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Informal political communication cultures: Characteristics, Causes, Effects.

GPS, Vol. 9 No. 1, (2013)

This paper theorizes the widely unexplored informal communication be-tween political actors and journalists. As the crucial characteristic of this type of communication we consider its potential influence on media cover-age and political decision-making being non-transparent. The relevance of informal communication between political actors and journalists is initially illustrated by a case-study that explored informal communication during the health-care negotiations of the German Grand coalition in 2006/2007. The findings draw attention on crucial characteristics of informal communication in the German capital. This raises the question how structural conditions and individual characteristics of political actors and journalists shape informal communication in one country. Accordingly, we propose the concept of informal political communication cultures which stresses that the orientations of political actors and journalists towards backstage processes are context-bound. Against this backdrop, we present a model to analyze the characteristics, causes and effects of informal political communication cultures. The center of the model is comprised of four dimensions that enable to characterize informal political communication cultures: proximity vs. distance between political actors and journalists; non-publicity vs. publicity through indiscretion or arranged leaks; cooperation vs. conflicts between political actors and journalists; seclusiveness vs. responsivenss of the politics-media milieu. Potential factors influencing the characteristics informal political communication cultures are systematized by differentiating be-tween the macro-, meso- and micro-level of both the political and the media system. On the macro-level, especially competitive structures appear to have an impact on the characteristics of informal political communication cultures. On the meso-level, editorial resources and resources for political public relations seem to matter. On the micro-level, individual characteristics like the professional experience of political actors and journalists appear as influential. Concerning the effects of informal political communication cultures we assume they have an impact on different levels of political action, not at least in terms of informal negotiations that have to deal with the legitimacy-efficiency dilemma. We expect that the more an informal political communication culture is characterized by proximity, publicity, cooperation, and a secluded politics-media milieu, the stronger the media impact on informal negotiations. In summary, our model and derived hypotheses aim to stimulate research on the informal side of the politics-media relationship, which is necessary to provide a deeper understanding of the mediatization of politics.

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