Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Carolyn Marvin


Susan D. Haas

Dissertation Chair: Dr. Carolyn Marvin

This study describes the construction, maintenance and defense of news practices by journalists at Radio Free Europe (RFE), an experimental U.S. government-sponsored organization whose mission was to act as a "surrogate free press", in effect, to disrupt state media-controlled public spheres of totalitarian states during the West's Cold War with communism. At RFE from 1950-1995, two groups of journalists cooperated to produce content: politically activist, exiled citizens - self-trained journalists -- from East-Central Europe working in semi-autonomous language services (radios) broadcasting through the Iron Curtain to the people of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, and, experienced journalists from Western democracies working in the Central Newsroom, an internal news agency serving the broadcast desks. This study outlines aspects of RFE and its Cold War context -- including journalists' knowledge of the human rights and informational deficits of audiences -- critical to understanding these groups of journalists. It differentiates group conceptions of roles at RFE and means of constructing practice despite the paradox of doing news work from a position aberrant to Western journalism. Research includes 100 interviews and correspondence with 70 former RFE employees gathered from 2004-2012; and, for the first time in scholarship, the voices of RFE's Western journalists. It incorporates documents collected from and created by participants. It places these data in conversation with memoirs and histories by RFE insiders, and with corporate documents from archives opened to researchers during the past decade. It describes both groups of journalists as "exiles" practicing in the absence of legitimacy in the contexts of both Western journalism and communist states. It describes organizational challenges and group negotiations of news work. It posits émigrés as constructing national imaginaries available only in RFE broadcasts, and Western journalists as constructing a hyper-vigilant practice that modeled journalism for broadcasters and served as a credibility anchor for broadcasts. Translating different conceptions of the mission - modeling a free press -- into practice, absent legitimacy and in view of listener needs and risks, produced two different journalisms, each unique and hyper-vigilant. The study suggests that the RFE historical case presaged challenges facing contemporary journalism and journalists.