February 17, 2004
The Morals Squad at CJR's Campaign Desk
The Campaign Desk decided to police the Web on early release of exit polls. Triangulation was at work. The Desk wanted moral distance between itself and webloggers, so as to impress the traditional press. "We have standards, they don't. See....?" But the action was fraught with anxiety, and there are reasons for that.
Campaign Desk is starting to feel like the indignant moralist who loudly informs everyone within earshot that there is nudity on channel 35 at 10:15 pm every other night. Nonetheless…
And in that nonetheless… is a revealing little episode in election year press think, morals division.
The prime mover was Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk. In debate with the Desk were Jack Shafer of Slate and Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, with pointed commentary by Cynthia Cotts in the Village Voice. Plus others as word got around. The ostensible issue—later I will call it a pretext—was the early release of exit polling data by various players online, including Drudge, National Review, Kos, Instapundit, Josh Marshall and others. “Blogs Gone Wild” read the header on one item denouncing the practice.
But before we go into that, note the concern for sounding preachy, voiced again: “At the risk of appearing to be the self-styled moral cowboy of the blogosphere, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take up the mallet and play one more round of whack-a-mole as bloggers continue to post early exit poll results, this time from Wisconsin.”
If Campaign Desk is worried about appearing too moralistic, then it’s a good bet there is some moralizing going on, here causing a bit of anxiety. One reason is journalists are used to making fun of bluenoses, bible thumpers, true believers, and all versions of the irritating scold. Here it is a third time: “At the risk of sounding like a broken record (and a very irritating one at that), here we go again..”
And off they went again to report that even more weblogs were breaking the rules, posting exit poll results before the polls closed. This is wrong, said Campaign Desk. Why is it wrong? It might depress voter turnout, which means affecting the election. That’s bad. For according to the Desk’s managing editor, Steve Lovelady, the press has a responsibility to “avoid inserting itself into the voting process as a player.” (Now some might say the press already is a player.)
Obey the rules for once, guys and gals. Demonstrate an elementary regard for “journalistic ethics,” as Lovelady put it. Show a little super-ego. The professionals at the big news networks are doing just that, can’t you follow their lead? So said the Campaign Desk, but not without trepidation. As Cynthia Cotts pointed out, the anxiety… are we being too strident here?… might find some cause in the subject line Lovelady chose for one of his exchanges with Jack Shafer:
To: Jack Shafer
From: Steve Lovelady
Subject: The Moral Obligation of a Free Press
At risk of sounding perhaps a touch paternalistic, Lovelady also wrote: “Want does not necessarily equal need.” This came as he explained why it really is a no-no to publish the early data. And there might well be additional cause for concern—on the strident question—in this reminder to Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, from the Desk’s Zachary Roth:
If you’re happy with a situation where your community of readers and other bloggers knows to take whatever you write with a giant grain of salt, then so be it. But don’t then complain when others impugn your journalistic ethics — and don’t complain that Campaign Desk or anyone else is refusing to take you seriously. Your choice.
This being “taken seriously” has a history, Roth said, and he gave Kos a compact lesson in it. “Most newspapers recognized that it was by agreeing to uphold certain basic ethical standards that they won for themselves the right to play a major role in the national debate — the right, in short, to be taken seriously. That was a tradeoff they were more than willing to make.”
Making tradeoffs is an adult realization. Did you know that? Well, if you didn’t, Roth (28 years old, and described as a former intern for the Washington Monthly) reminded his readers, and Kos:
The problem is that you’re trying to have it both ways. You clearly want to be taken seriously, and to have a voice in public affairs… But you also relish your “outlaw” status to “gleefully flaunt” the rules traditional media try to follow. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to choose between the rewards of being taken seriously, and the rewards of behaving like a two-year-old who has just discovered he can break things. You don’t get both.
Which might well confirm the impression of paternalism at the Desk. Saying he wanted to branch out from exit polls, Lovelady likewise wrote that “too many bloggers want it both ways.” These webloggers:
They’re fond of celebrating themselves as independent, dynamic, fast-moving sources of information, and they claim, sometimes rightly, to have already demonstrated that they can and do dig up important news that older forms of media have wrongly ignored…
That’s the set up for the idea section, where Lovelady carries the argument several steps ahead:
What is too often neglected is the principal that with that influence comes accountability. Weblogs that aspire to affect public affairs, including this one, are piggybacking on the extraordinary freedoms that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the press; given that, they ought to stop yelping every time that someone suggests that there is a moral burden that comes with that charter.
Question, reader: If you were serious about not wanting to sound too strident, too preachy; if you were worried that such a tone might harm your credibility, would you in your wisdom:
- title one of your arguments, “The Moral Obligation of a Free Press;”
- lecture Jack Shafer that what he wants he does not necessarily need;
- announce to the creator of the Daily Kos that he is at splendid risk for not being taken seriously by Campaign Desk;
- further inform the Kos that he is “behaving like a two-year-old who has just discovered he can break things;”
- speak severely to webloggers about the “moral burden” that comes with enjoying our great American freedoms;
- remind webloggers twice how often they like to celebrate themselves, while you play “one more round of whack-a-mole” on their heads?
- and place on your Who We Are page this description: “Columbia Journalism Review is recognized throughout the world as America’s premier media monitor”?
Is that what you would do, if you truly wished to avoid an impression of stridency, paternalism, being too tough on the kids?
Bad parenting, Campaign Desk.
Cotts of the Voice figured much of this out. The Desk ran a kind of morals test on the Web, and on major sites like Daily Kos: If, after being called on it, you do not hold back exit poll results in the name of the Voter, (which is our only interest at the Desk) then you are not going into our “serious” category. And don’t pretend like you don’t care! Here’s Cotts:
The anti-blogness of it all surfaced in early February when Campaign Desk’s Zachary Roth, an ex-Washington Monthly intern, began taking shots at blogs for posting the results of early exit polls—the theory being that journalists shouldn’t post those polls because it discourages voter turnout and undermines the democratic process. It’s a valid argument, but exit polls turned out to be a straw man for a bigger debate CJR wanted to launch: Should bloggers adopt journalistic ethics, and if not, why take them seriously?
She gets further into the game when she writes: “Though the Blog Report cleverly piggybacks on the political blogs as it rounds up their daily output, managing editor Steve Lovelady has called the Campaign Desk ‘the anti-blog blog,’ and the site bills itself as a ‘nonpartisan’ spin-off of ‘America’s premier media monitor.’”
Meanwhile, Jack Shafer noted that the distribution of early exit data was sped along by Campaign Desk itself, when it linked to the sites where one could find the political porn. “Even the journo-scolds whose job it is to tut-tut about the release of such interesting information to the public are busily helping to spread the word,” he wrote.
What I see is triangulation by Campaign Desk, of a piece with the way the site has been explained by Lovelady, 60, a former managing editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Most blogs are 99.9 percent opinion,” he said to the New York Times. “This is a Web site run by and staffed by responsible journalists whose job is to monitor, critique and praise the campaign press, on a daily basis.” That was back on January 15th when the Desk was being launched.
Sending the vice squad out on exit polling was not supposed to be effective in reform; it showed that nothing would be effective with children playing “shock the system” games. Between the lines the message read like this:
Yeah, we’re on the web and we’re updating many times a day and we link a lot, and we talk about the webloggers, sure, and maybe we look a little like a blog, but seriously, we’re trying to be the adults here. We’re a site, not a blog. We’re CJR. We not only have professional standards; we represent the great cause of standards in journalism.
Now that we’ve shifted some of that authority online by creating the Desk, we occasionally have to crack heads to show others: we’re here and we’re serious. And we think this will also show who isn’t serious about even the most minimal ethical standards. Blogs are okay, they have their place. But the webloggers themselves are really immature, and they could not care less about what we journalists hold dear: accuracy, reliability, fairness, truth.
We’re going to remind them of why we have neutral, fair-minded news professionals in the first place. And if that means offending some of the more celebrated bloggers, (who are 99 percent opinion, anyway) well, we’ve been around a while. We’re young. We can hold our own in a flame war. We have a sense of humor. We’re CJR: the anti-blog coming to clean things up, or at least stir trouble in the self-absorbed blogosphere.
The Desk is not a blog, got that? But it’s not the press, either. It’s a “pull no punches, grind no axe” critic of the press. Thus the need for triangulation. A police action about exit polls was the pretext. The point was to show how tough you’re willing to be on irresponsible amateurs. Here the Desk was talking to mainstream journalists, the tradition-minded readers of CJR, people very much like Steve Lovelady’s ex-colleagues at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Many of them think the Web is Matt Drudge, Internet chat rooms, and online diaries. They have a hard time taking any of it seriously. They love to make fun of the Web’s pretensions. They’re some of the same people Tim Porter often writes about: newsroom reactionaries. Problem: how does Campaign Desk, a Web incarnation from word one, get taken seriously by the old guard?
By publicly lecturing the young irresponsibles. By trying to police them, and “proving” that the hooligans won’t be policed. By being, precisely, the indignant moralist. I doubt that anyone at Campaign Desk thought CJR’s censure of weblogs like Kos would cause a change in policy. This made it ideal for triangulation use. And I bet they were smiling at their desks (mission accomplished, guys!) when Moulitsas sent this in. I reproduce his letter in full:
Problem is, blogs aren’t necessarily bound by journalistic ethics. As a blogger, I make my own rules. People don’t like them, they are welcome to head elsewhere to get their information.
I love your site and all, but I do find it amusing that you guys are trying to apply rules to a medium that doesn’t have rules. Blogs are the wild west of the media world. They are journalistic outlaws. We can gleefully police traditional media based on the rules they have set for themselves, even as we equally gleefully flaunt those rules.
As such, the concept of “ethics” doesn’t really apply. We cater exclusively to our readers, in a way that traditional media outlets can never match (what with the quaint but unattainable quest for fairness and balance). As such, our readers draw our boundaries. If my readership was outraged about my running exit polls, then I would stop. And while a handful of people were upset, the vast majority approved (and “rewarded” me with out-of-control traffic).
So yeah, you sound like the indignant moralist. And yeah, the fact we are blogs DOES let us off the hook.
(By which he meant your hook.) Now how beautiful is that outcome for the vice squad at Campaign Desk? By thumbing his nose at the world according to CJR—the premiere media monitor—Kos helps confirm all suspicion within Lovelady’s tribe about the Net as future home for serious, responsible journalism. “Blogs Gone Wild.”
Al Giordano of Big, Left, Outside—who is well tuned to class issues in journalism rumbling under the action—had this response, as quoted by Cotts: “Who the hell is CJR or its lame Campaign Desk to determine who gets taken seriously? No one takes them seriously. It’s obvious that CJR’s main mission … is to discredit bloggers and prop up the decaying cathedral where it once enjoyed priesthood.”
Quoted in Online Journalism Review, journalist Dan Gillmor made a different point. Campaign Desk has no comment threads. “Instead of making pronouncements, CJR and its contributors should be fostering a conversation,” Gillmor said. “They’d be even more credible if they trusted their readers to have something intelligent to add.” And here’s journalist Matt Welch, in comments at Jeff Jarvis’s Buzzmachine.
1) What are those “basic standards of accountability and verifiability,” when did Campaign Desk get to decide what they are, and how does publishing what thousands of journalists already know violate that? 2) Isn’t it, in fact, unethical behavior, not a “double standard,” that makes one “unethical”? Campaign Desk criticizes campaign coverage … yet it does no coverage itself. Double standard? Campaign Desk uses loaded, scolding, judgmental language, the kind of which it wouldn’t tolerate in a campaign piece. Double standard?… Whether or not a person takes a website “seriously” depends on a whole host of things, including whether a site’s incessantly scolding tone makes it disincentivizingly unpleasant to read.
And Calpundit had a point: “I really don’t get this: the media does stuff all the time that affects whether people will vote. In fact, that’s practically all they do.”
Josh Marshall has about 45,000 readers, and raised $4,500 from them to go to New Hampshire. He is much written about, much read by journalists. According to this count, Kos has 97,000 visitors a day, which balloons during big political events. (Among weblogs, he is second only to Instapundit, another named violator.) For Campaign Desk, the “who’s serious” question is not as simple as it appears to be. Here’s a political insider on Kos:
“I’m a reader. I think Markos has done an incredible job,” said the president of the New Democrat Network, Simon Rosenberg, a centrist who worked in Bill Clinton’s famous “war room” during the 1992 campaign and continued working for Clinton throughout his presidency.
“Kos is one of the places I go for full-time information every day,” Rosenberg said. “If people like me do that, you know it’s having an impact.”
And impact might have something to do with who’s taken seriously. I am a loyal reader of CJR, and I am proud to have written for it. (I will have a piece in the next issue about the job description of the political press.) I know and like the editors of CJR, and I think they had a very good idea in starting Campaign Desk. The Desk has already proved its value in pointing to cases of stupidity, excess and pack behavior— in most cases, doing it overnight, with sound research and a highly readable style. (For example, here and here and here.) It will get better and better as it rolls along, and as the writers, who are talented, learn what works best in the medium they’re creating.
But many things can hold it back. Assuming you have authority under seal instead of trying to create it interactively, conversationally, is one. Fleeing from the category of weblog to avoid being grouped with undesirables does not help the Desk find its place on the Web— or in journalism. Proclaiming yourself the anti-blog while building traffic by linking to popular blogs is not wise. Moralizing about early exit polls and “damage” to the electorate, and then pointing your users to the forbidden data should have set off alarms in a ethically alert vice squad.
Lovelady may not know it, but his reading of the First Amendment tradition is a highly ideological one. He does say that webloggers are “piggybacking on the extraordinary freedoms that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the press.” But the Daily Kos community, exercising its freedoms in a new kind of political space online, isn’t riding on someone else’s First Amendment legitimacy. Its connection to both the law and legend of press freedom is direct, not derivative. And “responsibility,” whatever CJR thinks, cannot be exclusively defined by the press, even if your institution does hand out the Pulitzer Prizes.
To reach its own maturity as an editorial vehicle, Campaign Desk should accept its providence as a creature of the Web, broaden its moral imagination, stop trying to appease reactionaries in the newsroom, cancel the vice squad, and tune into the possibility that there are some standards emerging online where webloggers reach the mark and the press falls short.
One is interactivity: do you allow comments? Kos, with many more readers, does. The Desk (which uses Movable Type 2.64) does not. But why not? “The Desk aims to decrease, not enhance, the self-referential and self-enclosed tendencies of the campaign press,” according to Nicholas B. Lemann, Dean of the Columbia J-School. And yet with that goal, widening the conversation, comments have been disabled at Campaign Desk. Sound like courage to you? Like setting a standard? When you break into an interactive medium, and promptly limit your interactivity (“write us a letter”), your credibility as the new sheriff in town may be affected.
According to Dave Winer in The Rule of Links, “when a reader reasonably would want to know more about the subject, the Rule of Links says you should link to it.” Here is an informational, and a kind of ethical standard in pursuit of which mainstream news organizations lag well behind. They are less generous to other speakers on the Web than webloggers, who promote democratic conversation by linking a lot. Where are the credentials of the Los Angeles Times (or of the linkless features at cjr.org) on this count? Campaign Desk, to its credit, is here taking cues from webloggers, not from journalists, about how to do linking right. Recognizing that might give Lovelady pause the next time he crows about being the anti-blog.
If the basic purpose of journalism is to inform, and this maxim holds online, then webloggers are ahead of the press in setting the standard for informing readers via links. And links are not just a nifty feature of the Web but close to its essence as an effective public medium. Links diversify. John Ellis, writing in Fast Company two years ago, caught on to the bloggers’ leadership here:
What distinguishes bloggers in general is that they fit the new architecture. They link to anything and everything that they consider worth reading. A good story in the New York Times? Just click, and you’re there. A good article in some godforsaken journal? Click, and you’re there. Bloggers are not devoted to keeping you on their page. Their purpose is to take you to other places. They figure that if they do that well enough, you’ll return to the peer group that they host.
That’s horizontal authority. It’s not the same animal as a professional hierarchy. Things are changing under the pressure of a platform shift that is creating more players, amplifying other voices, exposing the need for new standards in a more open field for journalism, and upsetting the very terms of authority by which America’s premier media monitor originally gained its reputation.
Newspaper editor and weblogger Tom Mangan comments
on this post: “the whole ‘watchdog’ model CJR
has adopted makes no sense online. Nobody can plausibly declare themselves the final authority in an arena where everything is up for grabs…. I’m guessing that over time the folks at CJR
will have their Come to Jesus Moment and realize this. They’re smart and capable so it can’t escape them what what they’re doing now, though admirable, is like trying hold back the ocean with their bare hands.”
Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit comments: “Ethics are important. Ethics authorities, however, usually aren’t. But in one sense I think that Jay misses the important transitional role the CJR blog is playing. Many among the more hidebound segments of the press are scared of blogs, or ignorant of them. Institutional blogs like CJR’s will help to introduce them to the blogosphere. Wonkette can come later.”
Steve Outing of Poynter (and other gigs) on journalists employed at commercial news outlets and the perils when they have a weblog: “One newsroom-employed blogger… complains about the common restriction on staff journalists expressing opinions. There’s much that journalists know or have keen insight into that they can’t express— even on their own time. This journalist suggests that blogs are perhaps a way to get that voice out. Most newspapers, trying to maintain an aura of objectivity, are bland. In time, he hopes that the voice of blogging will enliven newspapers and humanize journalists.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at February 17, 2004 5:37 PM
You make a brilliant case here. I'm going to link to it both from Narco News and BigLeftOutside.
There are so many good points in your essay, but I'd like to especially shine a spotlight on this statement of yours:
"Lovelady may not know it, but his reading of the First Amendment tradition is a highly ideological one. He does say that webloggers are 'piggybacking on the extraordinary freedoms that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the press.' But the Daily Kos community, exercising its freedoms in a new kind of political space online, isn't riding on someone else's First Amendment legitimacy. Its connection to both the law and legend of press freedom is direct, not derivative."
You hit that one out of the park.
This is the serious problem with too many of those who define "real journalists" as those who get paid by Commercial Media: They don't understand the First Amendment. It never made any special rights for "Paid Speech." It spoke of freedom of speech, and of the press... in other words: Free Speech.
Free means that you don't pay. When journalists don't understand the First Amendment, that's more threatening to democracy than an exit poll being reported. In a big way, the Commercial Media's arrogance "suppresses voter turnout" and causes disempowerment and mass resignation more than all the early releases of all exit polls throughout history combined ever did.
And the guy is typing from a jurisdiction - New York State - where the court has already declared that Internet journalists have the same First Amendment protections as the New York Times. So, he's either woefully ignorant of the law, or he's being intellectually dishonest. I'm not sure which would be more embarrassing for CJR.
The Narco News Bulletin
Participation by Narco News copublishers at:
My personal political opinion blog:
(Wait, there's nudity on Channel 35 at 10:15 pm?)
But seriously... Thanks for calling CampaignDesk on the carpet on this one. I've always loved the CJR, read the Darts & Laurels column at an early age, and have known great people who worked there.
That said, as the son of (imho) a terrific reporter for a daily newspaper, I have a pretty low opinion of journalism schools -- at least, as a *prerequisite* for being taken seriously as a journalist. Unfortunately, many who do enroll in j-school courses project a sense that they know "the rules" better than those who didn't -- which is what Mr. Rosen has just so pointedly exposed.
At the risk of sounding corny: Whatever happened to the idea of the journalist as a student of the School of Life (as opposed to a self-serious student of the profession of journalism)? By this I mean the somewhat mythologized traditions of Twain and Mencken -- reporters who emerge from the school of hard knocks, not classroom exercises.
Without question, there are many overly romantic mythologies about old-time court reporters, crime reporters, et al. But in fact, the best reporters I've known have fit that old model to some extent: self-taught, often hard-living, irreverent to the point of blasphemy, always streetwise, skeptical of all sources -- especially official ones. As a kid, I knew many such reporters (at the then family-owned Berkshire Eagle) among my mother's colleagues; as an adult, I knew few who fit this description among my peers in the New York media.
By contrast, those who attend journalism school (with obvious exceptions) are, by and large, those who prefer to work within a safe and bounded framework, who indeed have an "anxiety" about needing a diploma to certify their credentials. On some level, attending such schools is a tacit endorsement of the idea that "success" in journalism is not much different than success in academia. In my experience, the two are antithetical.
We thus should not be surprised that journalism school students (and professors) might be a bit slow to grok the innovation (I'm trying not to say paradigm shift) that blogs represent. Blogs get news out in an authentic (tm Giordano), collaborative, unrestrained process which ferrets out the truth through the push-and-pull between individualistic, maverick bloggers and the corrective presence of their diverse readerships. Blogs involve a certain amount of trial and error, and a willingness to evaluate information from any source -- not just accepted authorities.
There are two key issues here:
1. Are bloggers right to report whatever they like? (In this case, the polls);
2. Where do blogs and bloggers fit into news, and how does the mainstream media deal with that?
As a non-American journalist with a non-American organisation, I've followed the debate on the exit polls more than the blogging of the polls itself. The debate leaves out what, to me at least, is a critical issue, although maybe it's quite well known in America -- how do bloggers get the exit poll information?
If this information is publicly available and my mum, or anyone else, could find it if she wanted to, then there is really no debate: it should be published. Not to do so is as silly as a local newspaper not reporting news from a town hall meeting attended by the entire town just because the council banned journalists or asked them not to report it. Everyone konws. If the exit polls weren't publicly available, then that is a different issue, worthy of slightly deeper debate.
In which case, a point: Doesn't everything reporters write about any election campaign influence, or potentially influence, voters?
And if voters are dumb enough to be influenced by blogging of an exit poll rather than an intellgient assessment of the choices, then more fool them. All over the world, we mostly get the governments we deserve. Are we, especilally in a well-informed democracy such as America, their parents or reporters?
By the same token, bloggers are going to have to get used to criticism, monitoring and debate -- in the same way journalists have to get used to bloggers watching them. All around, it can only be healthy: the more, the better -- on both sides.
Secondly, blogs, news and mainstream media. I'm 40+, been a journalist 22 years, didn't really know what a blog was until two months ago.
Now I'm looking at a car from a horse and buggy. Eventually, we will all be using them. But right now, some people want a guy with a little red flag to walk in front of the new contraption to warn the horses so they won't get scared.
Like cars, some of the early blogs will be badly and dangerously designed. Like cars, some of the early blogs will be driven by idiots. Like cars, we'll one day work out how best to use them, improving things all the time, and they will become absolutely indespensible.
Good blogging is like a welcoming, old fashioned (increasingly rare) family bookshop: I go in with something very definitely in mind, listen to what the owner has to say, walk out with something totally different and end up with either a treasure or a piece of garbage.
But the experience, nonetheless, stretches my mind and is a lot of fun.
One plea: spelling, literals and grammar. If I can't understand a blog because these basics are ignored, it's ideas are lost as well. I hate spell-checkers, but basic literacy is kind of useful at the end of the day.
I only had time to "speed-read", ie only skimmed real quick and not read very carefully, through this article and comments. But I could see where I, myself, could be perceived as a Campaign-Desk-kinda publisher... This would be a partial view, by people that don't know me, and haven't read but a fraction of what all I've written.
What makes me uncomfortable about this discussion is this: "Problem is, blogs aren't necessarily bound by journalistic ethics. As a blogger, I make my own rules. People don't like them, they are welcome to head elsewhere to get their information." As you may, or may not, know I have been "blogging" through listservs, forums, and comments for almost four years now, having been (primarily) a semi-hermit for the previous 45.
And some of your other points in the article showed me I've BEEN acting in the role of a journalist, without the restraints, a la Mr. Moulitsas (who I've not read, iirc).
It may seem funny, but since I never participated in discussions of these natures, outside of family and never with friends or co-workers, until the past couple or so years.. Well it Must see funny to most people, including me, that it never dawned on me that I actually WAS doing a form of journalism, but without any of the ethics.
My Dad would have been described almost EXACTLY as someone who devoted his life "to the idea of the journalist as a student of the School of Life (as opposed to a self-serious student of the profession of journalism)? By this I mean the somewhat mythologized traditions of Twain and Mencken -- reporters who emerge from the school of hard knocks, not classroom exercises." So I was RAISED, in large part, in accordance with Journalism ethics, so I can say I had absolutely NO excuse of claiming that I didn't know them.
"This is the serious problem with too many of those who define "real journalists" as those who get paid by Commercial Media: They don't understand the First Amendment."
No, I'm sorry, this is almost entirely incorrect. We're talking about credibility and "trust relationships" here, and trust is largely built through developing friendship. I don't know if bloggers intentionally or instinctually intermix opinion, facts, and personal tidbits. If the former, they are taking advantage of the gullibility of their readers, and if the latter, they are "gifted" but irresponsible, writers of the highest order.
One of THE most elementary traps in human thinking/feeling/intuiting is the trap that ethics can be discarded casually, because the end justifies the means... Although that is commonly understood, I don't see that this is commonly understood, as well: The rational mind will often justify the bending or breaking of ethics, by the subtle guise of it being "for the common good". (I'm sure the Enron executives THOUGHT everything was going to work out in the end, for the benefit of their stockholders, a lot of them employees, for example.) It's a WHOLE lot easier to break ONE'S OWN ETHICS, if the person sees it as not a matter of self-interest, but for the good of others.
I'm intentionally putting, what I consider, the most important points at the first and at the last. Time, pressures, and such may not permit me to comment much, in the near-term at least. May post some "stuff" this weekend, or may not...
But I mainly wanted to write this to publically apologize to you, Mr. Rosen, for defacing your fine site with my "blogs" to your article "Trippi Didn't Say What Reuters Said He Said".
I stand by my conclusions, however, as I've not seen much of anything that remotely comes close to dealing with the facts of the matter in contradiction of my conclusions. But, obvious to me now, my posts were blogging at their worst, regardless of what may (or may not) have been of value in the views I was presenting.
Likewise, as I may not have opportunity to post much elsewhere, I would like to publically apologize to both Mr. Trippi and Mr. Dean. I've never emailed either of them in the past, but I guess I feel so ashamed that I feel unable to apologize to them personally. And I insulted them in public, so hope this is the better way to accomplish my apology.
Given the number of things I've said, it would be impossible to do a proper apology, in a reasonably short period of both time and webspace. But, for one example, I'm sorry I used the phrase "Deanic", EVEN though largely accurate to describe the Dean Campaign travesty, because of the personal nature of that attack. And I'm sorry I slipped back into THE worst form, by swearing as I did, in this kind of fora... I sure DID know better, and as I pointed to above, apparently thought that some people "needed" a 2 X 4 between the third eye, in order for me to make a point.
To me, it doesn't matter if I made a point or not.. Not one wit at all... I devalued my own self-respect (or rather, or in addition, publically displayed my own lack of self-respect) by doing so.
So, imo, for whatever "good" it May, or May Not, have been to others, those posts were a net loss to me, personally.
Thank you for your patience, Mr. Rosen among others.
Bowing, out for now at any rate.
Jay and everyone,
After reading all this interesting discussion and thinking about it in recent days, I think CJR's behavior comes down to one word:
They chose to "play to the diminishing base" by whacking bloggers, much in the same way that Bush Jr. plays to his diminishing base by proposing a Constitutional Amendment against gay marriage.
The goal in pandering is not to win the issue one is feigning to champion on the merits. Rather, it is to use a "hot button" issue, or, better said, a fear (in this case, Commercial Journalists' fear of the wave of blogging and Internet journalism pounding at their sandcastle) to "fire up the old base."
CJR's base - as audit circulation numbers demonstrate - has fallen over five years from 28,000 subscribers to 21,000 subscribers. That's a 25% loss of paid circulation in a very short time period. The subscriber base was always heavily weighted to Commercial Journalists and their institutions. But even they've become bored with CJR in recent years.
The parallel with Bush and the religious right is a pretty clean one. The demographics of the United States are changing rapidly, and white, conservative, voters are diminishing both in numbers and in enthusiasm. Bush plays the anti-gay card to fire them up.
CJR's base - Commercial Journalists and their institutions - is likewise diminishing both in numbers and in enthusiasm for the CJR-NYT-Pulitzer-AP style book of reporting. If you look at what is happening to Judith Miller on the lecture circuit trail these days, it's clear that the shine is off the rose, that the public, particularly the youth, don't hold that model of journalism in high regard.
Rather than make fundamental changes or engage in long overdue self-examination, institutions like CJR and NYT are attempting to mimmick and coopt the "format" of blogs while bashing the substance and structure. It's a short term and short sighted fix that probably doesn't even work to fix anything in the short term, as this conversation has served to make clear.
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...