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Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at Washingtonpost.com

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of WiredJournalists.com and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at washingtonpost.com is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide.

Journalism.co.uk keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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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 | Comments (6) | Link 

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 | Comments (116) | Link 

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.

Continue reading "Objectivity as a Form of Persuasion: A Few Notes for Marcus Brauchli"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 2:14 PM | Comments (41) | Link 

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.

Continue reading "The Politico Opens the Kimono. And then Pretends it Never Happened."
Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:48 AM | Comments (66) | Link 

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.)

Continue reading "Fixing The Ideology Problem in Our Political Press: A Reply to The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:02 AM | Comments (36) | Link 

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.

Continue reading "Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 6:26 PM | Comments (165) | Link 

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.”

Continue reading "What CNN Should Do With Itself in Prime-Time"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:57 PM | Comments (82) | Link 

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.

Continue reading "How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 11:17 PM | Comments (25) | Link 

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.

Continue reading "News Without the Narrative Needed to Make Sense of the News: What I Will Say at South by Southwest"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 5:00 PM | Comments (45) | Link 

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.

Continue reading "Explaining The Local: East Village, NYU's Collaboration with the New York Times"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:01 AM | Comments (22) | Link 

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 | Comments (98) | Link 

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.
Continue reading "He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "
Posted by Jay Rosen at 11:46 AM | Comments (52) | Link 

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:

Continue reading "Introducing the new Huffington Post Investigative Fund (And My Own Role in It)"
Posted by Jay Rosen at 1:37 AM | Comments (21) | Link 

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 | Comments (14) | Link 

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 | Comments (107) | Link 
From the Intro