August 15, 2010
The Citizens Agenda in Campaign Coverage
The idea is to learn from voters what those voters want the campaign to be about, and what they need to hear from the candidates to make a smart decision. So you go out and ask them: "what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year's election?"
I’m in Australia this week, where the country is in the midst of an election campaign that seems thoroughly uninspiring to almost everyone I’ve talked to. Several times I’ve been asked how campaign coverage might be improved. (See this television appearance on the ABC program Lateline.) I responded with the following sketch.
The Citizen’s Agenda in Campaign Coverage: Ten Steps to a Better Narrative
1.) Four to six months before the vote start asking the electorate a simple question: not, “who are you going to vote for?” or, “which party do you favor?” but: what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year’s election? The idea is to find out from voters what those voters want the campaign to be about, and what they need to hear from the candidates in order to cast an intelligent vote.
2.) To answer this question, you will need every method known to the modern newsroom. Don’t rely on one or two; instead, use them all. Redirect the polling budget away from horse race questions and put it in the service of the citizen’s agenda. Send reporters out to talk to voters— a lot of voters. Survey the views of community leaders, meaning: people in a position to know what their “crowd” wants the candidates to be talking about. Hold events designed to solicit those answers. Announce that you are putting together a citizen’s agenda to guide your campaign coverage this year, and that you want to hear from everyone, through any portal they care to use. Allow people to fill out a web form, or send an email, or record a phone message, or put it in a blog comment thread, or communicate over Twitter and Facebook. Use direct mail, advertise in the newspaper and on air, set up listening stations in coffee shops and shopping malls.
3.) As you fan out into the community in search of the citizen’s agenda, you will find a few people who are especially enthusiastic about what you are doing or clued into why it’s important. Ask these people if they want to join your advisory network, the sole purpose of which is to aid in the drafting of the citizen’s agenda and make sure that it reflects what’s coming in. Aim for 10 percent of your total sampling, knowing that the yield will be smaller than that.
4.) Based on all the information collected in step 2, compose an initial draft of the citizen’s agenda, in the form of 6 to 10 items ideally framed as questions that consume 50 words or less. An example from the New York State Governor’s race:
Our schools are not performing: New York’s public schools spend more per student than any other state. But New York ranks 40th among the states in the percentage of high-school students that graduate. Why is this and what do we need to do to change it? (46 words)
Once you’re confident that the 6 to 10 items reflect what you heard, use your advisory network (similar to a public insight network pioneered by American Public Media) to give you feedback on whether you have it approximately right. Ask participants to weight the items on the draft list by distributing 100 points among them. Allow them to write in any item that should be on the list but it isn’t. Adjust the draft accordingly.
5.) Three months before the election, publish the ranked list as your Citizens Agenda 1.0, emphasizing that it’s still in motion, that you want to get it right, and that feedback is still being sought through all available portals. Version 2.0 comes out two months before the election, and version 3.0 one month before. In between you can revise it as often as necessary, refining the language, adding items that feedback shows were missing, and adjusting the ranking of items.
6.) Once you have a version of it up and running, the citizens agenda is your working template and master narrative for election coverage. When the candidates speak, map what they said against the citizens agenda. When you have an opportunity to question the candidates, ask them questions that flow from the citizens agenda. Reporters assigned to cover the campaign should dig deep on the items that make up the citizen’s agenda. Background pieces and in-depth reporting should build upon the citizen’s agenda. Decisions to make about where to put your resources? Consult the citizen’s agenda, a set of instructions for the design of campaign coverage in all its forms.
7.) It’s called a citizens agenda because that’s what it is, a list of action items and declared priorities. What campaign coverage should achieve is serious discussion (among candidates, journalists, campaign observers… and the public) of the stuff on the citizen’s agenda. Election year journalism succeeds, in this model, when it raises awareness, clarity, knowledge and the overall quality of discourse around the various items on the citizen’s agenda. It fails when it permits confusion, ignorance, neglect, demagoguery and silence to prevail on those same items. Truth, fairness, accuracy and non-interference in an outcome that should be determined by voters, not the media: these remain bedrock principles. But there is an agenda here. Journalists should not hesitate to take action on it. They should be clear with themselves and up front with voters about what they’re doing. This isn’t the View from Nowhere.
8.) One of the big advantages of deploying a citizens agenda in campaign coverage is that it substitutes for that default agenda we’re all familiar with: horse race journalism, and the inside baseball style of coverage. Instead of that, this. Use the citizens agenda to shrink the horse race narrative down to a saner size. Meaning: it’s fine to keep track of who’s ahead and point out what the candidates are doing to win. That’s part of politics. But it should not be the big lens through which journalists view the campaign because it’s simply not useful enough for voters. (Should we vote for the candidate with the best strategy? How does that work…?) Once it is reduced to a more appropriate size, the horse race can be added color beside the main event. I would specifically call it “the game” and limit it to no more than 15 percent of the whole. Reporters who cannot abide by that ratio do not belong on this beat.
9.) Be prepared for conflict with the candidates and their staffs. Their job is to win the election, to improve their chances and cripple the other guy. If that means supporting confusion, ignorance, neglect, demagoguery or silence on certain issues, they will not hesitate to do that. We know this. Therefore, being serious about the citizens agenda means doing battle with the forces that would undermine it. But that’s why we have a free press….right?
10.) In order for the citizens agenda to work, you have to get it right. You have to be authoritative. The 6 to 10 items on the citizens agenda have to resonate with most voters, and actually reflect what’s on their minds. They have to be able to recognize themselves and their concerns in what you say is “their” agenda. If you are wrong, or overlooking something important, you need feedback loops good enough to correct yourself. The citizens agenda needs constant testing and adjustment until you are confident that you’ve nailed it. Even then, ways for minority concerns to be heard and for items not on voters minds but still important to their future have to be worked in. This is a pragmatic exercise, a sophisticated form of listening, adjusting and feeding back what is heard.
What does the electorate want the candidates to be discussing as they campaign for votes in this year’s election? If you don’t think you can distill a good answer to that, and defend it as the honest outcome of your best reporting, then the citizens agenda is not an approach for you. Go back to the horse race!
Post-script: The citizens agenda is not a new idea. It was tried in 1992 by the Charlotte Observer during the early years of the civic journalism movement, of which I was a part. Others picked it up after that. I wrote about the Observer’s experiment in my 1999 book, What Are Journalists For? You can find the gist of that description in this essay, “Part of Our World: Journalism as Civic Leadership,’ sections 3 and 4. The key anecdote comes from the former editor of the Observer, Richard Oppel:
Voters were intensely interested in the environment…. So our reporters went out to senatorial candidates and said, “here are the voters’ questions.” Terry Sanford, the incumbent senator, called me up from Washington and said, “Rich, I have these questions from your reporter and I’m not going to answer them because we are not going to talk about the environment until after the general election.” This was the primary. I said, “Well, the voters want to know about the environment now, Terry.” He said, “Well, that’s not the way I have my campaign structured.” I said, “Fine, I will run the questions and leave a space under it for you to answer. If you choose not to, we will just say ‘would not respond’ or we will leave it blank.” We ended the conversation. In about ten days he sent the answers down.
Which raises the question of why the citizens agenda didn’t become standard and replace the horse race, that miserable thing. I’ve thought a lot about that. The only answer I have is: political journalists wanted it this way, and their bosses permitted it.
Posted by Jay Rosen at 10:45 AM
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July 26, 2010
The Afghanistan War Logs Released by Wikileaks, the World's First Stateless News Organization
"In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new."
Wikileaks.org: Afghan War Diary, 2004-2010
Der Spiegel: Explosive Leaks Provide Image of War from Those Fighting It
New York Times: The War Logs
The Guardian: The Afghanistan War Logs
From my internal notebook and Twitter feed, a few notes on this development:
1. Ask yourself: Why didn’t Wikileaks just publish the Afghanistan war logs and let journalists ‘round the world have at them? Why hand them over to The New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel first? Because as Julien Assange, founder of Wikileaks, explained last October, if a big story is available to everyone equally, journalists will pass on it.
“It’s counterintuitive,” he said then. “You’d think the bigger and more important the document is, the more likely it will be reported on but that’s absolutely not true. It’s about supply and demand. Zero supply equals high demand, it has value. As soon as we release the material, the supply goes to infinity, so the perceived value goes to zero.”
2. The initial response from the White House was extremely unimpressive:
- This leak will harm national security. (As if those words still had some kind of magical power, after all the abuse they have been party to.)
- There’s nothing new here. (Then how could the release harm national security?)
- Wikileaks is irresponsible; they didn’t even try to contact us! (Hold on: you’re hunting the guy down and you’re outraged that he didn’t contact you?)
- Wikileaks is against the war in Afghanistan; they’re not an objective news source. (So does that mean the documents they published are fake?)
- “The period of time covered in these documents… is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.” (Okay, so now we too know the basis for the President’s decision: and that’s a bad thing?)
3. If you don’t know much about Wikileaks or why it exists, the best way to catch up is this New Yorker profile of Julien Assange.
He is the operation’s prime mover, and it is fair to say that WikiLeaks exists wherever he does. At the same time, hundreds of volunteers from around the world help maintain the Web site’s complicated infrastructure; many participate in small ways, and between three and five people dedicate themselves to it full time. Key members are known only by initials—M, for instance—even deep within WikiLeaks, where communications are conducted by encrypted online chat services. The secretiveness stems from the belief that a populist intelligence operation with virtually no resources, designed to publicize information that powerful institutions do not want public, will have serious adversaries.
And for even more depth, listen to this: NPR’s Fresh Air interviewed Philip Shenon, an investigative reporter formerly at the New York Times, about Wikileaks and what it does. (35 min with Q & A.)
4. If you go to the Wikileaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that. (Dave Winer in the comments: “The blogosphere is a stateless news organization.”) Wikileaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, “They didn’t even contact us!”
Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what Wikileaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.
5. And just as government doesn’t know what to make of Wikileaks (“we’re gonna hunt you down/hey, you didn’t contact us!”) the traditional press isn’t used to this, either. As Glenn Thrush noted on Politico.com:
The WikiLeaks report presented a unique dilemma to the three papers given advance copies of the 92,000 reports included in the Afghan war logs — the New York Times, Germany’s Der Speigel and the UK’s Guardian.
The editors couldn’t verify the source of the reports — as they would have done if their own staffers had obtained them — and they couldn’t stop WikiLeaks from posting it, whether they wrote about it or not.
So they were basically left with proving veracity through official sources and picking through the pile for the bits that seemed to be the most truthful.
Notice how effective this combination is. The information is released in two forms: vetted and narrated to gain old media cred, and released online in full text, Internet-style, which corrects for any timidity or blind spot the editors at Der Spiegel, The Times or the Guardian may show.
6. From an editor’s note: “At the request of the White House, The Times also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.” There’s the new balance of power, right there. In the revised picture we find the state, which holds the secrets but is powerless to prevent their release; the stateless news organization, deciding how to release them; and the national newspaper in the middle, negotiating the terms of legitimacy between these two actors.
7. If you’re a whistle blower with explosive documents, to whom would you rather give them? A newspaper with a terrestrial address organized under the laws of a nation that could try to force the reporter you contacted to reveal your name, and that may or may not run the documents you’ve delivered to them online…. or Wikileaks, which has no address, answers no subpoenas and promises to run the full cache if they can be verified as real? (And they’re expert in encryption, too.)
Also, can we agree that a news organization with a paywall wouldn’t even be in contention?
8. I’ve been trying to write about this observation for a while, but haven’t found the means to express it. So I am just going to state it, in what I admit is speculative form. Here’s what I said on Twitter Sunday: “We tend to think: big revelations mean big reactions. But if the story is too big and crashes too many illusions, the exact opposite occurs.” My fear is that this will happen with the Afghanistan logs. Reaction will be unbearably lighter than we have a right to expect— not because the story isn’t sensational or troubling enough, but because it’s too troubling, a mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget.
Last week, it was the Washington Post’s big series, Top Secret America, two years in the making. It reported on the massive security shadowland that has arisen since 09/11. The Post basically showed that there is no accountability, no knowledge at the center of what the system as a whole is doing, and too much “product” to make intelligent use of. We’re wasting billions upon billions of dollars on an intelligence system that does not work. It’s an explosive finding but the explosive reactions haven’t followed, not because the series didn’t do its job, but rather: the job of fixing what is broken would break the system responsible for such fixes.
The mental model on which most investigative journalism is based states that explosive revelations lead to public outcry; elites get the message and reform the system. But what if elites believe that reform is impossible because the problems are too big, the sacrifices too great, the public too distractible? What if cognitive dissonance has been insufficiently accounted for in our theories of how great journalism works… and often fails to work?
I don’t have the answer; I don’t even know if I have framed the right problem. But the comment bar is open, so help me out.
9. Few people realize how important leaking has been to the rise of the political press since the mid-18th century. Leaks were actually “present at the creation” of political reporting. I’m moving quickly this morning, so I only have time for a capsule version. Those with a richer knowledge of the British Parliament’s history can confirm or correct this outline. Once upon a time, Parliament’s debates were off limits to newspapers. But eventually, through a long period of contestation, the right to report on what was said in Parliament was securely won (though not constitutionally guaranteed.) John Wilkes is the pivotal figure and 1770 the date when the practice became institutionalized.
A factor in that struggle was the practice of leaking. The way it worked then is essentially the same as it works today. There’s a bitter dispute in Parliament and people line up on one side or the other. Unable or unwilling to accept defeat, the losing faction decides to widen the battlefield by leaking confidential information, thus bringing the force of public opinion into play. It’s a risky maneuver, of course, but the calculation is that fighting it out in public may alter the balance of forces and lead to a re-decision.
Each time the cycle is repeated, the press becomes a bigger factor in politics. And internal struggles for power remain to this day a major trigger for leaks. Conscience, of course, is a different trigger. Whistleblowers can be of either type: calculating advantage-seekers, or men and women with a troubled conscience. We don’t know which type provided the logs to Wikileaks. What we do know is that a centuries-old dynamic is now empowering new media, just as it once empowered the ink-on-paper press.
* * *
Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:31 AM
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July 7, 2010
Objectivity as a Form of Persuasion: A Few Notes for Marcus Brauchli
"Reporting can be trusted if it is cured of opinion. Reporting can be trusted if it is dusted with opinion. Or even completely interwoven with opinion. It can lead to conclusions. Or the conclusions can be left to others."
Wanted: Political blogger covering the conservative movement. Must be provocative and write with a strong point of view although not in a way that would reveal bias or offend any of your potential subjects. Social media a plus until it’s not. Must be completely transparent, unless that proves embarrassing to the newspaper. Send sanitized résumé, innocuous clips and nonpartisan references to The Washington Post.
— David Carr, New York Times, Outspoken Is Great, Till It’s Not
Sometimes we can only reach clarity by separating two things that have become tangled up with one another. Authoritative reporting and objectivity in journalism need to be disentangled, or the situation David Carr was satirizing will persist. These notes were written for Marcus Brauchli, the editor of the Washington Post, but anyone can read them. He’s the one who needs them.
A system of signs
The basic unit of journalism is the report, an account of what happened. The longer I’ve studied it (which is, uh… 25 years) the more I’ve come to see that “objectivity” as practiced by the American press is a form of persuasion. It tries to persuade all possible users of the account that the account can be trusted because it is unadorned.
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 2:14 PM
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June 24, 2010
The Politico Opens the Kimono. And then Pretends it Never Happened.
"Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to 'burn bridges' with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down."
As everyone who pays attention to the news knows by now, an article appeared in Rolling Stone this week by freelance reporter Michael Hastings that wound up forcing the resignation of General Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of American troops in Afghanistan. Invited to hang out with McChrystal and his staff, Hastings was witness to their contempt for the civilian side of the war effort, which he then reported on. It was a shock to everyone in Washington that McChrystal would make such a blunder, and the press began immediately to dissect it.
The Politico was so hopped up about the story that it took the extraordinary step of posting on its site a PDF of Rolling Stone’s article because Rolling Stone had not put it online fast enough. In one of the many articles The Politico ran about the episode the following observation was made by reporters Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee:
McChrystal, an expert on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, has long been thought to be uniquely qualified to lead in Afghanistan. But he is not known for being media savvy. Hastings, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years, according to the magazine, is not well-known within the Defense Department. And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.
Now this seemed to several observers—and I was one—a reveal. Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter is less of a risk for a powerful figure like McChrystal because an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to “burn bridges” with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down.
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:48 AM
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June 22, 2010
Fixing The Ideology Problem in Our Political Press: A Reply to The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder
"If your job is to make the case, win the negotiations, decide what the community should do, or maintain morale, that is one kind of work. If your job is to tell people what's going on, and equip them to participate without illusions, that is a very different kind of work."
After I published my last post, Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press, the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, a political journalist who consults for CBS News in addition to his reporting and writing for the Atlantic, said my piece was provocative and worth reading but it left some important questions unanswered:
If the ideologies he identifies — the pathologies, actually — are the sum total of the media, what would Jay Rosen, if he were running the world, have us do? Is there a distinction between journalism and ideological argument? Is it methodological? Are there times when, given the difficulty of discovering a truth, journalists can and should adopt a disinterested or disembodied stance? His criticism applies largely to political journalism, and so I anticipate his answer.
I am going to answer his specific questions and then I will have a general reply to what I take to be the spirit of this inquiry. (UPDATE, July 20, 2010: Marc Ambinder responds at The Atlantic site: The Ideology Of Journalists: A Response To Jay Rosen. A very interesting essay.)
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:02 AM
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June 14, 2010
Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press
That it's easy to describe the ideology of the press is a point on which the left, the right and the profession of journalism converge. I disagree. I think it's tricky. So tricky, I've had to invent my own language for discussing it.
What is the actual ideology of our political press? There are two camps on this question: one is huge and includes almost everyone who has declared a position. The other is tiny; it includes almost no one. I’m in the tiny camp, not completely alone but— well, there aren’t too many of us. (And if you’re one, raise a hand in the comments.)
The big camp includes everyone who thinks it’s easy to describe the ideology of the political press in the United States. Most on the progressive left, most on the conservative right, and almost all of the people in the press itself think this way. Of course, they would describe that ideology very differently, but that it can be done in a sentence or two… about this they have little doubt.
(Now I’m generalizing here, okay? This means I’m aware that there are exceptions and that I am overlooking certain nuances that divide observers within camps.)
The left says: Look, it’s very simple. The political press ultimately serves the interests of the people who own it— the corporate capitalists, the ones with money and power and “access” to politicians, the people who run things and always have. Those who are unwilling to make peace with this fact don’t make it very far in political journalism.
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 6:26 PM
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March 31, 2010
What CNN Should Do With Itself in Prime-Time
A media beat reporter asked me if I had any advice for CNN about what to do in prime-time. Just so happens I do. Ditch the View from Nowhere but don't go aping your rivals. Here's my alt line-up for CNN from 7 to 11 pm.
Noting that I had some suggestions for the Sunday morning shows, a media beat reporter recently asked me if I had any advice for CNN about what to do in prime-time. (See How to Fix CNN by The Politico’s Michael Calderone.)
The occasion for asking was this report, CNN Fails to Stop Fall in Ratings. “CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year.” Anderson Cooper, currently the face of the brand, sometimes loses in the ratings to re-runs of MSNBC’s “Countdown.”
And yet, “CNN executives have steadfastly said that they will not change their approach to prime-time programs, which are led by hosts not aligned with any partisan point of view.”
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:57 PM
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March 17, 2010
How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists
The bar's been raised. Use of the backchannel--years ago it was IRC, today it's Twitter--lets the audience compare notes and pool their dissatisfaction if the program misfires. Here's what we did to avoid that at SXSW.
If you follow me on Twitter, you will occasionally hear me mention “audience atomization overcome.” I’ve been using this phrase to describe something that has changed in our world because of the internet.
Audience Atomization Overcome
The people formerly known as the audience, once connected up to big institutions and centers of power, but not across to one another, have overcome their own atomization, which was a normal condition during the age of mass media. With the rise of social media and mobile devices they are now connected horizontally, peer to peer, at the same time as they connect vertically: to the news, the program, the speaker, the spectacle. Simple example: Tweeting during the Academy Awards. More intricate example: Pet lovers find each other on affinity sites when the major media isn’t attentive to their concerns.
The horizontal flow changes the situation for speakers and producers in any communication setting that retains the trappings of one-to-many. The change is especially dramatic in an arena I know well: the professional conference where I might sit on a panel or attend a presentation. The popularity of the backchannel—years ago it was IRC, today it’s Twitter—has empowered those in the audience to compare notes and pool their dissatisfaction during a performance that misfires. Audience atomization has been definitively overcome, raising the bar and increasing the risk for speakers who walk in unprepared.
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 11:17 PM
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March 7, 2010
News Without the Narrative Needed to Make Sense of the News: What I Will Say at South by Southwest
These are my notes. You can help advance the discussion by reading them over and commenting.
Suppose your laptop continually received updates to software that was never installed on your laptop. If you can imagine a situation that absurd, then you are ready to partake in the Future of Context panel that I’ll be part of at the South by Southwest festival in Austin next week.
Here are some of my ideas, questions and puzzlers in advance of that event. I am posting them today in hopes of generating a discussion I can use to improve my performance in Austin. (It’s already happening, see the comments.)
1. Why are we serving people the news without the background narrative necessary to make sense of the news? I first became interested in this problem after listening to The Giant Pool of Money, the awesomely effective one-hour This American Life episode that finally explained to me what the mortgage banking crisis was, how it happened and why it implicated… well, just about everyone. I was grateful, because up to that moment I had absorbed many hundreds of reports about “subprime lenders in trouble” but had not understood a single one of them.
It wasn’t that these reports were uninformative. Rather, I was not informable because I lacked the necessary background knowledge to grasp what was being sent to me as news. On the other hand there was no easy way for me to get that background and make myself informable because the way our news system works, it’s like the updates to the program arrive whether you have the program installed or not! Which is rather messed up. But what do we do about it? The first thing I did is write my 2008 post, National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News. So if you want to help me out, start there.
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 5:00 PM
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February 23, 2010
Explaining The Local: East Village, NYU's Collaboration with the New York Times
"Look: Not everyone is going to be thrilled that NYU is doing this with the New York Times. We'll have to take those problems on, not as classroom abstractions but civil transactions with the people who live and work here. You know what? It's going to be messy and hard, which is to say real."
The New York Times and NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute announced yesterday that they will collaborate on a news site serving the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. It will be called The Local: East Village, and it will appear on the nytimes.com. The site will be edited and produced at NYU.
In this post, I will explain what we’re up to and why we’re doing it. I don’t speak for the editors of the Times, but I have been discussing the East Village project with them for over a year and I have some sense of what brought them to this collaboration. And it is a collaboration: NYU will produce the site; the Times will publish it. The Times will provide the online platform and strong editorial guidance; NYU will try to bring the East Village community to that platform and innovate on it.
Jim Schachter, editor of digital initiative for the Times, said the project was made possible by shared values, a single set of standards, the most important of which is “increasing the volume and scope of quality journalism about issues that matter.”
Here’s my own description of the project and how it will work:
1. The Local: East Village will be a news site about the culture and politics, the life and times of the East Village of Manhattan. That to us means the area bounded by 14th St. on the North, Houston Street to the South, the East River and Broadway to the West, which is about 110 city blocks. The offices of the NYU Journalism Institute (at 20 Cooper Square) lie within the coverage area. We work in the East Village, and many of our students live there.
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:01 AM
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February 21, 2010
The Quest for Innocence and the Loss of Reality in Political Journalism
"The quest for innocence means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus 'prove' in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade. But this can get in the way of describing things! What's lost is that sense of reality Isaiah Berlin talked about..."
This is a post about a single line in a recent article in the New York Times: Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right.
Before I get to the line that interested me, I need to acknowledge that the investigation the Times undertook for this article is wholly admirable and exactly what we need professional journalists to be doing. Reporter David Barstow spent five months—five months!—reporting and researching the Tea Party phenomenon.
He went to their events. He talked to hundreds of people drawn into the movement. He watched what happens at their rallies and the smaller meetings where movement politics is transacted. He made himself fully literate, learning the differences between the Tea Party and the Patriot movements, reading the authors who have infuenced Tea Party activists, getting to know local leaders and regional differences, building up a complex and layered portrait of a political cohort that doesn’t fit into party politics as normally understood.
This is original reporting at a very high level of commitment to public service; it is expensive, difficult, and increasingly rare in a news business suffering under economic collapse.
So I want to make it absolutely clear that I treasure this kind of journalism and indeed devoured Barstow’s report when it came online. (Although I wish it had been twice as long.) And I have no problem with his decision to confine himself to description of the Tea Party movement, rather than evaluating its goodness or badness. The first task is to understand, and that is why we need reporters willing to go out there and witness the phenomenon, interview the participants, pore over the texts and struggle with their account until they feel they have it right.
Continue reading "The Quest for Innocence and the Loss of Reality in Political Journalism"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 5:19 PM
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April 12, 2009
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User
Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in.
There I am, sitting at the breakfast table, with my coffee and a copy of the New York Times, in the classic newspaper reading position from before the Web. And I come to this article, headlined “Ex-Chairman of A.I.G. Says Bailout Has Failed.” I immediately recognize in it the signs of a he said, she said account.
Quick definition: “He said, she said” journalism means…
- There’s a public dispute.
- The dispute makes news.
- No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
- The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
- The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.
When these five conditions are met, the genre is in gear. The he said part might sound like this:
Mr. Greenberg asserted that he would have reduced or at least hedged A.I.G.’s exposure to credit-default swaps in 2005, when A.I.G.’s credit rating was reduced.
“A.I.G.’s business model did not fail; its management did,” he asserted.
Followed by the “she” said…
That provoked another scornful counterattack from his former company, saying that Mr. Greenberg’s assertions were “implausible,” “not grounded in reality” and at odds with his track record of not hedging A.I.G.’s bets on credit-default swaps.
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 11:46 AM
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March 30, 2009
Introducing the new Huffington Post Investigative Fund (And My Own Role in It)
"The announcement of its birth, along with the $1.75 million starter budget, is really the launch of a new Internet-based news organization with a focus on original reporting. You might say the Fund's operating principle is: report once, run anywhere."
The news broke Sunday:
The Huffington Post announced today that it is launching a new initiative to produce a wide range of investigative journalism — The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. It is being funded by The Huffington Post and The Atlantic Philanthropies, and will be headed by Nick Penniman, founder of The American News Project, which will be folded into the Investigative Fund.
The full press release is here. I will have a role:
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Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:37 AM
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March 26, 2009
Rosen's Flying Seminar In The Future of News
For March 2009. The pace quickened after Clay Shirky's Thinking the Unthinkable. Here's my best-of from a month of deep think as people came to terms with the collapse of the newspaper model, and tried looking ahead. I know these twelve links work. I tested them on Twitter.
As the crisis in newspaper journalism grinds on, people watching it are trying to explain how we got here, and what we’re losing as part of the newspaper economy crashes. Some are trying to imagine a new news system. I try to follow this action, and have been sending around the best of these pieces via my Twitter feed. It’s part of my experiment in mindcasting, which you can read about here.
Lately, the pace has picked up. A trigger was the March 13 appearance of Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. That essay went viral; it now has a phenomenal 741 trackbacks, making it an instant classic in the online literature about the fate of the press. As good as Shirky’s piece is (very very good, I think) “Thinking the Unthinkable” is only a piece of the puzzle, and mostly backward-pointing.
That’s why I’ve collected the following links. Together, they form a kind of flying seminar on the future of news, presented in real time. They are all from the month of March 2009. The “flying” part is simple: go ahead, steal these links. Spread the seminar. Get your people up to speed.
Continue reading "Rosen's Flying Seminar In The Future of News"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:08 AM
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February 6, 2009
It Took 23 Years, But I Finally Got to Give My View of the National Press on National Television
I was a guest on Bill Moyers Journal (PBS, Feb. 6) along with Salon's Glenn Greenwald. We talked about pundits and reporters as an establishment institution, and whether Obama can be a disruptive force.
The segment was 22 minutes: three people at a table puzzling through the week’s events, and trying to set them within larger patterns. Watch here. Transcript is here. My main reason for posting is to open a comment thread for those who watched and might have something to say. So go ahead.
I recalled for Moyers how Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s deputy, later described the people running the Bush White House as radicals. Wilkerson’s piece is reproduced here. That Wilkerson—an insider, a Republican—might have been right was too much for the category mind of the press. His description got consigned to the sphere of deviance.
Was that necessary? I say no.
Continue reading "It Took 23 Years, But I Finally Got to Give My View of the National Press on National Television"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 11:57 PM
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PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
The Terms of Authority Are Shifting "Readers and viewers—rich now in alternative sources of news—are more assertive and far less in awe of the press, which is not a bad thing." More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...