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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 25, 2004

No One Owns Journalism: Discussion Paper for BloggerCon Two.

The background essay, "No One Owns Journalism," and an initial list of questions for the BloggerCon session I will be leading April 17 at Harvard Law School. Expect this post to change as comments come in and I re-think it. Plus, I need ten more questions for my final list of twenty. Got an idea?

I will be discussion leader for a session at BloggerCon that we are tentatively calling “What is Journalism? And What Can Weblogs Do About it?”

If you plan to attend, (see Dave Winer’s invitation) or follow along by webcast, or if you just have an interest in the subject, here are background notes, some distinctions that might usefully be drawn before discussion starts, and an initial list of questions for the group. There will be no lecture, no speeches, no panel. Dave’s philosophy at BloggerCon (and I agree with it) is that the people in the room are the panel. Keep that in mind as you read this. If you show up, you are a participant. It helps to be on the same page as others, and that’s the purpose of this post.

(Expect this to be revised up to the day of the conference, April 17.)

Background Essay, Draft Form:
No One Owns Journalism

(About 1,500 words, so read it when you have time.)

By “journalism” we ought to mean the practice of it, not the profession of it. Journalism can happen on any platform. It is independent of its many delivery devices. This also means that journalism is not the same thing—at all—as “the media.” The media, or Big Media as some call it, does not own journalism, and cannot dispose of it on a whim.

Nor does any professional group own journalism, any more than museums and galleries can “own” painting. Although the best journalists around today are professionals, this has not always been the case. During Benjamin Franklin’s time, printers were the people who served as journalists. They were stationed at the right point in the information flow, and they had the means to distribute news. Printers were often postmasters too, which helped.

If printers and postmasters, who didn’t set out to be journalists, can wind up as that, then in any era we should think it possible for people to wind up doing journalism because they find it a logical, practical, meaningful, democratic, and worthwhile activity.

The Open Practice and a Free Press

Journalism is a demanding practice; and only in principle—a pretty important principle—is “anyone” or “everyone” able to do it. It might surprise some at BloggerCon that journalists do not always like to be called professionals. Many don’t buy it, and they will argue with you if you say journalism is a profession. The first time I met with this attitude, I didn’t understand it. You won’t find social workers, pharmacists, dentists or public school teachers grabbing your lapels to say: We’re not a profession, buddy. Got that? But in journalism you get this argument often.

Why? Well, it’s part of a larger argument— for freedom in the press. “Journalism is a profession” only makes sense if you officially qualify people as journalists. That’s what a profession does: restrict the practice to the qualified ones. The bid for public trust follows from that initial division between the qualified and the not. “I’m a licensed teacher, trust me with your child.”

Journalists sometimes join in those kinds of restrictions (the press pass, for example) and they often do think, “we’re the pros at this…you’re not. ” But the deeper feeling among many is that journalism should always be open, unrestricted, in principle there for anyone, qualified or not, experienced or not, because to restrict the practice to approved voices is ultimately hostile to a free press. That’s why they say: we’re not a profession, don’t call us that.

The Professionals Set a Standard

So to argue that professionals don’t own journalism is no disrespect to professionals. It’s simply another way of calling for a free press, of preserving journalism as an open and democratic practice. The truth is that the people who do it for a living, because they are able to do it for a living, set a high standard for excellence, and—despite all kinds of problems—for basic accuracy in reporting.

Meanwhile, the capacity of the major news organizations to find out what’s happening, to package and deliver it to people, dwarfs any alternative capacity out there— including, of course, the weblogs. What I mean by “dwarfs” includes facts like the news and editorial budget at the New York Times: $180 million a year for a staff of 1,200. (See this.) That translates into power, as when The Times won a reprieve from Internet censorship in China because “its former editor appealed personally to former President Jiang Zemin.”

Even at two million weblogs and counting, the blog sphere isn’t in the same category or dimension as an institution like the Times, and that’s only one of hundreds of rich and powerful firms in the journalism biz (including nonprofit firms like NPR.) The weblog sphere isn’t an institution at all, and whatever strengths it has probably derive from that.

My own feeling is that amateur journalists, citizens, webloggers should take seriously the existing standard in the institutional press. They should understand what goes into meeting it, and even emulate professional journalism from time to time— when it fits with the author’s purposes. These are self-defined. And when they are not, a weblog is starting to become something else, more familiar to us. In the worst case, it’s PR or propaganda.

Of course, none of this means we should back off for a moment from criticism of a powerful institution, the press, or that all-surrounding complex, The Media. Both need it, and this is one of the first demands that weblogs, including this one, responded to. But when you free “journalism” from those two things—The Press, The Media—it’s easier to talk about the practice and what weblogs may add to it.

Passage to the Public Sphere

Even if only a tiny amount of “real journalism” (however you define it) goes on at weblogs, there is significance in a simpler fact: blogs represent passage to the public sphere. Citizens of any kind who decide to take up their pens and write their thoughts down at their own self-titled, self-published magazines—and there are a lot of those already—could, at any time, pick up the reporter’s notebook too. The first place they are likely to head is some event that concerns them— maybe the school board.

Are amateur correspondents unlikely to emerge en masse? Extremely so. And maybe their chance for a mass audience is nil. But picture them anyway. Were they to go out and report the world, the weblog is already there, an outlet to the sea. By starting to blog as a journalist, they can navigate to the open waters of the Web, and follow their own course in journalism to… who knows?

This is what openness means. It takes a stunted or cynical mind to find no importance in it. Any increase in human freedom—what people are now free to do for themselves—adds to democratic possibility. The weblog, I think, is an addition like that in journalism. Read James Wolcott in Vanity Fair on the blogs. He agrees.

No one owns the practice. In principle, it’s anyone’s game. The press doesn’t own journalism, entirely. And Big Media doesn’t entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn’t. These things were always true. The weblog doesn’t change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends “the press” to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night.

Journalism is Done for a Public

Journalism can be a commercial thing, done for money, or a noncommercial thing, done for love. It may be done as a public service, a way of entering into political debate, or for the simple and practical reasons people have always shared information or “talk.” It can be a purely human and expressive act. And, of course, it is sometimes done for reasons of power.

But what most identifies the practice of journalism is not power, profit, or free expression in itself. It’s the idea of addressing, engaging and freely informing a “public” about events in its world. It is an interesting question how many people it takes for, say, a political weblog to have a political public. I don’t know that it has an answer.

Philosophers disagree on whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound, if no ear hears it. But it is certain that the tree does not make news. Until it hits a house, and civilization gets involved. Then a public interest is at stake. Now there can be news. Journalism has something to do with things seen at stake in the world for a group of inter-connected people who share that world. Those are the people I’m calling a public.

To get even more elemental about it, and to go back further in time: Before you can have journalism, certain patterns in human settlement need to arise. The scale must be enlarged enough so that things happening all around the settlement are hard to know about without a lot of extra effort. Self-contained worlds on a truly human scale don’t need many journalists and may have none. Life there is self-informing.

Modern Scale and the Awayness of Things

I once tried to characterize this condition as the “awayness” of things. The harbor town small enough so that everyone knows when a new ship arrives needs no provider of shipping news. By going about its business, the town already has the news, so to speak. You could say that everyone’s a journalist around the harbor. You could say that no one is, which is probably wiser.

In this sense, journalism is modern because the scale that requires it is modern. Big developments in the awayness of things—wars, for example, or a growth in the scale of economic activity—always drive, transform and unsettle journalism. It seems we’re at such a point now. The Internet is a rather big development in the awayness of things.

If some say we are verging on a new era in citizens’ media; if they are tempted to phrase it melodramatically, as in “now the audience has a printing press,” or “now everyone’s a journalist,” then our discussion at BloggerCon must admit into evidence all the ways these statements misidentify the reality and over-estimate or misconstrue the weblog’s (so far) modest effects— all the ways they aren’t true.

But at the same time, it’s helpful to isolate the handful of ways that such sweeping and lyricized statements are true. “Now everyone can be a journalist” may be too idealistic, or just hype. But it speaks to a verifiable fact: barriers to entry have come way down in Web publishing. Monopolies of knowledge are being ended here and there. And there are in fact more citizen journalists out there today who do have their own printing press and perhaps a public too. They are interacting with the press more and more, criticizing it a lot. They are making use of their outlet to the sea.

Something New and Potentially Big

The same forces bringing us those developments are meanwhile writing a new chapter in the evolution of journalism, the professional practice, by its available technology. Which brings us to the possibilities of the weblog, a technology available to journalism, which also makes journalism more “available” to non-journalists. The premise of the J-track at BloggerCon (three sessions during the day) is that the weblog form and its setting (commonly but inelegantly called the Blogosphere) together represent something new in journalism— new and potentially important.

That’s very different from saying: the revolution is here!

What that “new” factor is, and how important it might become, what’s already happened in journalism because of weblogs— these are crucial matters on the floor, the meat of the subject at BloggerCon. The ticking heart of the subject, however, is why do journalism at all? What’s it good for? Why does it matter if it’s done one way or another? And why should webloggers even care about the practice? I anticipate good arguments around that.

One argument I do not anticipate making much room for is the most tired one: Are weblogs journalism? Frankly, I don’t care about this question. I think it’s dumb. As your discussion leader, expect me to lead away from it as soon as it comes up. But that means moving toward other, better questions, in pursuit of which there is the Comment section here (with 100+ entries) and here. (BOP News)

Finally, a Link

Ready? James W. Carey, The Struggle Against Forgetting. Carey, CBS Professor of International Journalism at Columbia University, has through a long career been Dean of the School of Communication at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, a member of the PBS Board, president of the Association for Education in Journalism in Mass Communication, and an author, scholar, critic concerned with journalism, culture and democratic life. The link goes to a speech Carey gave to entering journalism students at Columbia.

The snippet to get you interested:

“…Journalism arose as a protest against illegitimate authority in the name of a wider social contract, in the name of the formation of a genuine public life and a genuine public opinion. Journalism can be practiced virtually anywhere and under almost any circumstances. Just as medicine, for example, can be practiced in enormous clinics organized like corporations or in one-person offices, journalism can be practiced in multinational conglomerates or by isolated freelancers…. The practice does not depend on the technology or bureaucracy. It depends on the practitioner mastering a body of skill and exercising it to some worthwhile purpose.” More…

Aftermath: Notes, Reactions & Links…

A frequently productive discussion is underway in Comments, with over 100 replies so far. So hit the button and contribute your thoughts.

Interesting discussion at Tom Mangan’s Prints the Chaff: Bloggers and the Pulitzers. See the comments too.

Dave Winer, host and organizer of BloggerCon, decides to answer the question: What is Journalism? His notion: “”An independent view of a series of events.”

Dan Rosenbaum of Over the Edge: Blogging as Journalism Redux: “Weblogs are tools. What people do with those tools is up to them. Weblogs themselves are no more journalism than compilers are programming or automobiles are commuting. Tool. Function. Result. They’re different. Why is that so hard to understand?”

Former CNN‘er Rebecca MacKinnon, who will be leading the session on international weblogs and journalism at BloggerCom, starts her pre-conference discussion, in parallel to this one:

Weblogs are currently the most established and effective form of interactive, participatory media that can create these “cyber-commons”. But there are many other formats and tools other than weblogs that can also create “cyber-commons” – and may in the future do a better job of it. I do not want to limit the discussion to a particular set of software tools and hardware technologies. Some of the issues I want to raise pre-date the weblog, and most will definitely outlive the weblog as we currently think of it in 2004.

Interested parties should head over to LA Observed and check this post for the remarkable story of the World Journalism Institute retracting an earlier mission statement about Christians in holy battle with seculars in the newroom. The statement, by director Robert Case, apologizes to members for the earlier logic, and credits criticism from weblogs for the realizations WJI came to:

The World Journalism Institute has recently come under criticism in some blog quarters concerning its mission statement and its rationale for existence. The criticism has been directed towards the wording in our mission statement that suggests the Institute seeks to train Christian journalists to bend the news to fit a preconceived (presupposed) worldview shaped by the Bible, and then to send those propagandists into the mainstream newsrooms as agents (cadre) of Christianity.

The criticism, while unpleasant, is on target given that particular mission statement.

from LA Observed: Advocates for Christ no more. PressThink’s question: what is that a victory for?

In a post recommended to realists, Phil Wolff of a klog apart says

reading blogs is a zero sum game. Each person on earth has only so much disposable attention. Every content publisher competes for that finite pool. It’s not the blogosphere, of course, but the entire mediasphere and the real world fighting for attention.

The very popularity of weblogs and their ease for new entrants means that our marketplace for attention becomes more efficient. Like any nearly efficient market, overall rents (profits distributed) average toward zero. In an attention market, that means you may get your shot at the big time, but your content had better meet some niche’s needs superbly or you’re toast.

Fairness? Equal distribution of attention means that everyone has to read more dreck and that nobody ever gets to discover classics or bestsellers… it’s wrong to expect opportunity to scale.

The Oregonian profiles local blogger b!x (but without any links): Portland e-citizen doggedly chronicles local government: “during the past year and a half, this college dropout with no journalism experience has become the must-read source for those who follow city government.” And b!x (Christopher Frankonis) continues the discussion in Comments here.

Unbillable Hours has a detailed post, On How We Discuss Blogs, in anticipation of BloggerCon.

When she’s not serving as illustration in blogging articles, the unnamed “suburban mom” linked to above is Debra Galant of Debra Galant Explains the Universe (subtitled, “suburbia, motherhood and other black holes.”)

At commonplaces, Tom comments on this post: “Unlike TV news anchors, bloggers don’t all need to have the same hair, suit, desk. They don’t need to seem implausibly earnest when talking about things that do not interest them at all. Blogging is a realm where the professional conveyors of information can observe experiments with every variety of nuance, tone, image, feedback loop, voice, ellipsis, range of reference, linkage, obscenity, parody, fraud, uncertainty of data and of source, narrative, understanding of probability, personae, spidering, data packaging, genre, color, emotion, and any other conceivable component of form.”

At Reading A1, Michael comments: “… ‘journalism’ as such, as a categorical abstraction, simply doesn’t exist. Journalism is a practice, or a set of practices, enabled by the creation of certain social technologies (hard technologies + social forms adapted to their use) for the distribution of information. As the social technologies that structure the practice of journalism change, so does journalism.”

They’re planning to watch the BloggerCon session in China.

British blogger Harry at Harry’s Place, Some Thoughts on Blogs and Journalism: “I notice a tendency amongst the elite bloggers in America to treat blogging as a new form of journalism, or as part of journalism itself and I see dangers in both approaches….First of all I don’t think anyone in the news business really fears blogs. In fact most British journalists I have met seem to quite enjoy reading weblogs and it is fun to sometimes spot when they have taken ideas from blog posts. Secondly, I really don’t think bloggers need tutelage by people who understand. What is refreshing about reading blogs is that they are different from reading newspapers.”

And Jeff Jarvis reacts to Harry.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 25, 2004 2:21 PM   Print



I won't be at bloggercon, so I appreciate this opportunity.

As you know, I look at the media revolution in the context of cultural postmodernism. I think the energy for change comes from the bottom of the pyramid, and that's especially true with the press. The energy is fueled by eyes opening and saying, "You know, none of this works."

I view Weblogs as a natural part of the transformation, but where I run into difficulty is when I see bloggers searching for kudos, recognition and influence within the traditional media landscape. When I see this and "top 100" lists, I have to ask myself if blogging isn't evolving, instead, simply into another form of traditional media, albeit one wherein argument is expressed.

We have that human need to try to manipulate everything we encounter for our own gain, something that is hierarchical and, therefore, modernist. I would love to see us just continue what we're doing and let the people decide the ultimate role we're going to play in the world of journalism. Each should have his or her own manifesto, and the rules should be common sense.

That's not to say we shouldn't be able to support ourselves in so doing, but somehow I just don't think the revenue model is going to be based on modernist reach/frequency.

So my questions would be: Do weblogs really give power to the people?


If weblog journalism is about power, what's to prevent weblogs from falling into the same trap that has snared the traditional press?

Keep up the great work. You're my hero.


Posted by: Terry Heaton at March 25, 2004 3:14 PM | Permalink

Jay, it's great that this piece is more nuanced than the typical blog triumphalism. But I'd say that the phrasing and focus is still an invitation for an echo chamber of abstraction. Nothing wrong with that _per se_, of course, if that was your intent.

I find this to be the key passage:

"It's the idea of addressing, engaging or somehow informing a "public" about events in its world. It is an interesting question how many people it takes for, say, a political weblog to have a public. I don't know that it has an answer, however."

It's easy to vamp on the idea, but much harder to grapple with the answer.

To give an illustration, last week, I committed an act of journalism:

Bruce Taylor, Declan McCullagh, and "rotten little kids"

As free, unpaid, working-for-nothing, voice in the wilderness, reporting, I mean "citizen journalism", I checked with a source to see if he had really said an inflammatory quote as widely reported by a powerful journalist. He gave an excellent explanation of being misquoted as to meaning, and leads where I could further check if interested in verification.

Abstractly, wow, I'm a journalist too. Practically, tens of thousands people are going to read the original, and only a few dozen will read my blog. Moreover, if I ever do have any effect, I'll likely be venomously smeared in a hatchet-job, and will have no way to fight back.

Maybe I'm just missing the focus. But my reaction is that practice has to inform the theory if the theory is to have utility.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 25, 2004 4:04 PM | Permalink

Okay, Seth. I think I see what you are saying. (Although I don't know how much more I can do to signal that this is not "blog triumphalism.") But it would help me out, and the conference, if you would take this "abstractly, I'm a journalist, realistically, you got to be kidding..." point and phrase it as a question for my list. Possible?

Terry: Thanks for those comments, which I will absorb. Seems my list is missing one or two questions about power-- differentials in power.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 25, 2004 4:22 PM | Permalink

Here's an additional question, or at least the seed of one (since I'm just taking a quick first stab at the concept here to get it on the table for discussion or refinement):

What are the criteria or processes through which we can judge the "credibility" of citizen journalism in the weblog form, since traditional forms of journalism often have an established historical record of the news organization's credibility as an existing baseline?

Posted by: The One True b!X at March 25, 2004 5:20 PM | Permalink


Your effort to distinguish the practice of journalism from the profession and the platforms is laudable. When a reporter talks to a source, he is, after all, talking to a reporter, just one who happens not to be thinking of him or herself as a member of the press corps. The roles of source, reporter, editor and reader are constantly in flux, more than ever with web-enabled publishing. I would not let this careful framing of the subject divert the discussion entirely from the problem inherent in big media of the conflicts of interest between the act of journalism and the commercial setting in which that act is performed. Now more than ever that question should not be repressed, or dodged, in a forum such as the one you are happily putting together.

Posted by: tom matrullo at March 25, 2004 5:49 PM | Permalink

Oops, I meant my initial sentence to convey, as a compliment, "your essay is (above) (average blog triumphalism)" - not - "your essay is (above average) (blog triumphalism)". Sorry for the confusion.

Maybe my question is:

"How can the voices in the wilderness, be heard? How does the tree falling in the forest get someone to hear it, so that it does make a sound?"

The answer I've heard most often (besides the trivial be-a-happy-little-blogging-bear), is send a tip to a gatekeeper. This is hard, though, since that gatekeeper has to care, which brings us back to Big Media all over again.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 25, 2004 6:00 PM | Permalink

It seems to me, Jay, that you have sketched out points dealing with ways that journalism can teach bloggers, but nothing about ways that bloggers are teaching/ critiquing mainstream journalism (# 6 touches on this).

I see blogs pulling the threads of a story together, challenging a dominant narrative of what happened, and being much better than the press at drawing attention to "last year's news" of relevance. Think for instance of blog reporting on what Cheney and Rice said for publication in 2001 vs. what they are presently claiming they said.

Or am I missing something, Jay, in the way you are seeking to structure your discussion?

Posted by: Julia G at March 25, 2004 7:34 PM | Permalink

I have some thoughts on the idea of the personal versus the editorial -- I'm still thinking about this -- and also on the issue of satire. Maybe more later.

Posted by: Academy Girl at March 25, 2004 7:50 PM | Permalink

Academy Girl: Please do return with those thoughts.

Julia G: You're not missing something. But my post is, and my list of questions is missing things too. I am going to work on framing something along the lines of: what are weblogs teaching journalism? It's an excellent observation.

Seth: Thanks for the clarification, and that additional question. Let me think about it a little more before revising the list.

Tom: There are indeed many problems involving "conflicts of interest between the act of journalism and the commercial setting in which that act is performed." The question should not be repressed, you say. But it's not phrased as a question yet. If the discussion is, What is Journalism? And What Can Weblogs Do About It? then how might your concern become a question on the floor?

B!X: How do weblogs establish credibility if they are not long established? is a puzzle. Something like it should definitely go on the list. But I am a little leery of letting "credibility" sit there like we know what it is, and what that term means. Not sure we do. Credibility is a bit of a mystery, as are all questions of trust.

Thanks, people...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 25, 2004 9:36 PM | Permalink


We are planning to follow the webcast here from Shanghai with members of the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club and of the blogging community. Have to find some time to actually read your piece, but that might work out in the weekend. Maybe interesting to make a short connection during the meeting.

Posted by: Fons Tuinstra at March 25, 2004 11:37 PM | Permalink

Jay, I wonder whether online journalism, both formal and informal, will merge in a way, in the future, as traditional journalist enterprises see that they may just be organizers of chaos (editors who pick through blogs to find what they want to reframe and highlight) as bloggers do now, and bloggers do more reporting. And then, do we, the users/participants/citizens just pick and choose ourselves through a host of people/sites who with varying degrees of reporting and reframing, linking and commenting, achieve trust, credibility, expertise, bias, or interesting content or all of their opposites depending? I think the online key is linking. Everything else we do on the web is really the same, with different degrees of ease, as we do offline.

But linking is different, and the linking expression has yet to become as noticed as I think it will in future. Now we understand it as something Google or Technorati see and use, but we don't yet see the full power of that act, that expression, on an individual basis or as a society. But online journalism as the rest of online content is all about this: who links out, who links in, how much, is there authority there in those links, or are they just references of indeterminate interest. But references matter if if that is all it is.

I want to know, does one kind of online work matter more because it gets more links, or sends more links, across the network, than others. I think so, but maybe that's not true for anyone else. Or does credibility come because you observe a writer over time, and when a mistake pops up, she deals with it upfront? (take a peek at this NYT post on Honesty: where Clive Thompson suggests we are more honest on the internet than in other social spaces because of the persistence of information.)

That's it for now. See you at the discussion.

Posted by: mary hodder at March 26, 2004 2:29 AM | Permalink

Blogging in the journalism form is to J-school as reading for the Bar is to law school: true or false?

Posted by: Phil Wolff at March 26, 2004 10:54 AM | Permalink

Is it blogging when I do it for free, and journalism when I get paid?

Posted by: Phil Wolff at March 26, 2004 10:58 AM | Permalink

The transparency of the Internet changes everything about journalism. Everyone knows about anything, all at the same time. For example, in the SCO case, every time SCO posted another claim, dozens of members of the technical community responded with historic data from their own archives and memories, to set the record straight. Dictatorial regimes can no longer exercise the control they require because both their own citizens and journalists -- of all types -- from every country -- can provide up-to-the-minute information on the activities of politicians, armies, and activists.

This transparency makes lies difficult to uphold and improves the level of discussion by frequently injecting countering opinions. All of this happens in real time. No need to wait for tomorrow's paper -- or next Sunday's pundits.

Posted by: Amy Wohl at March 26, 2004 11:01 AM | Permalink

What can a pool of 100 journalists accredited to the Pentagon press corps do that 10,000 bloggers paying attention to defense matters can't? And vice versa?

Posted by: Phil Wolff at March 26, 2004 11:02 AM | Permalink

John Kerry has a press retinue following the campaign. They only have so much room on the bus. When should the press director replace a camera man, photographer, or a print, TV or radio reporter with a blogger?

Posted by: Phil Wolff at March 26, 2004 11:08 AM | Permalink

The One True b!X earlier offered this as a "seed" question: "What are the criteria or processes through which we can judge the 'credibility' of citizen journalism in the weblog form, since traditional forms of journalism often have an established historical record of the news organization's credibility as an existing baseline?"

My version of the question would be something like this: Is the culture of linking—together with developing means of reporting link depth and assessing the quality of links, like Technorati or Blogdex or Memeorandum—sufficient means to allow blog journalism to police its own credibility and to replace the traditional "gatekeeper" role played by editors (and by the economics of distribution) in print journalism? What other tools/social practices do we need to evolve if linking itself isn't sufficient?

Reading A1, the NY Times front page project

Posted by: Michael at March 26, 2004 12:49 PM | Permalink

I don't want to comment too much on everything, but do keep the suggested questions and responses coming. I am finding it quite useful, and starting to think I don't have any of the questions right, which is entirely plausible at this stage. They're starter questions, only. They shouldn't be the finishers, if participants and discussion leader succeed between now and April 17.

Thanks, Michael and Phil.

Amy: Your idea, I think, is that growing instances of "radical transparency," brought to journalism by weblogs and the workings of the blog sphere, are changing the conditions by which the truth claims of certain journalists get sorted out. (This happened to Howell Raines in a big way during his agonistes.)

This is one answer, then, to something I asked in the essay. What the "new" factor is with blogs around, and what's already happened in journalism because of it? But if radical transparency is one answer, what is the big question your observation ("The transparency of the Internet changes everything about journalism") raises?

That's intended for Amy, Academy Girl and others.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 26, 2004 2:00 PM | Permalink

A subtle difference exists in blogging between what might be considered editorial writing and what might be considered personal journaling. Genuine blogging "journalism" happens when bloggers break their own news online, which typically amounts to news they have some personal stake in or connection with -- hence their knowledge and experience of the event or information.

Other, more common, blogging "journalism" really amounts only to second-hand punditry, not journalism at all. What I refer to here is that class of blog commentary which really just reinterates or comments upon the daily news. These kinds of blog comments depend heavily on second and third-hand sources, which the blogger really has little ability to double-check. The worst of this kind of blogging represents rampant opinion run wild with little or no critical substance. Ok, that's harsh. At least if a post is humorous, it might be redeemed. Also of semi-interest to me are blogs that do good link round-ups every once in a while; however, these can become tedious very quickly.

I draw a line between the personal and the editorial in this discussion because, when bloggers editorialize, they often draw energy from the personal stake they have in an issue. If a blogger is offering pure punditry, editorial without any vested interest, then the only aspect of the blog that might keep my ongoing interest is sheer talent -- uniquely keen observations, highly skilled writing and, preferably, both. No shortage of editorializing exists today, and everybody seems to have an opinion about everything, so, for something to catch and keep my opinion, it has to be pretty special. The best kind of blogging, in my opinion, finds a unique path between personal experience and editorial, perhaps with the occasional "breaking local news" story as well as unusual and "bent" or inane observations about aspects of life/news in general. Humor helps.

A question I'll pose here: what kinds of restrictions or guidelines (awarenesses) inform a blogger's "internal editor"?

Want something on satire?

Posted by: Academy Girl at March 26, 2004 6:06 PM | Permalink

Michael said: My version of the question would be something like this: Is the culture of linking--together with developing means of reporting link depth and assessing the quality of links, like Technorati or Blogdex or Memeorandum--sufficient means to allow blog journalism to police its own credibility and to replace the traditional "gatekeeper" role played by editors (and by the economics of distribution) in print journalism? What other tools/social practices do we need to evolve if linking itself isn't sufficient?

This is interesting because my approach to the question I seeded wasn't meant to relate to the technology/nature of the Web per se (not that I think the point isn't relevant).

For me, it's more a matter of wondering how one convinces (if one should bother overtly trying to do so at all) an audience to be patient over a period of time in order to judge a weblog's journalistic credibility. A newspaper reporter, while they still have to work to create their own credibility, at least has the pre-existing advantage of their newspaper's own credibility that was built up over time.

I don't know that there's any serious distinction on this type of credibility, in the end. Perhaps it really is simply a matter of time and building a track record, same as any other reporting institution.

Academy Girl said: A subtle difference exists in blogging between what might be considered editorial writing and what might be considered personal journaling. Genuine blogging "journalism" happens when bloggers break their own news online, which typically amounts to news they have some personal stake in or connection with -- hence their knowledge and experience of the event or information.

It doesn't have to be limited to "breaking" a news story, I wouldn't think, but extends to include first-hand reporting of public events. Then again, I've done both on Portland Communique, so perhaps I'm biased towards including both of these in whatever it is we're conceiving as "journalism" when it comes to weblogs.

Posted by: The One True b!X at March 26, 2004 9:48 PM | Permalink

Jay, in view of your framing of the forum as a search for a definition of journalism and of a role for blogs, one might begin with the observation that journalism is a largely conventionalized affair that has built-in resistance to experimenting with rhetoric, image, narrative, tone, etc. I.e., Journalism has its own entrenched rhetoric, one that offers the somber face of credibility that comes with a relatively uncomplicated set of assumptions about reality.

Blogs that aspire to be like journalism are less interesting than those that attempt to offer something less hackneyed.

One worthwhile question for your group might be: What new communicative styles, modes and practices are developing in the relatively unconstrained world of blogs, outside of the pressures of corporate interests, and what can professional journalism learn from them?

Posted by: Tom Matrullo at March 26, 2004 11:39 PM | Permalink

I'd kind of want to echo Tom's point above, about new forms, but with a corrective emphasis.

"Journalism" as such, as an abstract category, doesn't exist. Journalism is a practice, or a set of practices, enabled by the creation of certain social technologies (hard technologies + social forms adapted to their use) for the distribution of information. As the social technologies that structure the practice of journalism change, so does journalism.

My old teacher, Walter Ong (rhetoric and media theorist, important in his own right and as an associate of Marshall Macluhan) said something in a class years ago that stuck with me: new media don't simply displace old media, Ong proposed, they reorganize them, they change the media ecology. (And, of course, organize themselves within that ecology.) The simple and provocative truth of the matter is that we don't know what journalism is in the blog context. We have a pretty good idea what mass-media journalism (print, broadcast) is, because it's been around for quite some time. And we can make a good guess that the interoperation of old-media and new-media journalism will create new forms of journalistic practice, some of which we have no real clue about yet.

Both Tom and Academy Girl treat "journalism" in its current state of mass-media practice as a static target—whether as a standard to be emulated (in AG's case) or avoided (in Tom's) by bloggers. I guess I'm hoping that the BloggerCon discussion can orient itself away from that (very tempting, I think) over-objectified picture of the relationship between blogging and journalism. And sorry, Jay, but I can't formulate any of that as a question just yet.

Posted by: Michael at March 27, 2004 2:09 PM | Permalink

Academy Girl: yes, I want to see your thoughts on blogs, journalism and satire.

Mary has a key point when she claims that linking is what makes journalism online a different animal. Weblogs take advantage of linking far more than traditional news organizations, and in fact set the pace in that art. Michael refers to a "culture of linking." I would also say there's an "ethic" of linking. All this seems important for the BloggerCon discussion.

For example, opinion journalism, news analysis and commentary at the more serious weblogs are-- because of linking--done to a higher standard, than in most of the press.

Tom, Michael: I'm still absorbing your latest comments, which reach deeply into the subject.

But Michael: See the post before this one for some comments on Ong and the "interiority" of the human voice.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 27, 2004 8:08 PM | Permalink

Phil asks: "What can a pool of 100 journalists accredited to the Pentagon press corps do that 10,000 bloggers paying attention to defense matters can't? And vice versa?"

Nothing -- but the problem is that neither group can do much. I'm afraid that rather than challenging the decrepit state of journalism, blogs are actually propping it up, by validating it through endless punditry, as Academy Girl more or less notes. Hack journalists in the press pool churn out mediocre fluff; blow hard bloggers call them to task, but only by discussing the piece. And the end result is: Nothing new in the way of information or narrative.

That's a pessimistic view, but how many people read blogs who don't blog? The fact that so many blog readers are also bloggers (or frequent enough commentators to count as such) isn't some kind of democratic achievement, it's an incestuous community. Sure, we welcome new cousins, but this isn't changing the world. It's making a new watercooler for media types and political hobbyists (no insult intended; I'm one myself and spend a lot of time reading others).

Of course, this critique is limited to blogs that deal with news. Personal blogs, religious blogs, food blogs, knitting blogs -- perhaps they're actually inventing a new journalism.

Posted by: Jeff Sharlet at March 27, 2004 10:12 PM | Permalink

"Both Tom and Academy Girl treat "journalism" in its current state of mass-media practice as a static target—whether as a standard to be emulated (in AG's case) or avoided (in Tom's) by bloggers."

Well, I'm not sure I believe that journalism is a static target with standards to emulate by bloggers. My question about blogging really tries to get at what you are talking about -- is there a standard, an "internal editor" and what is that for a blogger. Where is the editorial line, and, believe me, I strongly doubt that bloggers follow any kind of journalistic standard. Some try to be "newsy" for sure.

I like your reference to Ong. Could blogs be another kind of orality -- pushing way past secondary orality, with its seeming spontaneity and built-in teleprompters? I'd caution against applying broad strokes with the same brush to bloggers here, although broad categorization of blogs might be possible. Let me ask this question, out of my profound respect for Fr. Ong: have blogs reorganized the media by disorganizing it?

Posted by: Academy Girl at March 27, 2004 11:27 PM | Permalink

Well, I'm not sure I believe that journalism is a static target with standards to emulate by bloggers. My question about blogging really tries to get at what you are talking about -- is there a standard, an "internal editor" and what is that for a blogger. Where is the editorial line, and, believe me, I strongly doubt that bloggers follow any kind of journalistic standard. Some try to be "newsy" for sure.

And some try to take the concept a bit more seriously than that. In the year+ I've been engaged in my Portland Communique experiment, which combines the "normal" mode of commentary on existing news coverage with original reporting from around town, I specifically set -- and published -- two sets of principles to which Communique tries to adhere: one related to journalism, the other related to weblogs, but both attempting to set a goal of, well, credibility.

How to judge "success" in this light is a bit undefined, since in some sense it's entirely up to the readers to decide whether or not Communique is (1) worthwhile and (2) credible. But with a growing readership which includes other weblog writers, visitors doing Web searches for Portland news, local media people, and local government figures, the questions of "worth" and "credibility" lately come to mind more frequently than they did in the past.

I don't mean this as an advertisement. It's just that in recent days the question of weblogs and journalism as it does or does not relate to my own personal experiment in the matter has been coming up in conversation. So this entire thread is not just an academic exercise for me, and I'm curious about these questions, especially since it's been more than a year since I bothered trying to follow the current state of "theory" when it comes to these questions.

Posted by: The One True b!X at March 28, 2004 12:13 AM | Permalink

This is getting really good, so please keep at it, because in this situation (roughly 20 days of discussion left until we act out this debate, live) the quality of your exchange in comments goes directly to the bottom line of the April 17th event. Having a deadline also adds an element of suspense.

All my initial 10 questions sucked, in comparison to what's coming through here.

In the meantime, for those interested, I have revised the essay, adding an argument for the weblog as passage to the public sphere, and a few other things. It's a rolling text, and so unlike other PressThink posts.

I have also, in customary form for this weblog, begun adding after the break line, bloggers reactions and links to related discussions in the 'sphere.

Let me know what you think. One more thing: I would be interested in anyone's read of the Carey essay, linked in the original post.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 28, 2004 1:04 AM | Permalink

"an outlet to the sea"?

Bah humbug.

For all but a very few, it is "a kiddie wading pool".

I admit I could be said to have a cynical mind. But being on the wrong end of quite a few journalisms helped produce my view.

What I think you're missing, is that while old barriers and monopolies may be lessening, they are being replaced by new barriers and monopolies.

At the top, all sorts of changes are going on, that is real, as the people in power shift around in the new environment, and there's winners and losers.

At the bottom, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 28, 2004 3:21 AM | Permalink

Jagged thoughts, disconnected:

We set standards of excellence, but don't call us professionals. I juxtapose these two ideas because a friction exists between them. They don't necessarily contradict each other, but there's turbulence. While I agree that some of those who practice journalism for a living set a high standard for excellence, some also set new lows for despicability and unethical behavior. Perhaps journalists resist being called a profession because along with the idea of profession comes the idea of regulation and ethics. The best journalists need the least regulation and have a built-in sense of ethical reporting; unfortunately, the worst journalists, the ones who make others hate the "j" word, make me wish for some degree of regulation or standard to delimit unfair, biased, irresponsible reporting. At the very least, consensus on ethical behavior is welcome, and that exists already in some places.

My point: a free press is essential to democracy, but only if that press is free, fair, and ethical. Unethical, unfair, biased press is possible in a democracy but in no way advances the practice of it. Unethical journalism is the enemy of freedom and the champion of propaganda. Carey argues that the aspiration to democratic life is endemic to journalism. I'd like him to add the word "good" before the word journalism in that thought. While I agree with Jay's idea that restricting the practice of journalism to "approved voices" limits the freedom of the press, "unapproved" voices do not add to freedom either, if they are spawing crap and evil.

I can appreciate the idea that journalists exist outside "the media"; however, they also exist inside the media. You can try to separate the two, but as long as somebody else is operating the presses, hiring the staff, and paying the power bill, journalists remain a part of that larger system of media. Journalists are edited, and they don't write their own headlines. The very concept of "the editor" delimits the idea of journalists having a direct conduit to the public. A team effort (journalist plus editor) can both good and bad -- as Carey wrote, journalism "has the greatest virtue and the greatest evil." Unfortunately, journalists are
not always in complete control over the final virtue of their own stories, and they don't typically get up and shout on corner soapboxes to get a story out. They hand it in to an editor. No one owns journalism, but lots of people own journalists.

This is where blogs come in. I blogger is both the writer and the publisher, like in days of old when printers were the journalists. Bloggers aren't completely free to write whatever they want -- usually some restrictions come via the software distributor agreement the blogger acknowledges. Some blogging software companies are more hands-on than others. Otherwise, bloggers can post at their whim without any external editor (I'll argue that an internal editor always exists), and they can soapbox all they want. In fact, a blog is like a soapbox, some with higher aspirations than others.

I'm not convinced that journalists set a standard for basic accuracy in reporting for bloggers because bloggers really have no window on the practice of good journalism, nor do they have the ability to independently verify whether what they read in the news is accurate at all. Readers and bloggers only see the news, not the production of the news, not the newsroom. While bloggers might think they know good reporting when they see it, the problem is that they might not know bad reporting when they see that too.

Here's something to ponder. Jay wrote, "If printers and postmasters, who didn't set out to be journalists, can wind up as that, then in any era we should think it possible for people to wind up doing journalism because they find it a logical, practical, meaningful, democratic, and worthwhile activity." Conversely, Carey wrote, "Every despot creates his own system of media." We can surmise that bloggers find blogging meaningful and democratic if we want. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that the blogosphere is filled with mini-despots, people who want to create their own self-contained versions of the world and then project that for others to see or emulate.

Do bloggers write to create memorable experiences, as Carey suggests? That depends on whether they make their archives public : ) Honestly, I'm not convinced any journalist's task is to make experience memorable. Really, how long is the public's memory anyway, and who scrapbooks anymore? I'd argue that the good journalist's task is to uphold public accountability, with a secondary dash of public insight offered whenever possible. I don't believe this is the task of the blogger. The job of the blogger is more like observer or, if a comments section exists, engager. Blogs generate discussion, both between blogs and off-line. A blogger creates dialogue, even if it's with an imaginary audience, which is where Ong might have special relevance. Blogs can have entertainment value as well. They also provide an outlet for the "unpublishable," by any editor's standard. Blogs might represent chaos butterflying ideas into the universe. Good blogs have the quality of being genuine or real.

Ultimately, most bloggers are free, or as close to free as you can get. They can write their version of life and publish that to the world, and they can do it however they want -- narrative, poetry, fiction, images, sound . . . anything that can be represented electronically. True bloggers are accountable to no one but themselves, their "internal editor," and those who have a meaningful existence in the bloggers' self-defined worlds. Of course, this doesn't include opportuno-bloggers -- people who blog because they want to be elected or advance some particular cause or product. Opportuno-bloggers are sales clerks.

Posted by: Academy Girl at March 28, 2004 3:21 AM | Permalink

Seth: Gotta question for you, and I am genuinely curious about it. Given what you wrote here: Why do you blog?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 28, 2004 12:01 PM | Permalink

Tom says:

Journalism is a largely conventionalized affair that has built-in resistance to experimenting with rhetoric, image, narrative, tone, etc. Journalism has its own entrenched rhetoric, one that offers the somber face of credibility that comes with a relatively uncomplicated set of assumptions about reality. Blogs that aspire to be like journalism are less interesting than those that attempt to offer something less hackneyed.

I think this is true. Journalism--including the "straight" news story--is itself a rhetoric, which attempts to convince by saying: no rhetoric here, just factuality, news. It obeys conventions that make production easier, but original observation harder. The result is a language of cliche. Dave Winer says a true weblog is "the voice of one person."

This may be what makes credibility a different transaction in the blog sphere. Readers don't trust an account in the San Jose Mercury News because they find the personal voice of the reporter trustworthy, real, fresh, unforced and human. But they might decided to trust a blogger for those reasons.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 28, 2004 3:12 PM | Permalink

I'm finding that good blogs replace the need to read some newspapers. I'm reading The New York Times less and blogs like Altercation more. A good blogger reads the paper for you and eliminates the fluff. My question: Will the substantive blogs eventually force newspapers to improve the content of their reporting in order to postpone their demise?

Posted by: 6025 at March 28, 2004 3:19 PM | Permalink

Jay, "Why do you blog?" is a fair question, if it's taken with serious consideration of the answer.

That is, when I write comments such as I've done, I often feel I risk a shoot-the-messenger reaction, and perhaps for that reason, I shouldn't.

I started my blog because I heard so much about blogging. And so I thought I'd give it a try. My basic problem, throughout all the years of net-activism that I've done, is that I have essentially no voice, no platform, no ability to be heard, no way to counter the overwhelming power of higher levels of the journalistic pyramid.

I'd rate my blog pretty much a failure in those terms. I know exactly how many readers I get, from server logs, and it's not a lot. Around 100. That's better than 0. But it's a joke of journalistic impact (I gave an example above).

I do the numerical analysis, because I'm concerned with reality, with effect. It's hard to convey the implications of the abstraction of power-law distribution, but it's harsh.

The amount of time and effort needed to write a good "journalistic" post, given how few readers it'll likely reach, is extremely discouraging.

So I've come close to abandoning my blog at times. Should I just keep it as a ranting indulgence? I don't know. I don't think there's anything wrong with a ranting indulgence, but I recognize sometimes other people do.

There's a few social benefits. But overall, it's pretty marginal. So to me, any blog-triumphalism strikes me as somewhere between wrong and cruel.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 28, 2004 6:53 PM | Permalink

The power of Bloggerism is its bias and intent. It embraces the bias of the individual voice. Bloggers have opinions. Bloggers wear bias on their sleves. Big B Bias. Bloggers don't have editors. Bloggers resonate with readers because they have no responsibility to be fair.

As a result, Bloggerists amuse, educate, piss off, and hurt those who wander through their pages. That's neat.

Big J journalism has a responsibility to cover, or at least a responsibility to attempt to cover, or at the VERY least pretend to cover, the broader story landscape.

And as a Journalism major and a reporter in my more youthful days--granted years ago--I always approached a story with the understanding that I would be doing a disservice not to cover the w-h-o-l-e story even as I sliced and diced my angle.

Bloggers? Screw the whole story. I'll tell you what I think, and maybe what he thinks and she thinks, and YOU, the reader, YOU write the story by assimilating and arranging the voices you like to read into your own head, and hopefully in your own posts.

In the blog world, the story is spread across voices. It is a kind of story landscape. Thanks to comments, trackbacks, and the like.

something like that.

I'm pretty sure I didn't stick with your questions.

Consider this a living example.

Looks to be a great talk, Jay, and I wish I'd be there to hear this one, even if I've been, well, a little hard on the meta-conference trend lately.


Posted by: jeneane at March 28, 2004 10:57 PM | Permalink

That's it...! I get what I mean now. In the blogworld, the *reader* is the journalist, as they weigh what they take in across blogs and across posts and across links.

Kind of like, one single blogger can't be a journalist. It takes the linkage and the broader context of the discussion/conversation/story to FORM the story.

So that's my newest: In bigJ journalism, the writer is the story crafter, or journalist. In blogging, the reader is the story crafter, or journalist.

Of course, if the reader's a blogger, well then the process is iterative and taking place 100 times a minute all across the net, and our head all explode in unison

try that on. ;-)

Posted by: jeneane at March 28, 2004 11:03 PM | Permalink

just as a warning to those as unwise as me - make a safe copy of your comment before you hit Preview... :-(

Posted by: Anna at March 29, 2004 4:33 AM | Permalink

Your session is going to be fabulous!

My three cents on possible questions...

Your essay rightly points out that blogging does not equal journalism. In one of your comments you elaborate on the question of when blogging becomes journalism and when blogging is not journalism. I’d like to hear other people’s views on the question: where is the line between blogging as journalsm and other kinds of blogging?

My next question is derivative of several excellent questions and comments above, but I'm phrasing it a bit differently: In what ways does the existence of weblogs change journalism – both in terms of the way we think about it and define it, as well as the way it will be practiced in the future?

What kind of journalism would best serve a democratic society? How can weblogs bring us closer to that kind of journalism? What journalistic functions are they NOT able to serve, which might still be better served by other forms of media?

What about the social negatives of weblogs? (Don’t lynch me please but we’re not doing our job if we don’t ask this question.) To what extent might they contribute to the spread of disinformation, and to tyrannies of misinformed majorities? I hear this question a lot from blog-skeptics. (This also leads to a question I want to deal with in my session: what happens when people are blogging in countries that don’t have a free press?)

In the next couple of days I'll be starting a similar discussion about my session "Blogging the world", at my Techjournalism blog.

By the way, as of last week I no longer work for CNN. As the Chinese would say, I've "jumped into the sea".

Posted by: Rebecca M. at March 29, 2004 8:45 AM | Permalink


This is sort of off-topic, but it seems that blogs as journalism have a parallel in how non-blog media formats that are traditionally not considered journalism - Daily Show - have more credibility and bigger audiences than the shows they mock. That is, I suspect that blogs are part of a larger cultural trend which is rejecting temples of authority.

Posted by: MattS at March 29, 2004 11:56 AM | Permalink

Hi, again, everyone. Anna: please reconstruct.

Clearly, the discussion to be held at BloggerCon has already begun, as participants pick apart the questions: what is journalism? what can weblogs do about it?

I don't want to make any grand claims about that. I do want to say: keep it going, please, because I am finding it helpful.

It's good news that Rebecca MacKinnon, formerly of CNN, will soon be starting a similar discussion about her session, "Blogging the World." I will urge Jeff Jarvis to re-introduce his session (on the business of blogging) and re-invite those witty and razor sharp Buzzmachine readers to the comments section of a prequel post. Dan Gillmore, I understand from his blog, is planning to do the same. I double-posted my essay at BOP News, so there will be a second comment stream for it.

Seems to me that it is possible, with a little conscious effort, to start these things--conference sessions--on second base, even third, if you begin the discussion in writing across the 'sphere, then pick it up from there.

One thing I noticed around the time of the first BloggerCon and again this time: in Blogistan, which is a complex nation, there's a lot of sacarcastic (but seriously-intended) commentary about how silly and pretentious, unnecessary and often elitist, these events are.

I suppose that's inevitable when you have a such a high brow "academic" setting and an up-from-the-bottom subject. And having been to hundreds of academic and industry conferences, there is always much to mock. I partake of the sport myself, and with enthusiasm.

The puzzling part to me is when webloggers who, as writers and kibbitzers at their own sites, often engage in serious and lively reflection on the form and how it differs from "journalism," (or other things) find it hilarious that there's a conference at Harvard engaged in the same act of reflection they, at times, undertake.

On balance, it is probably good to have skeptics who say: "well, that's a ridiculous premise for a conference." Makes you look at the premise.

I'm planning to junk the idea of synthesizing twenty questions. The ones I had were sounding pedantic to people, and my request, "phrase it as a question," wasn't helping. In place of that, I may draft a list of contradictory propositions about weblogs and journalism bubbling through this discussion.

Example: "Weblogs reduce barriers to entry for citizen authors." (Rosen, Jarvis, others.) And then:

"Weblogs reduce the old barriers, maybe, but the blog sphere erects new ones just as effective." (Seth)

Anyway, keep at it.

Question to B!X in Portland. How much of the journalism your weblog does is journalism about the Big Media in town-- reacting to it, riffing off it, incorporating it, or somehow using it? And how much is "original" work (whatever that means to you) done at your blog, free and clear of the local press and its product?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 29, 2004 12:08 PM | Permalink

Jeneane: You're on topic. There's a reporter for the "Circuits" section of the New York Times calling me this afternoon on the very point you make here. Readers now assemble the story from the bits available online. What does this mean? he wants to know.

It's coming up now because RSS literally does what you say, breaking apart content packages to give us the pieces to make our own "report." But you observe the same thing happening without mention of RSS, which means its bigger than technology.

"One single blogger can't be a journalist," Jeneane writes. "It takes the linkage and the broader context of the discussion... to FORM the story.: And then: "In bigJ Journalism, the writer is the story crafter, or journalist. In blogging, the reader is the story crafter, or journalist."

We might descibe this as a shift in story sovereignty.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 29, 2004 2:14 PM | Permalink

"In what ways does the existence of weblogs change journalism? .. What kind of journalism would best serve a democratic society? ...[what's the downside...]"
Rebecca, great questions!

[ignore the following if Op-Ed pages are a nonjournalistic no-man's-land not to discussed in polite company...are they?]

Two questions -

1. In what direction(s) will the existence of, excellent example set by, competition caused by, and public examination facilitated by weblog content, practices and capabilities force the Op-Ed pages of newspapers (or other news organs) to evolve?

(I can't see them staying the same. Letters to the editor are to comments threads as tortoise to Ferrari; assertions without supporting links are inefficient bluster; the "we have the biggest megaphone and thus need not engage" complex worked when barriers were high but is too arrogant to last...)

2. Given that Op-Ed change is desirable and inevitable, how can the page(s) best be structured to foster clarity, civil discourse, exposure of truth, education, and engagement?

(the answer to which might also help to counteract the weblog tendency - stemming from human nature, practiced to some degree by all - to talk past one's 'opponents')

Posted by: Anna at March 29, 2004 4:03 PM | Permalink

Question to B!X in Portland. How much of the journalism your weblog does is journalism about the Big Media in town-- reacting to it, riffing off it, incorporating it, or somehow using it? And how much is "original" work (whatever that means to you) done at your blog, free and clear of the local press and its product?

I've never sat down to try to find that ratio, or thought about it specifically since, in terms of how I work when I'm writing, in some strange sense, it's all the same to me. But typically I'm out to several events each week (City Council sessions, campaign debates, neighborhood meetings, etc.), and then there's the occasional heads-up from someone in local government, like advance notice of a news release on some City development.

For what it's worth, since you ask, today's Oregonian has a front-page profile (that's a link to my site) of me and my work on Portland Communique. I was shadowed by a reporter last Wednesday for about 12 hours straight.

Posted by: The One True b!X at March 29, 2004 4:22 PM | Permalink

"a shift in story sovereignty" - i like that.

glad to hear I was making sense. surprised even. ;-)

i don't think it's RSS or any other technology specifically. Although I have an RSS feed from my blog, I am yet to fall in love--even in like--with aggregators. I like cruising the neighborhoods. Stories I assemble as reader-journalist often range outside of the favorite feeds i'd be checking out via RSS (if I were actually doing so, which, as I said, I'm not).

The thrill is in stumbling onto the out of the way bits, isn't it? RSS doesn't lead you off the beaten path unless you get there via the well-worn paths you always follow. no?

The only technology enabling this shift (technically speaking) I see, pure and simple, is the net. It's net culture plus the tools that make it free and "push-button" simple for people to post and to comment. To talk.

That's why Blogger was as important as it was--because it welcomed anyone with a keyboard and a browser into a conversation that was once by, for, and about tech pioneers. Grandma, four-year old kid, and every one in between. No $. No tech know-how. Nothin' but Net.

That's a long way around saying, though RSS/aggregators are interesting and helpful to many, they are not the point.

I resist the urge to complicate the simple, wonderous elegance of the Web in looking at it from technology down. I like to look at it from voice up. Not eyeballs looking in; ears listening out.

Jeesh. I guess I'm going on and on. I should take this over to my blog and think about it more. But I do really like the idea of this sort of absorptive journalism idea of assembling stories from pieces--him to her to me to them--as reader-seeker first.

rap on...

Posted by: jeneane at March 29, 2004 7:02 PM | Permalink

The Portland Communique is extremely fine. Would that every city had a b!X...

Not a blog, not daily reporting, but Nevada County CA does have online citizen journalism, at - here's a page with links to some of last year's articles -

(I have no connection to the proprietors)

Posted by: Anna at March 29, 2004 8:26 PM | Permalink

I'd like to address the issue of power a bit, and institutional cluelessness.

Atrios doesn't fit any definition of "journalist" I'm familiar with unless it's the cultural amanuensis sort, but he's a power in the sense that he's a premier distributor of news and opinion and he has the ability to channel large sums of money to what he believes are worthy causes. He rarely breaks a story, but he does synthesize the news and makes suggestions as to what his readers should do about what they're reading.

In other words, it's not a passive experience. I think someone upstream mentioned the transmogrification of readers into journalists, and I'd like to add to that concept the notion of readers as newsmakers. Their responses to what they read can change reality, as when Atrios funnels $100,000 in contributions to the Kerry campaign. The story there isn't just that Atrios had the audience and credibility to get that result, but that the readers acted, becoming news in their own right. Stories within stories.

Not many blogs have that sort of clout. Josh Marshall gets significantly more traffic than Atrios, but wouldn't and probably couldn't outdo the latter as an activist because he values his role as a traditional journalist, albeit a partisan one, and wouldn't want to compromise it.

The recent flap about South Dakota Democratic congressional candidate Stephanie Herseth's "secret" fundraising web site offers a dual lesson in power. The site scared her opponents, who reacted much as if she were clandestinely collecting money from France or some other equally suspicious source when in fact the site was linked from ads she ran on various left-leaning blogs.

At the same time, the blog-related fundraising affected Herseth's campaign. One of the sites she advertised on, The Daily Kos, was barraged by angry comments after Herseth announced her support for amending the constitution to enshrine marriage as a hetero-only deal, and Herseth amended her position shortly thereafter.

There again, the readers acted as newsmakers. The opinions expressed on the Daily Kos aren't going to win or lose votes in South Dakota, but they surely did affect her fundraising and her understanding of her constituency.

So there's one question: have blogs helped invert the news pyramid? That is, are the people who traditionally make the news now overtly reacting to the readers instead of the other way 'round?

On the institutional front, I think Bill Keller's defense of Judith Miller's Iraq reporting is as vivid an example of living inside the event horizon as could be found. Keller's defense is that Miller has fabulous sources that got the Times a lot of exclusives, and that most of them turned out to be more fabulist than fabulous is simply a contextual issue.

No doubt that's at least in part a closing of ranks behind a star reporter - the scarcity of her byline in the past six months or so certainly indicate some skepticism about her capacity - but it's also an indication that Keller is at least to some extent unaware of the coincidental reporting disputing Miller's work. Had he been a blog afficianado, he could have followed the simultaneous examinations of Miller's reporting and the pieces debunking much of what her sources had to say.

That he didn't, and that he didn't try even in retrospect, is symptomatic of the institutional unease with unorganized information. Keller doesn't recognize that although the Times is still the paper of record, the record isn't sacrosanct anymore.

So there's another question: can blogs help crack the insular world of elite journalism? The record on the Times is mixed: its reporters seem more inclined to resent or dismiss, or both, the daily barrage of criticism than to examine what their contribution to it might be, but the editorial desks seem much more responsive. One example of that is the faked Fonda/Kerry photo the Times ran with and then corrected, albeit without a mea culpa, in less than 24 hours.

Interpreting the news is something that most journalists do to one extent or another, but blogs pretty much have a license to ill. I think many bloggers, including the most opinionated among us, hold themselves to a higher standard of accuracy with regard to hard news simply because it's so easy for anyone to fact check the news upon which the opinions are based, and unlike as with the traditional press, reluctance or failure to own up to an error can be fatal.

At the same time, bloggers can synthesize such a large number of sources that they are in at least some cases creating news. A case in point is the recent Pakistani army crackdown in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.

U.S. papers were filled with speculation about "high-value" targets and devoted very little attention to the actual conflict, while the Pakistani papers and others in the region were looking at the facts of the fighting - who was involved, who was getting killed by whom and how and why, what was the local and national reaction to the incursion, what did it mean to relations between Pakistan and the US, Pakisan and Afghanistan, even Pakistan and India and India and the US.

It took US papers almost a week to get into any of the internal ramifications of the fighting, and even now it's not being covered especially well. A number of bloggers, however, were able to assemble the various available sources to produce an overview that wasn't available through the parochial press here or there. Blogs could offer, in broad strokes or in detail according to preference, the perils facing Pakistan from religious turmoil and potential divisions in the army sparked by the conflict, the degree to which the US and Pakistan were serious about accomplishing their stated goals, the potential efects of success or failure upon the local tribesmen and the foreign militants living among them ... it was a cornucopia of news and opinion you really couldn't get anywhere else, and it came about almost overnight. That's reporting even though it doesn't involve beatin' feet to the war zone or the White House.

So there's another question: in the long run, can traditional reporting compete with the use bloggers make of it? I know this smacks a bit of the TV v. newspaper conflict, but the difference is that newshound bloggers aren't rushing to get their particular story on the air, but instead to assemble as many different sources on a particular story for readers to view and comment upon.

And that brings up another question: will bloggers eventually be absorbed into the traditional press as stringers? Rather than attempting to compete with the multitudes, will the traditional press attempt to put them to work to gain the advantage provided by that plethora of sources?

One other point on the question of readership as a measure of influence: I have a readership numbering in the tens, but I've managed to get a writer at a fairly major opinion magazine to amend his position after reading something I wrote, and Okrent's assistant at the Times recently told me that several people had made favorable mention of me in their comments to the public editor. Possibly that's my mom adopting disguises, but the point is that I've made a small dent in relatively high places with a very small audience. On the other hand, I couldn't raise a dime for a candidate of my choice and it's extremely unlikely that anything I write will ever inluence a politican one way or another. So you really have to define influence before you can begin measuring it.

Posted by: weldon berger at March 30, 2004 5:39 AM | Permalink

Yes, weldlon--well thought out and lots of good food for thought in your comment!

One thing that struck me as you jammed off the idea I contributed of reader-as-journalist, adding (i like muchly) your thought of reader-as-story-maker is the story pace difference here in blogging as well.

Traditionally, a story has really been an event. News-as-reported is an event. A "Ta-da" - here's the news, here's what it means, here are my sources: ta-da! Yes, with the net and online stories, discussion forums and feedback mechanisms have been added to facilitate discussion around the story event. But still, it's one story with event attendees gathering around it to talk.

If you're a smart journalist and it is a good story (even if it was someone else's) you remember to follow up on it down the road to find out whate ever happened with X to see if a follow-up story on X is worthwhile. That becomes a second event, both in time, space, and the list of attendees to the event.

Now, as reader-journalists inform stories across an entire landscape of context and content in the blogworld, stories have both a rapidly unfolding, unpredictable, and sometimes indefinite lifespan. Story re-informed by perhaps hundreds of other voices with other angles realtime. So stories hatch stories. And all of this happens so quickly with the "unknown" writers/readers in blogdom because of the nature of the space. Stories pick up speed with each link. No one scoops and everyone scoops at the same time.

Anyway, i have to get back to work, but you got me thinking more. Thanks.

Posted by: jeneane at March 30, 2004 1:34 PM | Permalink

"Stories pick up speed with every link." This is really getting at something, Jeneane. What I read in your last comment is: weblogs are screwing around with the time boundaries and story rhythms that had become natural in journalism.

But this really means natural-ized because the journalist's sense of story time is "stored" in professional rituals and conventions. Those things are learned, not found in the nature of news. The notion of a "second day" story, a staple in American journalism, is a staple because that's the accepted convention and it fits with production cycles, the once-dominant form of the daily newspaper or broadcast, and so on.

But if weblogs are "screwing around" with measures of time and the life cycle of news, they are doing so mainly within the special conditions of the blog sphere-- where so many readers are writers. Where what Dave Winer calls the "rule of links" more or less prevails. Where individual authors with quirky interests and non-generic voices reframe or restate the news, elongate the narrative arc, fill in the back story, add in missing facts, apply counter-spin and commit the sin of having a style.

Linking--or let's say linking at its best--annuls and overrrides journalism's enormous appetite for forgetting things (also called dropping the story.) Linking negates the context-stripping that daily journalism in a sense demands. Linking obeys a different informational ethic entirely, which is why, Anna, op-ed style writing online--at weblogs--is frequently done at a higher level than the professional norm.

And that different ethic (about what it means to be informed and to inform others) is why stories "pick up speed" (or hang on to life) with every link. In the blog sphere, special conditions do apply. We might even, if we're being brave, call them new.

Which to me raises a question: what is the significance for big-J Journalism that this other biosphere of stories, with its other tempo and time, is simply out there, doing its thing with the news? Do special conditions count for something, even when they apply only to a numerically tiny sphere?

And yes, Jeneane, you should write about all this at your weblog. If you'll pardon the drill sarge's tone, that goes for you too, Weldon.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 30, 2004 6:26 PM | Permalink

Where to start?

Ok. September 12, 2001. I'm a Jersey columnist for The New York Times and my beat has been humor and suddenly nothing seems funny anymore. I go up to Eagle Rock Reservation, a mountain perch about 15 miles west of the city, where people can stand and watch and talk. I interview people. I hear story after story. And what is all reminds me of (and what I write about) is the painting of "Sunday in the Park" by Georges Seurat. Pointilism, if you remember your art history. Every person has a story to tell. Every person had some relation to the events of the day: was somewhere, called someone, felt something. Every person is a dot in this huge canvas of a story.

And weblogs are like that. They're just more data for the big picture. They're more dots. They fill the picture out. I think the fabulous thing about weblogs is all the original source material they're creating for future historians. And you know what they say (yes, Jay, I'm going to bring it home, now): journalism is the rough draft of history.

Does this make any sense?

I guess what I'm saying is that for those of us who are interested in what historians call social history, and what journalists call lifestyle reporting, is that blogs are an amazing source of material.

A couple of other thoughts:

-- with a blog, you don't need anyone's permission to publish. When the Times gave my column to someone else, I gave it back to myself by creating a blog, and then telling everybody on my e-mail list about it. I made cards to hand out. I've regained a lot of my readership, and found new readers in Toronto and Vancouver.

-- when you enter the blogosphere, the reading requirements increase exponentially. There is just so much out there (11,000 new blogs a day, says Technorati), it's hopeless. You learn how much is out there that you didn't even know existed.

-- the part I've been thinking about most lately. As a journalist, at least one associated with the Times (I'm freelance), you're bound by that institution's sense of propriety and objectivity. At the Times, you're not allowed to accept a gift of more than $25. You're trained to think: could anything I do potentially embarrass this institution? As a blogger, you represent yourself and only yourself. It's the soapbox thing that others have mentioned. Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin and all that. It's quite a different feeling writing for oneself. And one I quite like.

Posted by: Debra Galant at March 31, 2004 12:00 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Debra, for testifying. Yes, "more dots" makes sense.

Here's more on the way weblogs (but really the whole Net) free news from its time "cycles." Comes from an intriguing, and recommended post at Dead Parrot Society. A new site called Footnote TV says in its FAQ:

There is one big idea underpinning this entire site, and it is a simple one. Internet news sites are not limited to following the breaking-news model that dominates newspapers, weekly newsmagazines, and television. That model works for media that must pull readers in daily or weekly, but it emphasizes new developments at the cost of deeper understanding and it fails to serve people who might be curious about an issue independent of that day's news cycle.

It's the word "independent" that needs accenting. An independent sense of time may be one thing weblogs add to the news.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 31, 2004 12:38 AM | Permalink

Jay, you and they are right on: that's exactly the point that several people made in terms of the blogs providing an institutional memory that allows them to find relationships between what seems to be breaking news and news that was reported some time back, as well as between current reporting on issues that may seem unrelated when treated separately.

I was just looking at Michael Massing's e-mail exchanges with Judith Miller, James Risen, Robert Kaiser and (accidentally, I think) Dana Milbank in regard to Massing's drubbing of the press in his NYROB piece, and a good deal of what he says relates to that frantic effort to stay ahead of the curve while not looking back to see what's receded into the distance or is trundling on down the access roads at slow speeds. That's aside from his complaints about premier reporters performing like trained seals in pursuit of fishy information.

Most bloggers in my experience like to keep current, but reader attention spans are the only major obstacle to presenting the longer format writing that's the signature of the literate magazines such as Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly. It's the freedom to explore relationships over time that distinguishes blogs from dailies, or at least the dailies that give short shrift to their investigative teams.

When I wrote Arthur Sulzberger and Daniel Okrent about Miller's assignment to the Clarke book and Keller's subsequent defense of her, the point I tried to get across was that reporting that leaves readers less well-informed than they were before they began reading the article is somewhat countterproductive no matter what the daily pressures or editorial contexts or competetive exigencies.

Bloggers should be able to avoid that syndrome because their curiosity isn't, as you say, at the mercy of time. And most bloggers are as curious as they are polemical despite some obvious prominent exceptions.

Anyway. Thanks for the encouragement and for helping me shove some vague impressions into a semblance of order.

Posted by: weldon berger at March 31, 2004 1:20 AM | Permalink

pls refer some notes of journalism to me im studied in IDE, Kariavattom in 1999-2002. will u pls

Posted by: shri.ramankutty at March 31, 2004 1:56 AM | Permalink

I would vote for having as much pragmatic and concrete talk possible about how the somewhat overlapping worlds of blogs and journalism can interact to everyone's benefit (or at least stimulation). This can be as concrete as possible -- showing bloggers how to deal with FOIA requests & suchlike, suggesting methods for op-ed pages to recognize & recruit local blogging talent, creating an infrastructure (or the seed of an idea) that every blogging community develop a "shadow newspaper" of sorts that critiques the local daily, chewing over what technical things newspapers can do to become an active part of their own communities' conversations.

I have one criticism of your word choice. It's the "should"

My own feeling is that amateur journalists, citizens, webloggers should take seriously the existing standard in the institutional press. They should understand what goes into meeting it, and even emulate professional journalism from time to time-- when it fits with the author's purposes. These are self-defined. And when they are not, a weblog is starting to become something else, more familiar to us. In the worst case, it's PR or propaganda.
We're talking about possibilities, not duties. Replace it with "could benefit from," and it seems more in the spirit of the conversation I think you want to moderate. And with the end bit of that excerpt, you're dabbing your toe in a potential minefield -- the dominant journalism mores of the last 40 years have been those of the high-minded, presumably impartial observer, frequently monopolistic. This has begun to yield to the British & Murdochian model of more opinionated news, and weblogs are helping to accelerate that. With diversity of printing-presses comes diversity of opinion, and one of the very first things that the new entrants will do to distinguish themselves is to showcase precisely their partisan opinion. Telling bloggers they *need* to adhere to the mores of the high-minded local daily will end the conversation before it starts, as will dismissing partisans as propagandists. Atrios is a partisan, but he produces journalism (largely by working the hell out of his Lexis-Nexis).

If you're making lists, I'd suggest some along the lines of:
* What five things do professionally employed full-time journalists have or know that current-events bloggers need or could use?
* What five innovations would bloggers develop if they were launching a newspaper from scratch? Stuff like that.

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 31, 2004 3:15 AM | Permalink

Perhaps we are simply participating in an information and entertainment medium that has not yet been (or cannot be) sculpted to conform to the economics of the industrial age. The decentralization of the media supply chain provides ample opportunity for both aggressive and leisurely interaction, consumption, production, and annotation of content. The audience shift away from linear content products demands non-linear participation based on individual needs and wants as shaped by context and culture. The "shift in story sovereignty" Jay describes allows objectivity to become a process whereby citizens have no choice but to participate in a supply chain of subjective sources, propaganda, facts, traditional media, personal stories, and life itself. Blogging demonstrates that the practice of journalism must adapt in order to inspire and motivate citizens to participate in the consumptive and productive process required while searching for truth.

Posted by: Eli Chapman at March 31, 2004 11:11 AM | Permalink

I posted some related comments in my blog the other day. A few issues I see as blogging grows more mainstream are: the risk of people listening only to people who share their own narrow point of view, resulting in greater polarization of society; and the risk that people will be too quick to accept the unqualified word of bloggers who are either ill-informed or purposefully deceptive. It will be interesting to see where blogging ends up and what solutions we'll find to these and other issues.

Posted by: Antone Roundy at March 31, 2004 11:53 AM | Permalink

From Debra Gallant comes this example of a citizen's blog bringing together frustrated parents in a New Jersey school district. Takes just a bit of imagination to see how those at this "gathering place for disgrunted parents" could realize the benefits of doing journalism for each other-- as in showing up and blogging the school board meetings.

Any thoughts on this for instance?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 31, 2004 12:22 PM | Permalink

Antone, I don't think the risks of polarization or selective reading are any greater with blog proliferation than they are now. Fox afficianados tend not to watch other broadcasts, Newshour faithful tend not to watch Fox, etc. Glenn Reynolds' readers read liberal blogs for punchline material and the other way round. I regularly visit the Bush campaign blog on the "what doesn't kill you makes you strong" theory. There are so many opportunities for polarization now that I don't see how blogs can make it any worse.

On the unfiltered information point, I'll just use my favorite whipping post, Judith Miller of the New York Times. Anyone who read her reporting prior to, during and after the invasion of Iraq came away knowing considerably less than they did before reading her. Credulous people will remain credulous and suspicious people will remain suspicious. But one of the primary virtues of blogs is that there are so many of them and it's so easy to fact-check anything if you've a mind to do it, so I think on that score, the misinformation/disinformation one, you've probably exactly reveresed the potential for harm.

Jay, I have a little bit of experience with the kind of community blogging Debra mentions, in my instance with unofficial blogs or bulletin boards associated with particular schools. They wound up in parental catfights because no one could agree on much of anything, but the one cited by Debra has a much better chance of success because it starts from an assumption of unity. The blogging of meetings sounds like a good idea if it's done as straight reporting and then discussed separately.

Obviously the web lets people organize much more quickly than in the days of blue-ink-and-stencil broadsheets, but accomplishing anything still takes one more ounce of persistence than the opposition has resistance. That ability to get into the mix before whatever you're opposing takes firm root, though, is important.

Posted by: weldon berger at March 31, 2004 10:56 PM | Permalink

[on parents' blog] "Any thoughts on this for instance?"

Yes. Critical mass, density, what % of people would be able/willing to take on the work. It's early yet, so we don't know what % of people will do any form of "informational blogging" (i.e. beyond pet tales) or with what level of dedication.

When your interest group is limited to "parents of students of School Z", the "not enough b!Xs" factor becomes a real problem.

A somewhat similar case - the amount of local news reporting that happens on community radio stations, the group blogs of the 1900s. (I don't have the #, just the question and a vague outdated impression of "not enough")


Questions now passe', but here's one anyway -

What sort of structures? metrics? rituals? could be created to measure/encourage blog "quality" (in terms of informing not misleading the readers, while "avoiding collateral damage to the civic infrastructure"(quoting Peter Levine) )

- like the study showing that those who got their news from F** TV knew less than those who didn't.

(whatever it is, it should be voluntary, so that the insecure could avoid it...)

Posted by: Anna at April 1, 2004 12:05 AM | Permalink

I wish comments could be edited...the previous one made a lot more sense to the writer at the time than it does to the reader now.

What I was trying to say about the parents' blog was "a very low % of people are likely to be willing to devote the time and energy to citizen journalism, so since the pool is so limited, it's likely that the blog won't thrive"
(but I want to be wrong)

In the "encourage blog quality" part of the post, I was thinking maybe something on the order of a (voluntary) ISO9000 compliance process for bloggers - stage I compliance being "say what you do and do what you say" in terms of blog journalism practices, more advanced stages being more specific about what practices should be followed.

The blogger picks a stage whose practices s/he can commit to, the readers keep the blogger honest.

Posted by: Anna at April 1, 2004 2:56 AM | Permalink

Jay, this all looks great. Apologies if this is old news, since I haven't had time to read all 40 pages of comments yet... but I think its's terrific that the discussion will be on the 300th anniversary of North America's first continuing newspaper. Not only was it news, it was an aggregator. See:

Note the "first continuing" modifier -- because Boston's first paper, Publick Occurrences, was suppressed by the government after one edition. I was going to say "first successful" instead of "first continuing," but some might argue that criticizing the status quo enough to be put out of business is another kind of journalistic success.

I'm really looking forward to talking about how newspaper-journalists, broadcast-journalists and web-based journalists can learn from each other -- for the "Publick" good (no pun on going out to a saloon afterwards intended).

Posted by: Bob Stepno at April 1, 2004 4:45 PM | Permalink

Seth: I take your point about blog triumphalism being somewhere between wrong and cruel. And the cruel part I get from your comments, because as a writer you make it vivid. Also, you frequently say things that remind me how there is always a risk in public expression. The risk of being ignored is one. You write, "I often feel I risk a shoot-the-messenger reaction." That's another. Libel: a risk for anyone publishing words about other people. Misappropriation, another. One I happen to feel acutely, and which is also a major factor in journalism, is the risk of being wrong-- publicly, as it were. The risk demagoguery represents. And there's a hundred more.

In my latest post, I wrote about someone--public relations professional Karen Ryan--who lost when she took a risk and stuck, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting" into election year propaganda sent out to TV stations, which offended a lot of people who, let us say, have access to the press. I think her profession had lost all sense of risk when it regularized the video news release, sending phoney news out at a level of verisimilitude far beyond the homely press release on paper. "Wait, I played by the rules," she tries to say, "there was not supposed to be rhetorical risk if I played by the rules." But that was a fantasy.

So if we forget that there is risk in public expression we are actually devaluing it, which is why I wrote critically of Karen Ryan. She devalued; it was seen and reported. Of course, saying that does not mean: all risk equally. It's radically unequal, this factor. But there has to be some of it.

Perhaps one question weblogs raise is: is it really "public" expression, a weblog for the public, if there's virtually no risk? Which could also mean: a speck of an audience. If we ask this, however, someone is sure to raise another, equally good: who are you to say what public expression is? There are answers to that, too, and they even make sense on occasion.

Still, and given all that, it's never been clear to me why you, me, Blogrunner, or anyone, can make statements like, "the blog is read by 100 people a day, a tiny, almost meaningless number." I would argue that no such number has any meaning until one's purpose is on the table, and the blogging context is understood. We can think of hundreds of situations where 100 people reading the weblog makes the thing successful: a PTA blog at a school could be thriving at that rate.

I'm not trying to say you have a large user base, but don't know it, or a small user base, or a medium one. Nor am I saying it's important to have lots of traffic, or unimportant. I'm saying the number is meaningless until there's a purpose you have for doing the damn thing (weblog) and a place, or space you're trying to do it "in." So that's why I asked you my question: Seth, why do you blog?

What you told me is (mostly) that your blog is mostly a failure, usually not worth it. You said you started off with the enthusiasm of "giving it a try," but you have found that trying hard--applying talents and time--brings little success and yet entails a lot of risk. So I ask you again: Seth, why do you blog? confident that there is an affirmative answer, a reason for Seth Finkelstein's Infothought, which might be useful for people at BloggerCon to understand.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 1, 2004 6:19 PM | Permalink

So when we get to BloggerCon, it'll be: 300 years ago today, America began its experiment with a free press.

Thanks Bob Stepno.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 1, 2004 6:35 PM | Permalink

Jay: Yes, of course, the significance of the audience number is connected to the context. This is where the conflation of "blogging" as meaning all of diaries, chat, commentary, and reporting, creates so much fog and confusion in discussion. If someone is writing a personal diary, just for themselves, then they don't care about having any readers at all.

However, if someone is volunteering their time to be an unpaid journalist, out of civic virtue, then they may care greatly about the existence of the audience, as that is the reason for the activity.

So I think I misread your question a little earlier, as to how deeply you were asking me "why". My purpose is, well, roughly, *journalism* - more precisely, what goes under the phrase "public intellectual" nowadays.

I devoted much costly effort over many years to try to keep the Internet free. This is not activism for which is it satisfying to stand on a street corner and rant. There's *no point* to such shouting to the wind. Rather, it was an attempt to engage a part of the public (not the general population, but a significant amount of the net community) on issues of censorship, copyright, the DMCA, etc, and to influence the outcome of the evolution of the net.

I was in fact one of the first people to start raising alerts about the DMCA, way back before that was cool.

So the "space" is activism/policy/advocacy-journalism.

I'd hope it's clear then that I can make statements like, "the blog is read by 100 people a day, a tiny, almost meaningless number.". In terms of having an *effect* (being that the President and the Pope are not amount that group) it's almost a joke.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 2, 2004 6:10 AM | Permalink

These are my thoughts in response to the Carey piece - hope I'm not overstating the obvious, but I haven't seen this issue mentioned here (yet). As a local issues blogger in a mid-sized, ethnically diverse and relatively poor city, here's my quandary: if blogs have the potential to be a democratizing force, adding new voices to political discourse and new viewpoints to news coverage, how do we address the fact that probably less that half of households here have Internet access, never mind blogging tools? That all of the local bloggers are college-educated non-hispanic whites while most of the population is neither? That some studies suggest that the technological disparity could easily persist for a generation?

Posted by: Eileen Foley at April 2, 2004 2:22 PM | Permalink


A couple of thoughts:

I do not agree that many journalists will say theirs is not a “profession.” I think people do officially “qualify” as journalists, and the profession does restrict the practice to those licensed to practice it; just take a look at the credentials that any young journalist, looking to get paid for his or her work, has to go through: the long-houred unpaid internships, the teeth-cutting obits, the inverted-pyramid format. Also, the professional training that is mandated – but that is not always practiced – like standards of “objectivity,” verification, accuracy, are part of the journalist’s legitimacy in the eyes of many Americans.

We cannot ignore the “production” of journalism, which is far more important than any notion of a free press and free speech as an ideal in that it works against an open, participatory environment of communication. These traditional production methods – often the remnants of a distribution process in the off-line world that was aimed at profit – are justified by their claim on these professional journalistic standards cited above.

This is evident in the initial reaction of the mainstream media towards blogs, as they were thoroughly discounted as being the bastion of unverified, biased opinion not conforming to journalistic standards. And blogging as a medium – as a format – is increasingly being picked up by this mainstream press, and their credibility and reputation, which will impact their readership, is their strongest suit – which takes us back to the way that journalistic norms are sanctioned as a profession more “worthy” of the public’s attention.

The other thing that needs to be taken into account is the journalistic model of “objectivity” as specifically relates to the role the press has played in the last 80 years in terms of democracy. Journalism has served for the better part of the last half of the century as a tool for providing information to the public so citizens can participate in democracy; journalism was not conceived as being a “purely human and expressive act,” but rather a process – rooted in the scientific method – of gathering information and facts that the public and elected officials could then act on.

Blogging moves the “informational” model of journalism to serve a more “deliberative” notion of democracy. I would argue that it the mainstream press still largely sets the “news agenda,” and blogs are still reliant on this primary source reporting as a starting point for deliberation, but they extend the conversation further, set new paths for political communication, and serve as a check on the mass-media. It is participatory deliberation, and thus, it heralds a changing notion of what journalism is.

But we are at a point where these old values of “objectivity” and professional norms still have wide-spread credibility for the vast majority of us in America. They have no innate claim to be truth, but they are perceived to be a standard of legitimacy. So when you write that blogging would be well-served to incorporate these norms I thoroughly concur; in fact, I think it is necessary if blogging is going to remain an open process not dominated by the new blogs of major media outlets.

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss at April 2, 2004 2:49 PM | Permalink

I have been watching with some vested personal interest the debate over the perceived homogeny of net-space, and blogging specifically, for a few years now. The questions you raise, Eileen, are good ones and have been tossed about for some time, at least as long as I've been blogging. But I think the desire by those rightly sensitive to the diversity and power issues on the net are missing a rather HUGE point when they study/research/publish about the barrier to entry for the historically disenfranchised.

Compared to all other vehicles for voice, for collapsing the hierarchies of the status quo, the Net and blogging offer the most affordable, accessible, and easily-grasped megaphone we have.

Libraries have free computer access. Blogger is free. I haven't checked in with the homeless guy for a while, or the woman who was blogging from a battered woman's shelter where she was in hiding with her children, but you show me another outlet AS ACCESSIBLE for people without money, without power, and without a voice, and then--and only then--will I take seriously the concerns of many about the perceived homogeny of the Net.

The microphone is here and it's on, the communities are here, and all kinds of folks many of us wouldn't be talking with through any other channel are here too.

The emphasis should be on those of us who are already here wanting to know, seeking, welcoming and supporting diverse voices, not on studies that deflate what's happening by belaboring the point that not enough people are here.

That's my two cents anyway.

Posted by: jeneane at April 2, 2004 3:29 PM | Permalink

However, if someone is volunteering their time to be an unpaid journalist, out of civic virtue, then they may care greatly about the existence of the audience, as that is the reason for the activity.

Interestingly, speaking personally here, I actually haven't found this to be the case for me. While I am greatly appreciative of the audience I have, my site has always been mainly for myself -- indeed it began as an excuse to make myself read more about the city I had moved to several years previously, by committing myself to writing about it every day.

That other people have found what I've been doing to be worthwhile has been the gravy, not the meat.

Posted by: The One True b!X at April 3, 2004 3:06 AM | Permalink

jeneane: You're making what I call the "lottery ticket" argument. That is, the problem is that winning the lottery is not much of a system for economic justice. One might say "Lottery ticket are so cheap! They're very accessible! Anyone can scrape up a few bucks and get one. Where else can someone start with just one dollar, and instantly become a millionaire?"

But the issue with lottery tickets isn't about being cheap and accessible. It's that no matter how spectacular the wins, there can only be a few of them. (when I point this out, people sometimes say blog-wins are skill and lottery-wins are luck - this isn't a rebuttal, the key point is that there are only a few possible wins in the system)

b!X: But you see, my work is not mainly for myself. It's akin to the branch of journalism which has as its motto "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted". That contains within it a reference to external effectiveness (i.e., it's NOT diary, chat, or personal exercise).

It's very laudable, that what you do for yourself, is so journalistically beneficial. But as you are not wrong for your contentment, I am not wrong for my dissatisfaction, because we have different motives.

I ruefully noted this passage from the profile about your "Portland Communique":

"Very soon, he will need to find another way to fund his experiment. He has been looking into grants, but barring "a rich donor who wants to become a Renaissance-era patron," he thinks he will have to get a job soon. And if he gets a job, he knows there is no way he can keep "Portland Communique" going as it has been."

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 3, 2004 10:08 AM | Permalink

I'm no expert on the birth of "the press" in America, but I've been talking to one. It's interesting to note that America's first continuing newspaper, The Boston News-Letter, the one with "April 17-24, 1704" on its front, didn't start out as an independent voice. It was a partisan sheet (and news aggregator) edited by the governor's appointed postmaster, who initially avoided news that might offend readers.

However, that editor kept the News-Letter going after a new postmaster started a new paper, the Boston Gazette, and press competition was born. So was something of a flame-war between the two editors, as noted in Professor David Sloan's history of the News-Letter, which he's just let me post online. (It's no blog entry -- about a dozen pages with 48 footnotes.)

A 1690 Boston paper, Publick Occurrences, was suppressed after one issue -- it might be a better example for an outspoken independent press (or blog). In comparison, the conservative News-Letter was more a model of "the establishment press," but it stuck around, and the public discussion evolved. I think its start is still worth a toast at Bloggercon on April 17.

Posted by: Bob Stepno at April 3, 2004 11:04 AM | Permalink

Daniel Kreiss makes a number of excellent points in his comment (about 5 up). One quick point on his last one. He says:

"But we are at a point where these old values of “objectivity” and professional norms still have wide-spread credibility for the vast majority of us in America. They have no innate claim to be truth, but they are perceived to be a standard of legitimacy. So when you write that blogging would be well-served to incorporate these norms I thoroughly concur; in fact, I think it is necessary if blogging is going to remain an open process not dominated by the new blogs of major media outlets."

The first question to ask is why something that has "no innate claim to be truth" has managed to become so widely accepted as to constitute a standard for corporate-owned US news media. The next question is why one would wish to impose a "standard" that has not undergone serious critical reflection upon everyone else in the universe of online publishing (here, specifically, blogs).

A critique of the objective claims of news media would need to examine the nature of its implicit and uninterrogated truth model, and to situtate it as well in its historical moment. The adequacy of the model as truth then needs to be examined in light of its performance as economic power - i.e., as a machine that, whatever its relation to truth, must obey the necessity to survive in the marketplace via a series of strategems for turning a profit.

What is the point of prescribing what bloggers or any other writers should do if journalism is unable to first ask some hard questions of itself?

Posted by: Tom Matrullo at April 3, 2004 12:45 PM | Permalink

Seth, I don't remember introducing the concept of winning. In fact, I'm not sure: what does a "win" look like in this space? Please describe. Nouns and adjectives welcome.

Posted by: jeneane at April 3, 2004 1:11 PM | Permalink

jeneane: "win" was my shorthand for what I took you to mean in the phrase "collapsing the hierarchies of the status quo".

That is, I read it as some type of overcoming of odds or existing power structures.

Anyone can stand on a street-corner and rant, just like both the rich and the poor can try to sleep under bridges.

But the net equivalent of ranting on a soapbox is no more transgressive, revolutionary, inverse hegemonic, etc, than the corresponding physical version (in fact, I suspect the net version is somewhat *less* helpful, though maybe not by much).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 3, 2004 1:56 PM | Permalink

"Discovering the News -- A Social History of American Newspapers," by Michael Shudson, is an excellent read about how the press got started and evolved over time, and how it mirrors and interacts with other social discourse (namely the rise of "objectivity.")

Tom, excellent questions. I would say -- and please correct me if I am wrong -- that the rise of this objective standard happened independently of the corporate media. Bagdikian in "The Media Monopoly" makes a very solid point how just how much more corporate and centralized things are now than they were even twenty years ago.

So I think that this objectivity standard is something that evolved independently of media consolidation, but it also became a journalistic norm that regardless of ownership provides the legitimacy of the profession.

You are right, it needs to be looked at as situated in a historical period. And we are, I think, in the process of evolving toward a new discourse of journalistic communication.

However, like jazz improvisation, you can never so thoroughly break with the past as to render the present unintelligible to a majority of the public if you wish to be culturally relevant. Certainly, the discourse around "objectivity" and the norms that come with it are not all bad (the emphasis on accuracy and verification is a good thing.)

I would argue that we need a hybrid of the informational and deliberative models, and from this new forms of reputation (ie: legitmacy) will evolve with it. Maybe what we are seeing with blogs is not a replacing, or opposition to old media, but a coexistance whereby reporting and objectivity can be positied alongside more delibertive space. But I would say that for blogs to take on the reporting function, they need to be versed in the journalistic norms that exist now.

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss at April 3, 2004 2:36 PM | Permalink

Picture a determined gal out there, April, who think she thinks she can compete with every journalist out there writing regularly about... you name it: global warming. So she starts up her weblog Melting Ice and sets out to compete-- with "their" journlism. Big J.

Now April is pretty good, not only as a writer commenting on things, but in finding news and explaining things. She knows this beat, but unlike hundreds of other specialists with intimate knowledge (April used to work on global warming from the activist side) she can also take elusive matters in science and politics and make them vivid.

She also knows where information is. She's funny, a real person with a voice. Never been a journalist or published a word. No friends in high places or "connections." But after a lifetime of preparing for it, she emerges--through her weblog--as a dazzling guide to global warming, able to compete with the best journalists from the biggest places.

When she debuts Melting Ice it is already a quality site. Pouring energy and time into the blog, she starts to see results-- tiny but signs of life. Melting Ice gets a few mentions. The traffic climbs from 7 people a day to 75, and within weeks to 150 a day, sometimes spiking wildly when a big blog takes notice.

Meanwhile, the journalism she's doing is not only first-rate, but within two months better than the standard set in the commercial press or the activist media. But at a certain point the growth in her traffic slows and seems about to stop. Melting Ice is a winning weblog, but it doesn't seem to be winning in the attention derby.

This is where the thought experiment might begin. April turns to you for help. She has questions:

What's happening and causing the leveling off?
How do I know if I am wasting my time?
What should April do at this point?
What must Melting Ice try to become?
How can she afford to put effort into it?
Is April a journalist yet and can she break news?
What questions does she have to face before going on?
What's missing from my thought experiment?

Any kind of reply invited.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 3, 2004 2:38 PM | Permalink

Meanwhile, the journalism she's doing is not only first-rate, but within two months better than the standard set in the commercial press or the activist media. But at a certain point the growth in her traffic slows and seems about to stop. Melting Ice is a winning weblog, but it doesn't seem to be winning in the attention derby.

this is where i fall off the cliff, to quote the worst manager I ever had, one that saw no worth in our first corporate web site back in 1994, ("the big companies out there don't have web sites and they're making money") where we gave away all of our articles and white papers for free, because he wasn't watching us.

I fall off the proverbial cliff because I come at this writing-in-blogspace from the other end of the spectrum: I come here to read what individual bloggers have to say, not for some kind of "news coverage," but because I like to watch human stories unfold. I rarely spend time on themed blogs, even the PR blogs where you think I might. After about a week, I'm like: okay, so zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I would say since April has achieived the "legitimacy" and "credibility" she was evidently looking for initially, she now has to evolve, use the opportunitiy to solo, improvise, take it out, blow.

She needs to risk somemthing. She's gotten safe.

I've seen too many bloggers who came here writing on things they cared deeply about intitially get traffic, get an "audience," and subsequently get safe. Boring.

Risk it April, honey.

In short, I'd email her and say, hey, enough with copying bigj style and topics (even if in this case, bigj only means the already establiished activist outlets) and start letting on who YOU are.

What was your mother like and how is that tied to why you care about the sun sauteing us like plump mushrooms? what makes you scream out in your sleep? what makes you come hard? what makes you throw up and why?

Screw the traditional model of reporting, April, its time to let on who you are, from the inside out. In short, if her traffic falls off, its because April's writing isn't connecting. It's grown stale. And in blogspace it has to move to continuously connect because there are a million other places to go.

If we fail to open ourselves here, we've got just another online newspaper or magazine, carbon copy of same-ole-same-ole. To me, that's not news. Those have been around for a decade or more.

Next - Seth, that's not what I was describing. Power to the people and all - no. I don't care if blogging doesn't change a thing, although I think it is. I do care when people accuse blogging of not changing a thing for the masses as if there were some code of responsibility AND barrier to entry here that is any larger than the already-established vehicles for voice. Because that just ain't so. This is the best we've got.

Posted by: jeneane at April 3, 2004 3:54 PM | Permalink

Now that's what I was hoping for in this thread. Thank you, Jeneane.

My question:

... if her traffic falls off, its because April's writing isn't connecting. It's grown stale. And in blogspace it has to move to continuously connect because there are a million other places to go.

I want to underline that insight: continuous movement marks a successful webelog.

You suggest for April it must be into the self, toward who she is: start displaying your life, what makes you tick, what you're about.

But why that movement, into the interior, the author's identity-- as against editorial motion of some other kind? Seems to me you have a silent premise in there, and I want to know what it is.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 3, 2004 4:40 PM | Permalink

Hey Jay. Now that I've taken up residence over here, can you buy some oreos? I have specific snack food needs.

You say: But why that movement, into the interior, the author's identity-- as against editorial motion of some other kind? Seems to me you have a silent premise in there, and I want to know what it is.

This is something I should think about before writing, but why start now?

Revealing what is human about the writer--or writing from (not necessarily about--this is often confused) places of human emotion (pain, joy, rage, etc.) is one of the things that makes this space so very different from traditional journalism and other forms of public communication.

Because of the movement, the fluidity, from post to post, there is tremendous space, tremendous opportunity to reveal who we are in our writing. Perhaps not in every post, but within the totality of our blogs for sure.

It is the subjective vs. objective difference. Risking and daring to show one's private self publically makes bloggers who do so a different kind of animal. Privacy, identity, truth, facts, objectivity, all of the so-called "predictables" of other online (and offline) forms of writing/publishing are OURS to do with what we want here. Throw them against the brick wall and watch them burst apart, watch the red trickle down the channels in the mortar.

blogging done right is inherently risky, and that makes it beautiful, and blogging done wrong is inherently safe, and that makes it boring.

But I think both the notion of fluidity from post to post--and the room that fluidity gives us to reveal what's human about us--AND the perceived risk and reward in revealing ourselves are very important themes.

More to come when I think about it, I think.

Posted by: jeneane at April 3, 2004 6:38 PM | Permalink

I am a "specific snacker," too. Can't wait for the more to come, Jeneane.

Anyone else have thoughts on April and her situation?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 3, 2004 9:22 PM | Permalink

I do, I do!

April has to decide why she's doing what she's doing. If the goal is readership, then she needs to do some promotion and give some thought to your point, Jay, about where the connection with readers is shorting out. That assumes, though, that she's willing to change what she's doing, or at least how she's doing it, for the sake of numbers and whatever numbers represent to her.

Promotion is pretty easy, really. Dropping in on sites like Press Think with thoughtful comments is one way, writing the occasional freebie for a well-populated opinion site, most of which have no budget for writers and an insatiable need for content, is another.

Changing what she does or how she presents herself may not be so easy. Most high-traffic blogs are short-format deals; you rarely find anything longer than a few hundred words. If April wants to write long pieces read by many people, she'll probably need to work her way into a more formal situation, which happens: Kevin Drum (CalPundit) has done, as has Matthew Yglesias. If April's as good a writer as you describe and she's willing to persist and able to pester people who publish people like her, she'll get there if she wants to.

Ultimately, though, she just has to figure out why she's doing what she does, and that'll probably offer her enough direction to move along or not, as she pleases.

Jeneane, should you read this - I generally don't like reading really personal blogs because it's so hard to weave the personal in with the topical, and anyone good enough to get away with that or with the strictly personal ought to be writing novels or doing a Joan Didion thing, and most truly revealing blogs or journals or diaries end up being a train wreck or a soap opera or some combination thereof.

My sentiment is that people can get to know a writer through the writing, or at least construct a personality around it (which is at least sometimes more interesting than the writer really is, as a person). Just sticking your neck out is pretty risky, and anyone who actually does get a lot of readers will eventually do something horribly embarassing, or at least something that feels horribly embarassing.

The fear of risk oughtn't to dictate one's style but embracing it doesn't automatically lead to good results, and people who play their personal lives close to the vest can still do brilliant and compelling things.

I say this, of course, because I'm one of the latter (close to the vest, I mean, not brilliant, and I'm not fishing).

But back to April: we probably need to find out what sorts of snacks she likes before we can really make a diagnosis.

Posted by: weldon berger at April 3, 2004 10:55 PM | Permalink

And a p.s. - being that it is an interactive medium, April should probably ask her readers what they like and don't like about her site and her work if she's interested in knowing.

Posted by: weldon berger at April 3, 2004 11:23 PM | Permalink

All interested parties should head over to LA Observed and check this post for the remarkable story of the World Journalism Institute retracting an earlier mission statement about Christians in holy battle with seculars in the newroom. The retraction, by director Robert Case, apologizes to members for the earlier logic. Most important for our purposes, it credits criticism from weblogs for realizations WJI came to:

The World Journalism Institute has recently come under criticism in some blog quarters concerning its mission statement and its rationale for existence. The criticism has been directed towards the wording in our mission statement that suggests the Institute seeks to train Christian journalists to bend the news to fit a preconceived (presupposed) worldview shaped by the Bible, and then to send those propagandists into the mainstream newsrooms as agents (cadre) of Christianity.

The criticism, while unpleasant, is on target given that particular mission statement.

What is this a victory for?

Way back at the beginning of this thread Julia said, "I see blogs pulling the threads of a story together, challenging a dominant narrative of what happened." Then Amy Wohl wrote: "The transparency of the Internet changes everything about journalism."

Seems that in the Institute case, the threads of the story--which involve disgraced USA Today fabricator Jack Kelly, a member of the group--were not so much pulled together as "held" together by criticism in the blogs, which put together a counter-narrative about the Institute's real mission, and then sustained it beyond what a "news story" can do.

So a statement that could stand, publicly, at one level of transparency collapses, publicly, at the greater level of transparency that "extended examination by blog" brings about in journalism. And as Amy also wrote: "All of this happens in real time."

Something's happening in the attention flicker by which news stories are illuminated and go dark. Weblogs are screwing around with that. But what do we make of it?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 3, 2004 11:50 PM | Permalink

Pringles anyone?

Listen, I should no sooner wander into this comment space at 11:30 p.m. after two days of horrifically mind-numbing writing of a solutions section of an incredibly uncooperative product website, then building two four-page press releases that have no right to exist in the first place, than I should attempt brain surgery at this particular juncture.

But here I am anyway.

Weldon, you continue to make much sense. And so I'll read you, because we met here, in an only semi-related comment box, not because of what you write *about* but because your voice resonates with me. Are you going to say you probably won't read me? I bet you will. You'll see.

Another wrinkle in blogging - how and why we read one another.

About the self-stuff and personal blogging, I'm not talking about personal blogging in the manner that most people do. I'm talking about writing *from* those inside places, not necessarily about them.

Personal bloggers who write about themselves from the outside in post after post run the same risk as topical bloggers who go on and on about the same topic post after post. It's where we write from, isn't it, that gives us our inflection, that determines how well we resonate and with whom?

So, you can tackle PR and marketing on your blog, and that's fine if that's what you care about (I have shifted to using myself as an example--can you tell?), and you can also write from that little-girl-of-six place, with your left foot on the top step of what will become the longest staircase in the world because when you get to the top step you find out your father is dead; and you can write from that space in your own baby's hospital room, her screams over the Potassium IV ripping you apart like a bedsheet, and you can write from the place of hiding from the alcoholic rage in your house; and you can write all of that WITHOUT writing about it, and you can write from those places WHILE you're writing about marketing and PR, because, if you are a good writer, and if you throw objectivity to the wind and decide that bias is your friend and you have no boss, and you can say whatever the hell you want to say, then all of those places can inform your writing.

And that's not old-school journalismm, and that's not a journal, and that's not a novel. That's just good writing.

Now, if we just went through four dozen comments only for me to make the non-astute observation that it all comes down to good writing, I'm taking my Pringles and going home.

good night.

Posted by: jeneane sessum at April 4, 2004 12:16 AM | Permalink

jeneane: The key is the phrase "barrier to entry here that is any larger than the already-established vehicles for voice.". The barrier may not be larger, but *in practice*, contrary to what many argue, it's definitely not too much smaller either. To recap, the key reasoning error seems to be any belief that costs of production are the only relevant factor. No. Just for example, connections to those already in power are still an extremely relevant factor.

general comment: I've come to believe that the unedited-voice-of-a-person (to refer to a popular idea) is nowhere near what it's cracked up to be. Those advocating it are often (not always, but often) basically celebrities within a subculture, so they can get away with it. It's the old Tom Wolfe / "New Journalism" hype all over again. People might have loved reading about Hunter S. Thompson's personal weirdness, but that was because he had the celebrity to carry it, they sure don't want to hear about *your* personal weirdness.

My advice to bloggers seeking traffic is to entirely ignore anything said by bubble-blowers and it's-a-New-Era type visionaries. Rather, the game is the same-old-same-old. Either you have to attach yourself somehow to one of a few attention-gatekeepers (as a favorite or protege or water-carrier or similar), or have some sort of institutional endorsement, or be willing to spend a very great deal of time and energy on promotion, etc. Otherwise, you're going to be the equivalent of the public-park soapbox-standers, and then have to watch all the nattering about how your standing on a soapbox proves the vibrant democratic properties of the parksphere.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 4, 2004 12:41 AM | Permalink

Jeneane ...

What happened was I gave a careless reading to your initial post about the personal and completely missed that you were saying what I think, only more lyrically. So yeah, I think a willingness to let yourself inform your writing is a good thing. Generally. There are some people I just wouldn't care to meet even in print. And I agree that a willingness to let yourself inform your writing, at least with any degree of control, requires a willingness to more or less skin yourself alive. And my little contribution to the obvious: the virtues and risks of that aren't confined to writing.


But what do we make of it?

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into... the Twilight Zone.

I'm starting to think you're trying to organize an Anarchists Local in the ether, or you're working on a book about Brownian motion in the primal soup of the bloggyverse. Very provocative. I hadn't realized how little I'd thought about this stuff. Thanks.

Posted by: weldon berger at April 4, 2004 1:37 AM | Permalink

April has to decide why she's doing what she's doing. If the goal is readership, then she needs to do some promotion and give some thought to your point, Jay, about where the connection with readers is shorting out.

And maybe what she's doing doesn't need to rack up a ton of hits to be successful. Maybe it follows the Velvet Underground model (they never sold many copies, but everyone who bought one started a band).

There was a blog study recently that suggested that the most popular ones are most likely borrow ideas without linking back to the original blogger - maybe a better yardstick for April's success is how many other people are posting (and talking) about global warming, not necessarly how many hits her blog gets.

And making that happen goes back to promotion. She needs to get the word out about her blog, to environmental groups, journalists who cover that beat, politicians sympathetic to the cause, and so on. Making those connections could expand her sources, too.

Posted by: Eileen Foley at April 4, 2004 8:08 AM | Permalink

There was a blog study recently that suggested that the most popular ones are most likely borrow ideas without linking back to the original blogger...

In itself not something one would call best practices.

Posted by: The One True b!X at April 4, 2004 5:57 PM | Permalink


Posted by: Eileen Foley at April 4, 2004 6:11 PM | Permalink

Please explain to a French TV journalist what the words blog , blogger etc. means
they cannot be found in a dictionnary ...

Posted by: Volker Bernard at April 5, 2004 6:43 AM | Permalink

Former CNN'er Rebecca MacKinnon, who will be leading the session on international weblogs and journalism at BloggerCom, has started her pre-conference discussion thread, in parallel to this one

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 5, 2004 10:17 AM | Permalink

Try these for some of your questions 11-20 to come...

11. It used to be that those educated to become capable people studied the Seven Liberal Arts. The first three of those were Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. Grammar taught you to compose thoughts clearly. Logic helped assure it was internally consistent and Rhetoric both helped explain the resulting thoughts to others and interpret their reply. In an increasingly interactive world where demagoguery can thrive, how do we inoculate people to defend themselves against poor ideas of their own and others?

12. An interactive world reduces the relaxation cycle between stimuli during which one recovers from the initial stimulous. How should we compensate to assure that positive feedback doesn’t become negative feedback (like the squeal of a microphone in front of a speaker).

13. Comment on: “The purpose of journalism is to refine our mental map of reality.”

14: If you look at M.C. Escher’s “Print Gallery 1956” (a cityscape that includes a gallery in which a viewer looks at a cityscape that includes a gallery in which a viewer looks at a cityscape…) it illustrates “recursion” where the output can influence the next input. People think recursively and journalists report recursively but society doesn’t teach people how to deal with recursion’s value or its slipperiness. How can we change that and do we have to?

15: Is a single comment section enough or should it be threaded? (Allowing conversations with life to continue.)

Posted by: sbw at April 5, 2004 10:30 AM | Permalink

Advice for our global warming blogger:

April needs to aggregate. She's a single-celled organism in what's going to become a multicellular world. Q. 21 might be "how to organize so as to gain the benefits of synergy and scale, and not waste [as much] energy through duplication?" while also not losing what already gives her work value...

or at least that's my assertion and I'm sticking to it.

Posted by: Anna at April 5, 2004 5:32 PM | Permalink

Interesting too is how webloggers are being nudged into the journalist role whether we like it or not. It has happened over time in ways that are both subtle and not so.

Blogging is the perfect model for PR to pimp to. You have writers in a public forum with no responsibility to anyone but themselves (and if they care, their readers).

I've found myself (literally) in the middle of this....I wouldn't call it a dilemma really because I don't take it too let's just call it a conundrum.

I posted last september about it here in my blog.

It clicked for me when I started getting pitched by PR people, specifically tech and healthcare PR people, via email, and I innocently (and wrongly) guessed, that they must either somehow remember me from Ketchum or some PR colleagues, or maybe they actually read my blog, although I can't say I write about either tech or healthcare *that* much, unless I'm bitching about COBRA premiums.

But I digress.

Imagine my surprise to learn, along the way of providing PR writing services (just one of the little things in my bag of tricks) during this last year of indie life -- which led me to spend some time back on my old friend Media Map -- that indeed my blog was listed in the media outlet category aptly called "blogs."

When I left last April, blogs weren't a "media" outlet in Media Map. But, they are now. In fact, *unbeknownst to me*, HERE, ladies and gentlemen, is what I report on:

Sessum covers topics related to healthcare, public relations, technology and blogging, communications, general business topics, and race issues in her blog. She can be contacted by e-mail. See the outlet overview for complete blog details and pitching tips. Topics covered - Advertising, marketing, and PR; Business; Communications, technology; Healthcare; Internet; Social issues; Technology.

Yes, you may rightly conclude, I get pitched by PR folks. More than I'd like. Pitch and be pitched. The land of weblogs and crossover communication identities.

What all of this means, I don't know. But as I said in my post, "In answer to the question that I so hate -- "Are Bloggers Journalists?" -- we may not be allowed the power to answer that for ourselves in the end. We may just start getting pitched. And some of the stories will be interesting. Some may be so interesting that we bite on them. And then what are we?"

food for thought. maybe.

Posted by: jeneane at April 5, 2004 10:25 PM | Permalink

Then we're at the crossing point. PR weblogs or PR exercised upon weblogs can do to weblogs what spam did to email. I get those things too sometimes. Each one seems to say, very quietly, your time is not long.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 6, 2004 12:09 AM | Permalink

You know, blogs are a really bad format for this kind of discussion. What ever happened to the good old discussion board? Why not install something like Invision Power Board or phpBB or the like?

Posted by: Chuck at April 6, 2004 7:43 AM | Permalink

Jay, I've read your opening essay and skimmed the comments here, and have a bunch of stuff written, starting here, with a proposed answer to the question -- What is journalism? I'll have more stuff soon. Thanks for getting a great discussion going.

Posted by: Dave Winer at April 6, 2004 7:57 AM | Permalink

Although the best journalists around today are professionals...

What is that based on? We haven't agreed on what a journalist is yet, so how can we make statements about who is a better journalist.

Anyway, I think the best journalists around today are bloggers, not professionals, and I'm not saying that to be argumentative, I really believe it, and could and would debate it, except this is not the topic of this session.

In a way this is like saying the best programmers are professionalis, yet the hype says the opposite. What does it say about us if we believe that whether or not someone is paid plays a major role in the quality, and that in one profession it's the fact that they're being paid that makes them better, and in another it's the fact that they're not being paid. ;->

Posted by: Dave Winer at April 6, 2004 8:17 AM | Permalink

Is it a profession?

I use the term in the sense of definition #3 here.

"Engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career: a professional writer."

I understand why people I call professionals don't like the term, and appreciate that they want the activity of journalism to be something open.

I wonder if you have any comments on Dan Gillmor's note about the Pulitzers? (See refs on yesterday and today's Scripting News.)

Posted by: Dave Winer at April 6, 2004 8:20 AM | Permalink

Equating money with power

Are you saying the NY Times is much more powerful than the whole blogosphere? Because they have a lot of money and employees? Come on Jay -- if that were true, wouldn't Howard Dean be the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party? Wouldn't all the dotcom startups that got hundreds of millions of dollars, be dwarfing the blogging tools vendors (who got approx $0 million). Money does not equate to power. It's a myth that people buy into, but it's not true.

Posted by: Dave Winer at April 6, 2004 8:22 AM | Permalink

We can and do compete with pros

Jay, I started blogging in the mid-90s because the professionals covering my profession weren't doing their job. I figured I could do it for them. It worked. We got a lot of new stuff done, and we can do more.

I'm one of the technologists who, like Lessig with lawyers, tells users not to listen so much to the technologists, instead look at how we've used the Internet, and see if it can't apply to your profession. Look at how the Internet has been applied to real estate, travel, employment, even love and sex, just to name a few endeavors that have been streamlined and enhanced because people are able to do more for themselves, without requiring intermediaries to do it for them.

The Internet was designed to be the weblog medium, the more I learn about it, the more sure I am of this. So I encourage you to start there. People will be writing. Now how does that impact journalism?

For a smart journalist, no matter what medium he or she uses, this means that sources will be available in new ways. You used to have to network over the phone to find out who's authoritative in an area, and that led to a concentration and relatively closed working group in any area. Why does Markoff quote Paul Saffo all the time? One would thnk Saffo was a thought leader in this area but I don't hear much from him outside of Markoff's pieces. Once the authorities are writing publicly, and in some areas lots of them are, a reporter can turn to a search engine or a blogroll for ideas on who to speak with. And a reporter that uses just a few sources stands out more, as Markoff does now (even though virtually everyone would return his call).

Recently a Wall Street Journal reporter asked me for a reference to a real user of RSS technology, someone who isn't a techie. I decided to try to find some fresh blood for him, and also demo the power of weblogs. I put up a query on Scripting News, and got quite a response (lots of people would like to tell their story in the WSJ). So a good blog is also itself a research tool, a way to draw the information and people you want to you.

Is this all journalism? I suspect that when this all over, probably long after I'm dead, no one will remember how the NY Times used to work before the Internet, just as the students in the anthropology class had never heard of Jack Benny. Our cultural memory is getting depressingly short. The Times didn't become a television station, but it will become a blog, I'm sure of it. I'll be happy to take challenges on this in the closing Fat Man session, much as I've made a bet with Martin Nisenholtz on the relative power of blogs vs the Times in 2007. It's a friendly bet, btw (much to the consternation of the Long Now people).

Disclaimer: Seth Finkelstein thinks I'm a dreamer, and it's sad that's it's not true, yadda yadda yadda. It would be nice for him to recognize that despite his protest to the contrary, he is indeed being heard. ;->

Disclaimer #2: This is a comment on blog post, not spec text. I reserve the right to change my mind about anything herein.

Posted by: Dave Winer at April 6, 2004 8:31 AM | Permalink

Tree falling does not make news

Jay says: "Philosophers disagree on whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound, if no ear hears it. But it is certain that the tree does not make news. Until it hits a house, and civilization gets involved. Then a public interest is at stake. Now there can be news."

I like this a lot, it's pure Jay Rosen.

I recently saw a Frontline special on what happened in Rwanda in 1994. 800,000 people died and a tree didn't fall on a house. This raises a key question -- do our interests have to be involved before we take an interest.

An interview with a Belgian Red Cross worker and the chief of the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda made it clear that they saw their job was not just to help Rwandans, but also to make sure that the rest of the world knew what was going on. This was something new for the Red Cross. During WWII they didn't see spreading news as part of their mission, and came to see that as a mistake. In Rwanda, it was part of their mission.

Posted by: Dave Winer at April 6, 2004 8:40 AM | Permalink

Hm. So my proposed question:

"What tools do traditional journalists have available to them that bloggers do not, and how can bloggers get those tools?"

Phil Wolfe asks:

When should the press director replace a camera man, photographer, or a print, TV or radio reporter with a blogger?

Which I think implies one answer: "traditional journalists have access." Joshua Marshall has access because significant public figures will answer his questions. Kevin Drum had some pretty decent access during the Bush AWOL debate; did he just call Bill Burkett and ask questions? Did Burkett talk to Drum because of Drum's reputation?

How do you decide which blogger gets on the bus? Does the answer to that question scale? (Whoops, now I'm verging on the echo chamber discussion...)

What else do trad journalists have? Lexis/Nexis access helps; I can get that but it costs me money. I think it's fair to say that the traditional journalist has better access to research tools.

What else?

Posted by: Bryant at April 6, 2004 8:48 AM | Permalink

I think the term "Journalism" is itself at fault. It was invented in order to help professionalize several different and distinct fields, and is a too-large umbrella to have any real meaning. What is a journalist? Is it a reporter? It was reporters, not journalists, who would bop you in the nose for suggesting they were in a profession. Reporters joined unions and drank far too much in the press club - journalists don't do that.

Is it a columnist? A freelancer? What if that freelancer also writes for Benetton Colors (or another PR rag)? Is she or he still a journalist? Is she a journalist but not while she's writing that particular piece?

What about editors? What about Managing editors? And where is the line between managing editors and publishers any more? How 'bout ombudsmen? Radio announcers? How about radio announcers who read the news?

Is "journalism" found in the process of creating editorial content? Or only certain kinds of editorial content? If so, no fair keeping PR stuff out - and anyhow, everyone knows that the news hole is the last thing to be defined every day - you sell and place the ads first. So what's the difference between THAT and writing for an airline magazine? And what about the industry press - the tens of thousands of newsletters and such? They differ from bloggers how exactly?

No - the term journalism is over-broad to even bring to the discussion. It was invented to make a trade, an ink-stained, hidebound, unionized trade into something broader and more respectable. But that has little to do with the judgements at hand at the moment, which have little to do with "journalism" at all but everything to do with a broader set of ethics, disclosure rules, reader expectations, and other matters that have been touched deeply by the advent of these tools - blogs or whatever else is available.

Posted by: Michael Boyle at April 6, 2004 5:01 PM | Permalink

Dave Wilner, thanks for returning to the question of what a journalist is, or what constitutes journalism.

I've been thinking about that during the past few days, and it struck me that many of the writers I've enjoyed over the years were journalists in the traditional sense, not the reportorial one; more diarists than anything else. It's certainly possible to combine the two roles, but there's still a distinction between them.

That's why we have journals. The Weekly Standard could hardly be called a news magazine, other than when Doug Feith is leaking classified memos to them, but it's filled with journalism.

Journalists are interpreters, not necessarily to the world at large but at least to themsleves, sometimes of the events taking place around them, sometimes of the internal and sometimes both. Journalists have an obligation toward the factual if they represent themselves as factual rather than fantastic, but they're still journalists whether or not they ever uncover a single piece of news.

Journalists can be synthesists too. Jay's metaphor about the tree falling on a house applies to reported stories as well. Sometimes news isn't news until someone establishes a relationship between one story and another, or several.

That's one sort of journalism for which blogs are ideal. I've been working on a piece involving people who have been in the news and locations that have been in the news. I've found articles about the people I'm interested in, and articles about the locations I'm interested in, but nothing telling me what people are in which locations, and that's where the story really lies. I won't be producing anything that hasn't been already reported, but with a bit of luck it'll be a new story because of the linkages between the parts: a BTC News exclusive, only not made up.

It's something that takes more patience than resources, thanks largely to Google and other free tools. Or rather, it takes patience and the resources other people make available.

Bloggers can do that. Jay has an interest in community journalism; bloggers can do that too, although it usually requires more hands-on involvement, particularly if you're trying to set the agenda rather than just report and comment upon it. And, as you noted, bloggers such as Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias have parlayed their blogs into reporting/journalism gigs.

Atrios, if he had the time and the inclination and a less keen desire for anonymity, could be the reporter sort of journalist. All he'd have to do is ask for sources because he has a large enough readership to get some good ones. The same is true of several other bloggers. The biggest barrier, apart from inclination, is the initial commitment of time and energy.

But what Atrios does is chronicle events, offer his opinion on some and, more recently, muster the resources of individuals, as with his fundraising activities. I guess that would be activist journalism.

I don't know whether the web might have ruined Anaïs Nin or the Samuels Pepys and Johnson or other noted journalists if it had been around when they were teenagers, but it surely would have presented them with more (possibly too many more) options. Probably would've helped Johnson with the dictionary, at least.

Anyway. That's my take. All reporters are journalists - except maybe the Jack Kelleys and such - but not all journalists are reporters, and blogs shouldn't be consigned to one species or the other, and the synthesists and interpreters and activists are at least potentially as important in the long run as the reporters.

Posted by: weldon berger at April 6, 2004 5:22 PM | Permalink

What is journalism? I think the question needs to be extended in ordered to be answered properly as What is good journalism? and What is poor journalism?

Right now I would define journalism per se as
"An unfiltered view of humanity that leads to a greater understanding of it"

The professional part of journalism is the art of keeping the human condition from creating filters that distort that view. Weblogs introduce the human condition so should be seen as filtered journalism. (Not to be misconstrued with censorship or control, a filter is anything that normally accompanies human nature or the human condition i.e. anger, language, one sided facts etc etc).


Posted by: Mark Zorro at April 6, 2004 6:34 PM | Permalink

A belated footnote to Daniel Kreiss's worthy response way up the comment chain: I suspect we are heirs to two (at least) versions of Objectivity - one as a value or method derived from positivistic 19th century thinking (and thus subject to the same critique that parcel of philosophy has had to undergo in other arenas); the other as an unreflected marketing assumption seized on by US corporate media as a means of blinding itself to the complex game good journalists actually play with sources, subjectivity, and the public.

This is a large question, but one that would seem hard to avoid if one is serious about inquiring into the nature of journalism.

Posted by: Tom Matrullo at April 6, 2004 10:59 PM | Permalink

Gee, I see that a lot has happened here while I was away.

I also see that nobody has really taken up some of the points that I have made -- perhaps less popular points and ones that we might not want to think about, such as

1. While bloggers might think they know good reporting when they see it, the problem is that they might not know bad reporting when they see that too.

2. We can surmise that bloggers find blogging meaningful and democratic if we want. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that the blogosphere is filled with mini-despots, people who want to create their own self-contained versions of the world and then project that for others to see or emulate.

3. Blogs are soapboxes. (Maybe blogs are just on-line diaries, some more high falutin' than others).

When paid-journalist-bloggers write about blogging, they might be applying a kind of journalism paradigm over the activity. I'm not convinced that bloggers who do not make their living by being journalists see blogging in this manner. We can believe that blogging creates a landscape by which readers create stories, at the risk of lapsing into reader-response criticism, I might add. However, I see blogging as more like social networking. Bloggers make blog-friends and blog-cliques. Bloggers refer to each other. Sometimes they swipe from each other, but that kind of blogging definitely can get you alienated from a group rather quickly. Blogging is as much about process as product (I think Peter Elbow would like that -- probably Kinneavey would too).

Blogging isn't necessarily about "the story"; it's about the process, itself, creation of community and blogger identity (even if that identity is anonymous). If it were just about "story," then the personality and "voice" of the blogger wouldn't matter so much. Really, in the world of blogs, almost any story will do, as long as the conversation continues in a way that people (or, at least, the blogger) enjoys. Perhaps blogging is more like conversation with an imaginary audience -- Walter Ong would love that, I think. Or, maybe blogs are just grown-up versions of teenage diaries.

By the way, nobody's mentioned teenage blogs. Are you going to alienate them entirely from the blogosphere? You know, most blogs are operated by teenagers. Some of them do a great job, spending tons of time on layouts and avies, even if they do spend most of their time writing about their favorite tunes and their recent crushes. Some teenage blogs are quite philosophical. Are we all being too snooty about what blogs really are and turning them into what we want them to be instead?

Posted by: Academy Girl at April 7, 2004 1:54 AM | Permalink

"What is journalism?" is a nice theoretical question. For the sake of argument, I'd claim it is moot. The only real question is not "what" but "how?"

The business infrastructure that pays journalists today is steadily eroding. Newspaper readership falls 5-10% every decade. Newspaper and magazine ad revenues are leaching to online services -- CraigsList, Monster, GoogleAdwords -- that don't underwrite journalists, are far more automated and, not surprisingly, enjoy vastly lower overheads.

In a decade, how will a journalist's important social functions -- enumerated in Jay's post and many of the comments -- be performed when the corporate publisher who employs her today has been ripped to bytes?

Posted by: henry at April 7, 2004 6:33 AM | Permalink

With nine days to go, this is perhaps the time to say to participants in this thread who will be at BloggerCon: take this discussion back to your own weblogs! Write something. More later...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 8, 2004 10:55 AM | Permalink

Here is my post about how amateur bloggers like myself can upgrade our journalistic skills to avoid some of the self-inflicted wounds that have been so evident in the blog wars of the last week.

Posted by: Rick Heller at April 9, 2004 10:04 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Rick. And thanks to Dave Winer for entering in with those thoughts. Sentences like, "The Times didn't become a television station, but it will become a blog, I'm sure of it. I'll be happy to take challenges on this in the closing Fat Man session, much as I've made a bet with Martin Nisenholtz on the relative power of blogs vs the Times in 2007" are pure Dave. And they make you think.

I am going to write a "what I learned" post about the comments and reflections here, (plus emails I have been exchanging with some smart people) and that will be the lead-in to BloggerCon. This conversation can resume there. Meanwhile, consider what I say: "take this back to the blogs." Write your own post. Could be three sentences, as long as they are good sentences.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 9, 2004 12:07 PM | Permalink

Jay, here's a interesting point worth pondering from a reflection by James Moore:
(emphasis mine)

"But the problem is not limited to the third world. Working for Howard Dean's candidacy, I hoped to engage Iowa bloggers in order to better understand people of the state (my home state, by the way) and to help promote political discussion. But there are precious few news-oriented political bloggers in Iowa--right, left, or center! BloggerStorm and the Iowa Caucus News, both experiments in "swarm coverage" of the Iowa political scene, had to depend on less than twenty bloggers."

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 10, 2004 6:17 AM | Permalink

If I can inject a pretty basic question: What is it about blogging -- as opposed to other formats of online publishing -- that makes *it* what we're trying to put into a journalistic context here?

I know what I think:

1) It's the simplicity: Blogging software lets you focus entirely on your message and not worry at all about the publishing mechanism. But this isn't enough, in itself, because message boards, etc., have the same simplicity.

2) It's the permalink: On one page you might find writing about a dozen different topics, but each post has its own address, which facilitates all this linking being talked about here.** And on some level, I think this permalink also can encourage more focused writing.

I'm curious what others have to say about this: What else positions blogs as such a companion/rival/catalyst to journalism?

Really blogging is really nothing more than a tool. It's one that, yes, improves on many aspects of previous online publishing, but it still doesn't do anything magically different. So why is it that we're talking about blogging and not message boards or Tripod pages or something else. I think this is a question worth thinking about, and it might even end up informing some of the other questions we're asking here.

** (The importance of this linking is huge, and deserves its own post. Because it's not just the act of linking, it's being able to easily discover who's linking to you and who else is linking to something you're interested in.)

Posted by: Ryan at April 12, 2004 3:18 AM | Permalink

Ryan: In one word, hype. I lived through the same things for message boards (Usenet), the start of websites, and so on. Same thing, oh-my-god, it's-a-New-Era, everyone's-equal, democracy, and WHAT-DOES-IT-ALL-MEAN?

I still have my 1996 joke "Netnews Press Syndicate" card somewhere, from a template that was making the rounds then. I could update the template to say "Blog" instead of "Netnews", to update the joke.

Anyway, for "take this back to the blogs.", I did a long post inspired by this and other recent articles:

"US Declares War On Porn", versus journalism thoughts

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 12, 2004 9:05 AM | Permalink

It has been said the Journalism is whatever the New York Times says it is. This is a flip answer with some utility. However, it leaves us no room to criticize the New York Times while opening the door for some wag to say that Journalism is whatever the National Enquirer says it is. Besides, we’re trying to define Journalism in a way that is useful to a new generation of publishers with opportunities and constraints different from newspapers.

Journalism is the publication facts, analysis and opinion concerning topics of current interest.

Fact: The house across the street burned down.
Analysis: The number of houses burned down in this city so far this year is twice that of last year at this time.
Opinion: There is a hate group burning the houses of people who have immigrated from Oz and the fire department is not doing enough to stop it. We should recall the mayor!

Publication makes this material available to the public in printed (newspaper, magazine, book, broadside, bill, handout, direct mail) or electronic (radio, television, cable, e-mail, web page or weblog) form. So clearly, what a blogger does can be Journalism.

The BlogerCon session on Journalism should cover the differences between Fact, Analysis and Opinion as well as what obligation the blogger has to make sure facts are checked and true. The blogger as journalist must clearly differentiate between fact and opinion.

Almost as important as getting the facts right is having standards for acknowledging errors and publishing corrections.

Philip Graham said, “Journalism is the first draft of History.” What we publish is important -- it is more than an e-mail to a friend. We are publishing for the world to see, read and save. A weblog has the potential to make an impact today and influence what, generations from now, will be called History. We mustn't "just do it". We must do it right.

Posted by: Jim Erlandson at April 13, 2004 11:08 AM | Permalink

I come at this with three abstract questions:

1. What is the relationship of journalism to its public now?
That relationship has radically changed thanks to the links of the Web. We can link to news stories; they can (but still don't) link to us; we can link to sources; we can link to opinions; the linking can add up to better information. The links turn news into a conversation. And as a result, the relationship of "journalist" to "public" when the become, often, one and the same.
Similarly, the relationships of "news source" and "journalist" and "public" and "citizen" are quite the game of 52-card pickup. Those in power can now speak to their publics bypassing the press. But shouldn't citizens also be able to address those in power just as journalists have? It's about accredidation: Who has the right to sit in the White House and question the President on behalf of all of us? Who has the right to get in the mayor's face and ask what happened to our money? Who has the right to stop us?

2. What are the standards of journalism (if any)?
Oh, gawd, I don't want to end up with a debate on journalistic objectivity or white-glove pickiness either. But I'm not sure old, assumed (and often unwritten) standards are valid anymore. So perhaps it's better to ask what the standards (if any) should be. Do we need standards? Is that what the "professional" journalists are best equipped to share with the "citizen" journalists? Or, instead, should journalists share access (see #1) and tricks (e.g., Freedom of Information requests) and let the marketplace do what it will (and we, the readers will -- as we already do -- decide whom we do and don't believe and trust). Credibility is the only standard that matters. Do we need standards to support that?

3. What are the expectations of journalism?
This is so closely related to #2 that it may be the same question. But I think that big media have lost sight of what its public wants of it. Evidence: the disparity between what ends up high on a Technorati or Blogdex list of buzzed-about topics vs. what lands on Page One of your paper. Evidence: The popularity of FoxNews in a country that was supposed to cherish objective journalism devoid of opinion. Evidence: Circulation and ratings. One of the most important lessons this new world imparts is that it captures what people actually care about instead of what the old, editorial "we" thought the old consumer "they" should care about. So what are the expectations of journalism today in any form? Reliability? Credibility? Honesty? Transparency? Frequency? Completeness? Links? Conversation? Opinion? Speed? What does our public want of us? Doesn't that really define what the mission of journalism should be?

[And what a great discussion! It's a free-dried conference session in and of itself (but here, everyone gets the time to say something!).]

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at April 14, 2004 11:58 AM | Permalink

Jimmy Breslin doesn't just avoid the label "professional;" he objects to the label "journalist." here.

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at April 14, 2004 2:38 PM | Permalink

Since I might be among the last to post this fascinating discussion, I want to get back to the orginal question: "What is Journalism? And What Can Weblogs Do About It?"

For me journalism has always been the collection of information and then trying to disseminate it as accurately as possible to a wider audience. It can be straight news, features, investigative. The end goal is to have a well informed populace.

The answer to the second question is simple. The writers of weblogs can just keep on blogging. Blogging isn't so much about journalism as it is about producing information that varies from the mundane to pure intellectual capital.

Of course, on one level audience matters, but as anyone who keeps a journal will tell you, it is also about self discovery. It is about learning. It is about making the writers of blogs smarter and better informed.

As we become more informed we will demand higher standards from the news media. Hence, at least in theory, we will force the media to become better.

I don't know if blogging is journalism, but I do know blogging, as we see right here, has made the media become responsive in ways that some 15 years of public journalism never could. Think about it. Before blogging, how many of today's bloggers heard of Jay Rosen. Why not, he has been pushing the same issues for 15 years. Now suddenly, he has an amplification system. His blog is forcing media changes in ways that he never could before. And so might I hope is mine, and Seth Finkelstein's and everyone else's who has commented here.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at April 15, 2004 12:12 PM | Permalink

I dare not presume to speak for others, and am reluctant to define blogging as anything other than a varied form in which writers post to sites. Sometimes this is in search of readers, sometimes it is a form of closure, in some cases, perhaps, simply a substitute for (or perhaps tantamount to?) climbing onto a mountain and yelling. In urban cases, that might be rephrased as hopping onto a crowded subway car and hollering.

Some blog for purpose. Some blog to, for, and about a given community or topic area.

Some blog, as said above, for the opportunity to be a self-published pundit. To some, the actual act of blogging is an entertainment form, in and of itself. Me? I blog because I love to write, and early on I discovered that via links and friends and a developing (and ever expanding) on-line community, that having something to say and a place to say it was great fun. It satisfies the love to write and have interaction based on the writing, or sometimes just reaction without any further or continued interaction.

Early on in this discussion I steered clear of the topic, fearing this would be an attempt to define and declare a certain degree of the high brow, an elitism, the glory of those who blog. This strikes me much as private clubs struck Groucho: if they'd have me then it would be beneath me to join.

I see, in the comments above, both some spirited discussion as to the why and what of blogging, as well as some high brow and low brow commentary. Of course, I have no idea what constitutes low brow, it is purely a turn of phrase.

30+ years ago, as a college student, our second semester Freshman English Professor asked a few of us to stick around after class, for a special assignment. Great, I thought, extra work. Feh. It turned out just the opposite. Professor Duncan (the Ichabod Crane lookalike of my Freshman year) had selected six of us from the group as those whose writing he particularly enjoyed. He noted that we took to writing assignments well, and were always spirited and abundant in our prose. This, he noted, unlike the majority of the students in our class and in classes past.

So he asked us to write for him a brief -he stressed brief- essay. "Why I Write" would be the title. And, he added, it was our choice to complete this assignment, or just ignore him. Fact was, he said, he wondered what it was that made this little group write, want to write, and write so much. He was curious.

This was way before blogs, mind you. The IBM Selectric was about as electronic as any of us were lucky enough to get in those days.

I will spare you the righteous and dramatic flair with which I responded to his request. I was, after all, a teenager and a college kid. Passion oozed from me. Those were the days.

What surprised me, though, was that my answer was actually very brief. In short, then, as now, I write because I love to write. Even now, composing and posting this in the middle of my business day -- it feels a little bit like cheating. Should I not be working, slogging away at my business pursuits?

Others might play a game of solitaire, or go grab a cigarette outside (as is the case in NY office buildings!), or just have some water cooler chatter or call someone on the phone.

Writing (note carefully chosen word usage) is a joy. Stolen moments, here during my workday, writing. Writing! Blogging is, well, to me, for one, a vehicle and platform for writing.

Journalism is a mighty sexy, attractive, and powerful word to use, when discussing blogs and blogging. Writing, I think, is more the issue of note.

Literal guy that I am, I think of Journalism in a traditional sense. Ira Apple is a Journalist. Peter Kihss was a Journalist. Even Dave Barry, a creative writer, might qualify, as he is published in what strikes me as a the environment of Journalism. This might also go for Jimmy Breslin, or an essayist such as Bill Safire.

I worked in Broadcasting for 30-some years, and dealt with any number of self-proclaimed "Broadcast Journalists." Some of those BJs were nothing more than readers of wire copy. But they still felt about themselves a sense of "being in the great community of journalists." I thought they were ridiculously self-impressed and full of shit. Then there are those from what we used to refer to as the CBS School of Thinking. Some of the practitioners of news reading and writing also dabbled in Journalism. Think Murrow, Sevaried, Trout. To this day, on the remains of the CBS Radio Network, Cahrles Kuralt and Dan Rather (et al) practice Broadcast Journalism. Paul Harvey (he of the ABC Radio Network) has been doing this for longer than most bloggers have been alive.

The odd thing about blogging as Journalism is that some bloggers do little more than aggregate interesting links and present them, and not even with comment in all cases. These are certainly entertaining and can be informative. But this is pass-along journalism, if even Journalism at all. Does this demean or relegate such bloggery to a lower echelon? Not in my book (of course, I don’t have a book, but I am taking journalistic license). If I did, indeed, have a book and it had power, I would revoke the license Bill O’Reilly gave himself, with the assistance of the people at his network and his publishing house.

Blogging may be an extension of existing Journalism, it may be a newfound place for efforts that qualify as Journalism.

Then again, there exists Xanga and LiveJournal, two vehicles (perhaps among others, I don’t know), which are home to many personal journals. If I knew how to make a word bold and have underscore in the MT Comments, then “journals” in the prior sentence would have both.

Is a personal journal what one would refer to as “Journalism?’ In my very literal sense of things, there is upper case Journalism, and there is lower case journalism. Upper case is for news and comment, in a broad and mass-directed (or narrow target by topic or focus) manifest. Lower case journalism is for personal journals, and maybe also for those journals kept by Accountants and Bookkeepers. According to Merriam’s Webster, that is purely my spin, and not the official definition.

The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (the very one, hardback, that’s been at my desk for what seems as many years as Paul Harvey has been a Journalist) defines journalism (lower case, btw, not a proper noun) as: 1 a: the collection and editing of material of current Interest for presentation through news media; b: the editorial or business management of an agency engaged in the collection and dissemination of news; c: an academic study concerned with the collection and writing of news or the management of a news medium. 2 a: Writing designed for presentation in a newspaper or popular magazine b: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation c: writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest. 3: newspapers and magazines.

Dictionaries and definitions are dynamic, they change with the times. Journalism, too, certainly must change, as well.

I remain reluctant to put any sort of high or low brow spin on the art, craft, hobby, or just plain pursuit, of blogging. By all means, one can find journalists and journalism in blogs. My own experience is that it is a forum, a place to write, and a wonderful entity in the big world.

And now, with a teeny smidgen of guilt, I must get back to writing a very official memo and doing the other sorts of things that help pay for the electricity that enables me to enjoy the pursuit of blogging.

Posted by: Dean Landsman at April 15, 2004 6:13 PM | Permalink

This is not directly relevant, but it's related, and what it is relevant to is a specific situation I'm about to find myself in.

Are there any good articles or blog musings out there on local civic/political blogs and the question of advertising from local political candidates?

I'm thinking in terms of the lines that are drawn in traditional forms of journalism (in theory and in best practice anyway) between reporter, editor, and advertiser -- lines which in my case and in that of others don't exist.

In essence: A local candidate in one of the races I cover (and in which I will eventually make an endorsement) is likely about to place an ad on my site.

I'm curious as to how people have already discussed this issue.


Posted by: The One True b!X at April 16, 2004 1:45 AM | Permalink

A huge chunk of the discussion about blogging and journalism -- here and elsewhere -- tends to focus on how blogging has changed journalism. More specifically, how the rise of amateur blogging gives power to the public and changes the world of professional journalism.

But I think it's also interesting to look at how blogging gives professional journalism an opportunity to change the public's perception of Big Media.

For example, one of the side effects of making reality out of "news is a conversation" is that the public gets to see journalism participating in that conversation. This media that has earned a reputation of being aloof and unresponsive gets a chance to prove it will be responsive, in a very overt way. It's the other side of participatory journalism, where we're making ourselves more transparent and saying that we want to participate with you, the reader. Not only do we think it's imporant to discern your expectations, we also think you have something very valuable to offer us. That can be anything from a story idea to a criticism that points out a place we need to improve. I love using our Ask the Editors blog as an example of this type of transparency.

Professional journalists who blog individually also do something else I think is incredibly important: They reveal themselves as real people. Right now it's easy for a news consumer or critic to lump journalists all together under the impersonal, corporate label: "the media." But take someone who, say, lives next door to a reporter; they probably have a different perspective. They see journalism on a much more personal level. They're more likely to view it as news as gathered by a group of individuals -- with all the strengths and weaknesses that go along with that -- rather than news generated by a faceless organization.

Blogging can do the same thing, and on a much more widespread level. I'd like to think that people who read my blog get to see that working journalists can be reasonable and interesting, if quirky, people. Same for readers of Tom Mangan, Tim Porter and plenty of other journalists who blog. Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor and you, Jay, do this in an even higher-traffic fashion.

News consumers who see journalists as real people: This can only be good for the media.

Posted by: Ryan at April 16, 2004 2:17 AM | Permalink

Hello everyone,

I posted a summary of this discussion on my blog.

Jay McCarthy

Posted by: Jay McCarthy at April 16, 2004 11:01 AM | Permalink

I understand why you are encouraging us to take this discussion back to and among our blogs. Thing is, Jay, I've become accostomed to your place...

Posted by: jeneane at April 17, 2004 1:13 AM | Permalink

From the Intro