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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 13, 2003

How Do You Cover 133 Candidates for Governor?

Follow the idea race. It might lead somewhere. Better than "probable winners win our attention because they're probably going to win."

Published (in a different version) as “The Recall: Who’s ahead in the idea race?” Sacramento Bee, Sep. 14, 2003. New: See the comment section where an ombudsman and political editor react.

Tony Marcano, ombudsman of the Sacramento Bee, asks a good question: “how does a newspaper go about effectively covering 133 candidates” in the California recall? “There’s no precedent for it. There’s nothing in the universal campaign coverage playbook about how to handle a three-digit candidates’ list, particularly one with such a motley cast of characters.”

That “universal campaign coverage playbook” (I would love a copy) may have little to say about hundreds of candidates at once. But that doesn’t leave journalists in California without herd principles. Here the playbook turns to more general advice: when in doubt assume the story is about winning because it’s neutral and we know how to do it. If your Aunt was a threat to win, we’d cover her. And so the Bee’s political editor, Amy Chance, who must find a practical answer to Marcano’s question, goes by the book. The Bee’s editors, she says:

have to acknowledge up front that limited time, space, manpower and other resources prevent us from treating all of the candidates as though they had an equal shot at election. We try to concentrate the bulk of our resources on those with organized campaigns who have a realistic chance at winning.

Sounds reasonable, if a bit herdish. Except that as Marcano points out, certain candidates, if they were taken more seriously by the press, might stand a better chance at winning. (Your Aunt, for example.) That sounds reasonable too. But they can’t both be right. Both views can’t be realistic, either. This is where press think—which doesn’t have to mean group think—starts to factor in.

Go back to Amy Chance’s way of stating the choices before her as editor. One option is abstract, inflexible, also sentimental about democracy: “treating all of the candidates as though they had an equal shot.” The other choice (focus on the possible winners) is savvy, hard-headed, within the received wisdom of the press, and adaptable to changing circumstances, like minor candidate’s sudden surge in the polls. By “choosing” in a rhetorical contest that is actually no-contest, Chance is not so much stating an argument as crying: we have no choice, so this is way we do it. We let the default narrative in. Which means winning will determine who wins news attention at the Bee… fair, right? (Puzzle in news think: can a circular practice ever be fair?)

The Sacramento Bee has 12 reporters working on the statewide election. This is a serious crew under Amy Chance. What’s big at the Bee is politics, which is also the talk of the town, the local industry. Let’s agree with Chance that part of the recall drama is about winning at the ballot box in October, certainly an important story. Except that it’s not a story, but a story pattern made of many newsy political items accumulating week to week. For talking about this pattern, I prefer the more theatrical term master narrative. (Read what that means.) If part of the master narrative distributes news items over the Likely to Win candidates, then another part can sprinkle news over the Something to Say group. If reporters on both trails meet at the same event, it must be an important event.

Let’s give the second narrative a name: the idea race. It’s news about the recall that tells us who’s floating new, interesting, counter-intuitive or maybe even useful ideas for California, which people should be talking about anyway. If reporters are allowed to gauge who’s ahead in the money race, in the polls, and among campaign insiders, they can certainly be permitted to judge who’s a player in the game of offering fresh wisdom, inventive proposals or a more nuanced diagnosis of the state’s problems. From there it’s easy: you just cover the players. It might even prove refreshing to ask who’s winning the idea race?

Now you don’t have to cover all 133 candidates, because not all will meet the basic test of having something on point and original to say to voters. But symbolic candidacies might, which is how the minor chord becomes a major. Now you don’t have to limit your coverage to the well organized campaigns that have “a realistic chance at winning” because—speaking realistically now—they may have nothing original or on point in their standard spiel, and the spiel may substandard but all you get, stop after stop.

In horse race coverage, you pay a penality for not being a threat to win or finish in the money. Those rules are clear so let their be no whiners. In idea race coverage, you pay a penality for being programmed by others to say only the most calculated things, for giving away your mind and public soul or never having one. Let there be no whiners, but different winners.

Where’s the space going to come from for this second narrative, the so-called idea race? Newspaper journalists love to ask you things like that. But Marcano’s a newspaper guy and he has an answer. One part of recall coverage that seems “out of whack” to him is “the continual handicapping of the campaign, mostly laying odds on Bustamante and Schwarzenegger.” This is apt criticism. (It’s also criticism that’s been playing for 20 years on the conference circuit wherever post-mortems on election coverage are done. But that’s history.) Drop the handicapping now because it is banal, pre-emptive, the “horse race” at its worst. Then you have room to experiment. Which might also help the Bee’s ombudsman in fencing with pesky readers who insist on some better principle for distributing press attention. Better than winners win our best attention because they’re the best bet to win.

The kind of thing I am talking about is done, of course, when reporters pick apart what a candidate has said. But it depends on how you do it. Here is Daniel Weintraub, political reporter, author of the “Campaign Insider” weblog for the Sacramento Bee, doing it to the most visible candidate in the recall. He is forming a journalistic judgment about whether Schwarzenegger has been willing to even put forward an idea:

…But of course, while Arnold might support “higher wages” as a concept (who doesn’t?), he does not, as far as we know, support any government mandate that would seek to increase the minimum wage or create a living wage. Although I have seen candidates tell the truth in these situations (Bill Simon among them), it is probably not reasonable to expect a politician to volunteer a disagreeable position. An honest answer might be that he will do all he can to help the private sector create high-paying jobs. But Arnold doesn’t even offer that level of specificity. A question from a nearby reporter about the prevailing wage – the government-mandated wage standard that forces public agencies to pay what amount to union wages on construction projects – goes unanswered. So too do questions about the 8-hour-day overtime standard and about the state’s new paid family leave program, which business groups say should top the list of anyone looking to lift oppressive government regulations off their backs. He offered a few more statistics and a new anecdote illustrating problems in the workers compensation system for injured workers, but still no proposals for how to fix the troubled program.

That’s the scene of a candidate running a bit behind in the idea race. Now can you tell me who’s ahead?

Read about NPR’s ombudsman grappling with the same issue: should there be “equivalent” coverage of candidates for President?

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 13, 2003 12:38 PM   Print


When I signed on as the Sacramento Bee's ombudsman, I told the publisher, Janis Besler Heaphy, that I hoped my columns would generate discussion and debate. I'm glad to see that Jay Rosen has added to the discussion of this important issue, which indeed goes beyond the Bee's work in covering the California recall election. There may be no clear forerunner in the idea race among the California candidates, but Rosen's take puts him at the forefront of the idea race for political reporters and editors.

Posted by: Tony Marcano at September 13, 2003 4:33 PM | Permalink

It is absolutely a worthy topic for discussion. But I question Mr. Rosen's understanding of the demands of daily political journalism because he, unlike my reporters, apparently does not feel the need to contact people before he writes about their views. He based his conclusions on incomplete excerpts from a response I gave to Mr. Marcano, rather than do his own research. I certainly hope he teaches something different to his journalism students.

Posted by: Amy Chance at September 15, 2003 3:23 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen: The ombudsman of the Bee says he's glad to see me add to the discussion of campaign coverage during this extraordinary event-- a recall election with 133 legal contenders. The editorial page of the Bee, to whom I submitted my work of commentary, thought it worthy enough to publish. Daniel Weintraub, a reporter for the Bee, figures in it as a positive model for others. Amy Chance, political editor, feels I erred in quoting her as she was quoted by her paper's ombudsman. I could have called any of the players in my piece for additional comment, but sometimes a critic likes to work with the public record-- in this case, what the Bee has published about itself in self-reflection. I wanted to add to it with my own piece about their stated thinking. Still, I plan to find out from Amy Chance what I may have misunderstood.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 15, 2003 5:53 PM | Permalink

From the Intro