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PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
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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

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 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 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. 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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September 9, 2003

Special to PressThink: Interview with Michelle Nicolosi

The editor of Online Journalism Review talks about the end of passivity at the receiving end of news. Blogs as journalism. Press authority online. Plus she gives good link.

Michelle Nicolosi is the editor of Online Journalism Review and the founder of Japan Media Review. She also teaches journalism at USC. I interviewed her by e-mail in August, and here is what she had to say:

PressThink: The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post have effective online sites, but they aren’t especially interactive. Neither, for that matter, is Salon. Is your impression different? Where do we see emerging forms of journalism you would call interactive and what’s different about these forms?

Michelle Nicolosi: A number of publications go beyond the Web basics (comment section, email contacts, online chats) to create interactive storytelling. These kinds of projects can be expensive and time-consuming; I expect that’s why these are more special treats than daily fare. Here is a list of great interactive journalism. For some of my favorite examples of online storytelling, see this site.

MSNBC’s baggage check “game” challenges readers to find weapons in luggage while passengers moan and groan about how long it’s all taking, and can’t you hurry up? The game was an effective way of helping readers understand the issues surrounding airport baggage screening. The Seattle Times recently invited readers to balance Washington’s budget. Over 600 readers took the time to do the exercise. The Sacramento Bee did a similar project, and invited readers to send their ideas to legislators.

In March, The Seattle Times “You Build It” project invited readers to solve the city’s tranportation problems. Nearly 2,000 readers completed this exercise — most of them said they would find ways to fix the problems without a proposed 1/2 cent tax. The project influenced decision makers’ actions. According to a Seattle Times story, “King County representatives on the district board agreed … that the regional tax package should be revised to better reflect the preferences chosen in The Times survey.” The Everett Herald invited readers to take charge of redeveloping four waterfront properties in Everett. The paper created a drag and drop map that let readers experiment with how they would develop the properties if they were in charge. Nearly 2,000 readers participated.

As technology makes more interaction possible, I think we’re going to see more of what people are calling “participatory journalism” — readers contributing to the news product. In Japan, where video and photo-enabled phones are common, a video of a major car accident was recently broadcast from the scene by a driver who called the TV station, used his mobile phone to send the station his video and then did a report from the scene. Could newspapers and other media outlets be doing more interactive storytelling? Sure, but they could be doing more investigations too. These things are expensive, and media outlets have to pick their shots.

I think part of the problem is that the Web was oversold: It was advertised as a place where news organizations would be doing grand interactive, multimedia projects all the time. While it’s true that the Web means every story can be accompanied by video, audio, animated graphics, elaborate surveys, most are not. Most of the time we just post the story as it ran in the paper.

Sometimes we decide a story deserves more. We do that as often as we can afford to; for many outlets that’s not very often. If news sites were making money, I’m sure we’d see more people taking better advantage of what we can do online. But many news sites are losing money. Many have cut back staff and are on shoestring budgets, and so can’t afford to do much more than the basics.

PressThink: One way to track the development of online journalism is to focus on the people called journalists and monitor what they do as they move online and produce more and more stuff for the new medium. Another way is to concentrate on the people who seem to best grasp the new medium and monitor what they do as they move closer and closer toward journalism. The second approach, it seems to me, inevitably brings you to things like and the blog revolution. In your view, is there journalism happening there yet? What kind of journalism is it? And, what I am most interested in, how is journalistic authority generated there?

Michelle Nicolosi: What is your definition of blog? What is your definition of journalist — and journalism? When is an online publication a blog, and when is it a magazine? We’ve got some broad working definitions that seem to be somewhat accepted, but they leave a lot of gray areas.

Here’s my basic definition: “A blog is an online publication that posts items in reverse chronological order.” Most bloggers mainly comment on and link to stories reported by the mainstream media. Most blogs are opinion based. (See OJR columnist Mark Glaser’s recent guide to the blogosphere.

What happens when a blogger, by this definition, does some original reporting? What if my blog mostly comments on and links to stories reported by other media, but sometimes I get the urge to call up a source, do an interview and post his comments? What if I do the occasional Q&A? What if I do some research on the topic I’m commenting on and post the results of my original research? Am I a journalist now? Is my blog just a blog, or is it a magazine?

Let’s change the question: Is any original reporting and writing happening at independent publications online? Yes, some. When people who have worked as reporters or editors at mainstream publications become independent online publishers, the results can be good. When you give a printing press to people who have no training — who don’t understand journalistic ethics, copyright, libel laws, and who have never had it beat into their heads that they must double and triple check every fact they report — bad things can happen.

That said, there are a lot of interesting things being written by people who aren’t journalists by training. I’m glad the Internet gives them the power to publish, and gives me the ability to hear all these new voices. Is it all journalism, is it all good? No, of course not. Some of it is horrible. Some of it is great. Bottom line though is that I dont need to be a millionaire to publish my book or start a magazine anymore. If I’m in Belarus or Timbuktu, if I’m Salaam Pax hunkered down in Baghdad, my voice can be broadcast to the world. I think that’s a good thing.

Independent online publishers develop “authority” the same way offline publications and broadcast stations do: They prove over time that they are reliable — that they have good news judgment, that they get it right, that they are a competent guide to issues that are important and interesting to their readers.

Romenesko is a great example of this. Why do journalists so faithfully flock to him? He never misses an important story, he knows what his audience wants and dishes it up in an accurate and interesting way. I read him every day. I trust him to tell me all about the topic he covers, and to make sure I know everything important going on in that field.

Any independent publisher can develop authority — and the loyal readership that goes with it — if he is constantly accurate, reliable, timely, interesting, comprehensive and authoritative on his topic.

PressThink: A computer and Internet-using public, it seems to me, is not really in the same geneological line as readers, listeners, viewers, consumers. They were all receivers of information. The Net user, it has been said many times, doesn’t fit that mold. It’s a much more active identity, which is why it hardly makes sense at all to talk about an Internet “audience.” Thus “user of” is replacing “audience for” in Net terminology. What are the consequences (for journalism as it moves online) of this more active, tool-using image of the people out there on the receiving end?

Michelle Nicolosi: The consequence to mainstream media of course is that all these new voices and publications online are competition. The reader doesn’t just passively read your paper any more. Now he can click away from you in a heartbeat to review dozens or hundreds of other sources of news and information. What with the Salaam Pax reporting from Baghdad, Nick Denton covering tech news, New York Times and The LA Times and BBC and The Guardian and the local paper (usually) all online for free, with Google News giving me the latest headlines updated constantly — and now letting me search for just my local news, too — a reader might get to feeling like he doesn’t really need to buy the paper anymore.

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 9, 2003 12:18 PM   Print

From the Intro