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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 18, 2003

The View from Nowhere

Is ABC the most anti-war network? Ridiculous, says Peter Jennings. And it is... to him.

Peter Jennings is asked about a think tank study arguing that ABC is the most “anti-war” network in its reporting about Iraq.

ABC’s coverage was the most critical of the war, with two out of three (66 percent) on-air comments negative. CBS’s coverage was the most supportive, with nearly three out of every four (74 percent) opinions favorable. NBC’s coverage was most balanced towards the American mission-53 percent positive vs. 47 percent negative evaluations.

His reply in USA Today, a protest about misinformed criticis, is worth quoting because it contains some fateful press think:

I don’t think anybody who looks carefully at us thinks that we are a left-wing or a right-wing organization….We have been criticized, a little bit to my surprise, by people who think I was not enough pro-war. That is simply not the way I think of this role. This role is designed to question the behavior of government officials on behalf of the public….Are we out of step with the administration because we do not comport completely to their political point of view? So they criticize us for it. It goes with the territory, and if we get a groundswell we begin to look at ourselves. ‘Are we? Are we not?’ I don’t think the public realizes how much soul-searching goes on in news organizations about what is the right thing to do.

That’s Jennings responding to the most recent charge of proven bias. I have listened to this conversation for some time. It’s probably louder now than ever, but that tells you it’s important. After ten, fifteen years, it sounds like this in my ear….

The Right: You creep, Jennings. You’re just a shill for the anti-war left, like the rest of them. They did a study that proves it.
The Left: You creep Jennings. You’re cheerleading for the war, like the rest of them. The people who study it have proved it.
Jennings: We’re journalists, not ideologues. We try to play it straight down the middle.
The Right: Screw you, Peter Jennings.
The Left: Yeah, screw you.
Jennings: No serious observer thinks we’re left or right in our approach to covering the news.
The Left: You think we’re not serious? Where are all the stories on Halliburton, Peter?
The Right: Why don’t you cover what’s going right for the military in Iraq? Because it doesn’t fit your agenda!
Jennings: Actually we’ve covered those stories on World News Tonight and even gone back to them. Maybe not as much as you would like, or with the spin you would put…
The Right: Spin? Like I’m spin and you’re not?
Jennings: I think there’s a big misconception here about how journalists work.
The Left: Staight down the middle with this, Jennings.

In the media id of the Left, temptation lives. Dumping everything to the right of The Nation magazine into the “conservative” bin is an intellectual temptation. When it happens, journalists at ABC can plausibly become “right wing” in the observer’s eyes. And they actually are to the right… of The Nation. Progressives, people on the Left, call it the corporate media, which dispenses captured news, news that is essentially propaganda for the system and its rich friends, or a distraction from unjust things happening all around the world, which do not get reported.

In the media id of the Right, temptation also lives. It wants to call everything to the left of the Washington Times the “liberal” media. When that happens, journalists at ABC can become “left wing” in the observer’s eyes And why not? They are in fact to the left… of the Washington Times. Conservatives, people on the Right, call it the liberal media. The liberals who run it are hostile to traditional values, intoxicated with their own social agenda, eager to expand the power of government, reflexively anti-Amercan, and we see it all over the news.

To Jennings, this is all quite odd. ABC News, he firmly belives, isn’t left or right, pro or anti-war. It isn’t “political” at all in that way— it’s a professional news operation, “designed to question the behavior of government officials on behalf of the public,” but equally designed not to take sides. He and his colleagues do not let political temptation color the news; they work hard at curing their reports of any undue bias— failing often but only because they’re human. That kind of caution is basic to how we operate, he says, second nature to any journalist. The public’s failure to grasp this struggle in the journalist’s soul makes possible a common charge like, “you’re the anti-war network.”

In the ritual of this exchange, it’s forgotten that all three parties can be for truth, if you understand what each is saying.

  • Mainstream American journalism actually is to the right of The Nation and it pushes against the left’s view of the world to engineer its own balance. This creates hostility, as shown in my cartoonish dialogue above.
  • Mainstream American journalism actually is to the left of the Washington Times, and pushes against that worldview too— for balance. This creates hostility from the “opposite” direction.
  • Mainstream American journalism actually is neither left nor right for the people who make it. But it pushes against both sides, and against others who can help in the performance of news balance. This tends to create hostility, which will baffle the balancers. Pretty soon it’s the critics who are unbalanced people.

But even in objectivity there is id. Temptation for Jennings and his colleagues does not involve taking sides. It does not mean “coming out” as anti-war or pro-Rumsfeld or skeptical about American power in the Middle East. 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. It can’t be that simple, that beautiful, that symmetrical… can it? Temptation says yes.

When you have an obligation to remain outside the arena, it is also tempting to feel above the partisans who are struggling within that arena. (But then where else are they going to struggle?) You learn the attractions of a view from nowhere. The daily gift of detachment keeps giving, until you’re almost “above” anyone who tries to get too political with you, or at least in the middle with the microphone between warring factions. There’s power in that; and where there’s power, there’s attraction.

”I don’t think anybody who looks carefully at us thinks that we are a left-wing or a right-wing organization.” There is no question this is a sincere statement. But it is also a superficial one. Not left, not right… so what are you, Peter Jennings? The answers he thinks adequate: “we’re a news organization,” “we’re professionals,” “we’re journalists, no axe to grind” along with “you don’t understand how we work”… have one curious quality about them— besides being bland. If accepted, they end the conversation. Another way to say it might be: they lack soul.

In an extraordinary book excerpt circulating around the Net, New York Times reporter John Burns, who was in Baghdad in the regime’s final weeks, states:

For some reason or another, Mr. Bush chose to make his principal case on weapons of mass destruction, which is still an open case. This war could have been justified any time on the basis of human rights, alone. As far as I am concerned, when they hire me, they hire somebody who has a conscience and who has a passion about these things.

This is not a reporter willing to call himself pro Bush, anti-war, left, right or pacifist, but John Burns—who is keenly aware of the power of his newspaper—is here saying: I am a human rights organization, myself, as well as a journalist. If you want me as your correspondent, expect my passions to influence my work. Burns puts himself above no one. He declines the view from nowhere. Him we can talk to.

Editor and Publisher Online says it got more mail from the Burn excerpt than anything it has published.

For more reactions to Burns and his testimony, go to Roger Simon. (“It makes you believe in the possibilities of journalism again.”)

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 18, 2003 8:59 PM   Print


Every player in this debate (and I think the right and left are aptly characterized by Jay) seems contemptuous of the press. "Balance" is achiveved by a roughly equal number of "postive" and "negative" statements about the war? I don't think so. Balance is for politicians; the press should do its best to report the stories it perceives. The left tends to a better job of this, but the right pays more respect to the rhetoric, which is of more than superficial importance.

Posted by: jsharlet at September 19, 2003 11:39 AM | Permalink

Not that it really matters much to this excellent post, but the CMPA "study" is not academic. Robert Lichter's group left CNN and MSNBC out of the study. And Lichter is a paid commentator for FOX. Hmmmm...

Posted by: acline at September 19, 2003 1:59 PM | Permalink

Thanks for picking that up, Dr. Cline. And I admire your site a great deal. Academic study has been changed to "think tank," more accurate. Jeff: "balance is for politicians, journalists report what you see" I like. Except that in my reading of balance as a ritual in the press, it's strongly related to what in other contexts is called "plausible deniability," that is: rhetorical innocence. Because you balanced your story, you are innocent of spin, and of other charges that come your way every day.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 19, 2003 5:43 PM | Permalink

No need to be me Andy. And I also admire the work you're doing here. Great stuff!

Posted by: acline at September 19, 2003 5:55 PM | Permalink

From the Intro