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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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October 1, 2003

PressThink Review: Front Line Voices Hands Over the Mike

A new site gathers first person accounts from the American military who have served in Iraq. Great Idea. One day old. So what are they thinking?

Front Line Voices, a new site that had its debut today, will publish verified first-hand reports from the front lines of Iraq, written exclusively by soldiers.

This is a very good idea. (Background.) And its aim is true: corrective for press accounts that are skewed, half-reported or radically incomplete. But can a site restricted to voices of men and women in the military provide a useful counterweight to the news?

Yes, it can. For whatever our outward positions on war and re-building, most of us know inside we have no idea what it’s like to serve in the military and, say, occupy someone else’s country for their benefit. Journalists can try to tell us. But when soliders are willing to tell us, we have every reason to tune in, adjust our sense of the real, and redraw the map in our heads. A witness is always a corrective to what we’ve heard.

The site’s concept is admirably simple: First hand accounts, all military. Open to submissions. Verified by the site’s editors. Honest, real, unfiltered except for typos. What free-thinking citizen wouldn’t want that? What right thinking Web person wouldn’t say bravo? Front Line Voices, you have my support. What you are doing is important. Don’t blow it. However, I have read your introduction, and in the spirit of friendly criticism offer a reply, knowing of course that you’re just getting started— pouring the concrete, as it were. Intro says (so far):

Since, as the saying goes, perception is nine-tenths of reality, those who control what we learn about the war in Iraq and other conflicts have an immense power. They can spin a victory into a failure, and a perceived failure in the fight against tyranny can only strengthen the resolve of tyrants.

It has increasingly been the complaint of many troops that the picture that the media is painting of the progress in the War on Terror is far from reality. The mission of this site is to get out the full story by posting first-hand accounts as written by men and women who have actually been to Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no editing or commentary by those who run this site, and we will print any letter or story submitted by a legitimate source who has served overseas. Our only goal is to offer you the opportunity to read these stories and to find out what the reality is.

1. Point out the people who believe this creepy saying: 90 percent of reality is perception. I am not one. Are you? It’s the first idea in your introduction, but I doubt you believe it. That 90 percent of what’s happening on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan—the hard reality of it—is a matter of our perception, and not, say, the matter of real aching hearts and real flying bullets and real changes in a liberated people? Perception you vote for, as nine tenths of the real? It is a common saying. Also a dumb saying; and anyway, Front Line Voices is supposed to be a reality check. If you’re a reality check, it’s better to insist on a hard reality out there, rather than the soft primacy of manipulated perception.

2. “Those who control what we learn about the war in Iraq and other conflicts have an immense power.” Okay. But isn’t the premise of Front Line Voices that no such control exists? The media power won’t have the power to themselves if we can create and popularize intelligent, eyewitness sites like Front Line Voices, so let’s make it happen, people. Right? Maybe I am not your market. But I don’t bookmark you because the news media controls what we learn about the war’s aftermath. I bookmark you because I know the opposite to be true. No one controls what we learn if we know where to look and link. That’s the genius of the Internet, the public tool you’re working with.

3. So junk the first paragraph, it’s hostile to what you’re doing. Keep the second— it’s clear, factual, sincere. Where it says the mission of this site is to get out the full story… change to the mission of this site is to get out a fuller story. It’s nonhostile, and what does it cost you? Only the illusion that there’s ever the full story gotten out. Keep in mind if you’re good at this, some of the most clued-in readers of your site may be journalists.

4. I have a suggestion for you about how you got certain ideas that defeat the premise of your site (Points 1 and 2.) Perhaps you got them from what your champion Glen Reynolds calls Big Media, or from journalists who work in it. Here’s a sample I have written about in PressThink, an offhand comment from Richard S. Dunham of Business Week: “Still, in politics, perception is reality, and the public remains convinced that Bush is rooted deeply in the political center.” (Need more quotes like this, ask.) Now why is it in the interests of certain self-inflated or absent-mined journalists to inform us that 90 percent of reality is… aha, just perception? Because it makes them deathly important! Suppose a lawyer informs you that 90 percent of succeeding in anything is knowing the law. If you agree, you really need that lawyer or one like him.

5. The undercurrent of Big Media and its Awful, Choking Power Over Us gives your enterprise a false kick at the start. From what I can see, Front Lines was built by free citizens, in full command of their public senses— not by Prisoners of Rather. So the power of television to control our perception, of journlists to spin us around til confusion reigns, must be coercing other Americans, in other zip codes. Well, who are they? How you picture these media-fed others counts. If it’s something like, “the busy masses out there, who watch Jennings and Rather and CNN and think they have the news,” which is my guess, then please be careful. Raymond Williams is the author of one of this site’s mantras (right column): “There are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.” Tyrants, they see people as masses and successfully so. Don’t posit the existence of media victims if you’re the media’s critics. Victims won’t read your site; free thinking citizens might. Some will be left, but some will be…

6. I applaud Front Line Voices, because it is a serious, volunteer effort to enrich information with witness testimony (a key method of the human rights movement.) Let facts on the margin come to the middle. Yes. This we want. But if the founders plan to publish “first-hand accounts as written by men and women who have actually been to Iraq and Afghanistan,” they ought to remember that this description includes a great many journalists who have actually been there too, embedded or not but working in a dangerous place. If the issue is sacrifice, journalists in Iraq have their dead.

7. The moral authority of the witness—also a premise of the Voices site—is closely related to the moral authority of the correspondent on scene, mike in hand, deputized by the public as its eyes and ears. Compelling first hand accounts that tell us what’s going on elsewhere are a close cousin to journalism, which is why one of Front Line’s key concerns has to be verification of identity. Properly so. Journalism 101 is get the names right. Should we publish this great letter we got if we’re not sure who it’s from? That’s Journalism 201. Editors, don’t assume an antagonism with the press. You’re a corrective to the press, a different filter, and a great many journalists would say “we need that.”

They’re right. Your aim is true. I hope the site works.

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 1, 2003 11:35 PM   Print


Thanks so much for both the critique and the encouragement. Visit often!


Posted by: Matt at October 2, 2003 11:10 AM | Permalink

Thanks for the criticism and I'll take it to heart. I want to make the site as apolitical as possible, but, at the same time, I didn't want to be dishonest about how there is an agenda behind the site (fighting the spin that the war in Iraq in a total failure). I'll rethink that first paragraph, though.

Posted by: Frank J. Fleming at October 2, 2003 11:52 AM | Permalink

Frank: Okay, so you didn't want to be dishonest about the origins of the site and say, "no agenda here," we're value free, nothing motivates us but our disinterested concern for truth, etc. Makes sense. It's the way you stated your agenda that doesn't-- in my view. But what counts is yours. One distinction that you may want to use is between the agenda or purpose of the site, and the critique that motivated you and colleagues to start it.

Matt: Good luck.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 2, 2003 4:50 PM | Permalink

So what you're saying is, it's all about how you perceive the first paragraph...

Posted by: the_brick at October 2, 2003 9:29 PM | Permalink

Excellent critical feedback!

Perceived as rational, positive and worthy of consideration and implementation...

And concur yr analysis re: Agendas...
It may well be that FrankJ HAS an agenda (show that much good is being done in Iraq, by Allied troops) in which case its better to explicitly state that, rather than put up a position supposing that, "We're only here for balanced reporting..."

Twas MY understanding that the whole site was created to COUNTER reapeated negative, slanted, biased or incomplete reports from WHOEVER... reports which reached media outlets and have been disseminated into the public consciousness...

Posted by: Sharpshooter at October 2, 2003 10:20 PM | Permalink

Yep, he's right. Nuke the first paragraph. It does sound a little too like we're "media victims." Except I will truly miss the word tyrant.

The term "reality check" is excellent for this project. Remember that for your talking points, Frank.

I can vouch for this statement completely: From what I can see, Front Lines was built by free citizens, in full command of their public senses— not by Prisoners of Rather. Yes!

Thank you Jay Rosen, whoever you are, for taking the time and effort to write such a careful review. You're a sharp analyst and a thoughtful cheerleader.

Posted by: SallyVee at October 2, 2003 11:30 PM | Permalink

Thanks Jay. Good advice.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at October 3, 2003 3:16 AM | Permalink

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