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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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January 23, 2004

There is No Demand for Messages

And there are no masses. News from Davos.

Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23. He’s been saying it for years: “There is no demand for messages.” Doc Searls wrote that. As a measure of how much I love this line, it got used (with credit) twice at the World Economic Forum, during panel discussions I was involved in. Doc’s original bit included this:

Let me see a show of hands: who here wants a message? Right: none. And who wants to shield themselves from messages they don’t want? Exactly: everybody. TV advertising has negative demand. It subtracts value.

I didn’t go that far, but I did find that Doc’s news was still fresh here in Davos, in the sense that it was still routine for people to ask—in a business, nonprofit, or government setting—how do we get our message out? Typically this means “out” through the media, or nowadays, through the Internet. One gentleman, who runs a graduate school on the continent, asked me this today in a discussion on information overload. “How do we get the message out in this climate?” I told him that I did not wish to sound rude. But I did have to ask:

You have a message you want to get out? Who cares? There is no demand for messages, as my friend Doc Searls says. Increasingly, people can avoid them, and the media will evolve to make avoiding unwanted messages a priority.

So if you and your colleagues are in the “message-sending” business—because you’re a nonprofit and do good work, a business with a product, an agency with clients who need the message out, or in politics—you may want to rethink a few things. There is no demand for messages and there are none who think themselves message-able masses. As Raymond Williams, sociologist and critic wrote, “There are no masses, there are only ways of seeing people as masses.”

Think of it: no mass men, no mass women. Stimulus, and no one to respond. Yet as Williams said, there are ways of messaging people that convince the sender of a mass audience, mass market, mass public, sitting out there on the receiving end of the media campaign. Prepare for a world where there’s no one there, on the receiving end of your message, no matter how well targeted, well crafted and media-honed it is.

Suppose such a world emerges. Everyone who had a pound-that-message-through-whether-they-requested-it-or-not ethic may have to go back to more recognizably human forms of communication.

Beginning in the mid 19th century, and all through the 20th, seeing people as masses could be industrially sustained. There were only so many channels, so many ways or reaching people en masse, and this convinced the message senders that there was an audience out there. But now being a bulk message sender via the media is like the guy in the street trying to get you to take a handbill. He may have motivation for delivering the message, you have none to take it.

They are the people formerly known as the audience. And they do not want your message.

Of course, one was trying to be provocative. And it was in that context that I said, “The age of mass media is just that, an age. It doesn’t have to last forever.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 23, 2004 1:48 PM   Print


Jay, I wish I could respond with erudition comparable to yours. But I'm only just beginning to think about the things which obviously you have spent much time considering. Although I post this below something which tells me no one wants my message, I understand you are looking for feedback and here is a huge long response not just to this post of yours but to a number of your recent posts.

I am a clinical psychologist and former teacher of young children. I'm married to a European. And I am currently very involved with a small group of Dean supporters, dedicated to furthering values of unity, equality, justice, peace, brotherhood/sisterhood and a wise use of resources at home and abroad - a sense of being a world citizen as well as an American citizen - an effort to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. (I provide the personal information only so some filters and biases may be evident in terms of the thoughts which follow.)

I have read many of your recent writings about the Dean campaign and the role of the press in shaping today's political campaigns. And I see you want feedback.

First, I am impressed by your analyses. And they lead me into spin-off directions. I think of physics and how we know that the mere action of observing changes what is observed. Thus, how a poll affects people's thinking and therefore future behavior. I think of the stock market and my amusement at how stock market pundits posit a "mind" to explain the "market." So, if stocks go up or down or whatever, we are given an explanation for the "market's behavior." It seems to me something similar happens in relation to politics, although the pollsters do solicit information about the thinking of the voters. Nevertheless their thinking has been already affected by the previous polls and the press reports and so on. Just as someone buying stocks can be affected by news reports about the stocks or the "market." Which brings me to the idea of "bubbles," a sense that maybe a candidate can be talked "up" and a bubble created, which then shows up in the polls, etc. Those are some random thoughts that came to me as I was reading your analyses.

Now for my own experience in the Dean "movement." I was drawn to join, not because I had ever heard Dean speak, but because I had a sense of the different agendas of the candidates and then checked out the Dean website. There I was impressed by some of the Dean material indicating a need to renew society and democracy. I looked at the blog and saw ferment and evidence that people were being encouraged to participate in their own way. I must admit, when I read an article in the New York Times Magazine about the campaign and it fit my own experience -- "you can do your thing without asking permission" -- I went ahead and joined.

Sure enough, after consulting myself in terms of what I wanted to do or offer the campaign, when I placed my idea out there on the official blog, I got an immediate response and within hours a group had formed, including someone offering to set up a little site for us! The synergy has been amazing and indeed, as your own writing suggests, here is a little group doing its own thing and trying in its small way to influence politics. At times things we have posted, based on our values and a little mission we agreed on, have seemed (to us) to affect later official posts on the blog. And I see something similar happening within and between other campaigns. Phrases are picked up. Whole concepts of what the election is about are picked up. A method of speaking to voters is picked up.

Additionally, the cohesion of these little interconnected groups of people is such that they owe their allegiance more to each other than to the larger campaign. So much so that people who are on the fence, due to the Black Holes created by negative information and analysis in the larger press and media, seek out each other when distressed by this or that. And the power of the little group or network or even a few supporters seems to be strong enough to hold the supporters within the "fold."

Indeed, I am currently on the fence myself. But I cannot bring myself to break away from the important relationships forged within the Dean campaign. Early on and even now we have been considering how to make our "project" a more formal one and something which lasts beyond the campaign. We have a sense of identity within our little group, which transcends the campaign. We have agreed on values of accepting differences to such an extenet that I do believe if any of us chooses another candidate, the others will affirm that person's right to choose!

My current thoughts are that all the candidates should stay in the race but not bash each other. The more people there are running around, saying what is going on, talking to voters, educating, questioning the current policies of the Bush administration, the more chance there is to get more people involved at the grassroots. To me, that is the crucial difference and the hopeful difference in this election year. And the interconnections between the small groups seem to allow for disseminating information on where to find good articles or thinking or which methods often discovered by accident seem to affect the goals being sought.

To go back to my own observations of what I see happening, it may not be so much that one candidate wins as that one candidate succeeeds in absorbing better than anyone else the currents which are surfacing and swirling from the grassroots. Maybe the analogy of a virus fits best here. The candidate that is most successful at "catching" and "spreading" what is bubbling up from the people themselves, from these little groups or what is happening as a result of organizing themselves into these groups, may be the one who ultimately is annointed by the voters. If a candidate can succeed in generating the belief that the small groups and individuals who are reading and thinking and analyzing and dissemintating information on their own will actually be able to influence the "leader," then I think the whole concept of a "leader" will change. Or if this does not happen, then at least the voters may annoint someone who seems to have best achieved the ability to espouse the ideas the people have already put out there.

As a psychologist, when doing therapy I notice if people pick up on a metaphor or language I have used when trying to rephrase or reframe what I'm hearing. When that happens it is an indicator that there is going to be a give and take in the relationship. I think something similar has happened in the Dean movement at its best. And it seems clear to me that what the Dean campaign has espoused and absorbed is also "catching hold" in some other campaigns.

I am also fascinated by the comments that people want to avoid "messages." Explicit messages are perhaps more avoidable than implicit ones. Gestures, phrases, tones, and so on are harder to avoid, I think. Also, cohesiveness within close relationships make messages harder to avoid.

And it seems to me that this whole phenomenon would be very elusive and confusing to the Bush people, who have so successfully exploited propaganda, to the point that the media take it as fact. I'm not sure how it can be countered, since even in my own experience I cannot really "leave" the Dean movement, now that I have such a powerful allegiance to this little group that answered so quickly my own first attempt to reach out to other supporters. And gradually I find myself becoming embedded in other little small groups: I see so many other organizations doing similar things, organizations which are larger than any one campaign but have as their aim the fostering of a search for accurate information, independent thought and grassroots action, and like refrigerator magnets they seem to be accumulating in my life - synergy happening.

Posted by: Mary Ann in Milwaukee at January 23, 2004 5:37 PM | Permalink

Interesting points, Mary Ann.

I'm a student of economics right now, as it happens, but in a previous lifetime my field was literary analysis and I still dabble in fiction, poetry and visual arts. About me at UC Berkeley the savants were talking of structualism and postmodernism, which to my artistically Tory sensibilities seemed moronic (less so today, but that's another story). It occurred to me then that the allure of art (and poetry, story-telling, essay writing) was the concept of surprise--an idea whose target audience found delightful in its reversal of expectations. At once, I became fascinated by the various strategies of creating reversals in various ways. Much of Renaissance art, for example, furnishes reversals by mimesis of familiar narratives into rich, sensuous images; in Nepali or Tibetan Buddhist art this reversal of a dour narrative into a flamboyantly delightful emblem is especially vivid.

The like is true for propaganda. I think for millenia the allure of the Christian text was the reversals of role--the last shall be first, every valley shall be exalted, the Son of God is crucified between two thieves, and so on--for reasons which can be unfolded endlessly.

There is no market for messages; no one craves to be the target of propaganda or agitation. But people love a good story, they love the various emotions of a new romance (falling in love is a lot like taking up work on a campaign, is it not?), they love feeling important and virtuous. That's the hook.


Posted by: James R MacLean at January 23, 2004 6:52 PM | Permalink

I think it's b.s. Everyone wants a message. But they would never admit it. They watch the ads on the TV during the Super Bowl. They read magazines, watch TV (which is all about messages), some even read newspapers. A lot of them get out on the Internet and use Amazon, E-bay, Yahoo, Google, etc. looking for messages.

It's incredibly broad to say that everybody is seeking to avoid messages. I'd like to see some data beyond a show of hands at the World Economic Forum. Rather, I would posit that there are a great many people who just allow messages to be there while they ignore them. I can't name the last banner ad I saw on a Web site, but I know they're there. I don't wish them to go away. I put up with them. Same with commercials on the radio (especially since the stations mostly use the same clock). TV is a bit different, in that I can speed through the satellite while a show is on commercial.

But then again, tell me where this line came from: "Can you hear me now?"

There's a very pronounced tendency among people who spend their time out here on the cutting edge to make presumptions about the way of marketing in the future, when there are still vast swatches of society that haven't *evolved* that far.

It's nice talk, sounds good as a sound bite, but not quite reality.

Posted by: bryan at January 23, 2004 9:18 PM | Permalink

I'm afraid Bryan's basically right. This sounds a lot like the internet predictions we heard a few years ago: "soon all the brick and mortar businesses will be history."

Part of the reason why TV is so popular is because it is an inhuman form of communication, which requires no effort. And people have now been trained to like the messages. I know a lot of people who -- God help me -- enjoy commercials, and tell me that they are often better than the shows themselves.

As for propaganda, the truth is that it has never been more effective than it is today, and part of the reason for that is because there are so many channels, while at the same time you have the same few companies running all of them. You have the illusion of choice, but not the substance. Bush could never have marketed the war if we truly had a diverse media, telling small groups of people different things. Instead we have many channels telling small groups of people the same thing.

Posted by: Carl at January 24, 2004 5:51 AM | Permalink

Mary Ann: Thank you for those reflections, which do add to my understanding of the Dean movement. Whenever people are drawn into political association for their own purposes, and maintain it, that is significant. And I think it's significant for democracy that this is happening so often around the Dean candidacy. The "bubbling up" dynamic you spoke of is an example of something that deserves a much closer look from journalists.

Bryan from Argue With Signs: To say there is "no demand for messages" is, first off, not a scientific claim or mathematical statement, but a rhetorical one. It is intended to make you think, not to posit a new law of human nature or an all-embracing societal shift.

Second, when you write, "there are a great many people who just allow messages to be there while they ignore them," that seems to me to support the claim you call B.S.-- i.e., no demand.

Make you a deal, Brian. Taking your kind and apt warning to heart, I will try to look beyond my "everyone is like me and my pals online" perspective, which, I recognize, leads me astray time and time again. I will try, that is, to get back in touch with reality, from which I had unwittingly fled, with advice like yours as a stringent guide.

But in return for this self-struggle against wishful thinking, soundbite logic and analytical narcissism, won't you consider--you know, try it on for size--the danger in positing "out there" swatches of society that are less "evolved," more manipulable, more like the masses than you and the people you know? Or were you just being sarcastic when you put quote marks around "evolved?"

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 24, 2004 6:29 AM | Permalink

Mr. Rosen:

The question here is: How do we account for the contradiction that people universally say they don't want "messages" pushed on them, yet consume them in vast numbers (some for 6-8 hours a day)?

This disconnect strikes me as roughly analogous to what happens when you ask Americans about the environment, just to choose one example.

It depends largely on how the question is framed.

Surveys have shown time and time again that if you ask people, "how important is clean air and water to you and your family?" almost everyone chooses the "very important" option.

But if you ask them, "what is your opinion of environmental activists," you get a much dimmer assessment -- even though air and water quality would plummet without the vigilance of such activists.

In other words, this theory about "messages" strikes me as just the old saw about loving humanity, but disliking most individual humans in another form.

Put it a third way: everybody hates a tourist, but loves tourism for themselves.

There's an entirely other way to look at it. People are captives of what is available in the marketplace -- not merely in terms of choice, but also of convenience.

We have in America a powerful myth of consumer choice driving the markets. But if there's no locally-owned hardware store nearby, then you're going to wind up buying a hammer at Wal-Mart.

To close the loop on this analogy:

While Americans dislike advertising, and in fact have many other options for distracting or informing ourselves, it is much easier to flip on the TV and start channel-surfing than to do just about anything else. You could read a book, take a walk, have a conversation with a neighbor -- but all of these require effort and planning, at least by comparison.

So people watch a lot of ads that they may dislike in the abstract, but watch anyway in reality.

Posted by: Sam Pratt at January 24, 2004 12:10 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Sam. Those observations seem plausible to me, and they help explain behavior. But I never claimed that people reject all media messages in their behavior. I said there is no (just) demand for messages.

You write: "So people watch a lot of ads that they may dislike in the abstract, but watch anyway in reality."

Has it occurred to you that people dislike ads in the abstract, watch anyway, and then dislike the ads in reality too?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 24, 2004 12:22 PM | Permalink


I'll make you a deal. I'll take you seriously when you spell my name correctly through an entire reply, okay? (/sarcasm)

Seeing as to how you say "no demand for messages" is a rhetorical statement, it seems to be overly broad. Perhaps if you said "the demand for messages is waning," I wouldn't have reacted so brusquely.

Seriously, the "there is no demand for messages" is questionnable at best. How many people sign up for mailing lists from companies? How many infomercials appear on television? How much money is spent on advertising in this country? How many people still use coupons, fer heaven's sake? How many people still consult the yellow pages?

Now, taking it as a given that there are vast amounts of funds spent on advertising in this country every year, interested people *do* sign up for mailing lists, numerous infomercials *do* appear nightly on my satellite system and people still buy the Wednesday newspapers for coupons and look for car mechanics in the yellow pages, I have to wonder about the advertisers.

If, indeed, no one wants a message, then they are all wasting their time. As I said above, people *want* messages, they just a) don't know it or b) won't admit it (or a third possibility, their desire for certain messages comes and goes as their wants and desires wax and wane).

Further, I may be confusing a couple of things here. When you say "messages" are you speaking *only* about commercial messages? or are you also talking about all the other messages that float through the TV set along with the commercials (like "The Left West Wing")?

And given the death of the message you foretell, what "new methods" would you propose for advertisers to use. and what new methods of funding would you propose for media, which operates primarily on an ad-driven business model.

Finally, in response to this:
But in return for this self-struggle against wishful thinking, soundbite logic and analytical narcissism, won't you consider--you know, try it on for size--the danger in positing "out there" swatches of society that are less "evolved," more manipulable, more like the masses than you and the people you know? Or were you just being sarcastic when you put quote marks around "evolved?"

I used "evolved" because I don't have a better word that fits the sentence within my meager vocabulary. Perhaps "further along the paradigm shift" would be better. FWIW, I know a number of people who would qualify as the "more manipulable" types. Indeed, at times I probably qualify under this rubric myself.

I mention this because I've watched wave after wave of pop culture sweep from a few individuals down through mass popularity driven by people who are manipulated through their desires for popularity, "coolness" or whatever.

cf this report:

from PBS Frontline

I fail to see the danger in positing this, as it's the sort of thing that drives the sales of magazines like the Weekly World News, shows like Oprah and pop singers like Britney Spears.

But it's not hard to see a certain "life in the bubble" rhetoric on the Internet when I have personally walked into a college classroom to teach students who have never used e-mail. Of course, I live out in the sticks (literally, with a dial-up connection and 10 miles to the nearest convenience store), not in the media-concentrated world of New York.

Posted by: bryan at January 24, 2004 3:32 PM | Permalink

Jay -- I think we're saying essentially the same thing.

What I'm saying (not as articulately as I'd like, no doubt) is because TV is the most normative, cheapest, and easiest way of distracting ourselves, the fact that people dislike ads doesn't stop them from watching them.

And over time, people may even ome to like the ads -- or at least, try their best to enjoy them -- because they consider ads are a fact of life. It never occurs to them that they don't have to watch.

As Paul Goodman said in Growing Up Absurd: It always seems as if there are no possible alternatives, right up until someone presents a good one.

I'm paraphrasing there. Point is, if one never gets off the couch, then there appear to be no alternatives -- and so you keep watching those ads you know are horrible, vaguely hoping maybe the next one will be better.

Posted by: Hudson at January 24, 2004 6:00 PM | Permalink

"How do we get our message out?" is shorthand for "How do we get people to hear what we have to say?". It *assumes* already there is no overwhelming demand (in a "speak to us! speak to us!" fashion), in the sense that if people were beating down the door, the question wouldn't be asked in the first place. So the rest of the article seems to proceed down a path which is not in fact that of the question, indeed is already part of the question in the first place.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at January 25, 2004 1:00 AM | Permalink

It still amazes me how a person can put something out there and actually be heard.

Here's what I've been thinking in terms of messages getting through. I think humor may be something people actually want to receive. So if we can frame our message in a humorous vein, it may have a better chance of being heard or even welcomed.

I tried that idea out on Saturday and I'll see if the time spent writing humor was actually worth it. I enjoyed it, my family did, and some of the already "converted" welcomed it as well.

But the true test of humor, I think, is if it circles around by email to such an extent that you receive the same humor you sent!

Posted by: Mary Ann in Milwaukee at January 25, 2004 6:05 PM | Permalink

There should be many ways to diminish the effects of blogs. One of these is to dilute their overall impact, with verbosity.

Concise statements can be convincing because of the simplicity of their truths. Erudition, at length, can be self defeating, and those who know this can use it to soak up the energies of the audience, and obstruct that audience from taking useful actions.

In how many ways is it possible to identify blogs that have the intent to distract, from those more sincere offerings and calls to action?

Posted by: JMS at January 26, 2004 12:55 AM | Permalink

"I believe the press ought to maintain its unique distinction from the broadcast media. But I worry that too often we're all just part of the same pack."


In most of Europe it's the press that's perceived as the jackals, not the broadcast media.

Hence Hutton's knckle rap for the BBC.

Posted by: John Garside at January 29, 2004 8:23 AM | Permalink

From the Intro