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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 30, 2003

Has Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate? A Man of the Left Responds to PressThink's Questions

"Any leftist who stops to think about the matter would probably agree: the media are too liberal, indeed!" And that means a genuine left perspective is left out. Brian Dominick takes bias apart, from his side of the table.

A reader writes:

My name is Brian Dominick, and I’m an online news editor who has mostly been involved with explicitly Leftist media projects over the years, including ZNet. I am currently working on a progressive news media project called The NewStandard, which releases in December, 2003. I thought I’d take a minute to answer your questions, since it seems so far only Right Wing respondents have provided answers.

PressThink: 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?

Brian Dominick: Of course everyone is biased. Everyone has a perspective. We prioritize facts based on something. We put quotes in a certain order and allow for them to be a certain length— based on something. For that matter, we seek out quotes from various parties, instead of other various parties, based on something.

Those “somethings” are in fact bias, even if it isn’t our own, personal bias. It might be our newspaper’s bias, our editor’s bias, or it might be our journalism school’s bias. But there has to be bias, else news would present all the details, no matter how minor, about every story that ever comes across every journalist’s or editor’s desk, no matter how irrelevant or unimportant.

A journalist is first and foremost a filter— the amount of information (the amount of sources) excluded from a story always exceeds, exponentially, the amount of information/sources included in the story. The same goes for choosing what stories to cover in the first place. That determination is based on something, and that something is a bias. Or, you can call it whatever you wish (criteria, standards, etc.), but whatever that is, that’s what is meant by bias, if the term bias is to be useful to us at all.

The debate shouldn’t be about whether news media are biased, but about what the biases are, what drives them, and how they should best be exposed to the public.

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?

Brian Dominick:Whether the media are too liberal or too conservative might make for interesting debate, but I agree it is not going to prove anything, or convince anyone. Stories and specific trends should be thoroughly analyzed and exposed, but I see little value in pointing out who has more influence, and so forth.

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?

Brian Dominick: There is no objective “bad” or “good.” The problem with bias in media is not that it exists, since it is inherent. A bias that can be called “good” to one reader will be “bad” to another. Maybe I want a pro-corporate bias in the news, because I am a stockholder or an executive. Why shouldn’t I have news with that bias? At the same time, a blue collar worker might wish to see another bias in the news. If I am a Christian conservative, I will probably want to see a conservative, Christian bias in the news. Why shouldn’t I? As for those who don’t already have biases, where are these people?

The problem with bias, instead, is that it is not stated. News media should be up front about their bias, but they almost never are. All news media outlets should list their influences, be they ideological or institutional. It is probably the case that both the Leftist and Rightist critics of news media are right — and they are saying almost entirely different things. (Mind you, when I say Left I mean left of liberal. You’ll almost never hear liberals complaining about the news media because, frankly, it’s just about right for them much of the time, with the exceptions of Fox News, The New York post and AM talk radio, which pretty much no one contends are “leftist”or even liberal.)

The Left says there are institutional pressures—mostly having to do with corporate ownership and sponsorship, plus affluent audience bases in order to sell advertisements at higher premiums, etc.—that inexorably push all media in rightward direction. Leftists say the pressure is on corporate media outlets to be pro-capitalism, pro-markets and pro-profits, as well as tailored toward upper middle income brackets and above, or extremely massive popular markets below those brackets. How could they not be?

Reliant as it is on wealthy stockholders, sponsors and underwriters and their markets, how could the media be anything but generally favorable to those interests? Corporations and the government would not sponsor news media hostile to their interests — they would fire any producers or editors who did not toe a pro-corporate line in the newsroom.

Meanwhile, the Right points out that most journalists are liberals, at least socially, and that is almost certainly true. They keep much media coverage to the left of conservatism, but even if they were so inclined, their owners and sponsors keep them from pushing anywhere to the left of liberalism, which has historically proven unsafe territory for the status quo of any society. That’s why on so many stories that have only a modest effect on the corporate bottom line, such as gay rights and abortion, there is often a discernible liberal bias in the mainstream. If these stories aren’t threatening to profits and market share, let the reporters have some leeway. Throw them a bone.

This all generally maintains a liberal bias at many institutions — a bias that can be mislabeled as “leftist” and decried by the far Right — which just so happens to perfectly serve elite interests. While the media are cow-towing to corporations (largely by being corporations themselves, remember!), conservatives are making largely convincing cases to the public (and using extraordinary funding to do this), that the media are something those critics call “leftist.” By proving that the media are in fact largely liberal—as if liberal equals leftist—they convince a great many Americans that the media are too liberal, even fringe. Any leftist who stops to think about the matter would probably agree: the media are too liberal, indeed! Oddly, about half the recognized political spectrum lies to the left of liberal.

What is really strange is how this debate always boils down to the bias of journalists, which puts even decent journalists on the defensive, instead of about the bias of institutions. Corporate conglomerates, unprecedented in their massiveness and social power, are behind the news we consume every day. Yet somehow we manage to get distracted into this debate about whether the journalists themselves are biased?

There’s an 800 pound gorilla in the room with the reporter, but we focus on the reporter. Is it really conceivable that these giant corporations are leaving their public interface—their power to influence the public and write history—in the hands of the reporters at the very bottom of the hierarchy? Are we really so naive as to think corporations wouldn’t in any way take advantage of the opportunity to use such power in their own interests?

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?

Brian Dominick. Anyone who would answer question (3) that way is indeed a fool, to be sure. The bias toward “truth” is a joke. The bias toward “objectivity” and “neutrality” is laughable. Have a bias, run with it, but for god’s sake be open about it! Say, “We are sponsored by this, this, this and that corporation. If we (1) upset them or hurt their profits or (2) stop providing them a marketable audience with disposable income, our own profits will be affected and our stockholders will let us know in no uncertain terms. Additionally, our parent company owns the following companies. Those companies are affected by public opinion regarding the following stories, most of which we won’t tell you unless they favor our sister company, and thus our collective profit margin.”

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?

Brian Dominick: That would indeed be confused and unfair. Instead, we should embrace bias and be up front about it. Many of the “out” partisan presses freely admit their biases. The Nation and The Progressive are up front about theirs. The National Review readily calls itself conservative, and Fox News all but comes out and admits its conservatism. It is when these publications pretend that they are “fair and balanced” that it gets kind of bizarre. But it’s far less despicable than the actions of, say, the New York Times, which has a newsroom full of liberals and a host of sponsors that reads like a who’s-who of the Fortune 500, and still insists it is unbiased, fair and balanced. What such institution could manage not to be liberal or conservative, but instead provide a balanced story from all viewpoints (Left, Right and center)?

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?

Brian Dominick: A question back to you: is it your contention that there are media sources that don’t ever spin? Or is it just that spin biases toward all sides variously and eventually, so it all equals out?

If spin is inevitable, why not insist that its motivations be transparent?

If spin is just a by-product of telling news stories, and eventually various spins achieve “balance”… that sounds like a theory based on blind faith. Or have you developed a way to measure it and thus prove and ensure that spin balances out in the end?

A perfect example is the current debate over whether the news media are focusing only on the “negative” aspects of the Iraq story, purposely ignoring the “positive” things, like the “successes” the US occupation forces have achieved in “rebuilding” Iraq. Well, let’s assume for a moment that the “rebuilding” stories are every bit as plentiful as the “terror and chaos” stories, but just aren’t being covered. Let’s say there are 4 “rebuilding” stories for every one “continuing chaos” story, if only reporters will pay attention.

The real question is, are those stories newsworthy? I don’t recall in the pre-war period, the Right complaining that the Western media was only focusing on the bad things Saddam Hussein had done, to the complete exclusion of any mention that the Iraqi government had ever done anything positive at all, like ensuring its citizens were fed, were literate, and so forth. But that’s understandable — we don’t report when a government does do something that happens to be basic, human decency, something that’s entirely expected of it, and legally required of it in the case of an occupying force.

Yet the Right is screaming bloody murder that the media are not reporting every case of the US Army Corps of Engineers rebuilding a school (that the US bombed), or providing medicine to the Iraqi people (quietly prevented for 12 years under sanctions), etc. There of course have been 1000 times as many stories about these kinds of “heartening” events under US occupation as there were about Hussein doing the same things when he was in power. But why, really, should there be any? The Right wants coverage of US troops doing something that is expected of them, but it does not want to see highlighted anything that could resemble failure or inadequacy.

At the same time, the Left wants doesn’t want any “positive” stories like that presented at all, because it doesn’t help the Left’s case that the motivations behind the war were cynical. It doesn’t disprove the case, in the slightest, but it doesn’t help the case.

So there’s the liberal bias. What you will not hear or see in the mainstream media, of course, are many substantial stories speculating about the institutional motivations of the government or military with regard to the situation more generally: the leftist theories. Someone — maybe a reporter, maybe an editor, maybe a publisher or producer — filtered that out. Call it bias, call it criteria, call it standards, but it is liberal, not leftist. It would be nice if they admitted the bias. They are welcome to it, as long as it’s transparent and people still want it.

For the debate so far:

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)
No, Media Bias is Not a Dumb Debate, Says Bias Hunter (Tim Graham, Media Research Center, responds from the conservative side.)

And the comments sections at those posts.

Bill Moyers has important things to add on the bias debate.

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 30, 2003 7:14 AM   Print


Great article! My feedback: the language saying that everyone has a spin on things is misleading. A more accurate language to use perhaps is to distinguish between perspective and propaganda. I I think that 'spin' connotes propaganda more than perspective. Propaganda is far more intentional than perspective. Spin is an intentional thing whereas the usual postmodern language suggests that we all have perspective (because we only have two eyes, limited time, limited experience etc.) and thus no one "has" the truth. Saying we all spin is perhaps being tad more heavy handed than necessary.

Posted by: Ed Taekema at October 30, 2003 11:44 PM | Permalink

Ed, I couldn't agree with you more. I shouldn't have run with Jay's word. I never use the word spin to mean perspective, so I shouldn't have started here. Thanks for the kind words! I guess I left everyone else speechless.

Posted by: Brian Dominick at November 1, 2003 1:39 AM | Permalink

Very interesting:)

Posted by: mailmate at December 15, 2003 11:37 PM | Permalink

Regarding the point about Iraq coverage, buildings being built in the middle of a war zone IS news.
It's like this: The headline "200 randomly sampled people didn't die yesterday" would be stupid. But,
"Plane with 200 passengers crashes; no fatalities" would be sensible. War is like a plane crash;
things that would usually be mundane are noteworthy in the midst of a guerrilla war.

Furthermore, when the media report a large anti-Bush demonstration in London, but ignore a large anti-Baathist demonstration
in Bhagdad, it's hard to see how this is anything but bias.

Finally, let me say that some kinds of bias are objectively demonstrable: If you put a Republican senator getting 100 parking tickets
in a year on the front page of your paper, but ignore a Democrartic senator doing the smae thing, you're engaging in objectively demonstrable
bias, because you're inconsistently applying your own subjective standards about what constitutes a noteworthy story.

Posted by: TC at December 23, 2003 6:11 PM | Permalink

Oh yeah, another thing: If the press is right not to bother reporting normal events, then why are they reporting US soldiers' deaths in Iraq? After all, soldiers' deaths are normal in war. Doesn't that mean, following your logic, that the press should not report them?

Posted by: TC at December 23, 2003 6:19 PM | Permalink

TC wrote: "buildings being built in the middle of a war zone IS news."

If the far Right wants to downplay and call "decreasing" the number of attacks on American soldiers in Iraq, you cannot simultaneously make a big deal out of how extraordinary it is that under those circumstances someone does something halfway decent -- like reconstructing buildings they demolished. Give me a break...

TC: '"Plane with 200 passengers crashes; no fatalities" would be sensible.'

So the Iraqi insurgency is as deadly as a plane crash? Please, if you want to be taken seriously, use slightly realistic analogies.

Re the Democrat/Republican analogy, I guess you didn't read my comments at all. What I said was that most media has a liberal bias. I'm not a liberal, so it's easier for me to admit that perhaps most journalists are. Nevertheless, I think the Clinton scandals demonstrate that the mainstream media is plenty willing to go after petty stories about "liberal" politicians, just like conservative ones. You're just exemplifying the bizarre home-team blindness exhibited by most partisans in this country. Republicans and Democrats are equally sleazy. And if they ever get enough money, Green politicians will be equally sleazy in no time. It's systemic.

TC: "If the press is right not to bother reporting normal events, then why are they reporting US soldiers' deaths in Iraq?"

Wow, reading comprehension really isn't your strong suit, is it? It's not considered a decent tactic to misrepresent someone's claims and then refute the misrepresentation. Anyway... I didn't say "normal" events shouldn't be reported. I said that warmakers don't deserve to get touted when they exhibit the bear basics of a decent post-war response by rebuilding the country they've demolished. Lots of things that are "normal" in war are newsworthy. But when one country demolishes another, and then participates in some extremely minor, token rebuilding efforts -- it is the gap between what the victor SHOULD be doing and what it actually is doing, not the details of what little it is doing, that should be making the news.

Whatever happened to the reporter's job being to hold government and corporations accountable? We should be equally critical and equally skeptical of ALL in power, regardless of their party or affiliation. Our job isn't to sing their praises or to advocate for them. It is to hold them responsible, and to point out what more they could be doing. We owe that to the public if we ever want to call our society a democracy with a straight face.

Posted by: Brian Dominick at December 25, 2003 5:26 PM | Permalink

From the Intro