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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 30, 2003

It's Opinion. No, it's News. No, Mr. Jones, it's a Weblog

A passing sentence in a New York Times article, slowed way down, shows how weblogs are currently confounding press think.

Here’s the most intriguing sentence from Michael Falcone’s generally fine summary of the Sacramento Bee case in the New York Times. He’s writing about the big buzz generated when the Bee decided to edit previously unedited blogger Dan Weintraub. He mentions and its list of journalists who maintain weblogs:

While many of the blogs on Mr. Dube’s list are written by opinion journalists, who are accustomed to writing commentary without concern about objectivity, others are produced by reporters, who are professionally bound to avoid taking sides.

Press think comes in concentrated and more diluted forms. Both interest me. Falcone’s sentence is in the compacted category: lots going on. Unpacked, we find first there are a lot of weblogs written by opinion journalists. Then we learn these dealers in opinion aren’t so concerned about objectivity because…their thing is opinion. Heading into the contrast section, we learn that other, different weblogs are authored by reporters, people who definitionally speaking are not opinion journalists.

Coming out of CONTRAST into POINT, we find things elegantly phrased. Reporters are “professionally bound” (strong image) by conduct codes, and one of these is that they must not take sides. POINT connects nicely back to ISSUE: will reporters’ weblogs violate the paper’s objectivity and the journalist’s code of neutrality? Not bad for 37 words. And if you read it quickly, it flows well and makes sense, fitting with a faint click into our fixed sense of how things line up in journalism. Opinion. News. Objectivity. Credibility. Not taking sides.

Slowed down, there are some problems:

Daniel Weintraub’s California Insider, the case at hand for Falcone, is a weblog written by an experienced political reporter. And the man who writes it sometimes presents his opinions. He has an opinion on Bustamante one day. Another day it’s an opinion on Arnold’s ways and means. Opinion on McClintock. Opinion about Arianna Huffington (who just quit the race.)

Most of his blog, however, is information of high currency. When Weintraub deals in opinion it is a certain kind, which I would call learned and others might say is well informed. He’s worth bookmarking because he knows about California politics, and like any good reporter in a state capital, he’s plugged in. Michael Falcone, of the Times San Francisco bureau, is a smart journalist too (I have talked to him by phone)— smart enough to figure out that the only reason anyone cares about Weintraub’s “take” on things is that he really knows politics, issues and the players in the Golden State, and passes along good stuff.

But right there our sentence, slowed, strikes a rock, because the news/opinion distinction, on which all logic depends, is just a special case of the knowledge/opinion distinction, (the problems in which go back to Plato) and we have just seen how the cool thing about Weintraub’s weblog is that it overrides and overcomes this distinction, bypassing it to generate authority another way. So what are we doing in a language that doesn’t apply to the case at hand, in an article about that case in the New York Times?

Fast answer: doesn’t fit case, does fit press think. So it goes by. Click.

Yet there’s more. Opinion weblogs don’t have to be objective and typically aren’t, Falcone tells us. Well, is the Insider an opinion weblog? Let’s say it is, even though that makes scant sense. After all, there’s gobs of objective information in there: poll results with nuanced analysis, explanations of how state government works, policy debate details for those just catching up… plus latest news.

And even though he shares opinions and draws conclusions about all the major players, thus disqualifying himself for “objective” status, Weintraub also avoids taking sides in his journalism about the recall contest, because he wants the freedom to spread opinion—good or bad—over all who deserve it or provoke him. This not taking sides re-qualifies him for the objective status he just lost for having opinions a moment ago.

So what’s going on here? Confusion is settling over the terms of authority in journalism, (I wrote about this in the current CJR) because the weblog’s more personal and immediate style is, in successful cases like the Insider, generating authority from a wholly different set of instructions. Information intimacy seems to be at work. This does not make sense at all in the moral universe of information vs. opinion. And I haven’t even gotten to argument by link yet.

Maybe things are changing faster than the words and phrases can manage with. It’s hard in standard press think even to talk about any dynamic interplay betwen news and opinion (plus recency and relevance)—all of which Insider has going for it—without seeing opinion as the potential contaminant of the weblog’s news. But is that really so?

It’s one of those switches in press circuitry that can’t easily be turned off. But sometimes you hear that little… click.

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 30, 2003 3:39 PM   Print

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