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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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October 23, 2003

"Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds."

Weblogging is an inconclusive act-- which is different from having no conclusions or firm conclusions.

Doc Searls said something important in his weblog the other day. He spoke of three approaches:

One is the “cool” approach of traditional journalism… One is the “hot” approach of talk radio, which has since expanded to TV sports networks and now Fox TV. The third is the engaged approach of weblogging. What we’re doing here may be partisan in many cases, but it is also inconclusive.

“Partisan but also inconclusive.” What does that mean? I think he’s saying that the writings of the best webloggers are animated by their opinions, but not automated by them. Is this because webloggers are smarter, holier, cooler than others in the chattering classes? Alas, no. It’s only because they’re writers using a nimble modern tool, the weblog, the way it apparently wants to be used. They favor a style of expression—social scientists call it opinion formation—that is interactive with other weblogs and other things on the Web.

Doc calls it the engaged approach. One could propose a rule: when you wish to speak here, you do it by commenting on something else. Then you go get the something else and show it to us. If we want to “check” your interpretation with references, we will. This system of checks (and balances) is strong. It can withstand partisanship. But it remains nimbler.

So while a good weblogger is constantly engaged with opinion, Doc says: don’t get married. Wedded to your views, that is. Because the next link can not only change your mind, it can add wiring, add memory. Which then forces you to restate your views to see if they survive the new understanding. This is how good weblogs work. For the writers, for the readers, “blogging is about making and changing minds.”

Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they’re opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out, re-building it around new stuff. Come to some conclusions? Put them in your weblog, man, but just remember: it doesn’t want to conclude.

People trying to explain their attraction to the weblog form say it’s conversational, two way, personal, a medium for the individual voice— plus interactive with our untold wealth in information, and fun. All true. Doc adds something: weblogging is an inconclusive act— and that’s attractive, part of the fun.

The cool, neutral, professional style in journalism says: get both sides and decide for yourself. The hotter, more partisan press says: Decide for yourself—which side?—then go get information. The weblog doesn’t want to be either of these, but it checks and it balances both.

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 23, 2003 12:55 AM   Print


This is a savvy, insightful blog entry! I loved the idea of forming and "unforming" opinions. Crucial to the idea of unforming opinions, however, is the dialectical nature of the blog -- either through comments, e-mail, or discussion boards. Good blogs are like extended, community conversations. I've seen some bad blogging, though, in the sense that some blogs shut down conversations and opinions if they don't fit with the views of the blogger. To those bloggers, I say "Boooooo!"

Posted by: Academy Girl at October 23, 2003 9:20 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Academy. Bloggers who "shut down" like that are, according to Searls, using the weblog the wrong way. They're putting instant coffee in the mircowave, and pushing ON. The machine obeys, but the results are poor.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 23, 2003 11:23 PM | Permalink

I think we're coming to the point where there are ethics associated with blogging, but instead of a court we have the readers. If the readers notice that a blogger is 'behaving badly', why worry about them?

We all screw up. It's how we handle the screw-ups that determines whether we're good bloggers or not.

Posted by: Taran at October 24, 2003 9:30 AM | Permalink

I think that this essay by Hubert Dreyfus, Kierkegaard on the Internet: Anonymity vrs. Commitment in the Present Age, might offer something to this conversation. He writes:

Such a light hearted leap into the deeper water is typified by the net-surfer for whom information gathering has become a way of life. Such a surfer is curious about everything and ready to spend every free moment visiting the latest hot spots on the Web. He or she enjoys the sheer range of possibilities. Something interesting is only a click away. Commitment to a life of curiosity where information is a boundless source of enjoyment puts one in the reflective version of what Kierkegaard calls the aesthetic sphere of existence -- his anticipation of postmodernity. For such a person just visiting as many sites as possible and keeping up on the cool ones is an end in itself. The only meaningful distinction is between those sites that are interesting and those that are boring. Life consists in fighting off boredom by being a spectator at everything interesting in the universe and in communicating with everyone else so inclined. Such a life produces a self that has no defining content or continuity but is open to all possibilities and to constantly taking on new roles.

He warns that the Internet promotes a continuous cycle of gathering facts and information while working against action or commitment or risk. This might be what Theodor Adorno derided in his idea that the 'culture industry' woos the masses into submission through leisure and entertainment.'s%20Culture%20Industry.htm

I fear that blogging at its worse promotes inactivity and is nothing more substantive than water cooler banter. At its best it is engaged--meaning that it takes risk, makes commitments and acts.

Posted by: Tim Bednar at October 24, 2003 10:54 AM | Permalink

The Kierkagaardian coolth of the breaking new may be applied to minds already accustomed to information technology, but remember these are only about 1% of all computer users, according to the number of active bloggers.

The larger populace, not yet soured by the novelty, will trickle into the ongoing assembly with needs for help and advisories to best turn their good intentions into positive action. The interplay of building on ideas in these type forums helps lay down logical arguments toward achieving theses ends and allows for rounded conversations including disparate opinions. We all benefit.

Posted by: Mary at October 24, 2003 12:33 PM | Permalink

Very interesting post...thanks Jay! All this McLuhanesqe talk of "hot", "cool" makes me wonder then...if the weblog is neither as you suggest, then what is it? Lukewarm? Semicool? Or yet to be defined over time...

Agree with Taran about the ethics of blogging, addressed already in part by your list of 10 conservative things about the weblog form in journalism. Have been trying to discover the rules, principles, and ethics in my own new blogging journey, only to discover that they are themselves in flux, evolving, and to some extent, inconclusive.

Speaking of advisories for newbie bloggers, Dave Pollard has a good collection in the Blogs and Blogging section of his blog, "How to Save the World".

Posted by: Tammy Bokhari at October 24, 2003 3:03 PM | Permalink

I think you are going overboard. The only special thing about blogging is that ordinary folks can do it. Up to now we had to depend on journalists to supply information and pundits to offer their opinions. Now anybody can speak his or her mind.

Don't get me wrong. I think this is a tremendous change and bodes well for our democracy.

I don't like the idea that now there are the top 100 blogs. Tops according to whom? Another group of elites. Let's keep blogging open.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at October 25, 2003 6:16 PM | Permalink

It probably should be, but it isn't. Blogging is more about speaking out and meeting other people that agree with your narrow point of view. It's sad, but it's mostly that way.

Posted by: JJ at October 26, 2003 2:43 AM | Permalink

And if people of common interest meets, doesn't that result in more synergy for action? Weblogs and internet are extensions of the human society. It is grounded in people's action, we become distorted or feel powerless when we forget that. Don't just blog, do things with the informationa and understanding that comes out of blogging. But I admit, it is difficult to take action in the real world if I spend so many hours blogging. However, I think the most productive action that results from blogging is creating networks and connectivity which is taking us someplace else...

As a new blogger I'm interested to know more about how to not shut down a conversation on blogs.

Jay, this was a very insightful post, thanks.

Posted by: Nui T. at October 27, 2003 12:08 PM | Permalink

Tammy, I think that rather than being in between hot and cold, blogs are weather. Hot one day, cold the next. Rainy sometimes, or snowy. Cold front blowing through. A tornado. An eclipse. Aurora.

In other words, the essence of blogging is that blogs are dynamic, moving to, through, and between extremes in seventeen different dimensions.

Posted by: Dale Emery at March 29, 2004 7:26 PM | Permalink

From the Intro