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

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

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

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

Read: Q & As

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

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

Audio: Have a Listen

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

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

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

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

Video: Have A Look

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

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

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

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

Recommended by PressThink:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Group Blogs

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

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

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

Digests & Round-ups:

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

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

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

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

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

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

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March 15, 2004

The Legend of Trent Lott and the Weblogs

A new study from the Kennedy School pinpoints what happened between Big Media and the blogs in the case of Trent Lott. It does not portray weblogs as lead actor, but as reactor to a story that almost disappeared. A certain receptivity in the bloggers allowed judgment in the press to correct itself.

I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.
— Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, Dec. 5, 2002

One way to learn that pack journalism is real is to be caught outside the pack with a story it does not recognize. This happened to Ed O’Keefe, a young “off-air reporter” for ABC News in Washington, who happened to be in the room when Trent Lott, then the most powerful man in the United States Senate, gave remarks that embraced the spirit of Strom Thurmond’s 1948 campaign for president. O’Keefe knew enough about that campaign to find Lott’s words shocking, and he said to himself, “This is news.”

But Washington journalism said back to him: we don’t think so.

O’Keefe’s judgment later won out. Pack judgment was wrong— in this case, extremely so. Lott became the first majority leader in Senate history to resign under pressure. How it all happened is told in the new case study from Harvard’s Kennedy School, “Big Media” Meets the “Bloggers.” (By Esther Scott, supervised by Alex Jones of the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government. Available only in pdf form here.)

My favorite moment in the story is when O’Keefe’s counterpart at another network asks a more senior producer in the Washington bureau to look at what Lott said that evening at Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. “No, I don’t think it’s anything” says the more experienced pro.

This gave O’Keefe some pause, causing him to second-guess his judgment. “I think there is something to the [notion] of pack journalism,” he reflects, “of individuals believing that if something is noteworthy, … everyone will get it… If they didn’t all get it, then it couldn’t possibly be a newsworthy item.”

The conservative writer David Frum would later call Lott’s words, “the most emphatic repudiation of desegregation to be heard from a national political figure since George Wallace’s first presidential campaign.” But when “everyone” didn’t get it, O’Keefe began to doubt himself. That’s how group think works.

The Harvard study has gotten notice in Blogistan, but its stingy formatting (the pdf is encrypted and won’t allow you to cut and paste) has been discussed in greater depth than the story it tells, perhaps because we think the events are well known. According to legend—partially confirmed by the report—webloggers from Left and Right were responsible for pushing the Trent Lott story into the news, after the mainstream media missed it.

“The Internet’s First Scalp” said John Podhoretz in the New York Post. That’s hyperbole, but the report makes clear that webloggers had a crucial role. It also delimits and describes that role. Now we know more precisely why—and when—the bloggers were needed.

There’s another way to read this sequence of events, however. The report does not portray the blogs as lead actor, but as intelligent reactor to an event of neglect (similar to an act of omission) within professional newsrooms, where the story of Lott’s remarks languished and nearly died. The case study is largely about herd thinking in the press, and the illusion that “news” jumps out at everyone simultaneously.

Other than a brief item that ABC ran at 4:30 am on December 6th, television news did nothing with the story, initially. This is due in part to the strange effects of the “24-hour news cycle” in television, a creature that has its own demands and even a kind of inner logic. What it does not have is the gift of human judgment. Strangely, humans in the system understand this deficit.

“Part of the problem, O’Keefe points out, was that “there had to be a reaction” that the network could air alongside Lott’s remarks, and “we had no on-camera reaction” available the evening of the party, when the news was still fresh. By the following night, he adds, “you’re dealing with the news cycle: 24 hours later— that’s old news.”

Let’s review what the news cycle is saying. There is a logic here, but of course it is circular:

X happens. We do not report X. Nor do we solicit and air reactions to X. The next day, we ask ourselves: is X still news? It’s true, no one in the nation knows about X, which entitles the nation to say, “X is still news to us,” but look at the facts. X surfaced yesterday, right? That’s old news by our definition. And today we find there are no reactions to what we did not report yesterday. Sorry, X. Your existence may be news to Americans out there. But not to us, the keepers of the cycle. Next time, don’t be surfacing in one or two places “yesterday” if you want to be news today.

“News stories,” says Josh Marshall in the report, “have a 24 hour audition on the news stage, and if they don’t catch fire in that 24 hours, there’s no second chance.” O’Keefe had one success during this interval. He got the story online and into The Note, the most blog-like medium at ABC News. This in turn gave it to the weblogs.

Thomas Edsall of the Washington Post was the exception in the establishment press. He heard about Lott’s statements from a Style section reporter who covered the party qua party. Then he read the key quote in The Note. “And at that point I began to press that we should do a story on that quote.” Edsall is the author of Chain Reaction, a forceful book on race and American politics. He had earlier written a series of articles for the Post about Trent Lott and his connection to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a “racialist” group and a remnant of segregation in the South.

Still, the Post editors didn’t think much of Lott’s remarks as news, and they tried to confine Edsall to a paragraph or two. He had to write his 660-word story and show it to them before they could see any real news in it. This is where prominent webloggers like Josh Marshall, Atrios, Glenn Reynolds, but also others entered in. They and their readers (200,000 people at most) were a back-up alert system, another sphere where the story could circulate, register with people, and provoke a response. Reactions and rumblings from across the blogs were thus a kind of proxy for public reaction that had not been able to emerge.

But the blogs got only temporary custody of a story that originated in a small corner of the national press on December 6th, and became big news on December 10th, with just a few days (Dec. 6-9, 2002) for the blogs to operate as bridge narrator. “For the most part,” Atrios says in the study, “the influence of blogs is limited to the degree to which they have influence on the rest of the media. Except for the very top hit-getting sites, blogs need to be amplified by media with bigger megaphones.”

A key point. Weblogs may continue to exert some influence on the news, but it won’t come by grabbing the attention of the broader public, gaining major traffic, or displacing the national press as a news source. Political blogs need the press; they are parasitic on the flow of news. They can still have an effect, however, by debating the mainstream news mind, correcting for errors and blind spots, further sifting and refining the flow. And by activating passions and commitments long ago driven from daily journalism, blogs force news through the argument test, which in this case showed that Lott had few defenders, Left or Right. That was news too.

The Web legend about Trent Lott’s demise says “the blogs kept the story alive,” and this is basically accurate, but it misses why journalism needed weblogs for that. To understand how Lott’s words were a political deed, and to see how they might be made into news, some specific background knowledge in American history was required. (The case study doesn’t tell us how, but Ed O’Keefe knew his history.)

The chances that this critical background knowledge would be missing are close to zero in Blogistan’s reaction to the fateful words. But the chances were very high indeed in newsroom discussion of what Lott said, and in the reactions of journalists on the scene. When we can identify what blogs actually do better than journalists, the idea of weblogs as corrective starts to make some sense.

Here, certain differentials in how knowledge is quickly mobilized for discussion may give weblogs an advantage in estimating the import of things spinning by in the news cycle. Another advantage, perhaps, is the quality of deliberation as the blogs talk among themselves, compared to newsroom deliberation—journalists talking among themselves—over the same stretch of time. I admit these are speculations, but they find general support in the Kennedy School study.

Also required to “get” the story was a certain receptivity (an ear) that seemed to be missing in many Washington journalists. Lott had become too familiar to be revealed by his own words. “Seems the blogosphere is way ahead on this one,” said Glenn Reynolds on the morning after Thurmond’s birthday party. “Where’s everybody else?”

What news was heard that night when Lott rose to speak depended entirely on prior knowledge that a journalist either did or did not have about race, Southern politics, and the re-alignment of the political parties during the civil rights era. It also helped to know something of Trent Lott’s career in Mississippi, going back to his college years at Ole Miss. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t hear anything special in his praise of Thurmond and the Dixiecrats of 1948. A party platform Edsall dug up summarizes it well: “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.”

Well, bloggers did know this background, and they went right to it. Atrios, for example, printed the official Democratic Party ballot in Mississippi from 1948. “Get in the fight for State’s rights— fight for Thurmond and Wright,” it said. Esther Scott writes: “Bloggers weighed in quickly on Lott, offering readers a short course on Dixiecrat politics and their own acid commentary on the matter.”

That the blogs provided, almost overnight, that “short course on Dixiecrat politics” was one reason they could play corrective to the news machine. It happens to be one of the properties of the weblog system at this stage, especially the political blogs that touch the membranes of professional journalism most often (Marshall, Atrios, Reynolds, the Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Cal Pundit are some examples.) The blogs don’t originate much, but they are quick to import knowledge that is often missing from the news. In this—and the “acid commentary”—lies their originality.

Free from the craziness of the 24-hour news cycle (and from some of the reflexes in press think) the blogs, their users, and the links among them work as a second filter added to the news flow. The blog sphere sifts through information, rescuing facts and arguments from the cycle’s strange habits, while loosening up the lines of debate. The case study says:

What journalists found when they visited these weblogs would not be new stories, but a closer look at those that were of interest to the blogger. “There is very little—though some—original reporting on weblogs,” Atrios observes, “…It’s more about focusing on stories which would otherwise be buried or simply focusing on key details from stories which may be overlooked….” For a blogger like Marshall, providing what he calls “a kind of counter-conversation to what’s going on in the mainstream media, particularly the national daily newspapers, was [a] driving force in his weblog writing.

Counter-conversation gets it right. The initial verdict on Lott, “No, I don’t think it’s anything” called out for a counter opinion, which the blogs gave. According to Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News, the press “is usually not in the business of saying, ‘Oh my God, this is outrageous.’” It would prefer to have someone else take that step. But journalists will go trolling about for strong responses, an act considered within their authority.

Very often, Halperin observes, the he said/she said cycle is “what it takes not only to make something a story, but for journalists to realize that there is a story.” This outsourcing of news judgment is most extreme in the case of television news. And it’s another reason weblogs can have influence. For they are in the business of saying, “this is outrageous.”

On Monday, March 14, what might be a landmark in press studies was released by the Project on Excellence in Journalism. The State of the News Media is a 500-page report that attempts to account for the alarming, but also churning and complicated condition of the news business today. One of the themes is capital withdrawal, which I would contrast to the better weblogger’s willing investment in time, energy and quality flow. The industry trend is clear in this passage, under “News Investment.”

When AOL purchased Time Warner in 2001, one early move of the new company’s executives…was to institute a cost per minute analysis of the network. How much did it cost Fox News to produce a minute of its news versus CNN to produce a minute of its programming? The result of the AOL analysis was this: CNN was spending too much. It needed to rid itself of people and bureaus— as it turned out including many of its more senior journalists… In quick succession, some of CNN’s most familiar on-camera faces were gone, as well as many behind-the-scenes staff.

And those are the people with knowledge. What the “counter-conversation” is countering includes this trend.

Big Media Meets the Bloggers, Kennedy School case study

Seth Finkelstein at Infothought on the case study.

Glenn Reynolds on declining investment in news quality. Jeff Jarvis has a reply.

See also: PressThink, The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism.

John Naughton in the Guardian (March 14, 2004: Power to the bloggers? That’s only half the story

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 15, 2004 1:16 AM   Print


The Harvard paper saved to my hard disk fine - what the wretched security gizmo stops you from doing is copy/pasting, which is pretty petty, but...

Posted by: John Smith at March 16, 2004 1:41 AM | Permalink

I give a simple procedure that anyone (with a Linux system) can perform to obtain a fair-use capable file:

Making Fair Use of the Report on "Big Media" Meets The "Bloggers"

Jay may not want to be the next 2600 :-)

[P.S.: Thank you very much for the mention!]

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 16, 2004 3:32 AM | Permalink

I think the Lott story is a good example of using weblogs to effectively release important information that may have slipped through cracks (or fault lines, for that matter) on the mass media express-way. However, there are several instances where rumors or unverified reports (particularly cooked up on right wing word processors *ahem* drudge report) are released and discussed by weblog after weblog.

This is evidenced in The Daily Kos's discussion of Kerry's alleged Botox dosages..

Even one person commenting on this page mentioned the exhaustion of the topic.. "Do we need five entries a day on this," one wrote. In this case, I think there is a recycling effect at play here--where a topic is analyzed so much it becomes hard to differentiate between what bit of info is news and what is speculation/false..

If weblogs do exert influence over what becomes news (as they did with the Lott case)..isn’t it rightful to fear that re-hased rumors could translate into news this way, creating a situation father more problematic, in my opinion, than the 24 hour news cycle (more problematic because I think it's fair to assume: no news is better than false news..)

Your thoughts?

Posted by: student at March 16, 2004 2:59 PM | Permalink


Your essay speaks to a very powerful topic, which is how much of the value produced by media organizations is of the news gathering kind, and how much is how that news is prioritized and packaged. Blogs can prioritize and package news very well; they can't gather it.

Posted by: MattS at March 16, 2004 4:15 PM | Permalink

That the blogs provided, almost overnight, that “short course on Dixiecrat politics” was one reason they could play corrective to the news machine.

is your key line.

Blogs traffic in History. The "Mainstream" media is ignorant of History -- and downright proud of that fact.

The "Mainstream" exists in an eternal "present" whose eye is always cocked towards a "future" that will simply repeat said "present" over and over again. It took notice of Blogistan for the Lott story only because it felt it might be missing out on something "new."

It remains to be seen whether this will happen again.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at March 16, 2004 4:42 PM | Permalink

Student: The blog system has many problems and weaknesses. It should not be idealized. But I was examining a particular role weblogs can play in correcting and "checking" news judgment in the traditional press.

Perhaps I should have mentioned that the press also has to check and correct certain excesses the blogs may exhibit. Could the scenario you suggest here happen? Sure. It could. And yes, it's rightful to fear that and worse. However, the problem of making news from "pure" rumor existed in mainstream journalism well before anyone heard of weblogs.

What Freud called the "reality principle" is under constant stress, and it breaks down constantly. On the other hand, reality has some force too. Consider the rumor about Kerry and "the intern."

Plenty of people wish it were true, and they talked it up as if it were true. The incentives to believe it are still there. Yet one does not hear much about that story any more. Reality came out and crushed it. We have to take our counsel from that, too.

David: I agree, much remains to be seen. It may be that the Lott episode was such a special set of circumstances that it really won't happen like that again.

Thanks, Matt: Yes, packaging is part of it, but I was also pointing to properties of the weblog system--like deliberation, information sharing, historical knowledge--that are not properties of news manufacture in the mainstream press.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 16, 2004 6:45 PM | Permalink

The "Mainstream" exists in an eternal "present" whose eye is always cocked towards a "future" that will simply repeat said "present" over and over again. It took notice of Blogistan for the Lott story only because it felt it might be missing out on something "new."

It remains to be seen whether this will happen again.


Indeed, blogs and the internet seem to be fostering 'memory' and injecting it forcefully into the media cycle, though it's not clear if this is a fad or a trend.


Also, blogs reprioritize news, which is an essential component of their value.

Posted by: MattS at March 16, 2004 7:02 PM | Permalink

Sunday on MTP; guest Howard Dean.
Here's a direct quote from Mr. Dean:

"I think John Kerry feels the same way I do. I think he's struggling with how to wage the war on terrorism."

Now, some may say that Mr. Dean doesn't know for sure what Mr. Kerry thinks and they would be correct. However, Mr. Dean's interpretations of Mr. Kerry's policy positions should be taken very seriously. After all, it was the news media that drummed theme of candidate Dean the shoot-from-the-hip straight shooter telling it like he really believes.

That Mr. Dean thinks Mr. Kerry is 'struggling' with how to prosecute the war on terrorism or the occupation of Iraq is troubling to say the least.

Posted by: Bob Cherry at March 16, 2004 7:57 PM | Permalink

MattS: "Indeed, blogs and the internet seem to be fostering 'memory' and injecting it forcefully into the media cycle"

And blogs are doing the work that the reporters don't have time for - quote from
- "Once upon a time, politicos preyed on the public's short attention span. Say one thing today, pretend you never said that tomorrow knowing no one would call you on it.
...[now every word uttered] can be instantly fact checked and vetted against previous...proclamations. And the press...doesn't even have to do the research. They simply have to read the blogs (and they certainly do)." (via Suburban Guerrilla)

Posted by: Anna at March 16, 2004 8:57 PM | Permalink

I think Anna's right that blogs provide a sort of institutional memory not only for journalists but for news junkies as well. The longer-running blogs, such as Eschaton and Talking Points Memo, have extensive searchable archives. The Daily Howler's self-described "incomparable archives" come close to approaching his tongue in cheek hype.

I think some folks may be missing the boat in viewing blogs simply as mirrors or transmitters of news. Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, is a legitimate investigative reporter. Kevin Drum at CalPundit has begun to pursue stories on his own, and a number of print journalists are getting into the act as well. So there is, I think, some reason to believe that the role of blogs is evolving. Atrios, for instance, has a large enough readership at this point that he could, if he wished, become an interview journalist if not an investigative one.

The traditional press still for the most part resists reacting to blogs. One reason for that, in my view, is that bloggers are hard on journalists and journalists as a rule are not particularly receptive to criticism or prone to self-examination other than during the annual year-end orgy of recrimination. The Daily Howler takes a fairly vituperative approach to reporters and columnists Somerby finds to be less than accurate or honest, and Google has made it possible for bloggers to track the inconsistencies of reporters as well as of politicians and other public figures.

The Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk blog has generated some quite surly responses from reporters pilloried in it, and despite the volume of tips it receives from readers, it has nowhere near the resources necessary to cover the entire spectrum. It is in a position, however, to begin breaking stories should it choose to go that route and solicit story tips.

So I do think blogs, at least the scrupulous ones, may quite easily move from commentary to reporting if the motivation is there. A case in point is the exposure of an incident in which a Trident missile was damaged during unloading from a sub. The incident was first reported on former Naval officer Walt Fitzpatrick's blog as a result of a tip from a former colleague. The story hasn't gotten wide play, but it did get picked up by AP and the Seattle papers.

One other function blogs can perform quite well is connecting dots. With so many news sources available to bloggers, it's possible to catch stories that may be related but haven't been associated by the press. One example of that might be the recent story about Medicare acutary Richard Foster's travails with regard to the cost of the new Medicare bill. To my knowledge, hardly anyone has connected the current flap with a nearly identical one last June when Foster was threatened with dismissal for another report on the same legislation. Taken together the two stories make a much more illuminating story than the one-off version.

I'll agree that commentary and institutional memory are the strengths of blogs now, but I'm certain that this will change, slowly, to a more proactive role over the next five years or so.

Posted by: weldon berger at March 17, 2004 3:15 AM | Permalink


Those are very insightful comments.

Posted by: MattS at March 17, 2004 11:22 AM | Permalink

Great point on O'Keefe's knowing his history. (Perhaps that's an Irish thing? Sorry, I didn't get to your blog until St. Patrick's Day.) Likewise about bloggers in this case providing the background to those with lesser memories. Even if they didn't know a Dixiecrat from a Dixiecup when the first tips appeared, I suspect bloggers are more inclined to surf around and dig up some background.

Although "immediacy" is one of the most hyped things about the Internet, the other thing the Web can do really well is actively link into recent and past history, to give evidence or put things in context. I wish bloggers and online newspapers alike did that more.

I'm especially annoyed by newspaper sites that bury background issues behind $2.50 a hit archives. (See my updated blog item on the recent plagiarism case in Hartford.)

In addition to seeing archives as a Lexis-like cash cow, I suspect TV-bred media marketing consultants have convinced corporate managers that a "scanners not readers" mass audience doesn't want depth online, and that it's not worth designing into a site, building into a newsroom culture, or paying for.

Like a public library, archives aren't something everyone uses every day... but the important thing is having them there, reliable and accessible for the times when we do need them -- or for people who have the time to do the public-service work of pointing us all to something we'd forgotten about or missed the significance of. Civic-librarian-bloggers, blogger-journalists, citizen-pathfinders, whatever.

If you're collecting discussions of the Trott/blog connection, here are a
few other links
, including an earlier long study at Georgetown. Amazing how the magic word "Harvard" has brought this story back!

Posted by: Bob Stepno at March 17, 2004 2:32 PM | Permalink

Fascinating take on the Lott affair. Incidentally, last fall I published a paper on it as well, "Parking Lott: The Role of Weblogs in the Fall of Sen. Trent Lott." You can access it here: ... my name also links to it.

Posted by: Chris Wright at March 17, 2004 4:09 PM | Permalink

I don't think the WH press corps would like you calling it a special interest. I appreciate your candor.

How many of them ever watch themselves on TV? They seem to be playing to each other rather than to the consumers of news.

Posted by: carol nash at May 13, 2004 2:29 PM | Permalink

From the Intro