The image of Nicolas Sarkozy on horseback in the Camargue trailed by a truckload of journalists has come to symbolize politics’ domination over journalists during an election campaign. This domination has attracted various accusations from political analysts (Duhamel & Field 2005). Yet focusing on this criticism ignores the most structural aspect of this rather ambiguous domination, as well as its roots in technical equipment. This article aims to use this conundrum as a means to explore the collective endeavour to construct “media events,” which such political outings constitute, by analysing the case of visits to the Salon international de l’agriculture (Paris International Agricultural Show, SIA).
The SIA has gradually established itself as an obligatory passage for politicians every year in Paris at the end of February/beginning of March1. The week of the SIA is a media event of which political visits are an integral part. They constitute veritable political rituals that are covered in particular by television news reporters. In this article we intend to analyse the conditions of production of a “live” television political news broadcast, within the context of fierce media competition, dependency on sources, and considerable temporal and spatial constraints.
This article will examine journalistic work within the context of these visits. In practice, the visits involve the formation of a group of individuals to surround the politicians. This group consists of the politician’s entourage, journalists, and the security services and SIA staff responsible for the smooth running of the visit (keeping to the agenda, guiding the group around the show, and so on). The size of the group varies according to the prominence of the candidate and the significance of the political context, such as whether it is an election period. A “presidential pool” is the most institutionalized form of group for which journalists must obtain special accreditation from the presidency to cover the event.
Studies on communications staff and journalists pay little attention to this aspect (Legavre 2011; Kaciaf 2013) of the organization of journalistic work during politicians’ visits. They focus on interpreting the “off the record” logic systems (Legavre 1992), the strategies and frameworks (Gertslé & Piar 2016), or on creating sound-bites (Neveu 2009). Although there are many examples in social science literature of studies into reporters in the military and the embedded nature of reporters (Charon & Mercier 2004; Gatien 2009; Lindner 2009; Mac Laughin 2016), there are few that focus on this form of practical supervision in peace time2. This article aims to go some way towards filling this gap and also to contribute to a political sociology of election campaigns (Baamara et al. 2017) that takes into account the role of the media. Television is a space for conflict, but also complementarity between professional bodies (Pasquier 2008; Mille 2016). Studying a group of journalists that follows politicians around (whether organized in a presidential pool or not) while focusing on the practice itself enables analysis on the economy of 24-hour news channels to be continuously updated (Baisnée & Marchetti 2006; Boczkowski 2004); the majority of findings from which are still valid. The article subscribes to the ethnographic tradition of news production that was prevalent in English-language literature of the 1970s (Tunstall 1971; Warner 1971; Tuchman 1973; Schlesinger 1978; Gans 1979), but which has since waned despite a call for its revival in the 2000s (Cottle 2000). In addition, this approach is often limited to a newsroom ethnography, even if, increasingly it encompasses more than just journalists, to include the role of various information intermediaries in the digital era such as programmers and infographic designers (Boczkowski 2015, 2017). Our article observes the specifics of live, almost instantaneous external journalism work in the field, and in doing so highlights the redefining of time constraints in the profession that contribute to the uniformity of the symbolic goods produced.
Field and Methodology
Journalists were observed in the context of the Salon international de l’agriculture (SIA), which takes place annually in Paris at the end of February/beginning of March. More than 600,000 visitors attend the event at the porte de Versailles exhibition centre to see animals and sample regional produce. Every year many politicians attend the event. As a public relations tool, it provides a lobbying opportunity for actors in the agriculture and agribusiness sector.
In terms of timescale, we focused on a presidential campaign (2017), ordinary circumstances (2018), and a pre-campaign period before the European elections (2019). In the 2017 presidential election campaign, the main candidates were François Fillon, former French Prime Minister, of the conservative Les Républicains (LR), Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National (FN), and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed, FI). Emmanuel Macron of En Marche (On the Move, EM) who eventually became president, was for a large part of the campaign considered an unlikely candidate, but was able to take advantage of the scandal that resulted in the conservative candidate being disqualified and the collapse of the campaign of the Socialist Party candidate, Benoît Hamon. Macron’s visit to the SIA on 1st March therefore received less interest from journalists who opted to cover the visit of François Fillon (Chupin & Mayance 2018a).
The data used are from ethnographic research, which serves as an asset given that this method of observation in situ remains little used by media specialists (Tuntstall 1971; Siracusa 2001; Hubé 2008; Berthaut 2013; Christin 2014) and even less so when it concerns television (Siracusa 2001; Berthaut 2013). While presidential campaign visits have previously been analysed (Mariot 2007), politicians’ presence at the SIA has not been addressed. The methodology consisted of drawing on notes taken during visits as well as photographs, videos, and sound recordings that we captured. We have also added to these notes by conducting interviews primarily with organizers and their teams. Finally, we have carried out analysis of the main content derived from the visits on several major television channels (images/news reports), namely TF1, France 2, and BFM3. While we have also reviewed other media including press and radio, the focus here is on analysing the work of television journalists.
Television news reporters are faced with a particular type of visit. The SIA is indeed a political ritual whose significance is heightened during election campaigns. Journalists contribute to the co-production of the event alongside the politicians. The group of journalists, at once competitors and partners, strives to produce images and sound-bites as best they can in a constrained environment. From this we can see the transformation of the television coverage of political visits, through the dual lens of the emergence of twenty-four-hour news channels and the strategies used by politicians.
Every year, journalists flock to cover politicians’ visits to the SIA—success story of the farming profession and the public authorities—and in even greater numbers during election periods. However, they are not the only ones to accompany politicians. This is where we find the political entourage: aides, supportive fellow politicians who are elected or not, assistants, communications staff, as well as a few party activists who tend to be discreet at the Salon. Finally, there is the general public who want to approach the politicians. Politicians are accompanied by public and private security personnel and event security staff, who are responsible for maintaining a protected space around the politicians while at the same time enabling the media to gain access to them to be able to do their jobs. The planning and execution of the visits are therefore collective endeavours, and as a result the visits are highly codified, thus constituting a sort of ritual.
From a journalistic perspective, the fact that the SIA is open to the general public means that it attracts a large media presence (up to 2,000 accredited individuals), with the press, radio and television, and photographers for both domestic and international media outlets all represented. As well as being covered by political journalists, politicians’ visits are also covered by general-interest reporters. Members of the public are largely de facto kept at a distance from the group that follows the politicians around the event. Occasionally visitors want to know or see who the politicians are that the group is shielding and may request to take a photo. The event organizers, CENECA (Centre national des expositions et concours agricoles, National Centre for Agricultural Shows and Competitions) oversee the coordination of the visits. They draw up a list of eligible individuals that is sent to the event management team. The president, the prime minister, and former presidents and prime ministers are all included, as are high-profile national politicians and foreign heads of state and ambassadors. In 2017 this list consisted of fifty people4. A discussion then takes place between the VIP team and the event management. Together they decide on the route around the SIA, the aisles and stands that they want to visit. The event management team suggests a typical route, responding to the expectations of the politicians’ entourages. The route is sometimes inspected by the individuals’ protection officers and may consequently be amended for security reasons. The organizers supply privately arranged close protection, with one or more “bouncers.” Often ex-police officers, they work alongside the event’s own security staff whose role also includes guiding the visitor around the event. The event management does not share information regarding arrival and departure times or planned routes with journalists. This is the responsibility of the politician’s communications staff who give a briefing (and occasionally the full programme) to the media, often only the day before the visit to the SIA. They then stay in constant communication with the journalists in real time throughout the event itself.
The rationale behind the chosen route around the event is twofold: it must provide photo opportunities and also enable interaction with the agricultural sector5. Far from what media representations may suggest, the SIA is also a chance for politicians to interact in person with a diverse range of interest groups. For the majority of politicians, meeting these lobby groups and trade unions constitutes the main activity in terms of time. Their route around the event generally leads them to meet ten or so organizations, from industry representatives6 to general trade unions7, for discussions that often last more than twenty minutes, with the majority of time spent behind closed doors8. Journalists are not permitted access to these private visits, which clearly are all part9 of politicians’ strategies. Instead they play along with the game of enacting the ritual.
The relative similarity of the routes and the supervision by the event management contributes to a uniformity in the content produced. The visit to the SIA serves as a large-scale opinion poll for journalists, allowing them to enter into the public debate like any other opinion poll (Champagne 1990, Kaciaf 2013). Thus, during Marine Le Pen’s visit to the SIA in 2017, the TF1 presenter reminded us that “her father10 was booed in 2002” while “Marine’s11” reception from farmers this year was much “warmer12”. In the same manner, while reporting on the visit of the president François Hollande—who opened the SIA in 2017—the journalist explained: “Last year François Hollande was booed and then heckled at the Salon de l’agriculture. This morning the welcome is more smiles, selfies, and encouragement13”. Journalists can thus assume a position of evaluating how successful the visits are and consequently deducing the level of support for the politician from the agricultural sector or the members of the French people they have passed in the halls of the event. We also see regular use of politicians’ “catch phrases” in television news items. For example, an exchange between Marine Le Pen and a farmer was highlighted in a news report, with the politician stating that “business was always better before the European Union.” This statement was found in both television news broadcasts on TF1 and France 214.
Media coverage of politicians’ visits is also representative of a journalistic approach that focuses on the game elements to the detriment of the issues at hand, as the politicians are seen exclusively in stage-managed, stereotypical shots showing them with animals or with mouths full of regional products. This type of media staging reinforces the image of familiarity that politicians can create of themselves in these types of outings with the general public and farmers. In the televised news reports, politicians are often filmed in the first hall of the porte de Versailles exhibition centre where they come into contact with some of the animals, particularly cows15. The news item16 on the visit of President François Hollande opened with a long take inside the enclosure of the mascot cow17, a highly institutionalised shooting location for the photographers. Hollande can be heard joking with the journalists and photographers who were outside the enclosure, asking them if they had “caught the cow18”. Marine Le Pen also could not avoid this routine with animals and nature as in the TF1 news report on her visit in 2017 we see her discussing European agricultural policy with two cattle breeders, while stood in the middle of their animals. On France 2 we saw her, shortly after her arrival, posing in the enclosure of the mascot cow in the company of Gilbert Collard19 and Florian Philippot20. When they are not speaking to farmers, politicians often appear sampling regional products such as cheese and saucisson. We find this type of routine shot on TF1 for the visit of François Hollande and also for the prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve. The SIA presents a performative setting for politicians’ bodies. Scenes of the former president Jacques Chirac devouring various food products and alcohol drinks is by far the most archetypal example. They must demonstrate their endurance and a large capacity for consuming products from various terroirs, to embody a kind generosity and an almost carnal love for their country (and its culinary heritage) in all its forms.
A visit to the SIA requires the formation of a large group of journalists to follow the politicians around, who are themselves kept within the protective bubble of their security detail. When they move, a group of anything from a few to almost a hundred people moves with them. And so, in 2017, Marine Le Pen’s visit attracted a large number of journalists, including some working for foreign television channels: ZDF (Germany), Russia’s main channel, Reuters news agency, NHK (Japan), Radio Popolare (Italy), etc. In such conditions, filming quickly becomes a test, especially for broadcast journalists (journalistes reporters d’images or JRIs, in French)21 who must jostle to get images that no one can guarantee them in this free-for-all. During this visit, one journalist complains that: “No one can work,” a JRI from the TF1 channel said in response to the mayhem: “In general it’s our job to get images, but here we’re not TV journalists.” They are talking amongst themselves while other television journalists are dismantling a sign which will enable them to climb up higher than the others to film the shot22. They are not the only ones following the politicians; they vie with other journalists and other agents for the same spot. Indeed, it is impossible to follow the visit unless you are within a few metres of the politician: neither visuals nor sound can be recorded. A mix of journalists of all types of media (television, radio, print and online journalists) attempt to gain information, either via a system of collectivisation to record sound, or by getting closest, which puts them in competition with the television camera operators. The latter have, besides, for several years had to deal with other agents seeking to get images, which up until then had been their monopoly. “Pure players23” have appeared on the scene. JRIs produce stories that are posted on YouTube, the images of which are resold by their agency to interested television channels (foreign channels in particular). This is also the case for online television broadcasters and bloggers. And radio and print journalists are increasingly driven by their editors to also produce short video formats. Image and sound recording have similarly become even more competitive.
The visits alternate between moments of fierce competition to gain and maintain a spot with a good view, and moments of relative stability when the politicians stay in one place to meet the public and answer journalists’ questions. It is key for the camera and boom operators to get and maintain a spot as near as possible to the candidate. Producing good images means meeting the expected visual requirements of the visit ritual, but also material aspects (framing, sound quality, etc.). Amidst the chaos, it is the JRIs who are most put to the test physically. They must obtain their own images, that is to say have a direct angle on the politicians and their interactions. The boom operators are responsible for the sound. They have booms of more than 3m20 long (which is standard). Positioned behind the camera operators, they are essential to be able to hear what is going on. The more boom operators there are, the more they have to keep their boom at arm’s length. The struggle between camera operators for the spaces closest to the politicians is replayed between the boom operators a few metres away. This is all the more important as in the case of sound, if a phrase or entire conversations are incomplete they can’t be used, whereas an image may always be edited or cut. Fights between booms for the best spot in this limited space can sometimes ensue, just as in the case of image recording. To give an example of the intensity of the journalistic presence, there were more than twenty booms for Marine Le Pen’s visit as a candidate, positioned at the exit of the cow show of the Salon on 28 February 2017 at 9.43am (fig. 1). In this example, the JRIs are not included as they have microphones positioned directly on their cameras and hence do not have a boom operator. Sound recording is essential for reporter/editors. When it is impossible to pick up conversations when the boom is further than a metre or two away from the politicians, the boom or the microphone acts as a go-between that helps build their commentary. This same mechanism works for radio journalists who may not otherwise be able to comment on the politicians’ speech.
Media coverage of a visit is a true physical test that is reinforced during an election period. The visits often last seven hours, or fourteen hours and forty minutes for Emmanuel Macron’s record presidential visit in 2019. And so the television teams hope to be relieved, but are very often active for the majority of the time. When the pursuing pack of journalists is big, this calls for attributes such as physical strength, and encourages exhibitions of field-based professional habitus. We return here to Loïc Wacquant’s analysis of the pugilistic habitus and its effects on the body in terms of learning (Wacquant 2004). However, unlike the boxer, in the common meaning, the journalist is classically considered to be an intellectual worker, which means we struggle to associate the profession with an activity that above all requires physical fitness. The increase in the size of groups of journalists following the politicians indeed contributes to a masculinization of the roles of JRI and photographer: the statistics highlight the large male bias (Devillard et al. 200; Leteinturier 2014) despite a recent influx of female students into journalism schools. In this scrum, size may be a problem and an equally discriminating factor. This was the sentiment expressed by journalists we spoke to from APTVnews and TF1, who alluded to a sort of unexpected power of the tall journalists (Herpin 2006) when recording images. On these extremely tough days, the periods in which politicians meet with sector representatives within the invisible Salon constitute a welcome break for journalists.
Fig. 1. A heavy media presence (candidate Marine Le Pen’s visit, 28 February 2017)
© Ivan Chupin et Pierre Mayance
The visits therefore incite a battle for the spaces around the politicians. The limited number of these spaces and the harshness of the profession nevertheless drive journalists to cooperate or to implement a strategy to cope with the situation. Thus journalists—and primarily television journalists—seek to organize themselves collectively to stabilize and improve their working conditions. The moment of getting into position just before the politicians arrive at the Salon or as they leave a closed stand or a rest area is highly strategic. It involves the camera and boom operators for television and other media standing in a line or semi-circle, or forming two lines with a lane between them, in such a way that each can do what he or she needs to when the politicians arrive. We can see surreal scenes whereby everyone is in place at the end of the red carpet at the entrance to the Salon while candidate Emmanuel Macron is yet to arrive (fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Awaiting the politicians (candidate Emmanuel Macron’s visit, 1 March 2017)
© Ivan Chupin et Pierre Mayance
In addition to these tacit collective agreements carried out on the ground, journalists can be even more active when around the political entourages. The briefing system is frequently used, such as for Laurent Wauquiez’s24 visit in 2018 as president of Les Républicains and of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, who held a session at 10.10am in the middle of an aisle of the Salon (fig. 3). With no pool organized and when they deem there to be too many journalists around the politicians, other journalists ask the communications officers for—or sometimes demand—a briefing, as they succeeded in doing during Benoît Hamon’s candidacy visit in 2017. In this case the journalists are positioned in a semi-circle opposite the politicians. Questions and answers are exchanged for a variable duration, allowing everyone to produce images and sound. Journalists can also rely on the security personnel of parties who have an interest in the smooth running of the visit in a context wherein the spread of smartphones among the public also makes capturing images more complicated. The many mobile phones seeking to obtain video footage impinge on the JRIs, interfering with their shooting. This proximity between politicians and the public is controlled by the politicians’ entourage and the security services. One interesting case was that of Benoît Hamon’s—the Socialist Party candidate in 2017—security personnel. A security detail made up of activists was responsible for protecting the candidate, and at the same time organized access to him. A form of corridor was thus formed near to the candidate to allow members of the public to approach him, take a photo, and then leave straight away. While this is a lost angle for journalists, it lowers the pressure on them from whomever is amid the flux. Marine Le Pen’s security also allowed favourable members of the public to come up to take photos with the candidate.
Fig. 3. A media briefing (Laurent Wauquiez’s visit, 27 February 2018)
© Ivan Chupin et Pierre Mayance
Journalists also employ individual strategies. They regularly ask communications officers for the visit programme: when they expect to take a break; when they plan to leave; and their planned route, in order to be able to plan out their positioning. As the SIA is on for more than a week, some develop good knowledge of the site and organizational routines. A TF1 reporter suggests to their JRI: “You have to get one stand ahead25.” A BFM journalist advises a colleague: “Follow the event management flag guy26, let yourself be pushed up against a stand and you’ll get a good shot that way27.” Another strategy consists of filming images out of step with the politicians’ movements. Abandoning the group, television journalists interview those whom the politicians have previously talked to. They re-enact the exchange, which allows them to portray the reactions of farmers or members of the public. In the main hall, farmers are asked almost systematically to react over and over again as they meet politicians, such as in the case of the farmers from Limousin who came to talk to Marine Le Pen on the subject of the Common Agricultural Policy (fig. 4). During the Rassemblement bleu Marine candidate’s visit, one BFM team filmed live and another interviewed the farmers she had met previously.
Fig. 4. Interviews following politicians’ visit (candidate Marine Le Pen’s visit, 28 February 2017)
© Ivan Chupin et Pierre Mayance
In recent years, the explosion of channels providing continuous information has transformed the concrete working practices of television journalists. They must be present and vigilant so as not to “miss ‘the image’,” which at the same time reduces their professional autonomy vis-a-vis choice of subject and the angle the subject is approached from. These orders to continually obtain images and sound are a product of the rules imposed by continuous information channels, which require journalists to do a live broadcast every thirty minutes.
But the development of technology has also played a key role in the growth of this trend. Indeed, images can now be transmitted live with an Aviwest box, which compresses the images via 4G mobile phone networks (except in the absence of a mobile signal). The box can transmit the images captured by the JRIs almost in real time, which makes team members in charge of news-gathering vehicles redundant. The use of high frequencies at the SIA can be explained by the fact that the editorial teams anticipate a large number of mobile devices in one place, which can interfere with the use of 4G. This technological transformation has had a major impact on journalistic work for all television channels:
“The reduction of working time means the reduction of journalism. We record footage; the journalist on the TV set narrates what is happening on screen. You have to be everywhere at all times just in case. If you don’t get it, never mind. You hide out at Macron’s GHQ to learn who his potential support staff might be. But the chief of staff comes along, or a member of parliament, and the journalist doesn’t know who it is. There are three entrances, so you send three journalists. You send a camera to record. The journalist’s work is carried out away from the breaking news. Footage means viewers,” analyses a TF1 journalist.
Counter-intuitively, the requirement to broadcast live means the angles subjects tackled are increasingly determined ahead of time. This increases the power of the editors-in-chief. For example, a BFM journalist must explain in their piece “why Benoit Hamon’s candidature is struggling to take off in the polls.” The framework is tightly constrained by editorial teams (Breed 1955, Berthaut 2013) who decide the hierarchies between subjects and also between candidates in advance. Even during filming, the angles change little and are determined at a distance. These new practices leave journalists very little room for manœuvre, and constitute a rupture for television journalists who still sometimes had relative capacity to determine and propose angles to their editorial team linked to the events they followed. There has also been a change to the very status of images: “rushes” have tended to disappear in favour of “inputs” with the editing done live28. The news channels’ professional approaches to live recording are linked to generational and training issues for other JRIs. In 2017, a TF1 journalist remarked: “I don’t know if it’s a question of generation, but there’s a problem with BFM.” An Aptv news journalist responds: “They are not adequately trained. They film everything. They don’t know what they need. They are under crazy pressure and so they’re not trained properly.” The first describes a case in which he had to put his camera on top of that of a BFM journalist who would not budge from his spot, leaning down on it so that he could record the image the way he wanted29. Yet it is a question of new logics of image production that originate in twenty-four-hour news channels; they affect all television journalists and are transforming professional standards.
Politicians are not helpless in the face of the television journalists’ massive presence. Indeed we can observe multiple strategies to influence the coverage of visits. As well as their message to the general public, there is another directed at activists.
The case of visits to the SIA reveals that relations between politicians and journalists are part of a continuum30: between a presidential “pool” whereby the politician is primarily in control of the journalists, and cases of media disinterest in politicians who nevertheless yield to the rituals. Media coverage is in effect unequal. The French president has access to a so-called “presidential” pool composed of the only journalists authorized to follow him closely, excluding the remainder of the profession who are kept outside the security system. A pool therefore mixes a set of extra accreditations31 with phenomena of cooperation that are imposed in a television universe that is, however, highly competitive (Bourdieu 1998). It involves a pooling of journalistic productions (recorded images, sound, photographs, etc.) by accredited journalists for the benefit of the rest of the professional group. The size of the pool has been reduced under Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. In the television pool, only TF1 and France 2 journalists are authorized to follow the president. Under Macron in 2018 and 2019, they wear blue vests that say “press,” or blue “pool” wristbands as their 2017 colleagues did. This allows them to be quickly identified by security personnel so that they know which journalists are supposed (or not) to be present within the close circle of the president of the Republic. The president is also protected by dedicated law enforcement forces—the security group of the presidency of the Republic (GSPR)—plus the Compagnies républicaines de sécurité (CRS)32, gendarmes, and police officers from the closest arrondissements and the Paris Police Prefecture33. At the other end of the continuum, the coverage amplifies disparity of reputation in the political field according to a well-known process (Darras 1995). Indeed, there were few candidates in 2017 whose journey was deemed worthy of featuring on the news: the following candidates, considered to be second class owing to their low ratings in voting intention surveys, were thus excluded: François Asselineau (Union populaire républicaine), Jean Lasalle (Résistons!), Jacques Cheminade (Solidarité et progrès), Philippe Poutou (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Debout la République), and Rama Yade (La France qui ose).
The politicians and their entourage deploy certain strategies to control their image. The pool constitutes a reduction of the symbolic risk incurred by presidents. A member of the public threw an egg at Emmanuel Macron when he was a candidate in 2017. His visit coincided with a turbulent visit by François Fillon on the day he was summoned to a court hearing for embezzlement of public funds (Chupin & Mayance 2018), and so there were few journalists and security around Macron. When he returned in 2018 as president there was a reinforcement of the role of the pool and of the control of images. The deployment of law enforcement officers was huge. As well as the close protection, there were more than 250 police officers, who were deployed at the end of the morning after the first clashes with representatives from agricultural trade unions who disrupted the visit by blowing whistles. In 2019, this system was put in place from the start of his record 14 hours 40 minutes long visit to the SIA. As well as the first security cordon which limited access to accredited journalists from the pool, a second cordon was implemented. Television journalists who were not in the pool were even further away than usual from the presidential group, and were therefore physically unable to film the president; the tacit publicity agreement between the head of state and the media was broken. In 2018, when police officers pushed back the camera operators, one JRI called out: “There’re too many PRs, there’s a trop grosse bulle [no man’s land between the two security cordons]. It’s not good to turn journalists away—they’ll go elsewhere34.” However they were obliged to remain where they were just in case something happened. In practice, the only images available are predominantly those produced by the pool, thus homogenizing the televised media coverage.
Finally, this encircling by protection officers enables a show of proximity; whereas, paradoxically, in reality no one (unless authorized) can gain access to the president. The pool journalists thus capture the seemingly spontaneous interactions of the French president live and can state in their commentary that he has had contact with “ordinary people,” or has “met farmers.” He poses for a photo with children, allows himself to be hugged, shakes hands. The focus on the symbolic risk of his visit which took place the same morning in 2018 on BFM therefore appears as primarily staged. Opponents could not easily approach him. Additionally, to limit this risk, the president arrived in the morning with around thirty supporters to cheer him on35. They were there again in 2019. After assembling near the porte de Versailles they were given passes to get into the SIA. They positioned themselves nearest the president as “the public” and accompanied him for most of his visit, clapping and shouting “Macron, tiens bon!” (“Macron, hold on!”). Emmanuel Macron was thus comfortably able to beat the record for time spent at the SIA by staying more than twelve hours in 2018.
The abundance of journalists, especially when there are several teams per media, forces them to keep to the edge of the cortège. Political movements therefore provide, via selected supporters or activists, opportunities to get images and sound recordings of stand-ins for the top names. This happened during Marine Le Pen’s visit on 28 February 2017 with Marion Maréchal Le Pen, who was standing about ten metres from the candidate and outside the first circle of journalists (fig. 5)36. Thanks to the unexpected presence of other politicians, the JRIs are able to choose alternative subjects to film, and these politicians can intervene remotely in a quick exchange with the politicians the visit was planned for. Thus the establishment of the double net around President Macron in February 2018 pushed some journalists out of the way, causing several to fall onto Alexis Corbière, member of parliament for La France insoumise who was visiting the SIA with his family.
Finally, politicians organize their PR thanks to, but also for their activists. During the 2017 presidential election campaign, the minor candidates attempted to have a media presence. François Asselineau, who was little known in the main media at the time37, visited the SIA on the first day. Despite being the only candidate there on the Saturday (François Hollande, the outgoing president, was there in the morning), he was not followed by a single journalist. The only ones to get video and sound recordings were two activists who followed and filmed him. The presence of these cameras caught the attention of several members of the public at the Salon, who wondered who he was as he went by. Jacques Cheminade also received little attention from journalists, except those from the Public Sénat channel and team from the France 3 channel, who were doing a feature on “minor candidates’ campaigns” in 2017. More broadly, politicians’ entourages produce photographs, and sometimes sound and images which serve to fuel digital tools (dedicated websites, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) both during ordinary periods and election campaigns (Greffet 2011). They thereby provide information to journalists, but also to their activists and supporters so that they may follow politicians’ activity.
Fig. 5. A scrum surrounding the candidate and parallel interview with Marion Maréchal (candidate Marine Le Pen’s visit, 28 February 2017)
© Ivan Chupin et Pierre Mayance
Visits to the Salon international de l’agriculture show the significance of the collective production of a political event. A visit “group” results from a co-production between the SIA organizers, journalists, and the politicians’ security personnel and communications teams. In its most organized form, it is called a “pool,” but regular media attention is not, however, without its own codes.
While there are no real differences between the media images produced, this is mainly since these symbolic goods depend on a practical, journalistic meaning activated in real time and on editorial demands. The media angle remains overdetermined by the form of the SIA visit. The constraint of immediacy is imposed by the practices and the body of television journalists, and extends to other media. This constraint has also been assumed by politicians and their entourages.
This article provides insight into the handling of election campaigns and new ways of harnessing and controlling media coverage. From this perspective it contributes to the study of ritualized forms of political life. It also engages in analysis of journalistic working conditions, which have been transformed by twenty-four-hour news and the intensification of the work. Indeed, this case invites us to question the emergence of a model of live journalist-presenter that is becoming ubiquitous throughout the journalistic field under the effect of the recent hegemony of new twenty-four-hour news channels (BFM in particular). While the literature focuses on the study of Twitter and online journalism, this article aims to highlight all the merits of working on an in-the-field ethnography of journalistic work outside the newsroom.