This is an archive, please visit for current posts.
PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
Recent Entries
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

Syndicate this site:

XML Summaries

XML Full Posts

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 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   Print


I guess this is a useful place to ask: where does credibility come from?

Institutions like daily newspapers consider credibility -- the perception that their coverage is reliable -- to be a kind of capital equipment, essential to the enterprise, that must be jealously guarded. These institutions are rewared with large readership ... in any given town, half the people who live there might pick up the paper every day.

A blogger in the same town who writes about many of the same issues is lucky to be seen by a one-hundredth of the local folks.

Why do so many people trust the daily newspaper and why do so few trust the blogger?

Posted by: tom mangan at February 19, 2004 10:31 AM | Permalink

Intelligent people who have experience with the way the newspaper presents news DO NOT trust the local paper (or any news media). Michael Chrichton had a great speech on this a few years ago. Most of us know that the news media almost always screw up stories about which we have personal knowledge. I don't think newspapers have ever written about events that I was involved with without making some serious errors. As Chrichton pointed out, we all have this experience.

Over time, we learn that the same paper that screwed up the stories we know about is likely screwing up (or slanting) other stories as well.

Posted by: stan at February 19, 2004 11:16 AM | Permalink


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.

Al Giordano
The Narco News Bulletin

Participation by Narco News copublishers at:

My personal political opinion blog:

Posted by: Al Giordano at February 19, 2004 11:21 AM | Permalink

Jay -- Nicely put. The thing *I* would like to encourage Campaign Desk to avoid is the authoritarianish "don't complain when others impugn your journalistic ethics" stuff, or You Have a Choice -- either With Journalistic Ethics, or Against It.

The *argument itself* can be perfectly useful -- sure, let's talk about whether publishing exit-poll data is good or bad. But it's the *tone* that's off-putting, despite the throat-clearing (which I find kind of endearing).

Al -- Congrats on re-starting Narco News.

Tom Mangan -- At the risk of incurring your wrath, I think "credibility" has morphed into a newspaper-ethics buzzword, without much meaning to those who have never read Editor & Publisher. The short, accurate & possibly unsatisfying answer to your question about where it comes from is: from readers & peers. I trust readers in being able to calibrate the dizzyingly various levels of quality, tone, trustworthiness & so on of all their media. I'm probably optimistic about this, but there you go.

As for:

Why do so many people trust the daily newspaper and why do so few trust the blogger?
I don't know if we can in fact prove that, though common sense would tell us it's so. Newspapers are mostly local monopolies, with bundles of information bits vital to certain higher-income older adults -- stock charts, sports scores, real estate prices, recipes, movie theater listings, letters to the editor, whatever. But those audiences are also quite *captive*, which goes a long way toward explaining why so many people bitch about their local paper, and take delight in championing some woolly-mouthed blogger from the same area. At any rate, I think it goes without saying that we all benefit from the massive amounts of information provided in a professional manner by our local dailies. At the same time, they can be tremendously unsatisfying and lifeless to a captive audience, so lectures about Credibility and Ethics coming from those newsrooms will certainly encounter some knee-jerk (and occasionally deserved) hostility.

Posted by: Matt Welch at February 19, 2004 12:34 PM | Permalink

Tom: I think credibility is actually something very hard to define, understand and measure. Some things are like that-- elusive. Journalists are right that it's like capital, and essential to the enterprise.

Where they sometimes go wrong is this: the rules and procedures they have worked out to "guard" credibility, and which journalists associate with credibility, are not themselves measures of credibility, do not guarantee it, and do not exhaust the possible ways one may gain and lose credibility.

You cannot know if you're credible by checking to see if you followed rules and obeyed conventions of the press craft. What if those conventions have themselves become in-credible? How would the rule followers know?

Yes, what's the value of the Sacramento Bee as an asset, a franchise? Some of it is in the plant, real estate, capital equipment. Some is in the talent of the people, but in theory you could find other people. Much of the Bee's asset-ness is in the name, the credibility it has, its reputation as a honest broker. Trust is what social scientists call this, and they spend a lot of time trying to understand what "it" is.

Let me ask you, Tom: Is public trust, which sustains their franchise, something journalists try hard to understand and keep track of? Do they really want to know how well they are trusted, and by whom in town, and who does not trust and why? Or is it something assumed to be there, and "guarded" by the journalist's adherence to rules?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at February 19, 2004 1:33 PM | Permalink

Al: Thanks very much. If I were a mainstream journalist, and made my living for the commercial press yet "belonged" to the profession, I would cringe every time I heard a fellow journalist say (and I have heard it 100's of times) "journalism is the only profession that gets a mention in the First Amendment."

It's an amazing way to read the text (it mentions a particular profession...?) but a common one. Where does it lead? Journalists have special rights, because of the special mention. That attitude is not the way you win support for a free press.

Matt: I was trying to write about the tone of it all because it seemed to me, yes, the most repellent thing, but also very telling. You put a finger on something key when you picked up on this line from the Desk, "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."

Who are they, who is anyone, to say, "don't complain if..." as if the right to complain (talk back) about the Desk's judgments is somewhere suspendable? I can lose status as a complaintant in the court of Campaign Desk, it seems. Yes, it's a figure of speech, "then don't complain," and it says something about the kind of relationship assumed to exist here.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at February 19, 2004 2:06 PM | Permalink

OMG look at the length of this epistle. It seems that bloggers everywhere are rising up to shout their moral indignation at the nasty (we all know how filthy dirty their hands are) Real Journalists. Hey guys and gals why lower yourself to having similarly impaired egos? Not gone that long since the debate team or high school paper? Exorcise thy "journalistic standards" and rally round the Maine!

Posted by: Steve at February 19, 2004 2:26 PM | Permalink


You left out a major component of the value of the Bee, or any paper: readers. A newspaper is a commmunity as well as a paper; I read the Times because everyone I know reads the Times.

Posted by: MattS at February 19, 2004 3:18 PM | Permalink

Steve -- Um, Jay *is* a journalist. As is Al, and Tom, and me. And the argument here isn't actually against journalism standards, as any debate team alumni could surely tell you.

Posted by: Matt Welch at February 19, 2004 3:46 PM | Permalink

I'm all in favor of criticism -- of the blogoshpere as anywhere else. But the irony drips from every sanctimonious word of CJR's screed when one recalls that it was the ethical, high-minded mainstream press with their journalistic standards -- esp. the Washington Post and NYT -- that trashed Gore with error-filled stories they passed among themselves and the public, repeatedly, during the 2000 election. Gee, they didn't like him (still don't).

Check the archives at

Posted by: Bob Purvis at February 19, 2004 3:50 PM | Permalink

Speaking as someone from the outside, New Zealand, looking into the echo chamber of American Journalism. This whole debate is funny.

And scary at the same time of course.

Does Steve Lovelady actually believe that the professional/paid/commercial media of America has any credibility at all? 'Cause they don't. Not internationally anyway.

There are only so many times you can read, or watch, a journalist delicately step around and avoid the precise questions that actually want to be asked. It's like that scene out of Swingers where Vince Vaughn is giving Jon Favreau a pep talk:

"You're like this big bear man, this big bear, with these big claws. Huge big claws. And you're looking at this little bunny... looking at the claws... looking at the bunny. Wondering how, how can I kill the bunny!"

You don't have to censor the American press. Just threaten not fly them around on airforce one and they will bend over backwards to completely ignore anything that might be even slightly embarassing to you.

If I was an American blogger and they offered me this particular privilege. ie their "ethics" and "freedom of speech". I know where I would tell them to stick it. Maybe the Columbia Journalism Review could try breaking a real story instead of bagging bloggers. It wouldn't be that hard. Just steal one from narconews. I'm sure Al wouldn't mind the extra circulation. As long as they bothered to credit him of course

Posted by: Hansel Dunlop at February 19, 2004 9:09 PM | Permalink

I wonder, how many of these "Journalists" fail to vote because they've seem the exit-poll numbers?

If the CJR thinks the number should be kept under wrap, then the people they should be condemning are the exit-poll takers who release the information to ANYONE before the polls close.

They don't do that, because their real complaint is that, before the bloggers came along, these "journalists" got to be "special". They got to know things the rest of us didn't. Now they're no more special than the rest of us, and that really sucks.

Tough luck, kiddies.

Posted by: Greg D at February 19, 2004 9:49 PM | Permalink

I find the whole idea of exit polls somewhat bizarre. At best they provide predictions of the result a few hours in advance, but since the predictions are often wrong they skew reporting of the actual results in odd ways.

CJR would have a lot more credibility on this if they had provided a critique of exit polls in the past. As Greg D said, they were happy enough as long as these things were the private property of a select group.

Posted by: John Q at February 20, 2004 12:20 AM | Permalink

(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.

Posted by: Sam Pratt at February 20, 2004 7:20 AM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: Scumbag at February 20, 2004 7:38 AM | Permalink

As addition to my previous post, just seen some more posts, including one from jay, about the first ammendment.

you should be proud of that, but you should also use that to keep asking questions and pushing the envelope.

Some of my friends and colleagues have been killed in iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Indoneisa, Cambodia and other places. My kids have been traumatised seeing me, live, being chased and shot at. We should not forget the price some of our colleagues pay to bring news to the world.

Posted by: Scumbag at February 20, 2004 7:55 AM | Permalink

When blogs start getting the kind of audience the broadcast networks command, I might worry about them reporting exit polls.

I remember Michael Kelly on the Hugh Hewitt radio program listing reasons why he didn't think of himself as a "professional." There is no licensing and no disciplinary board for reporters. There is no specified training required. Reporters can't be disbarred, defrocked, or have their pencils broken. I think that Kelly believed not in "journalistic ethics," but just ethics: work hard, tell the truth, do the best job you know how.

I might believe in the concept of journalistic ethics if I could discern any concern about the liberal consensus among reporters. I realize that there is no way to be completely objective, because one's biases affect things like which stories to cover, and reporters have to select which details to report and where to place them. But I would like to see honest efforts being made instead of the kind of histrionics the NYTimes went through over Jayson Blair, while it ignores the donkey in the living room.

As for the CJR, Jay is completely right, both about the obnoxious and smarmy effect of the disclaimer of wanting to sound moralistic, when one is about to pronounce a moral verdict. Who made reporters, editors and pundits the arbiters of anyone's ethics? The First Amendment is an expression of the need for a lively discussion with all kinds of different points of view in a democracy. The fact that 70 or 80 percent of journalists support one political party is as much a violation of that need as a Congressional edict interfering with press freedom would be.

Posted by: AST at February 20, 2004 4:04 PM | Permalink


Mr. Rosen,

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.

Posted by: JayT at February 20, 2004 4:24 PM | Permalink

The mistake Campaign Desk made was this:

Instead of making an argument for an ethic, (don't do it, weblogs, and here's why); instead of asking a question, like: Hmmm. You're doing something we wouldn't do, CNN does not do. It's not our ethic. So what's your ethic, Kos, and where does it locate responsibility to a public?, instead of asking that, or thinking through the starting points and consquences of one ethic as against another... Campaign Desk, in its intellectual isolation, decided that it held the Have Some Ethics Here Position and the early data publishers had none. Ethics, that is.

Campaign Desk also said that serious professional journalists thought of themselves as moral actors when they released public information. Whereas the webloggers were acting like two year olds who don't realize a moral duty to anything.

This is a way of arguing: We Have Ethics, You Don't. But it is rarely an effective way, it does not promote conversation or inquiry, and it leads to a fatal lack of curiosity about the other. Not the qualities of good web journalism.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at February 20, 2004 7:16 PM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: Al Giordano at February 21, 2004 7:41 AM | Permalink

I just read this again. It was better the second time through.

Posted by: AST at February 22, 2004 2:19 PM | Permalink

I don't know anything about Al Giordano, but considering his weird linkage between GWB and CJR I can only hope that if he is a journalist, he is an opinion columnist and not a news reporter.

Posted by: paladin at February 22, 2004 5:39 PM | Permalink

Part of the problem here is that the bar for good citizenship has been set so incredibly low in this country. Anyone who wouldn't bother to vote because they happened to hear some exit poll data is a damn poor excuse for an American citizen.

Posted by: peter jung at February 23, 2004 9:58 PM | Permalink

Honestly the only benefit I saw coming out of J-school was at least in the school you got some useful ancedotes from professors and *occassionally* a good discussion about ethical situations with sources. I remember one steller class I had with Don Pember regarding coverage of the First Iraqi War. At the time I was distainful, thinking that since I'd never be a "war" reporter I didn't need to know this stuff, but out of many of my classes his has stuck in my mind the the press was co-opted in that war.

Which brings me to my only point, the only possiblem I see with "non-journalists" who call them selves media is the possibility that they are co-opted by their sources. Much like Matt Drudge and even (to a lesser extent) Aint-it-cool-news. Sometimes it takes just experience not to take certain statements/stories/leaks at their word. But I have personally witnessed far too many local TV reporters blink their stupid pretty eyes while they naively report the "facts" directly from their sources. TV reporters are especially good at being the official mouthpiece of the police. So in this regard I can hardly see how bloggers can be any worse than "real" reporters in being able to judge the credulousness of their sources. Call it "opinion" if you like.

Posted by: Rachel at February 25, 2004 10:54 AM | Permalink

From the Intro