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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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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 17, 2004

When it Goes Both Ways: A Blogger for the Liberal Media Thesis Meets Contrary Evidence at the LA Times

The Dog Trainer is the mock title blogger Patterico sometimes uses for the Los Angeles Times, which he monitors for liberal bias. Patterico saw bias. He e-mailed the editors. A front page story about Ruth Bader Ginsberg resulted. The blogger won a big victory. He also thought it would never happen. Why?

That is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned in weblogs; it was the first lesson… I had a new relationship with my “public.” The public spoke; it argued; it agreed; it disagreed; it could be friendly; it could be generous; it could be trollish; it had names. But I now had a relationship with my public I’d never had before. And that public had a relationship with me it never could have before, when I was merely printed on paper: a two-way relationship.
Jeff Jarvis, at his weblog, Buzzmachine.

Ten days ago (March 7th) an item appeared in a weblog, Patterico’s Pontifications, that used a mock tone of pride and excitement to explain that soon the blogger in question, Patterico, would have news to report. “I may be about to break a big story in the Los Angeles Dog Trainer.” It was no joke. It was journalism he was talking about.

The Los Angeles Dog Trainer is the mock title Patterico sometimes uses for the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he maintains a critical relationship with. Blogging anonymously, he is part of a collective of press watchers with weblogs; and he monitors the Times for liberal bias, plus other sins, like sloppy or dumb reporting.

The entry for March 7th was sarcastic. (But also serious, as we’ll see.) Tomorrow, the blogger said, the Times was to publish the third of three articles critical of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (And it did.) Patterico happened to know it was based on facts—outside activities with an advocacy group with potential business before the Court—that were equally true, and easily confirmed, about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

You see, on January 29th of this year, Justice Ginsburg spoke at a dinner co-sponsored by the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. Just fifteen days earlier, Justice Ginsburg participated in a decision in a case in which the NOW Legal Defense Fund had filed an amicus brief. In that decision, Justice Ginsburg (and the other Justices) ruled in favor of the NOW Legal Defense Fund’s position.

These facts turned out to be true— and for the Times they were newsworthy because of the Scalia coverage. I was reading Patterico’s blog the next day, March 8. There was the link to a front page account in the Los Angeles Times by staff writers Richard A. Serrano and David G. Savage (“Scalia Addressed Advocacy Group Before Key Decision”):

As the Supreme Court was weighing a landmark gay rights case last year, Justice Antonin Scalia gave a keynote dinner speech in Philadelphia for an advocacy group waging a legal battle against gay rights.

Back at Patterico’s post, I knew in a minute that if Ginsberg had done in January what Scalia did here, there would almost certainly be a story about it in the LA Times— backtracking, as it were, from the more recent news to the earlier episode. It would probably be soon, and by the same reporters. I became more intrigued when I realized that Patterico did not make the same calculation. He did not believe the second story would run. He chose sarcasm to say it:

Since the Los Angeles Times doesn’t print stories based on the ideological biases of its editors, you can bet that in the next 24-48 hours, their reporters will be bombarding legal experts with phone calls, asking their opinions regarding Justice Ginsburg’s ethics.

(Which is exactly what they did do.) The day after he wrote that, Patterico was back to explain his tone. “Irony doesn’t always come across well in print,” he said on March 9th. So he spelled it out. “I don’t really think that the L.A. Times cares that Justice Ginsburg may have done the same thing that the Times criticizes Justice Scalia for today.” They’re liberal allies, after all. Or at least the editors agree with her positions and values, he reasoned.

Here’s the phrase that should have tipped you off.
Since the Los Angeles Times doesn’t print stories based on the ideological biases of its editors …

If you can read a line like that and take it seriously, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

Now this made me think. I certainly felt I was reading the right blog. I had bookmarked it, so I could follow along. Patterico was on to something at his weblog; it was politics, it was journalism, it was blogging. I had written a lot at PressThink about “watch” blogs, and here was one about to break news because it was watching. I wanted to see what happened between him and the Los Angeles Times on March 9, 10, 11. And yet, having gone around in my mind about it for years, I do take seriously the statement: “the Los Angeles Times doesn’t print stories based on the ideological biases of its editors.” From what his blog tells me, this would flabbergast Patterico. “You’re probably reading the wrong blog.”

I take it seriously for several reasons: first because I know the editors of the Times do. If I have any business with the editors—especially the business of a critic—then I ought to know this about them, and think about it once in a while. The editors’ self-understanding is: “We don’t print news stories on the basis of ideology. Our codes and practices prevent it, and they work, most of the time.” I also know that critics like Patterico would find journalism at the Los Angeles Times a lot more honorable if they felt the statement, “we don’t print stories to fit out biases,” were empirically true. Or let’s say true more often than not.

So that’s two reasons to honor the statement. It expresses an ideal that is common to the blogger and the editors: unbiased journalism. A third reason came on March 11th when, relying on information from Patterico, a reader who writes (and who contacted his Reader Representative, as he should) the Times published this story, “Ginsburg Has Ties to Activist Group,” by the same two reporters. Surprise!

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lent her name and presence to a lecture series cosponsored by the liberal NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, an advocacy group that often argues before the high court in support of women’s rights that the justice embraces.

Patterico, whose weblog broke the story the Times published that day, never thought it would appear. But why? Well, if you knew Pontifications (Harangues that Just Make Sense) and what the people who hung out there believed, it was kind of self-evident (but also, they felt, there was abundant evidence for it) that the biases of the editors—left liberal, mostly—were not only a factor in what the Times prints, but a pervasive influence over news coverage and priorities.

It is worth noting that Patterico’s blog, making a daily case for this thesis, is part of a larger group effort, Oh, That Liberal Media. It blends the work of eleven writers and their weblogs. I find the contributors a fascinating mix, including the way they fan out over the nation and its journalism. Here are a few:

Stefan Sharkansky writes the Shark Blog from Seattle, where he comments on the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other fine publications.

David Hogberg lives in Iowa, where he writes the Cornfield Commentary blog. He comments on the Des Moines Register and other Hawkeye newspapers.

Harry Siegel lives in Brooklyn, where he edits the New Partisan web magazine. He comments on the New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters, and the New York press.

Kimberly Swygert is a psychometrician and writes Number 2 Pencil blog, covering testing and education reform. She comments on bias in education journalism.

Oh, That Liberal Media is a weblog that replies to Eric Alterman’s book, What Liberal Media? which makes fun of the claim that the Left is in charge of the press. That’s something the Right has learned to keep saying, just to maintain the pressure for better treatment, says Alterman. “Working the refs,” he calls it. The ingenious thing about this comparison is that you work the refs whether your team is down by twenty, up by fifteen or tied at the half. To a coach riding the officials, the facts of the game are instrumental to an argument that erupts but never changes.

The subtitle of the Oh, That… blog is: “Answering the question ‘What Liberal Media?’, by highlighting liberal bias, agendas, distortions and erroneous reporting in the mainstream media.” That tells you where they are coming from. On March 11, the day the Times story on Ginsberg and NOW appeared, Patterico posted:

On the one hand, I have to hand it to the Los Angeles Times. They have run a front-page story about Justice Ginsburg’s speech to the NOW Legal Defense Fund.

On the other hand, why did I have to be the one to tell them about it?

The other day, when the Times ran a story about Justice Scalia’s having spoken before an advocacy group, I told you here that Justice Ginsburg had done substantially the same thing in January… I also told you that I had sent an e-mail to the Times’s “Reader’s Representative” about Justice Ginsburg’s speech. In a subsequent post, I explained that I didn’t really expect the Times to do anything about it.

I was wrong.

Why was Patterico so convinced that the story would never appear? After all, in the category of media watch blogging, his work last week was exemplary. It was also an act of public service to other readers of the Times. He e-mailed what he knew about news the paper had missed, alerting it: you have a problem of fairness here. The reader’s rep zapped it over to the national desk. One of the reporters on the Scalia story e-mailed Patterico, who sent him stuff. And bada-bing, another front page story for the two writers, which was also a way to demonstrate that the LA Times does not play favorites. The symmetry of the circumstances with Scalia and Ginsberg made it an easy call.

Then, as the blogger’s “influence run” continued, (complete with a coveted link from Instapundit) Justice Ginsberg found she had to address publicly the issue of her involvement with NOW, and the LA Times covered that too. (Go here and here and here.) She even offered her own press think about how the story came to be:

Noting that the first articles were about Scalia, her conservative colleague, Ginsburg described those stories as “on one side of the political spectrum.” The story about her relationship with the NOW legal defense fund came later, she said, because “the L.A. Times wanted to give equal treatment” to a liberal justice like herself.

Well, precisely. “I sent Serrano links to the relevant Supreme Court decision, and to the NOW web page in which they boasted of having filed an amicus brief in the case,” the blogger wrote. Even then he did not believe the story would fly. “I just didn’t think the editors would print it,” he said. But then he reflected on it. “I am impressed with the Times for running this story.”

I have to admit that I was shocked… The reporters called the same experts they had called for the Scalia story, and elicited the same opinions. The paper’s editors gave the story appropriate prominence: above the fold on the front page. I do think the reporters and editors deserve our respect for having been intellectually honest about this.

This was new information. Comments from readers at Pontifications included: “I’m gobsmacked.” “I give the dog trainer minimal credit.” “Score one for the little (internet) guy.” “Hey, Brit Hume on FNC just told the story of Scalia and Ginsberg!”

My comments are these. The blogger said to the LA Times: It goes both ways, guys. He wasn’t sure either speech was such a big deal. “But if they’re going to run one story, they have to run the other. That much seems obvious.” Obvious, yes, but not what the Liberal Media thesis led him to predict.

As Jeff Jarvis wrote today, “a two-way relationship” with a public is a new and potentially potent thing in journalism. Patterico found—and it shocked him—that in this instance he had a two-way relationship with the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper told him what the news was, and he told the newspaper about news it had missed.

If in the end he was impressed with the Times for doing the story, then Richard A. Serrano and David G. Savage had to be impressed with the tip they got from a reader who writes and links to what he writes about. So that’s two way. Look again at what Jarvis “discovered” as he got his mind around the two-way public. “The public spoke; it argued; it agreed; it disagreed; it could be friendly; it could be generous; it could be trollish; it had names.” That’s true of Patterico and the LA Times.

There is more to this “watchblog” thing than greets the eye. (See OJR’s roundup here.) It may be one way the press is adjusting—or being adjusted—to a two-way public: readers who are also writers. But the two-way weblogger has to adjust too, especially when there is new information, or a theory that fails to predict. It’s just one case, of course, one story. And within days Patterico was back, with “another potential controversy out there” involving Ginsberg, which the Times had not covered.

Back, but probably not in the same place. Journalism may be a lot more interesting once it gets interested in the many benefits of going both ways.

via Romenesko’s Letters, Harry Shearer notes that it was he who started calling the Los Angeles Times the Dog Trainer. Duly noted. Patterico credits Shearer at his blog.

Reason writer and weblogger Matt Welch at Kevin Roderick’s LA Observed: “Politically motivated media watching, while not always the most pleasant thing to read, produces an enormous amount of useful & corrective information. In fact, I would bet $50 that more media boo-boos are pointed out by those with a political agenda than by those who are trying consciously to be scrupulously non-partisan.”

Jeff Jarvis comments on this post: And the lion and the lamb shall report together.

Seth Finkelstein has questions about this post at Infothought: “Does the average journalist - pre-blog, pre-Internet, pre-New-Era, pre-this-changes-everything - really ordinarily think no readers can have something to say? Something intelligent to say?… I keep getting the image of a scene that would fit in the old Planet Of The Apes movie, where the sentient apes in a Council are expressing their astonishment at the existence of an intelligent human species.”

And in the comments at Infothought, cypherpunk says:

I think the truth is obvious. Journalism has always been about exercising power. It goes without saying that this is a significant motivation for many journalists. It’s not a high paying profession, generally, and working conditions aren’t great. But journalists have the power to influence people, to frame political and social questions, to bring problems to the attention of the public….

Given the reality that journalism is about power, it is unsurprising that input from the public is unwelcome. People are there to be molded and influenced, not to complain and argue. At best, public input is useful feedback to determine how well the journalists are exercising their influence and manipulative skills. And likewise, new forums for public voices (like blogs) are also perceived as a challenge rather than welcomed into the brotherhood.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 17, 2004 5:00 PM   Print


"Journalism may be a lot more interesting once it gets interested in the benefits of going both ways."

Jay, can I ask a puzzled question, illustrating my very non-journalist perspective? Honestly, I think I'm missing something in grasping the worldview of this subculture (very foreign to me).

Does the average journalist - pre-blog, pre-Internet, pre-New-Era, pre-this-changes-everything - really ordinarily think no readers can have something to say? Something intelligent to say?

I read you. I read Jeff Jarvis. I read Dan Gillmor. Etc. I keep getting the image of a scene that would fit in the old Planet Of The Apes movie, where the sentient apes in a Council are expressing their astonishment at the existence of an intelligent human species:

"What manner of a creature is this? It talks! It expresses itself in coherent sentences! But it's still a reader. How can this be? We've never seen anything like it before. Does it do tricks? Can it be trained for more complex labor? Of course, whatever higher attributes it may have, it's still a dangerous beast. But maybe it can serve us better in the future if we carefully (always maintaining ultimate control) allow it to use more of its capabilities, at our direction."

In specific, I feel like I'm looking at an article by one of those chimpanzee factions who were in favor of the utility of the humans.

Am I wrong? Or has my long acquaintance with, e.g. the "work" of Declan McCullagh, given me a skewed perspective? (maybe that's the orangutan faction, which knows the truth, but suppresses it for their religious ends?)

Or, to turn it around completely, you're claiming yourself that journalism as a whole has *never* *before* cared what readers say? (which is the logical equivalent of your original statement!)

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 18, 2004 1:46 AM | Permalink

The cost (friction) of effort to respond to the media in the past was prohibitive for most. Even licking a stamp etc. meant that people weren't able unless somewhat manic to maintain a dialogue with their newspapers.

Blogs lower the stage much closer to eye level, where the audience and the performer can exchange glances much more readily.

Posted by: xian at March 18, 2004 4:38 AM | Permalink

"He e-mailed what he knew about news the paper had missed, alerting it: you have a problem of fairness here."

That's bending over backwards to cover for the paper. It's very doubtful the LA Times had MISSED Justice Ginsburg's speech and its context with NOW - it's the papers business to know that stuff. And the paper's belated article about her speech, after having been publicly exposed as eager to blast Scalia and ignore Ginsburg's earlier commission of the same 'crime', is a classic CYA maneuver.

In the old days, an outraged reader might complain to the editors by phone or letter, and the editors had the power and the means to suppress the complaint by not printing the letter or acting on the call. Who's to know better? But Patterico's blog spread the outrage far and wide, and the editors could not so easily bury the complaint. Hence the CYA article.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at March 18, 2004 11:57 AM | Permalink

Xian has part of the answer, Seth. Someone else who does is Tim Porter at First Draft. Follow the link to some of his better posts. My short answer is this: it's not that newspapers and journalists were uninterested in "readers" or had no contact with an alien species.

The rhetoric of "serving readers" was everywhere in the industry from the late 1980s on. The Reader was constantly invoked in journalism discussions, too, but this is different from having a lot of human contact with actual readers, listening to what they say, or dealing with what they write.

Prior to the Internet, metropolitan daily journalism was pretty insulated from readers and their complaints, let alone their ideas. You have to grasp how extreme this isolation could be. A team of journalists might work for weeks on a large story, and be pleased to get three or four letters and a couple of phone calls as their total reaction. The normal condition was to hear nothing from anybody after a story.

For hard data, there was market research that told something about readers; there was also the journalist's disdain for marketing (editing by the numbers), which led to fears of "caving in" to readers. That gaves you some sense of the factors that were operating... then.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 18, 2004 12:14 PM | Permalink

Thanks, those "marketing" and "rhetoric" factors are part of what I was trying to grasp.

I can readily see a local story might not have contact, be done in isolation, etc. And there could be a community effect.

Where I'm having trouble is something potentially partisan like Supreme Court justices and conflict of interest stories. There, I'd think it would be absolutely standard for any journalist to hear from professional right-wingers, "You liberal biased press, why don't you cover THIS!". And whether they did or didn't cover it wouldn't depend on a few readers ranting they should (whether blogs or paperspace letters-to-the-editor).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 18, 2004 12:55 PM | Permalink

Insufficiently Sensitive,

I'm going to give the Times the benefit of the doubt on this one. They have a circulation of over a million, whereas even the top blogger usually gets fewer than 100,000 visits in a day. I don't think they chose to put a story on Page One because they were doing CYA to avoid getting hammered by the blogs. I don't even think they found out about the story from my blog (though I bet the story has gotten back to the writers now!); I really think it was my e-mail tip that did it.

As I have stated before, what disappointed me was that they weren't out there digging this stuff up on their own. If you're motivated, it's not hard. They had run three stories on Scalia, and had represented (in the third story) that the other Justices tend not to do this sort of thing; that representation turned out to be insufficiently researched. But once notified that their representation was wrong, and that a liberal Justice had done the same thing, they did the right thing and moved ahead with it.

I do give them some credit for having a desire for balance. I just think that, due to most of their staff being left-liberal, they miss things that guys like me see. If they hired a few more right-leaning folks, they would inevitably produce a more balanced product. That's my feeling.

Posted by: Patterico at March 18, 2004 4:13 PM | Permalink

Well, magnanimous in victory. I salute that. And as for balancing the viewpoints of editors and reporting staff, from your mouth to God's ear.

But where are we going to find anywhere near enough reporters and editors who are not pre-biased by the leftie campuses? Balanced and articulate voices need appear in opposition to the knee-jerk liberal framing of stories and selective omissions, which do the worst harm in conveying sufficient information for an intelligent public to support fully considered opinions.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at March 18, 2004 5:09 PM | Permalink

Considered in themselves, Justice Ginsberg's speech at the NOW dinner and Justice Scalia's at the anti-gay group's dinner equally deserve journalistic attention. I am glad Patterico's blog caused the LA Times to deal with the Ginsberg speech.

I do not mean to suggest that the speeches and their sponsorship raise only minor questions. But doesn't the LA Times' initial pursuit of the Scalia speech to the exclusion of Ginsberg's reflect the greater seriousness of Justice Scalia's persistence in sitting in the Cheney case after accepting the vice president's close personal hospitality on a hunting trip?

Cheney is an actual party to the case, which asks for a judicial order directing him to do something (produce records); he is resisting. That is the heart of the controversy. Any close personal connection with any party to a case, let alone a party who is resisting a judicial order directed against him, should cause a judge to avoid participating in the party's case.

Posted by: Rowland at March 18, 2004 5:14 PM | Permalink

Patterico's whining is just another example of Conservatives playing the Victim Card.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at March 19, 2004 12:27 PM | Permalink

Count me an Ehrenstein Dittohead.

Posted by: John Gorenfeld at March 19, 2004 12:55 PM | Permalink

The learned, nuanced and deeply considered comments by D.E. and J.G. are dazzling demonstrations of the superiority of their perceptions and communication skills. Did we not understand this, one would think that the debate above their comments had left them all but speechless.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at March 19, 2004 5:32 PM | Permalink

This discussion sheds no light on another question: Why has the Ruth Bader Ginsberg/NOW story been all but ignored by the NY Times, the Washington Post, and other media outlets that have beaten to death the Scalia story with editorials and articles?

Posted by: BigSky at March 19, 2004 6:50 PM | Permalink

But where are we going to find anywhere near enough reporters and editors who are not pre-biased by the leftie campuses?

I have never heard a convincing explanation from conservatives and proponents of the liberal media thesis for why most journalists are liberals. How does that happen? Why is it still true? Would you at least grant that there is some mystery there?

The explanation you mention here (you may have others, of course) is that newsroom liberals are the educational outcome of liberals in the universities, who "pre-bias" them. But riddle me this. Among the legions of bright young professionals, conservatives, working for the majority party on Capitol Hill, there is no shortage of graduates from the same universities that graduate future journalists. How did they escape?

If our major universities indoctrinate future journalists in liberal assumptions, frames and positions, then would they not indoctrinate future lawyers, as well? How do so many of them escape the propaganda of their professors and become good soliders for the right, reliable supporters of the Republican party, or, indeed, active members of the Federalist Society?

I have never heard anyone in legal circles say: "where are we going to find anywhere near enough attorneys who are not pre-biased by the leftie campuses?" I have never heard anyone on Capital Hill say: "how are we going to find staffers for these committees who aren't soaked in liberal assumptions?" They don't seem to have the same problem drawing people who made it through the leftist mine field.

The lobbying industry, the consulting biz, public relations firms-- all draw from the same universities graduates who are free enough from liberal and leftist thought to go to work for conservative causes. Why is the escape from intellectual captivity possible in these other arenas, and so difficult in journalism?

Finally, have you considered whether there is something about journalism--not liberal journalism, but journalism itself, the activity of it--that tends to make non-captive, open-minded and questioning people into liberals? I am not saying I buy this, but it's one explanation that suggests itself.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 19, 2004 11:56 PM | Permalink

The cost (friction) of effort to respond to the media in the past was prohibitive for most.

I never wrote letters to the editor before there were newspapers on the internet and email. I've had dozens of letters I wrote on the spur of a moment published. Blogs go that one farther. They keep the pressure on, and as Patterico's story shows they become a presence that reporters can ill afford to ignore.

The response of the L.A. Times is surprising because most other papers, like the NYTimes, the Washington Post and the Seattle PI seem so oblivious to what every blogger knows by now. If this keeps up, I may have to someday overcome my aversion to their stupid registration and password nonsense to read their paper regularly. Of course, that's still a long way from paying for it. But if they can respond positively to blogs as they did to Patterico, who knows what is possible?

Posted by: AST at March 20, 2004 1:12 AM | Permalink

I'm pretty liberal to start with but I swear that after I took a tour of the New York Times building back in the Anthony Lewis era, I felt downright socialistic for three or four days. I think it's the water.

On the subject of the LA Times response to the critical e-mail, the key to that experience was speed and documentation. Send a link and an excerpt and a story becomes impossible to ignore without confirming a bias, if not necessarily a political one then one against the plebians. It's timely enough not to get lost in the next wave of news, and there's always the option of sending it to the Washington Times or New York Post if you don't get satisfaction.

Papers with public editors or ombudsmen or whatever are much easier to establish relationships with than ones without, and e-mail has played a major role in that too. You can email the writer, the appropriate editor and the ombudsman either simultaneously or serially, which is much easier than sending a letter or fax to any or all. The writers and editors are aware of the hulking or ankle-biting presence of the ombudsman and in most cases would prefer to resolve an issue before it shows up in the public column or even on the letters page. I know several desk editors who encourage readers to correspond with them first for just that reason, and that's something that would simply not have happened ten years ago.

Despite my relatively continous state of fury toward the press, I think most instances of what seem to be bias are due to either laziness, time pressures or the lure of the McStory. Some columnists are absolutely shameless and some reporters are unutterably credulous, but most editors and reporters retain at least a vestigial conscience which can be awakened by beating them politely about the head and shoulders.

On the other hand one finds reporters like Ron Fournier, a vastly experienced and apparently utterly unself-conscious AP reporter who got seriously busted by Atrios and then in a follow up on the CJR blog, something that wouldn't have happened a few years ago unless an institutionalized news junkie with a photographic memory was on the case.

Anyway, my theory is that there is bias toward both ends of the political spectrum but it isn't pervasive, other than at Fox and the opinion rags, the latter of which are supposed to be biased; the problems are mostly due to reporters who want to follow the existing glide path of a narrative rahter than do some actual thinking and digging and synthesizing.

Posted by: weldon berger at March 20, 2004 1:36 AM | Permalink

"Among the legions of bright young professionals, conservatives, working for the majority party on Capitol Hill, there is no shortage of graduates from the same universities that graduate future journalists. How did they escape?"

Maybe they didn't study journalism, hey? Maybe they didn't become fixated in their studies on the virtues of promoting 'social change', whatever liberal cause that's code for. Certainly a large fraction of the swarms of law students entering school since the 60s has espoused 'social change', and felt that their legal studies would enable them to swing bigger bats in accomplishing that.

Journalism students with the same aims could not have missed seeing the opportunities available to possessors of the microphones and the presses, particularly in the postwar decades where the NYT and its followers had a lock on the selection and framing of news items.

So I don't grant that 'there is some mystery here' regarding liberal journalistic bias. Universities are skewed left beyond belief in the arts/languages/social sciences departments, whence most social activists spring. Unless I'm misled, social activists (and journalists) don't come from the hard science or engineering departments, where natural laws deny moral equivalence to opposing answers to concisely framed questions. If you overload a beam, it breaks, no matter what political views the load holds, or what physical principles have been selectively omitted in public descriptions of beam behavior.

Journalism is in the beginnings of a self-realization, facing the rise of alternative media and particularly the blogs. The monopoly of the press and microphone is beginning to crack. Perhaps the next couple of generations of 'social change' purveyors will not be so attracted to media where bias is forthrightly challenged before a growing public, as Patterico so successfully did last week to the LA Times.

And it will take another two generations to bring even the beginnings of balance to the self-selected liberal bias of the Universities, but for the betterment of 'liberal education' in general it can't happen soon enough.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at March 22, 2004 3:16 PM | Permalink

"[isn't there] something about journalism--not liberal journalism, but journalism itself, the activity of it--that tends to make non-captive, open-minded and questioning people into liberals?"

Excuse me for being dense, but I thought non-captive, open-minded and questioning people _were_ liberals (if you listen to conservatives' speech, you'll notice that if questions are asked, they're typically ones to which the speaker already knows the answer)

In which case, if the journalism ideal is to be non-captive, open-minded and questioning, "liberal media bias" is something of a tautology.

Posted by: Anna at March 22, 2004 3:19 PM | Permalink

Maybe they didn't study journalism, hey?

Trouble is... about 50 percent of those who enter journalism don't study journalism either. So you are going to have trouble blaming it all on the J-schools. They emerge from the same universities and majors that send interns to the Hill and throughout official Washington, and that admit other graduates into fields like law, politics, consulting, including a healthy percentage of conservatives. So I ask again: why are there conservatives there and not in journalism?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2004 7:23 PM | Permalink

How does that happen? Why is it still true?


Beat reporter: A low-paying entry job typically staffed by a slumming liberal-arts grad who discovers the power in slanting the news and views provided to the community...

Posted by: Scott at March 22, 2004 8:30 PM | Permalink

"(Journalists)emerge from the same universities and majors that send interns to the Hill and throughout official Washington, and that admit other graduates into fields like law, politics, consulting, including a healthy percentage of conservatives. So I ask again: why are there conservatives there and not in journalism?"

First, there ARE conservatives in journalism, in about the same ratio to liberals as in the professoriate of liberal arts courses. Think the brilliant Michael Kelly, RIP, and say James Lileks and Mark Steyn, among the hordes of liberals occupying the rest of the positions. But they can't cancel liberal media bias in those numbers.

Second, the journalists in the predominant media, who succeed to the point where we see their bylines, have been through a sorting process imposed by their editors on applicants for promotions. Who's to say that the candidates who agree with the editors' biases are not perceived by the editors as 'non-captive, open-minded and questioning people', as Anna describes non-conservatives above, and therefore get the coveted positions?

Third, conservatives may well be self-sorting to the point that they choose other careers, that they hope will reward them via salaries grander than those earned by journalists.

And fourth, I repeat an earlier contention: that activists working for 'social change' and wishing to achieve positions of power in framing the debate and directing the dialogue via control of microphones and presses, are more likely to be self-selecting as journalists, even to the point of sacrificing financial rewards.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at March 22, 2004 8:51 PM | Permalink

Okay, thanks, Scott and IS. Let me see if I got this now...

Beat reporter: A low-paying entry job typically staffed by a slumming liberal-arts grad who discovers the power in slanting the news and views provided to the community...


conservatives may well be self-sorting to the point that they choose other careers, that they hope will reward them via salaries grander than those earned by journalists.

are put forward as explanation for the anxious cry:

where are we going to find anywhere near enough reporters and editors who are not pre-biased by the leftie campuses?

It would seem from these explanations that liberals, more so than conservatives, are willing to sacrifice financial gain for the chance to be a journalist. It's a plausible hypothesis.

The additional argument is made that this sacrifice is not selfless, but the price a liberal journalist is willing to pay, to define reality, spin the story, skew the picture, or just act out liberal convictions in the guise of reporting the news. In other words, the goal of the journalist is power, which is worth more to liberals than money.

If these are sound arguments, then an obvious explanation--for why there are so few conservatives in journalism--presents itself: conservatives aren't as willing to make the sacrifices required of educated people who have choices in life and choose to go into journalism. Liberals are willing to do that.

You say they are hungry for power, and that's why they accept less money (and crazier hours). But this explains very little, for surely it cannot be the case that conservatives are uninterested in power. In particular, they seem quite obsessed with the power of the media. So we're back to the "they choose other careers, that they hope will reward them via salaries grander than those earned by journalists."

And that is every American's right. But it certainly puts, "where are we going to get enough conservative journalists?" in a far different light.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2004 10:23 PM | Permalink

Jay, I'm left feeling I've missed something crucial to this conversation. I know libertarian reporters who are every bit as dogged in pursuing social injustice stories as are liberals, although the emphasis may well be on money pissed away than on lives disarranged. The same applies to conservatives: they're no less capable of good reporting on social issues even though they may approach it from a different direction.

I also know journalists whose approach to the job is entirely personal. Whatever pisses them off is fair game, and they'll find a reason to go after it. There's a reporter in my home town who essentially sank a gubernatorial campaign because its office didn't give him some documents he wanted. The shenanigans he pounded on for a few weeks were common to most of the candidates, but he was so far out front on the story that no one else even considered trying to catch up.

Reporters may come at an issue from different perspectives but at least in theory, ethical constraints should render the discrepancies minor. The point about editorial preferences has some validity, but if it were a rule, Judith Miller wouldn't be a star at the New York Times and half he Wall Street Journals's reporters would be unemployed.

So I'm left with the notion that what appears to be bias is usually just sloppy or lazy reporting or editing of the same caliber, and that it's usually pretty easy to detect a deliberate slant one way or the other.

I haven't met a lot of reporters with well-developed senses of shame, but I think the developing interaction between readers and writers will at least force more attention to detail simply because no one likes getting hammered day after day in front of, in some instances, several hundred thousand people.

Have I totally missed the boat here? Most of this seems fairly obvious to me and I've found that I'm usually wrong when something seems obvious.

Posted by: weldon berger at March 23, 2004 1:21 AM | Permalink

I'm less concerned with explaining the causes, which I can't claim to know. All I know is that, on certain hot-button issues like gun control, abortion, race issues, criminal justice, and the like, stories get skewed to the leftist viewpoint. I'm less convinced that this happens with personalities or politicians. For example, Gore got a raw deal from the press -- probably worse than Bush. But I'm utterly convinced that it happens on the hot-button issues.

Why, I can't say. But that it happens is almost beyond rational dispute, to the point that even Eric Alterman essentially concedes the point.

Posted by: Patterico at March 23, 2004 1:51 AM | Permalink

"In other words, the goal of the journalist is power, which is worth more to liberals than money."

OK, let's chew on this one for a minute. A favorite saying of the newsies is that they 'comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable'. What can disenfranchised news-consumers do when the journalists are EXERCISING power via selective omissions and other tools of steering public opinion?

Here the 'comfortable' are the journalists with their monopoly of the press and the microphone, and the 'afflicted' are the citizens who must make crucial voting decisions based on the partial or skewed information provided by the comfortable ones. Small wonder that some of us (not just conservatives), who feel that being fully informed is a citizen's duty, have been looking for years for an effective weapon to use to afflict biased journalists. They sorely need afflicting.

Letter to the editor don't work - they come days after the stories have expired, if the editor doesn't roundfile or edit them. Outraged phone calls are even less effective. Not until blogs has there been a decent afflictor available to the news consumer. And even blogs have a long way to go before citizens are provided with full, necessary and sufficient information by a more professional corps of journalists.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at March 23, 2004 4:37 PM | Permalink

I'm hardly in a position to judge the national media. I don't spend my idle hours pulling apart its droppings for evidence of ingested bias, and I have never participated in an editorial meeting of a major national news outlet.

I am a humble -- real humble -- local journalist and now web-based journalism business owner. I am in the only business I have ever loved.

It is possible that my limited observations do not apply at the national level. I just don't think so.

I believe there is an inherent set of biases in the press. There is a bias towards order. Who would prefer chaos? So our stories tend to favor the police or prosecutorial view of a given alleged crime, at the expense of the not-yet-convicted-except-in-print suspect.

There is a bias towards the American system of government. Faults and all, our stories imply, it's better than (insert name of nation here)'s.

And, most significantly, there is a bias towards change. No change equals no news. And no news is baaaad news indeed.

There are reporters with liberal biases, certainly. And there are reporters with conservative biases. I believe, based only on my very limited sightline here in Podunk, that they exist in roughly equal amounts.

It is ridiculous, say I, to believe that journalism, alone of all industries, attracts, retains, and indoctrinates large cadres of liberals. Illogical. And the debate in this thread has done nothing to persuade me otherwise.

And most -- again, in my nearly-useless experience -- work hard to keep those biases out of print. The other ones, towards order and America and change, cannot be avoided and are rarely even discussed.

They will look like liberal or conservative bias, but a closer examination may reveal other, deeper structural issues.

If true, this point of view would destroy the burgeoning criticize-half-the-world industry. Therefore, it cannot possibly be true, or, even if it is, it cannot possibly be embraced.

Therefore, I am wrong, as I predicted.

Posted by: Dave Bullard at March 24, 2004 9:00 PM | Permalink

Just wanted to note that David Ehrenstein, the gentleman who called me a whiner above, is now busy mocking religious people on a thread on another site, here.

On that thread, a guy named Chucky responds:

David Ehrenstein's hysterical diatribes against anyone ignorant enough to believe in anything beyond the visible physical universe certainly provide a useful corrective here, in case anyone was under the mistaken notion that proud bias and ignorant polemics were strictly a function of the right. Way to restore some balance, David!
Call me a Chucky dittohead.

Posted by: Patterico at March 26, 2004 8:58 PM | Permalink

From the Intro