisioned a future for a democratic socialist journalism that embraced journalistic freedoms but held true to socialist principles of equality and social justice. These ideas were cut short by the rapid implementation of the Unification. West German publishing giants were able to quickly secure control of the East German press landscape, and Christian Democratic Union leadership in both East and West Germany ensured that West German broadcasting structures were expanded to the newly added Eastern German states. As a result, the journalists of the former GDR were left to again adhere to norms and structures imposed from outside. However, there was a significant population of East German journalists who were able to navigate the divide between the two regimes and adapt to the new conditions of the unification, utilizing elements of their East German background and training in their new careers in unified Germany.

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