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PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
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Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

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 26, 2003

Op Ed with Todd Gitlin: Ashcroft is Unprintable

On tour he bars the press and cozies up to local TV reporters

By Todd Gitlin and Jay Rosen

This appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sep. 25, 2003. It began as an interview in PressThink, Sep. 16.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, who is continuing his tour of the country to promote the Patriot Act, has at several stops, including Buffalo and Philadelphia, refused to speak to print reporters. While television correspondents can often breeze right in, their newspaper colleagues are kept at bay by Secret Service agents doing the bidding of the nation’s chief law enforcement official, who prefers audiences of handpicked enthusiasts and interviews with local television reporters.

According to Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, Ashcroft wants to explain “key facts directly to the American people” and not have to subject himself to “as much of a filter from people who are already invested in having a different view of it.”

Of course he does. What public official wouldn’t prefer a stenographer to an interlocutor? Ashcroft, like the president he serves, wishes to conduct the public’s business in an echo chamber. With aplomb and no hint of bad conscience, they practice the politics of no-politics, the politics of l’etat, c’est moi.

Like president, like attorney general. For example, on March 6, in a rare press conference on the verge of war in Iraq, George W. Bush joked that the choice of which reporters would be permitted to question him was scripted in advance. But he did put some of the tougher-minded reporters in their place, passing them over as if they were overeager sixth-graders.

Ashcroft knows that, with niftily chosen sound bites, he can dominate credulous local television, which harbors few practitioners of the probe and deep focus that can legitimately be called journalism. This has allowed him largely to stay “on message,” rally his partisans and keep annoying critics at bay. The exception was an interview with ABC News’ Peter Jennings this month in which Jennings did ask some pointed, specific questions about immigrant detention and other civil liberties infractions. No doubt Ashcroft will not be doing that again soon.

Television journalists are a competitive bunch, and they are loath to show solidarity with peers who have been stranded beyond the ropes. But it is wrong to go on with business as usual in this instance. Instead of enabling this highhanded behavior, they should solicit questions from print colleagues and use them, or ask Ashcroft on the air why he wants to reach local viewers but not local readers. (Don’t they need to know about the Patriot Act?) Surely it behooves favored television reporters to note for their listeners that the administration plays favorites. That’s news.

Ashcroft’s avoidance of the print press reveals something important about this administration — the zealotry with which it goes about protecting itself from scrutiny. This zealotry is linked with the paranoid streak that, as the historian Richard Hofstadter taught us long ago, runs like a bright thread through American history. Ashcroft’s segregation of journalists is paranoid, in the sense Hofstadter meant, because it turns fantasies of persecution into a conspiracy among print reporters to deny the attorney general a fair hearing. So he denies them access.

This is a bad twist on already unsavory precedents. In 1980, Ronald Reagan avoided reporters so devotedly they once felt compelled to put on a skit in which they interviewed a painting of him on the tarmac. In 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton delivered his message “unfiltered” to the voters by appearing on MTV, “Larry King Live” and Don Imus — in part because he preferred softball questions.

The Bush administration apparently figures that with this approach, you fool enough of the people enough of the time. In attention-span politics, you don’t care that some people will see through the smoke, and you don’t have to keep everything secret. You just assume that attention will fragment and move on. The next news cycle will focus elsewhere. Television works that way.

Ashcroft is betting that the press corps has no core, that reporters are more committed to seeking advantage over rivals than protecting the public’s right to know.

It’s past time for journalists to hold him to account.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the author of “Letters to a Young Activist” (Basic Books, 2003). Jay Rosen is chairman of the department of journalism at New York University and the author of “What Are Journalists For?” (Yale University Press, 1999).

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 26, 2003 9:17 AM   Print


The venomous slant of your editorial only makes Ashcroft's tactics appear to be justified.

Posted by: Mark Blubaugh at September 26, 2003 5:27 PM | Permalink

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