Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Berlin Wall Falls

November 9, 1989 is considered the day the Berlin Wall officially fell. According to the Washington Post and the New York Times in the reports published the next day, what actually happened was East German media chief Guenter Schabowski told a news conference “the decision was taken that makes it possible for all citizens to leave the country through East German boarder crossing points.” [1] This caused East German citizens to immediately test the security checkpoints and they found they could pass into West Berlin with very little opposition from the East German guards. Thousands entered West Berlin where several impromptu celebrations occurred but most who passed through the checkpoints returned to East Berlin by the next day. Most East Berliners never even tried to cross the boarder that day but November 9, 1989 is considered the day the wall fell.
Both the Times and the Post used Schabowski as the first quoted source in their respective stories but each used the quote differently. The Times used the quote in their fifth paragraph after detailing what East German citizens were doing after they heard the press conference. The Times focus was on the image of East German guards that “abandoned all efforts to check credentials.” [2] The Post used the exact same quote by Schabowski in the third paragraph. The paragraph preceding it detailed the “mounting political crisis that…placed the ruling Communist Party’s very existence at stake.” [1] Only after the quote does the Post give its readers the image of “jubilant” East Berliners “pouring” into West Berlin. By placing the detail that Communism in Europe was collapsing higher in the story (the Times mentioned it first in their eleventh paragraph), the Post relied less on official pronouncements about the situation and went with a more emotional angle by what the Berlin Wall and its demise meant to those who have lived with it for so many years.
This is further emphasized in the second source both stories used. The Times next source was Egon Krenz, the new East German leader, who called for laws insuring free and democratic elections. This is an important point because it shows that the opening of the Berlin Wall will also be accompanied by more concrete reforms for the people of East Germany. But the Post story focused more on the emotional elements of the story. Its second source was East German Joachim Lucchesi who woke his children so they could finally walk into West Berlin “on this historic day.” The Post followed this up with several sources that expressed their emotional response to the fall of the Berlin Wall. “The long awaited day has arrived,” said the West Berlin Mayor. “The Wall must go!” chanted demonstrators from atop the Berlin Wall. No such exclaimations are found in the Times story. They quote the East German press agency, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (as did the Post) and the leader of the West German Social Democratic Party. All officials. The voices of Berliners experiencing this 16th greatest moment in history are resigned to the story’s photographs.

1. The Washington Post, November 10, 1989, by Robert McCartney
2. The New York Times, November 10, 1989, by Serge Schmemann

1 comment:

  1. The evolution of journalism is evident in these two articles, because the Post acutally used the accoutns of ordinary citizens versus relying solely on public officials. I like that the Post took an emotional angle to the fall of the Berlin Wall, as it was quite a monumental period in German history. Growing up in Germany, there are still tensions between the Westerners and Easterners that have not been resolved, even though so many years have passed since the borders opened.