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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 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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September 29, 2003

Special to PressThink: Interview with Merrill Brown

The news business has always been a closed field that "embraces change and innovation when itís in crisis," says the former editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com. He also says the walls are coming down.

Few people have had the kind of career Merrill Brown has at the intersection of news, commerce and technology. He was a newspaper journalist for ten years, including Wall Street correspondent for the Washington Post. I met him in the 1980s, when he was editor of Channels, a magazine about television. Steven Brill later hired him to help create Court TV, where he was a senior VP. After consulting gigs with Time, NBC, US West and others, he was named the first editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com, when that operation got off the ground. Last year he moved to RealNetworks as a senior executive in charge of online content. (He left that job recently.)

That’s a lot of angles covered. Not only has Brown done journalism at a high level, been a boss of journalists, and built big news operations from zero; he gets paid to think about the news industry along the value chain: from extraction, through processing, to packaging, marketing and distribution. That’s why I wanted to interview him; he just knows a lot. He also published some of my first pieces of criticism in a real magazine. Here’s our exchange. (Fair warning: it’s around 2,00 words.) :

PressThink: Five years ago, I found you saying this: “Salon’s efforts at real original journalism are to be lauded although fundamentally I think they’re merely using the Web to create a publication, rather than pushing Web journalism forward in dramatic ways.” Thinking backwards in Net time, what did you mean, in 1998, when you spoke of “pushing” Web journalism forward, fundamentally?

Merrill Brown: I donít want to come across as critical of Salon or any of the other credible Internet publications, but at the time I was referring to new formats, storytelling techniques, applications, and creative use of multimedia. Their view for the most part has been to use the platform of the Internet to publish timely, provocative journalism. To be sure, they use email and other alert features, encourage community, do real time coverage when feasible and use other techniques that use the Webís unique capabilities in worthwhile ways.

My view however is that at that time and today weíre in a reinvention process, a process of creating new forms of journalism that will engage and inform the web audience. Itís worth acknowledging that when print publications move into video and audio production and when television news organizations produce great print stories for the web, what weíre seeing are expanding horizons for journalism. And when news organizations, writers, bloggers and others utilize inventive applications weíre breaking new ground.

PressThink: That was five years ago. A lot has happened since then. Was web journalism pushed forward in the dramatic ways you spoke of then? Are the fundamentals different? Has realization dawned?

Merrill Brown: Thereís some great work underway in 2003. Itís disappointing that the so many journalism organizations felt they had to cut back post-bubble but at the same time some are still quite expansive. But this is a slow evolutionary process. If you think back to the first five to ten years of TV news youíll recognize slow, steady development of that medium. If you look at this one in 1995-96 and assess it today, there have been many important developments more original, thoughtful coverage, more multimedia, better, more user friendly sites, more large news organizations making their journalists available for Web work, increasing round the clock updates, far better design, and increasing, smart use of interactive applications.

PressThink: You mentioned breaking new ground, expanding horizons for journalism, and reinvention. It seems to me this puts intellectual pressure on journalists and their employers. Of course there are many other pressures—big, real and here now—but this one interests me. First, you have to get smarter about technology, and “become multi-media” in your skills, but that’s relatively straightforward. There’s another part that involves opening your mind to forms of journalism that don’t work like the old forms, with the weblog as a leading example.

Merrill Brown: I have no doubt that the journalism community is assessing and now finally embracing weblogs in interesting ways. While thereís conflict about the role of editing and about separating reporting from opinion, thereís certainly progress. To be sure, itís taken some time. But thatís just one example. I also donít think use of technology is quite so ďstraightforward.Ē The relationship of video to text and how newspaper reporters, for instance, use video and audio to tell their stories is a complex matter. And itís not so simple to learn what flash and other tools can do to enhance storytelling and engage readers and viewers.

PressThink: I stand corrected. It is not a straightforward matter to learn what technology can do for storytelling. Which brings up newsroom learning and the staff’s intellectual capital. Journalism the American way presents some major hazards for the worker’s mind. Newsrooms have never known as good learning environments. They’re too busy! Professional development and training have never been priorities in the news business. This is strange because human capital is increasingly important there, as it is everywhere in the knowledge fields.

How much R and D money goes into the journalism itself, as against the technology for delivering it or marketing of the product? Very little. There is no question that journalists have gotten smarter since Walter Lippmann died in 1974. They have better tools, better educations, better SAT scores. But is journalism, the general practice of it, that much smarter? Certainly if we took local television news in the Los Angeles market and examined it, we would say, no, the news is dumber than ever, but it costs more to make.

Is journalism as a profession ready to open itself to ideas coming at it from the new horizon? Is it open to the people who are not journalists and who suddenly have more information power? Does journalism value its own intellectual capital? You’ve been in executive positions in various news environments, you must have worried about some of these things… so what do you think?

Merrill Brown: Surely important issues. Iím on a number of boards that deal with journalism education and in particular with mid-career education. And the issues revolving around employers and their commitment to this critical priority often produces lots of frustration. But there are many newsroom managements that are committed to education and to creating new opportunities for their teams.

But neither of us can precisely quantify how much good journalism is produced today versus some other period of time. My point of view is that consumers have access to more good journalism than they ever have because of satellites and the Internet. If youíre interested in economics or the Middle East or films or sports and you canít find quality work youíre a lazy news consumer. Newspapers, TV and radio networks, original Internet sites, blogs, news portals, columnist sites and more all provide global, generally free access to an enormous amount of journalism. I read the next days papers in London at dinnertime, Pacific Time. One can listen from anywhere to all news radio from a host of markets.

In terms of new ideas, what news organizations arenít using software, new media forms, wireless services and other innovations more and more every day? Just imagine how much technology innovation is going on in newsrooms today in terms of publishing tools and application development.

Some of whatís going on would have been inconceivable a decade ago. Itís important to point out that newspapers today produce video and audio, expanding staffs to do and offering cross training. Broadcast and cable news organizations are in effect in the print business through their creation and distribution of text stories on the web. You donít often think of NBC or CNN in the print business. They are. And, itís a good thing. Many but not all newspapers and television networks break stories 24 hours a day on the Internet.

Nonetheless, itís enormously frustrating that these changes take time, often too long. Itís taken years for national and regional newspapers to tiptoe into 24 hour a day updates. But increasingly news organizations are embracing outside thinking and ideas. It is historically a closed field that generally embraces change and innovation when itís in crisis and even then only from within the ranks of the industry. But todayís competitive realities, revenue challenges and new distribution opportunities are bringing down old walls.

PressThink: That’s a key point. Even in crisis, the field looks within. My last question is about audience empowerment, but it’s more of a rant I’d like you to react to. Tools and technologies that were once so capital intensive only media companies could afford them are now within practical reach of the people formerly known as “the audience.” Look what file-sharing has done to the music business: chaos. There, the industry is in the position of restraining new technology via legal challenge while the audience pushes forward with what’s now possible.

Everywhere we look we see something at least similar. Cheap digital cameras and desktop editing systems are pushing the entry costs way down in TV production, and the Web is there as a potential distributor. The weblog is like a personal news magazine, available to anyone who wants one, and the potential audience is worldwide. While journalists and news companies try to get their minds around multi-media and “convergence,” typically they are still thinking of the people at home as consumers, who, it is universally acknowledged, have a far wider range of choices.

But the radically new thing is that the people at home can be producers of content. This seems to me a different puzzle, and trickier. You could have your eye on new competitors in the industry, and overlook entirely that the industry itself has competitors: the great volunteer army of content providers emerging on the Web. You can tell yourself, “there will always be a need for trained gatekeepers, and that’s us.” But this could be complacency on a cosmic scale. True, gatekeepers are needed in an age of instant information abundance. That doesn’t meant people will want you swinging the gates, especially if you’re still seeing them as “consumers,” like in the previous age of media. You could remain head gatekeeper at a news park that no one visits any longer because a better one opened up. It’s possible.

You, I think, are more optimistic than I am about the news business learning to see the world differently. Can it adapt to technology? Yes, and it will become multi-media as a matter of course. But when the tools you once commanded are down at Radio Shack, that isn’t about adapting or adopting. That’s an overturning. Do I exaggerate? What am I overlooking? And how do you assess this side of “new” media?

Merrill Brown: Youíre exaggerating a bit, yes. I donít believe the fundamentals of journalists reporting the news from City Hall, world capitals, combat zones and ballparks is going to be replaced by a new form of fact gathering. Experience, resources, and access will continue to have value. That said, what those reporters do with the facts and how theyíre presented will change. And how that reporting is processed and ultimately supplemented, analyzed, corrected, challenged, and shared is changing very rapidly.

Low cost cameras, cell phone camera capabilities and the like are bringing an enormous amount of content into the news flow. A robust public Internet exists today to bring that content as well as blogs and other news material directly to the public without requiring intermediaries and without the historic distribution systems and costs which previously bottlenecked information sharing. There are today many voices in a position to be talking about city council meetings or congressional debate with the news coverage just the starting point. To be sure, more coverage, more debate, more multimedia.

I will continue to believe that the empowerment that will accompany all that new content and discourse will reinvigorate both media and democracy. Nevertheless, the creative process of producing a two minute video story for television, or of writing a comprehensive 800 word news story creates real value for consumers. That work wonít simply disappear into a maze of sites or networks.

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 29, 2003 9:11 AM   Print

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