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PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
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Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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November 1, 2003

The Other Bias at Fox News: Volume

Another former Fox News grunt has spoken up, but it's a different tale. The "bias" is to get people screaming at their television sets-- liberals included.

Matt Gross, now an assistant editor at New York magazine, used to work at Fox, but on the website, not in the field. Continuing the recent action at Romensko’s Letters about The Memo, he recalls a certain day when an executive from Fox News Channel came to talk to the online troops, with a mission to better align the site with the televised Fox News. This was a “let’s get on the same page” speech. Thus the page had to be described.

“Seek out stories that cater to angry, middle-aged white men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions.” That’s what Gross recalls hearing. This directive had consequences, but not the kind we would call a conservative tilt or pro-Bush agenda. “What followed was a dumbing-down of what had been an ambitious and talented news operation,” Gross writes. Dumbling down is not a right wing tilt. Nor does it fit into Fair and Balanced. It’s something else.

Stories got shorter. What ran on the website had to be more like the “script” read on the air. (Which is using the Web to the opposite of its advantages.) The young—and often liberal—journalists who staffed the website found they had to fact check the news already broadcast by Fox correspondents. The on-air people were rushing to the next story and “couldn’t be bothered,” according to Gross.

Keep this in mind when Fox does things that are different from the standard model. They do round the clock cable news with a much smaller staff of reporters, producers and researchers. I’m not sure the exact figures are known. (Jeff Jarvis says a third or less. If you have reliable numbers, or a good link, please send.) But let’s say Fox—the ratings leader in cable news for seven straight quarters—has 50 percent of the bodies available at CNN, but the same 24 hours of news to fill. We would expect that difference to show up somehow in the news formula. How? Well, you can repeat yourself more often. This brings marginal costs for a minute of recycled news closer to zero. But dilution is a bad solution because we then have less reason to watch you. So how do you do news that costs less per hour, and gives viewers more reason to watch? Gross says:

It wasn’t that they were toeing some political line… it was that the facts of a story just didn’t matter at all. The idea was to get those viewers out of their seats, screaming at the TV, the politicians, the liberals — whoever — simply by running a provocative story.

It’s obvious Gross is no fan of Fox, (“clearly a disgruntled ex-employee” he says of himself). So apply any discount rate you want to his view. But if I understand the job he had—preparing and checking Fox material for the Web—it would give him reasonably intimate knowledge of such things as news formula, Fox style, and, yes, the Fox brand of “bias” compared to the characteristic angle of other news sources, which the Web staff has to be reading.

Now remember Fox News Channel’s lineage, which is entertainment. Why do the searchlights remain in the news logo at Fox? Top left corner: go look. What is that? It’s imagery handed down from Twentieth Century Fox, the fabled Hollywood studio.

CBS, NBC, ABC (entertainment companies too) gave birth to news divisions at a time when “public service, at a loss if necessary” was a serious starting point— and for hard-headed, practical reasons. Imagine: the threat of government regulation and even—so wild, this part—losing your licence if you gave really terrible service in news. Don’t laugh. That was a big deal then (early 1960s).

By the time Fox came into the game (1990s) these were not serious threats. So the birth certificate lists Hollywood and Politics (via Ailes), parents. The baby is Fox journalism. High minded public service was not, as it is said, present at the creation. If you don’t understand why that is a point of pride at Fox, then you don’t get what the operation is about. This gives Fox a different feel, an edge, and the edge is the subject of Gross’s letter.

Simply by running a provocative story. Almost all Murdoch properties identify themselves to us by means of the oldest marketing strategy there is: shock and awe, hype and miracle, outrage and scam, the language of screaming headlines. It’s not just information with more excitement pumped into it (although that is true too) but also excitement as information. Get those viewers out of their seats. It’s the wow effect. It’s the tabloid mind. It’s the blare. (Fox is louder than other networks, volume wise. Ever notice that?) It’s the hype level per unit of information. There’s swelling music on all news networks; when it swells to extremes it’s Fox. All networks employ eye candy. If everyone who can be eye candy is eye candy, then it’s probably Fox.

The best way I have thought of to capture this quality, which is both over-familiar and under-described, is to say at Fox they’re way more liberal with the exclamation points— but in everything, words, colors, graphics, sound, blondes… News! This is a kind of bias but it’s not a simple kind. By running—always running—with the more provocative story, you generate a variant on news, a tabloid genre, which some will call bias. But watch it when you assign standard political terms to the tilt toward excitement and high volume. Which network is most likely to have Al Sharpton on the air? Fox. He’s pro-excitement too.

PressThink (Oct. 30): The Fox News Daily Memo: Is the Fix in?

Cal Thomas, who has a contract with Fox, says the Left thinks it found the smoking gun wuth The Memo.

Roger Ailes, head of Fox News channel, takes on the editor of the LA Times, whom he calls “Elite, Arrogant, Condescending … ” (June 2, 2004)

Posted by Jay Rosen at November 1, 2003 11:57 PM   Print


Roger Ailes said in this interview that he works with less staff than you estimate: "I'm living with 25% to 30% of the people CNN has. It's a resource issue. It's a time issue. It's a public-focus issue. It's how to make that interesting. We have an obligation to the form. We tend to follow things, rather than lead. And part of that is just the nature of the business."
I can't find the post in my blog now, but I wrote about this after being on CNN and being reminded of TV the old, pre-Fox way: Fox does this in great measure by getting rid of field pieces and the field producers who produce them. No b-roll, no editing, no assigning bureaucracy. Instead they have people come into the studio to talk about the big news stories. This saves money. But it also makes news live -- and livelier. Sure, it can raise the decibles. But it also raises the impact.
The assumption you skewer here that tabloid necessarily means right-wing is quite recent. In the old days, tabloids (like Democrats) spoke for the working, tax-paying stiff. That was the grand tradition of the tabloid (and the Democratic Party). Perhaps that perception changed. Perhaps that convenient positioning changed. Perhaps newspapers and Democrats just got snotty while tabloids (in print and on TV, at least in the Murdoch empire) and Republicans tried to get down with the people. Who's more populist today: The New York Post or the New York Times? Fox or CNN?
In any case, tabloid -- as you indicate -- is really about impact. FoxNews stories have impact. Other news channels' stories don't.
I'll be Al Gore is learning lessons from FoxNews for his channel. I'll bet he'll try for impact.
One more thing about Gross: As a reader, I'm glad somebody told them to trim their stories down from 1,200 words to 800 words. I'm busy. I don't have time to read the extra stuff, and I'll bet that most times, those 400 words were just the extra stuff.

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at November 2, 2003 3:42 PM | Permalink

What liberal bias? Read this (,1,1239376.column) Prof. Rosen, and learn.

Posted by: rivlax at November 6, 2003 3:47 PM | Permalink

There's two distinct arguments getting blurred together here. Issue #1: How do you sell news? The answer seems to be you pick and chose your stories, and edit the presentation style, for a specific target audience. Welcome to Fleet Street -- where the papers wear their political bias like a badge of honor and scream the name of their readership as loud as that particular "class" will tolerate -- and where Mr. Murdoch learnt his trade.

Issue #2: Who is that target audience? I would submit that "angry middle-aged white men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions" is a pretty good working definition of today's Republican party. When you edit news for a specific pychographic audience you will naturally reflect their political perspective.

Granted, it is a chicken-and-egg kind of distinction, but the differences are important. NPR is no less guilty of pandering to its target audience's tastes ... that crowd just likes its news delivered at the same volume as its rock&roll: soft.

Posted by: Jason Thomas at November 6, 2003 4:52 PM | Permalink

From the Intro