October 8, 2004
Authorized Knower: Farnaz Fassihi's Accidental Baghdad Dispatch
"The e-mail, which has no title, conveyed something elusive: not 'new' information about Iraq (there was none) or a new emotion, but a sense of the situation there that had not come through in other kinds of accounts, at least those by journalists."
“Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference,” she wrote. “Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons.”
Like many others who have noted it, I find fascinating the tale of the wayward e-mail written by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, 31, who has been stationed in Baghdad.
It was supposed to go to a circle of friends, but then got forwarded and forwarded until it reached the Web (here, among other places), and became what it was never intended to be— a public document. The fact that she wrote it became an item of news, and there were suggestions she might be taken off the beat as a result.
The e-mail is about 1,400 words— the length of two op ed pieces. Part of it is Fassihi telling her friends what life is like for her:
I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people’s homes and never walk in the streets. I can’t go grocery shopping any more, can’t eat in restaurants, can’t strike a conversation with strangers, can’t look for stories, can’t drive in any thing but a full armored car, can’t go to scenes of breaking news stories, can’t be stuck in traffic, can’t speak English outside, can’t take a road trip…
The other part of it is her assessment of where the struggle stands:
One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it’s hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can’t be put back into a bottle.
Neither can Fasssihi’s note be put back into her network. “This was a private correspondence that has been thrust into the public domain without my consent,” she wrote to Editor and Publisher.
That’s true and one must treat her as entirely blameless. But whereas we often feel guilty reading someone’s private correspondence when it becomes public (while simultaneously enjoying what was not intended to be ours) I doubt many readers have that half-guilty reaction to this particular e-mail— at least the portions of it we have seen that are about Iraq.
Yes, it’s a personal account, and personal property, but there’s no “personal” stuff in it. It’s not intimate speech. It’s really journalism, an eyewitness report, giving impressions and conclusions about the struggle to prevail in Iraq. Not intended for the public, but that’s different from being unfit for public consumption.
There are millions of e-mails from Iraq about conditions in country. No one would be talking about this one but for two things: it was the work of a correspondent for the Journal, and it was brilliantly expressive in its quiet, detailed way. The e-mail, which has no title, conveyed something elusive: not “new” information about Iraq (there was none) or a new emotion, but a sense of the situation there that had not come through in other kinds of accounts, at least those by journalists.” (Bloggers from Iraq are another story.)
Her e-mail report can have references to what a friend of hers saw on a drive through Sadr City. Her Wall Street Journal report cannot. The “authorized knowers” in her Journal reporting tend to be experts and authorities, often government officials, or they are participants in events, people close to the action.
Fassihi was telling friends what she felt she knew. In her email she herself is the authorized knower, and she speaks directly, not through sources and quotes. As the Houston Chronicle put it in an editorial, “Though the missive apparently does not contradict her reportage, it is blunt, bleak and opinionated in a way that mainstream coverage generally avoids.”
Blunt, bleak and opinonated… said the Chronicle. The advantages Fassihi’s e-mail had were the same advantages bloggers have, including J-bloggers like Chris Allbritton. They can testify in a way that mainstream coverage generally avoids. Fassihi, it seems, was blogging without having an actual weblog.
“Exactly what mistake did Farnaz Fassihi make?” asked Matt Mendelsohn at Romenesko’s Letters (Oct. 5) “Other than the issue of Blogging As Capital Offense, a topic for Human Resources to discuss at a later date, Fassihi simply told the truth.”
She told the truth, yes. Simply? Well…
When shared among her friends; or even when it had spread to additional addresses in a second ring—friends of friends—the account communicates one way. Farnaz, a person you know or know about, is in Iraq, on assignment. She sends you her regards and also this note about conditions there.
But this is not how the e-mail works by the tenth or eleventh ring outward from the author, after it had “jumped into the public consciousness through the power of the FWD button,” as Tom Scocca of the New York Observer put it. Other things come into play then. It gets read by a public code governing trust in the news media, and there we find trouble. This code is the scene of cultural conflict and political fighting.
Tim Rutten, media writer at the Los Angeles Times, thinks the backdrop to the wayward e-mail is the war against Big Media, which I wrote about in my last post.
“At the core of the relentless partisan assault on the American news media’s tradition that good journalism can and should be unbiased, is a campaign to obliterate the distinction between the public and the private,” Rutten writes. “The notion here is that because journalists, like other human beings, have thoughts and opinions about the world around them, those sentiments must ultimately contaminate their journalism.”
Rutten objects to that “must.” He thinks it’s false. Training, discipline, experience, conscience, and pride still make an unbiased account possible in professional journalism. The private does not have to affect the public, he believes. Contamination of news accounts by personal preferences and opinions can be prevented.
Good journalists know how it’s done and Fassihi is one. As Rutten wrote, “no one has questioned the content of Fassihi’s reporting nor alleged that it has been in any way biased.” Her private opinions are what they are. But those views are irrelevant to her reporting because that is the character test for an international correspondent working at the Wall Street Journal.
Paul Steiger, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, gave a statement about the e-mail. What did it address? Possible contamination. A breach between public and private. Steiger’s assurances were these: “Ms. Fassihi’s private opinions have in no way distorted her coverage, which has been a model of intelligent and courageous reporting, and scrupulous accuracy and fairness.”
It’s a remarkable thing, this statement, remarkable too that it was termed supportive of Fassihi by David Folkenflik in the Baltimore Sun. First, there’s nothing “private” about her descriptions. “Fact for fact,” said the Houston Chronicle, “Fassihi’s e-mail offers little that can’t be found in published accounts.”
What has made it dart from Web site to Web site is the contrast of unvarnished personal expression with Fassihi’s status as reporter for an establishment newspaper. What has made the piece resonate is that its voice was not meant for the public.
I disagree with the drift of this, suggesting an illicit thrill. What makes the piece resonate (for some of us) is the simple question: why can’t this be the journalism, this testifying e-mail? Why can’t reporters on the ground occasionally speak to the “public” like this one occasionally spoke to her friends?
It’s inaccurate of Paul Steiger, her boss, to call the conclusions she reached by being there, reporting day-after-day on a changing Iraq, her “private opinions.” On the page, they have far more authority than that. His phrasing is weird, and others heard it:
Her private opinions? She’s the Baghdad correspondent, for goodness sake. The Wall Street Journal didn’t send a laptop or an android to Iraq, they sent a human being. A human being whose particular job happens to be making skilled observations of ongoing news events. Fassihi’s mistake, if you could call it that, was not doing a better job of getting those observations, intended only for for friends and family, onto the pages of The Wall Street Journal.
That’s Matt Mendelsohn again in his letter to Romenesko.
But if you think there’s a war going on against the media (which really means that some critics have joined in a campaign to discredit Big Media that resembles other formations in the culture war) then you have to assume any opportunity to cast doubt on a reporter’s objectivity will, in fact, be taken up— somewhere. This was one: The Accidental Baghdad Dispatch.
When Fassihi’s note became public, Steiger “protected” her from anticipated snipers in the bias wars. Getting him to anticipate this way is half the battle. “Ms. Fassihi’s private opinions have in no way distorted her coverage….” Hone in on what he’s clearing her of, and why, and you can hear what the war is doing to journalism. And remember: this is before any charges were filed or suspicions raised about her reporting in the Journal. Rutten comments:
Still, it’s impossible to come away from all this without thinking that, like so many American journalists and news organizations, the Journal and its staff are feeling around for what used to be familiar boundaries, wondering whether they’re still there and — if so — precisely where.
Don’t attack us, these were just her private opinions is a case of that— feeling around for the right defense.
“Letter from our correspondent…” is one of the oldest and most reliable forms there is for receiving intelligence from abroad. (And that is what the wayward e-mail contained: not information, not “opinion,” but high-quality intelligence from Iraq.) Correspondents have been doing it that way for centuries. Now with the Net that ancient spirit has come back into journalism— accidentally in the case of Farnaz Fassihi’s e-mail, which was like a blog post collecting hits. Except it came around to hit you, rather than you coming ‘round to it.
Here’s what I think: Who is an authorized knower? has been thrown into far greater doubt, and this is confusing for members of the press because the doubts have now reached them— and their business.
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…
Now up at PressThink: Agnew with TV Stations: Sinclair Broadcasting Takes On John Kerry and The Liberal Media.
Here’s a one-hour NPR program, On Point (Oct. 14, 2004), with correspondents from Baghdad talking about Fassihi’s email and what it’s like to report from Iraq. Plus, I provide some commentary at the end. Listen here.
Dexter Filkins, New York Times correspondent in Baghdad: Get Me Rewrite. Now. Bullets Are Flying.
It was no small surprise, then, to witness the reaction to an e-mail message written by Farnaz Fassihi, a reporter in Iraq for The Wall Street Journal, that was intended to be a private letter to friends but made its way to the Internet and a mass audience. Any number of Ms. Fassihi’s newspaper stories have described in detail the chaotic and uncertain state into which this country has fallen. Yet her description of her own working conditions, of the shrunken and dangerous world in which she now operates, shocked many people.
Click here for a Technorati search showing blogs that have discussed Fassihi’s email.
Houston Chronicle editorial: “Fassihi says her rotation in Iraq is over. Even after she’s gone, though, her personal thoughts on the Iraq war will rove through the Internet — far longer, probably, than any single mainstream news story, administration claim of Iraq success, or opponents’ critique of its failures. In a bewildering, tragic conflict dominated by the loud sounds of polemics, the quiet tones of private communication suddenly seem to have unique credibility.”
Greg Mitchell in Editor & Publisher:
After her e-mail surfaced, Steiger stated that, as far as he was concerned, her personal opinions had not gotten in the way of her very fair and accurate reporting from Iraq.
But Aly Colon, who teaches ethics at he Poynter Institute, told Richard Read of The Oregonian in Portland that the Journal should consider re-assigning Fassihi because her views are now so public.
Why these things become sensations… Salon’s managing editor Scott Rosenberg in comments:
The whole affair gives me a sense of deja vu because we ran this drill 18 months ago when Laurie Garrett’s e-mail about the Davos conference made the rounds. Similar situation: Well-placed and -regarded reporter’s private e-mail becomes a pass-along sensation. My take on Garrett’s tale back then, I think, applies to the Journal reporter’s saga: Of course the e-mail is journalism. (“Letter from Baghdad”!) These things become sensations because they confirm people’s sense “that the ‘real story’ of our times is the one that reporters tell each other over beers, and in for-private-distribution-only e-mails, rather than the one they tell in their formal stories.” The unvarnished e-mail is not just a better read than so much conventional copy — it gives people a behind-the-curtains feeling that they love.
I have to say I find entirely disappointing this piece on the ethics of the episode by Poynter’s Aly Colón. (“Some journalists say, while others…”) But he does ask one profound question: can a journalist ever be too truthful? Private and Public: What Journalists Reveal About Themselves.
Posted by Jay Rosen at October 8, 2004 5:25 PM
Isn't the Farnaz Fahissi story a perfect little parable of the "transformation" we've been talking about for a year now. The embedded institutional press has so hog-tied itself with rules, "objectivity," fear, fear-and-balance, officialisms, sugar-coating, euphemism and all the rest that it's incapable of telling us the truth before our eyes.
Yet on the Internet, including email, where prose style and writerly observation all count forcefully, and where the "authenticity" test is more important than any other, great reporting can travel like the wind. I'm proud of the WSJ editors for standing by Ms. Fahissi: it so obvious she's a great reporter. But it was in the email home to family that she told the real story--which might not have fit the WSJ format.
It's a problem with the format not with her account. As I understand it, one of the people she sent her letter to was Andrew Rosenthal of the NYT, who sent it to his personal list, and it spread like a virus. I'd want to ask Andy Rosenthal: why did you forward it to your email list, not clear a space immediately on the Times Op-ed page--ideally in place of the daily disinformation by the likes of Friedman, Safire and Brooks?
It would seem that Andy Rosenthal felt the power and, dare we say, truth of Fahissi's words immediately--but in the corrupted Orwellian journalism of our time, power and truth did not make it "fit to print" in our most important paper.
Coming so soon after the Dan Rather melt-down, this is a poignant tale of this very moment on the cusp of a great change in media. But it's also just another instance of the great old definition of the newspaper editor's job: to separate the wheat from the chaff, and publish the chaff.
Honor, admiration and thanks to Farnaz Fahissi.
After reading this email, I sat troubled in the midst of my youngest brother graduating next month from boot camp and how I am going to cast my vote in the upcoming election. Wondering, just what to do. What can I do? Thinking about what this reporter wrote, I sent the email to my mother to get her perspective.
Just before the Shah was overthrown, I lived in Iran with my parents and my little brother. Although I was very young, I still have distinct
memories of living there. Most of my memories come from my tongue. I remember the rose water sweets that women in the bizarre would give
me and my brother. The fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables are particularly delicious and much more flavorful than our pale imitations. I
sometimes long for their wonderful fresh yogurt and find myself at times, looking at an elderly Persian man secretly hoping he will pull out a
piece of Iranian nougat and offer it to me, as would often happen in Isfahan. Even now, when I walk into a Persian restaurant and smell the
garlic Naan, I am taken back to a neighbors house that would slap the dough flat then make it stick to the top of the kiln. As it baked, my
brother and I would eagerly wait until it fell, so we knew it was ready to eat.
To this day, I still hold an deep, unpenetrable love for the Persian people. I would love nothing more to travel back to Shiraz, the most
beautiful city from my childhood and walk The Holy threshold of Shah Cheragh. Or to see the turquoise and sapphire shades of the tiled
mosaic dome of The Mosque of Sheikh Lotfollah. Most of all, I would wish that my Persian friends that live in LA have the opportunity to
travel back to Iran to visit their families. I hope they would be able to return home safely and establish a permanent residence in their
homeland. And at the start of their day have an independent paper delivered to their door. A luxury that is sometimes lost on those who come
to expect it.
This is the middle east that I remember. This is the middle east that I hope, truly in my heart, exists on a good day and that will on day be
blessed with many of those good days, not littered with bombings and oppression. After reading what my mother wrote below, I am again
amazed who my mother had to be to raise me and my brother during those times. I find hope in that seeking the perspective of those who want
to make a difference, even under the dark clouds of adversity can help me not only stay positive in these troubled times, but yearn to make a
difference myself. Thank goodness that this is only one person's perspective. I remember reading stories of our own country, in its genesis of
development. We certainly had periods when the soil that we reside on now could have once been described as "lost beyond salvation".
I would rather not listen to a this person who hides at home, avoiding strangers, shopping in grocery stores because she feels is safety is at
risk. What difference can be made from there? She says he chose to be a foreign correspondent, so she can tell stories that could make a
difference? I believe she is of middle eastern dissent, from her name and photos. She chooses to stay at home.
I hope that this email can get back to her. I want her to read this, so she can see how a young mother, with two very young children lived in
times similar to these. I want her to know what it looked like to take a stand of love, tolerance, respect and patience so that she and her children
could live safely. I am clear what my mother was a stand for. I am clear what my mother is still a stand for.
I would like to know what she is committed to. I am not sure how you can make a stand for something under a self imposed house arrest.
I choose Freedom.
Letter from my Mother in response to reading the letter from the Wall Street Journal Reporter
I read the letter AND AM NOW EATING CHOCOLTE TO MAKE MY HEAD AND STOMACH STOP HURTING. The reporter is upset
because he CAN'T GO TO A RESTAURANT? He is not comfortable going shopping? He doesn't feel safe? What the hell does he expect.
How about the Iraqis? He can leave, they cannot. You are too young to remember the situation in Iran. How I taught you to speak enough
Farsi and seek out anyone in a uniform in case you were separated from us. How to play Hide and Seek. How to say God is Great and I love
you in the same sentence. How I made sure that you and your brother were well known and well liked among the Iranians we regularly dealt
with, including the shop keepers and the paratroopers around Khane Isfahan so that you would be protected.
The letter you have sent me sounds so very familiar to me. In Iran, the shops would close and I would have to negotiate with mullahs to get
baby food for you. I offered to wear a chador (full body veil) when I went into town as a sign of respect. As it was, I followed all to the
conventions for modesty, including speaking the formal Farsi reserved for speaking to people above you in social standing when I had to
speak to very conservative men through an intermediary (usually young boys). I saw the bank I had an account at blown up before my very
eyes. I saw the riots and the retribution. If you can get your Daddy to talk about it, ask him about what he and Warren went through during
the last days. I remember when the men of the Friday congregation at St. Luke's ran the nursery during prayer services to protect the children.
And the time the men came into the church compound on motorcycles and entered the church. There were only about four of us at services.
Guli had you, James, and Rosemary in the basement of the Lying-in Hospital next door because someone had thrown firebombs at the wall
surrounding the church compound the previous night and we did not know this before we left for church. Your Daddy was at work that day.
The bus driver dropped us off and and was supposed to come back in about an hour. He drove up in the company bus and ran into the
church and was frantic to get us out of town. We were the only people in a 44-seat bus and he was driving like a madman. He had been
warned to get us out of town. Warren and his boss Bob had also been warned that you, James and I were to be kidnapped. That is why we left
so quickly and had to leave your Daddy behind.
Things were bad, and then they got worse. Much worse.
Many Iranians wanted to change their government, to depose the Shah. Not all of theim followed the fundamentalists. A secular government
was set up after the fall of the Shah. A bloody fight followed and the fundamentalist Republican Guards prevailed and installed a
fundamentalist theocracy. More moderate groups suffered terrible repression. The Iraqis watched this and have a choice to make. Rather than
reading the whining of a guy in Bagdad who is complaining that war is not clean or easy or bloodless, why not ask Iraqis what they think. I do,
every day. Here are some sites I go to regularly. If you want more, I have them.
Don't let your heart be troubled, Aimee. There are a lot of brave people who understand what is going on. And also understand that we don't
want the conditions in Bagdad to come to the U.S. without a fight. Try reading here http://hammorabi.blogspot.com especially the side bar
marked "Mass graves". And the posts from Iraqis here: www.deansworld.com And here: http://www.blackfive.net,
www.operationiraqichildren.org/mission.asp, http://chrenkoff.blogspot.com, And here: www.thetruthaboutIraq.org,
http://captainsquartersblog.com/mt/archives/002777.php , and also www.mudvillegazette.com look about 2/3 the way down the page to where it
says "Hey Kids, it's Mike the Seal."
Remember what Grandma said about the early days of WWII. She said that is was hard to know what to do, that you couldn't make any plans
because you didn't know what was going to happen, and that the news was terrible. Things are sort of like this today. We have gotten used
to being safe, and to expect to be taken care of. Sometimes that doesn't happen. Sometimes you have to fight to stop bad things from
happening. When that happens, things get ugly. But if you don't do anything to stop the bad guys, things get uglier.
Right now, we are probably facing one of the biggest decisions of our lives. Do we continue to fight, or do we stop fighting and hope things
don't get uglier. Remember, we were attacked before 9/11. The World Trade Center was attacked in the 1990's. By Islamic extremists. Troops
were killed at Khobar Towers and on the U.S.S. Cole. Remember Mogadishu. And the Embassy Bombings. We did nothing meaningful to
retaliate for these attacks, and the attacks came to New York and Washington and 3,000 people died. The bad guys don't have a government.
They aren't concentrated in one city, or one county, or one province, or one country, or even one region. The are spread like a cancer
throughout the world. And they want us dead. Not hiding behind our borders, promising not to challenge their view of God or the world.
They want us, and people like us, dead. They killed children in their school in Beslan because they wanted to. They kidnap people in the
Philippines and blow up resorts in Bali and Egypt because they can. They want anyone who is not like them dead. I don't think so. I want you,
and your brothers, and sister, and cousins, and aunts and uncles and friends and acquaintences and total strangers free to choose how
you wish to live your lives. And to stay alive. And ultimately to live in peace. Sometimes, you have to fight to preserve your freedom and
Remember what I taught you guys about insolvable problems? Problems become unsolvable because no one chose to solve the problem when
it was still small and could be solved reasonably, although it might take a lot of work or might involve offending someone. We are in a situation
like that right now. Before 9/11, the problem of terrorism was getting harder to solve. We didn't even recognize its importance, much less want
to make the sacrifice necessary to stop it or risk offending the sensibilities of somebody. Now, the sacrifices being demanded of us are
increasing. And the number of people who are being asked to sacrifice their lives and their livelihood, possessions, and their futures is
increasing. The problem is still solvable, although it will get more difficult before it gets easy. But if we give up now, things will get much
worse. And the probem won't be that you can't go out to a restaurant. Or you feel uncomfortable to go shopping. Or meet people. And it
won't be in Bagdad. It will be in New York, and Washington, and London, and Sydney, and Los Angeles, and Tucson, and anywhere else you
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Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...