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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 28, 2003

The Siegal Report, a Triumph of Self Reflection at the New York Times

For people interested in journalism, the Times internal investigation after Jayson Blair is not only a fascinating read, it's a serious act of self-reflection at the top. And that's rare.

(Note: for the case of the missing link, now closed, go here.)

Gerald Boyd, former Managing Editor of the New York Times and a victim of events after Jayson Blair, has been doing some public speaking lately. He is a well respected figure in the press. Before the Associated Press Managing Editors conference, he recommended that everyone read and refect on the Siegal Report, the work of an extraordinary committee headed by Assistant Managing Editor Allan M. Siegal (a newsroom fixture and, happily, an NYU grad).

The Siegal group had been handed a serious task: find out what went wrong at our newspaper, such that we suffered Jayson Blair and lost our two top editors. Good story, yes? The team had a broad mandate from the publisher and senior management, who later wrote a cover letter endorsing the report. So did Bill Keller, the new Executive Editor.

Three outsiders—accomplished and independent-minded people—joined 22 journalists who do different things at the New York Times. (Washington bureau chief, metro reporter, education editor, business columnist, head of the copy desk.) The outcome was a piece of writing, analagous to the final report of a NASA crash investigation team. Except that it was drafted by journalists with good crap detectors who know how to write. The system of controls is what crashed at the New York Times, but very quickly that subject expanded into the culture of control under executive editor Howell Raines and his managing editor, Gerald Boyd.

Amazing it was to learn that this is exactly what the Siegal Report is about—what had gone wrong in the culture of control at the Times, under Raines and crew but also further back. The stock taking in the document goes beyond Blair and Raines to the history of newsroom management by a group of top editors known inside the building as The Masthead. (And The Masthead would be a fit title for the movie, if the report were ever filmed.)

The various teams looking at pieces of the puzzle did not back down. They said it several times: today we need different values than the ones that prevailed when Jayson Blair got his chance to ruin us. We need a different culture of control. And in particular, there are calls for truth, justice and democracy in the document.

Truth? They call for that? Yes, because among other things the report speaks of deceptive practices in the use of datelines and bylines that were tantamount to lying to readers, or close enough. “Our use of bylines and datelines is inconsistent and occasionally dissembling,” the report flatly states.

Justice? Yes, because it is argued that profoundly unjust practices in the culture of control allowed a Jayson Blair to exist. And it is further charged that a monoculture prevailed in which only your contribution to tomorrow’s news edge really counted with The Masthead.

Democracy? Yes, because the report has several suggestions for driving authority downward, sharing information, widening the feedback loop, protecting free speech internally, equalizing opportunity, and ending cronyism, a term that appears in the document.

All this has huge consequences for journalism at the New York Times, which also means interest everywhere. Many of the complaints voiced in the report are issues in other newsrooms— and if the Times can tackle them in public, why not the Dallas Morning News or Cape Cod Times? But even if it had no consequences and got shelved, this document would matter.

The Siegal Report has a compelling narrative, despite multiple authors giving overlapping accounts. Were I to summarze, I’d go with Masthead becomes the Kremlin, Kremlin falls, Glasnost arrives, things are never the same. In my view, that is triumph of self-reflection at the Times. And for a journalism professor, this is a document with instant historical significance, certain to be studied and written about as the years roll on.

Besides linking arguments about justice internally to excellence achieved in the news columns, the Siegal Report takes important stands in favor of openness and public accountability at America’s most powerful newspaper. Only one of these, the Public Editor (ombudsman) position, has received broad attention. (See PressThink’s view, with links.)

OKAY: so just what is in the Siegal report? Among the observations, insights and recommendations are these nine points:

The New York Times
Report of the Committee on
Safeguarding the Integrity of Our Journalism
(The Siegal Committee Report)
Released July 30, 2003

Major Points, with commentary.

1. Glasnost. At every level, the Times newsroom needs a new atmosphere of “civility, openness to dissent and appreciation of reasoned pushback from subordinates,” summarized in the document as: “speaking truth to power.’” Many Times journalists “had been afraid to speak out.” They were “intimidated by the authoritarian style of top editors” and by a culture that “discouraged and neglected candid communication.” Now it is time to “break through the silo mentality” that crept up on us. “Vigorous journalistic debate should be encouraged at all levels.”

Clearly, this had not been the case in the culture of control, the rules of which were handed on from top editors to others in The Masthead’s circle. But were these rules posted? No. Don’t argue with The Masthead because you won’t get ahead is a pretty stark lesson to go unwritten, and yet this was part of the culture too. Like the Kremlin, you had to study a series of indirect signs to know the course they were plotting.

2. Demystify Decisions. New perfomance measures and a yearly evaluation system for reporters and editors, plus more conversation between the managers and the managed, to “demystify” decision-making and “dispel a widespread sense of favoritism and cronyism.”

The Public Editor position (the case against which had held for over 30 years at the Times) is a demystifier-in-chief, with a lot of freedom to explain things… if they have a good explanation. Thus, demystifying and increased accountability are connected, just as the shadowy sense around The Masthead’s decision-making means a loss of accountablity to leaders. This proved fatal to Raines.

3. Diversify Diversity. A recommitment to “diversity of all backgrounds and varieties,” which presumably could include ideology, class, region and other, more imaginative categories as well as race, enthnicity and gender. The report says: “The definition of ‘diversity’ should be expanded to encompass the intersection of who we are and what we do,” which is an elegant and useful idea. “Not just race, religion, age, sexuality and gender, but also subtler issues like where—or whether—people went to college, what they did before arriving at The Times, and whether they plan to have children.” Why diversify the staff and enlarge the definition of diversity itself? “Not as an expression of civic virtue,” or a righting of past wrongs, but a means for “improving our reach into the society we cover.” A diverse staff gives you a diverse reach.

4. Public Accountability. “We recommend a dramatic demonstration of our openness,” the Siegal report says. A new imperative should be known at the Times: “to become conspicuously accountable to readers and the public.” Why? “So that we may never again discover that readers, or the subjects of our coverage, did not think it worthwhile to alert us to error.” The Public Editor (ombudsman) position and another new job, Standards Editor, (Allan Siegal got that one) emerged from this recommendation. But an understanding of how the Web can deliver better accountablity—“fact check your ass,” as Jeff Jarvis likes to say—did not emerge.

I would underline—especially for non-journalists—that for journalists at the Times and elsewhere, the most shocking and damning revelation in the Blair case was not the misdeeds of a rogue reporter, or the lapses in editing and oversight. It was that ordinary people who knew of Blair’s lies “did not think it worthwhile to alert us to error,” in part because they expected the press to get it wrong. This stunned a lot of people in journalism. The implications of that are kinda staggering. On the other hand, the opportunities for insight are great too. And the future text for those insights is the Siegal report.

5. Transparency. Again and again in the report there are calls for more transparency, internally and to the public. Thus, a new Career Development Editor “should oversee a transparent, fair and consistent system for promotions and assignments.” Date and byline policies should be clear and understandable to readers. “We should show we have nothing to hide.” Senior editors have to “bring order and transparency to the Times’s often makeshift and opaque actions.”

What’s fascinating about this one is: who knows more about transparency—and its opposites—in powerful institutions, than the talented and driven reporting staff of the Times? They have a big light to shine on things. They know when things get opaque. Transparency at the Times is bringing journalism home, in a way.

6. Democratize the Newsroom. “Decision-making authority should be devolved downward” after many years of the opposite: evolving upward. Top editors “should work toward returning substantial responsibility for coverage to the desk and section heads and below.” There should be a “right to appeal” editors’ decisions.

7.) Create a Learning Culture at the Times. Among the recommended measures: refresher courses in ethics, media law updates, more in-house skills training, a mentoring program, and send more people to professional development centers like the Poynter Institute.

It’s hard to grasp this demand unless we understand what the Siegal report means in labeling the Times “a destination paper.” Once you have made it to W. 43rd Street, you cannot go any higher in journalism. It’s a short step from “cannot go any higher” in journalism to: need not learn any more about journalism. After all, you have completed your journey and arrived at the summit, the New York Times. You must know your stuff. So for the Siegal report to endorse a learning culture is a major change in professional psychology.

The report admits this: “The Times has not placed a premium on training. Those who want it say they receive little recognition for it and fear being perceived as less than capable for being asked.” It notes the perception among the staff that “training is remedial,” which, it says, should not be the case. How it came to be the case is somewhere in that phrase, a “destination” newspaper. But then we also have to marvel at the sight of knowledge workers (journalists are prime examples of that) who somehow think that adding to their intellectual capital is… remedial. Newsroom culture taught them so. Seems to me there is a Harvard Business School case study in that or a very long hmmmm for Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.

8.) Rein in Anonymous Sources. The Siegal report found that key editors were following different rules about proper use of confidential sources. But no one could say where the rules came from. It turned out they really didn’t exist. There was no well codified Times policy, just the claim to be following one. “Anonymous pejorative quotations should never appear, but they do.” The same holds for “anonymous flattery.” (Here is David Shaw of the LA Times, writing this week on too many unnamed sources as a ripe problem in journalism.)

9.) Come On, Treat Your People With More Dignity. The upheaval at the Times exposed the bitterness among journalists who felt their true contributions had been ignored or they themselves had been “put out to pasture.” The culture of favoritism and the cult of toughness combined to create a feeling that if you had a life outside the news cycle you were not a real journalist. “Being on call 24/7 does not mean working all the time,” the report states. “The best journalism is practiced by people who do other things.” You cannot ramp up if you’re on overdrive all the time. Journalists who have family responsibilties should not be seen as less committed if they can’t drop everything and rush to the latest story. In between the lines this is a family values brief.

Have commentary on points 1-9? Hit the Comments button.

I wrote a big picture piece in Columbia Journalism Review about the “changing terms of authority” in journalism today, taking the Siegal report as one text and this weblog as another.

See this illuminating interview with Allan Siegal about the report.

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 28, 2003 6:36 PM   Print


Jay --

Why not put the pdf of the Siegal Report here and encourage people to spread the new link? (I still have the pdf if you didn't keep a copy.)At least it would pop up whenever someone searched for the report. I think that would be a very valid use of an edu site.


Posted by: Staci Kramer at October 28, 2003 7:48 PM | Permalink

My copyright sources tell me that's not kosher, and I want to be cautious. I have the pdf too, though. Thanks, Staci.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 28, 2003 8:15 PM | Permalink

It *is* conceivable -- though I admit less so as more time elapses since your complaint surfaced on Romenesko -- that the file's disappearance is simply a matter of some dumb file-system cleanup or sysadmin error or the like. Speaking from my own experiences as manager of a big site, I will always default to an assumption of "goof" before I assume some sort of institutional intent or malice. If that's right, of course, then the Times will promptly and gladly repost the file -- as soon as the message makes its way into the newsroom. (Ironically, of course, one of the big issues in the Siegal Report is the isolation of the newsroom from its readers...)

Posted by: Scott Rosenberg at October 28, 2003 8:22 PM | Permalink

Precisely, Scott. But doesn't the spokesman's comment say they took it down to keep the corporate site fresh?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 28, 2003 8:54 PM | Permalink

Yeah. But it still could've been a goof that they are too embarrassed to admit as such and are now covering up with the (dubious) excuse of "freshening the site." (Is that a spritz of cologne I hear?)

In any case plainly they should just put the darn thing back up -- if only to demonstrate that they've digested the basic lesson of Don't Break Links.

Posted by: Scott Rosenberg at October 29, 2003 1:05 AM | Permalink

If only that were enough to prove that they understood about broken links. Way to go on the public advocacy. Too bad this isn't like Diebold: This issue over copyright is so ridiculous. Fair use for educational purposes is allowed (you are on the server after all... kind of like the Gallery of CSS descramblers at CMU: ). But I can understand that you want to keep good relations with your colleagues at the NYTimes, and get them to repost it themselves, which would be the right thing for them to do. Plus they might learn something about digital media, the internet, and the persistence of information. References to Jayson Blair will be up on the internet forever. Why not the report?

Posted by: mary hodder at October 29, 2003 3:05 AM | Permalink

Freshening the site. What about paper of record. Maybe the Times is having money trouble and needed the 2 megs of space that the PDF would occupy.Who at the Times will send a copy? Thanks.

Posted by: Jim Eggensperger at October 29, 2003 9:22 AM | Permalink

Why didn't you just send a note to the Times asking about it before you posted your bloated conspiracy theory blog entry?

Posted by: Bob McGuire at October 29, 2003 8:35 PM | Permalink

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