- Reporter-Streifzüge. Metropolitane Nachrichtenkultur und die Wahrnehmung der Welt 1870–1918 by Michael Homberg
Michael Homberg's ambitious 2017 monograph Reporter-Streifzüge, a revised version of his 2015 Cologne dissertation, analyzes the reporter as a key phenomenon of modernity, and modernity—or, more specifically, the "long turn of the century" (1870–1930)—as the golden age of the reporter. Importantly, it is the reporter specifically, who is so characteristic of modernity, according to Homberg, and not any of the other professions also involved in the booming newspaper business around 1900—including the journalist more broadly, the editor, or the newspaper owners, even though all these are important representatives of the modern world as well (and also receive some discussion in Reporter-Streifzüge).
What distinguishes reporters and their texts as key phenomena is that they became a point of intersection for a wide range of discourses that in their very tensions embody the complex realities of the modern world. Epistemologically speaking, the reporter appears both as a direct recorder of facts and as a pronounced subjective presence, whose texts revolve often just as much around him or her as around the subject at hand. The reporter thus formed a counterweight of sorts to the more depersonalized texts of the news agencies, which were also emerging in the late nineteenth century. Socially speaking, the reporter was both a function of the capitalist entertainment industry and an agent of social reform. Stylistically speaking, the reporter could be catering both to an aesthetic of fragmentation (presenting snapshots of a world that had fallen out of joint) and to the longing for the most established narrative plots. In these and other ambiguities, reporter and reportage are, as Homberg appears to imply, perhaps even more expressive of modernity than, say, expressionist poetry or montage texts, which highlight, so to speak, only the "modern" aspects of modernity and fail to express that part of what characterizes modernity is that old and new, as well as many other things in between, could exist—peacefully or otherwise—side by side.
One of the main strengths of Homberg's book is that it fleshes out this general portrait of reporter and reportage in rich historical detail. His study includes an [End Page 173] impressive (and instructive) array of examples from Germany, France, Britain, and the United States, and Homberg pays special attention also to the differences in which the—transnational—phenomenon of the reporter played out in different countries (in a nutshell, the United States appear in this portrayal as the trailblazer of modern reportage, followed in Europe, and especially in Germany, rather reluctantly and only with some delay). It is this wide scope and comparative approach that allows Homberg's title to stand out from the crowd of important research on the newspaper business around 1900—in the German context, Peter Fritzsche's influential 1996 monograph Reading Berlin, for instance, comes to mind, which also already accorded reportage a privileged position.
After relatively succinct chapters on the epistemological status of the reporter (chapters 1 and 2), the professional and economic position of the reporter (chapter 3), as well as on the reporters' work in the big cities (chapter 4), Homberg devotes by the far the longest chapter of his book (at over 140 pages, chapter 4 accounts for almost half of the text) to travel and war reportage, covering here the works of Nellie Bly, Henry Morton Stanley, Theodor Fontane, among many others. According to Homberg, it is in travel and war that turn-of-the-century reportage reveals its characteristics most succinctly, especially its tension between factual observation and subjective self-referentiality. In travelogues, in particular, the focus on the adventurous reporter had a tendency to sideline any interest in the countries visited.
As is to be expected in a study of such scope, not all individual parts are equally rich in new findings, and some arguments might have benefited from further development. What Homberg professes about female stunt reporters in the United...