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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 24, 2003

No, Media Bias Is Not a Dumb Debate, Says Bias Hunter

Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, decided to answer my six questions. Hmmm.

Comments on Graham’s responses? You know what to do.

1.) If you walk up to a journalist with: “did you know you’re biased?” by far the most likely response from that person will be: actually, you’re saying that because you’re biased. Does that strike you as a sensible conversation, worth continuing?

Tim Graham: Yes. As you state, objectivity is a method, not an innate human quality. We often have to explain that we are well aware of our biases, but that does not disqualify us from the bias debate. We are ombudsmen for the conservative movement, trying to make our case to receptive, fairness-seeking journalists and citizens as well as to our “base.”

PressThink: 2.) If, aware of this response, you decide you need evidence, and so produce the many cases of bias you and cohort have found, then you ought to be aware that people who disagree entirely with your point of view—opponents, let’s call them—are doing the same thing, piling up cases, so that your cases can be piled next to their cases, and both piles can be shoved at news providers. The truth is in there somewhere. Maybe. But does it seem likely to you that it will be found and feared?

Tim Graham: Yes. It would be easy to dismiss all these studies as contradictory and pointless. But if you crawl into a series of them, you can see the differing methodologies and perhaps grant points to both sides. FAIR says too many generals in the soup. MRC refines by asking what did the generals actually say? Did they agree on everything? What if the general runs for president on the Democratic side? Both can be right. FAIR hates the media describing U.S. forces as “our” side. MRC hates the media accepting the enemy’s claims (of civilian casualties or whatever) and both are right, and whether you think these tactics matter depends on your POV.

PressThink: 3.) Forgetting about all that, suppose you succeed in showing that here, on a key issue we care about, the media was very clearly biased, not once or twice, but in a broad and persistent pattern, which you have documented so well we must grant the claim: yes, there is bias in the media and it’s getting bad. Would you then be able to tell me what kind of bias is good?

Tim Graham: Good question. The soft spot for any ideological media critic is to ask this. Favoring conservatives would be great for America, Mr. Rosen! Would I complain about that? No, I’d leave that to FAIR. But I would grant a point to FAIR if there were a conservative bias (as in yes, they did say “our” troops, Naureckas.) Our role is to raise questions and examples of liberal bias as the news cycle unfolds.

PressThink: 4.) Permit me to answer for you. Chances are you won’t tell me what kind of media bias is good for journalists to show— even though there’s nothing to stop you from speculating about it. Instead, you will prefer something like, “give me journalists who will give me the news, tell me the truth, without all that spin.” Which is exactly what most journalists want and claim to be doing, albeit imperfectly. They claim to be reporting objectively, without fear or favor, fighting the spin with facts they can verify. Is it interesting to you, is it at all relevant, that you both want the same thing?

Tim Graham: I believe that some journalists want to be fair. I also believe that some journalists know what fairness is and reject it in favor of bias for the “good” cause — electing Clinton, preserving abortion, what have you. When Peter Jennings describes Republicans in a promo as preparing “the worst attack on the environment in 25 years,” he’s not being scrupulous. He’s making a campaign ad.

PressThink: 5.) “Ha!” you are likely to say. (Or someone you know says it.) “Their objectivity is a myth, no one can be completely objective, least of all these guys.” You have the pile of studies to show it. Or someone does. But wait: now you have just admitted that what you wanted two sentences ago, “the news without all that spin,” is, in fact, impossible. Objectivity is a myth, you recall that. Don’t these attitudes—wanting from journalists what is also impossible for journalists—seem somehow confused or least unfair?

Tim Graham: I’d like more of that objective method, more of that earnest attempt at offering both sides what they believe are their most important, well-articulated points. You don’t do that by casting the pro-life movement as “creeping to the edge of bloody fanaticism,” Jane Pauley.

PressThink: 6.) Liberal spin. Corporate spin. Texas spin. Zionist spin. Republican spin. Hollywood spin. American spin. Anti-American spin. We want it out, out, out. Spin, that’s bad. But critics smart enough to detect spin are smart enough to see—and in fact, they do see—that claiming, “they’re spinning!” has itself become a form of spin, a popular one, which would seem to throw spin detection, never a clear cut thing, into total incoherence. Does that bother you, or is it only my spin?

Tim Graham: By now, merely every political argument can be dismissed as a “spin.” But “spin” to me (and to most) is a term people use to describe something meant to persuade that’s a little short on the honesty meter. Media critics can be portrayed as “spin” artists by that definition. (I complained about undercovered Clinton scandals and now complain about overcovered Bush scandals, if we want to skim the surface.) Our job is to point out when “spin” is deployed against our leaders and ideas — how the homeless vanish in Democratic administrations and reappear for the GOP, for example. Raising the idea of media critic “spin” is like raising my biases — you can start a discussion with it, but the argument ought to be over analyzing the content.

Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate, part one (Questions for bias critics)
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate, part two (My Answers)
Has Media Bias Become a Dumb Debate? A Man of the Left Responds (Brian Dominick)

And the comments sections at those posts.

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 24, 2003 6:15 PM   Print


Tim Graham: "It would be easy to dismiss all these studies as contradictory and pointless. But if you crawl into a series of them, you can see the differing methodologies and perhaps grant points to both sides."

This work has been done and is ongoing. But I suspect MRC and FAIR don't like the results because they argue that there is no ubiquitous, or uniform, political bias in the news media. Actual scholarly analysis demonstrates that there are structural biases to the practice of journalism that tell us far more than claims of political bias ever will or ever can.

How it is: Assertions of political bias are not predictive of journalistic behavior; assertions of structural bias are predictive of journalistic behavior.

Posted by: acline at October 24, 2003 9:44 PM | Permalink

Of course Graham would say looking at media bias is not a waste of time because that is his job and his group depends on him believing that it is a very important evaluation to get out there to the idea marketplace. By saying that, I am not dismissing him. I am making the point that it's part of his role. Which doesn't diminish or dismiss his views, just puts them into context. His is as valuable a voice as any other evaluation method result to better see the content and voice of news and information media.

Looking at any aspect of media coverage is useful, if it leads to better understanding of ideas, positions, facts and opinions. Looking at bias is important, but it is no more important than say, looking at the technical and social frames people see through, looking at the metaphors they use to convey information (see Lakoff), or their sources, or for that matter their use of language, myths and who they believe their audience is.

Becoming more informed about the news itself (going meta) is important, but using any of these evaluative tools to dismiss or discontinue a voice's relevance is maybe the more important issue, leading to the question, how do you get good information, understand its value, and make it useful and part of the greater debate? I want to make a high signal to noise ratio, and so I need to evaluate the voices, the outlets, the sources quoted, the metaphors... and all those other aspects of the information I listed above (plus some others I'm sure that I forgot but that some other blogger or commenter will add to the list...) in order to get the different contexts the information and news sits within. The evaluative tools including bias-understanding are necessary, but then I would say you might consider evaluating in this forum all those other tools for understanding information and news media, so as not to be biased toward bias. (Smile)

Posted by: mary hodder at October 24, 2003 10:26 PM | Permalink

Here is the link to Lakoff that didn't make it into the comments above:

Posted by: mary hodder at October 24, 2003 10:43 PM | Permalink

Really good points, Mary. Ritualized criticism and reflex complaints come at you as signals but after a while can seem like noise. With all the different ways there are to examine news, why bias the inquiry toward bias? This is what I took from your post. Thanks for all your thoughtful contributions at PressThink.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 25, 2003 7:44 AM | Permalink

i think this q & a provides an excellent give and take.

media bais is a hot topic now, and easily becomes a recursive argument many levels deep. "you [do or don't] want to talk about media bias because of your media bias." etc.

i think it's great when people can step back from the recursion and talk about media bias ... dare i say objectively? ;-)

(there, i didn't mention my "side" once.)

Posted by: lefty at October 25, 2003 12:23 PM | Permalink

Here's what's wrong with this debate. Exhibit A:
Mickey Kaus' commentary on an NPR story about the Schiavo case.

I happened to have heard that NPR broadcast. Kaus argues that the story "transcended mere bias, covering the case as if the anti-death side didn't even exist, so there was no need to even try to find out what they were thinking." He then goes on to describe what he sees as the one-sidedness of the story.

The interesting part of his analysis is that he doesn't refute any of the experts that NPR interviewed for the story. In fact, the experts that NPR interviewed represent a fairly widespread consensus among the legal, bioethics, and medical community about the case. Our society has recognized that people have a right to refuse treatment to prolong life and in the abscence of evidence to the contrary, the spouse has the right to act as proxy for the patient. NPR (I'm guessing here) felt that it was important to explain to its listeners the sometimes complex system that created this outcome. The "other" side has a very simple and emotional story to tell. I've yet to meet anyone who didn't understand the feelings of the parents and the state officials. The emotional statements of the state legislators, the pleas of the parents, the videotape of Mrs. Schiavo seeming to react to external stimuli, and the pronouncements of Governor Bush got wide play in the mainstream "unbiased" press. In attempting to be fair to both sides, the press ends up favoring the simplistic, strident sound bites over a nuanced discussion of a variety of viewpoints.

There is an interesting story to tell about the effort to overturn the outcome of that consensus in this particular case, but the stories are not two equal sides of a controversy. How far to we take even-handedness? Was Katie Couric wrong to tell only Elizabeth Smart's side of her kidnapping without interviewing her kidnappers? I think not. I would like to hear her kidnappers story, but to have presented them alongside each other as "balanced" would be an enormous travesty. I want to make this perfectly clear: I am not equating Mrs. Schiavo's parents with the Elizabeth Smart's kidnappers. I am saying that the press has to make judgements about what stories they want to tell.

I want journalists to concentrate on doing a good job of telling a story. Tell each story well and ignore the cacophony of voices whining because their side got short shrift.

Posted by: John Cavnar-Johnson at October 25, 2003 4:42 PM | Permalink

acline writes, "Assertions of political bias are not predictive of journalistic behavior; assertions of structural bias are predictive of journalistic behavior."

I agree that institutional structure informs journalistic behavior, and hence news content, far more than individual political bias.

So, naturally, the following question arises: What is the structure of the American news media--i.e., the structure of the institutions producing news that reaches the largest audiences?

I think the answer is pretty obvious.

By and large, the national news media are "embedded" within large, highly profitable entertainment/information corporations. News revenue is derived primarily from advertising (about 80% for newspapers/magazines and 100% for TV). Advertisers, as many are aware, are more interested in the "quality" of the audience (location, age, gender, purchasing power) than the quality of the programming.

Given this basic structure, it tends to follow that management is of the top-down variety; and that there is substantial pressure to produce content that attracts the eyes and ears of target audiences. Not necessarily overt pressure, but a kind of understanding--which can become internalized--that certain topics and viewpoints (those that support the political/economic status quo) are more worthy than others (those that come from "unofficial sources," and/or that are sharply critical of the status quo).

I think such a structure clearly predicts journalistic behavior that is biased towards powerful, established institutions and those who manage them, whether they be politically "liberal" or "conservative"--whatever those terms mean today. Sure, individual personalities and policies may often be dealt with critically, but major institutions and underlying assumptions upon which they rest(American exceptionalism, "faith" in markets, obedience to authority, etc.) are rarely ever questioned seriously.

If anything, I think this bias is elitist and anti-democratic. It supports the notion that citizens should be spectators--except when it comes to shopping. Politically, they can "participate" by choosing from among the array of products (political candidates, referenda, etc.) produced and nominated by the various wings of the state/corporate establishment.

I tend to agree with the suggestion made in another earlier post--that if journalists are to have a bias, it ought to be a bias towards democracy. That is to say journalists should report the truth (as best as they can ascertain it) about public affairs, especially the activities of the powerful and would-be powerful, and that news outlets should encourage and help facilitate vigorous public discussion/debate on social issues.

Such a bias, it seems to me, would be more likely if media institutions were structured more democratically than they are now.

Posted by: Chris at October 25, 2003 6:07 PM | Permalink

I'm back with a second comment, based on Mickey Kaus' anger with NPR ... and the thought that some people might get angry with Mickey in turn.

Basically, go read a book:

Descartes` Error, by Antonio Damasio

Emotion, anger, reason, and belief tie together in the human species. We, as human beings, can be pretty good at rational discussion and objective analysis ... but none of us can be completely good at it. Our brains don't work that way.

It strikes me that it's good and healthy to have watchdog groups on all sides, because anything else assumes an impossible perfection.

We can't change the rules of the game. Emotion, anger, reeason, and belief tie together at the meta-levels of journalism as well. It's something we have to deal with.

Posted by: lefty at October 25, 2003 7:59 PM | Permalink

John--The NPR story quoted only those who agreed with the husband. No mention of the hubby's sleazeball actions was mentioned (and not just the knocked-up sweetie--he never spent any of the malpractice settlement for rehab, even though he swore in court that he would. He also moved her into a hospice.) NPR just took the tone that "all right-minded folks agree" and discounted the other side (the "Susie from Dubuque" line was condescending, to say the least).

YOu say the NPR had to interview only the pro-dehydration experts becasue the other side had been over-reported. That's hardly the case. The "other side" has a complex story that's not just based on tugging at the heart strings but you'd never know it by listening to NPR.

Posted by: Kate at October 26, 2003 11:53 AM | Permalink


NPR had a very complex story defending the actions of those who wanted to keep Schiavo alive. In fact, that was the only story I heard. So from my perspective, NPR was "biased" in the other direction...

The story i am referring to was a LONG interview with a woman who had been in a similar state as Schiavo. The woman said that while she was in the hospital in a sort-of "coma" that she could understand everything everyone was saying, but that she couldn't communicate back... (how frustrating!) Eventually, thanks to a thoughtful nurse who gave the woman a piece of paper and pen, the woman slowly began communicating with her doctors..

she is alive and well today, and is perfectly mentally competant.

I wish i could remember which show it was on..but it was definitely on NPR and it defiitely was in favor of Jeb Bush's actions.

Posted by: plan b at October 27, 2003 12:13 PM | Permalink

The so-called "right-wing" press like Fox News seems to have sprung up overnight to become the majority network in the last ten years. The spin on that in the rest of the media is that America is going to the right. The truth of the matter is that these people were *always* on the right, and just voted with their television-remote when they were *finally* presented with an alternative choice to the liberal bias in the rest of the media.

Posted by: Edward at October 29, 2003 8:41 PM | Permalink

From the Intro