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PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
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Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

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

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

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

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

Read: Q & As

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

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

Audio: Have a Listen

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

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

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

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

Video: Have A Look

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

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

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

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

Recommended by PressThink:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Group Blogs

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

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

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

Digests & Round-ups:

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

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

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

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

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

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

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January 1, 2005

Top Ten Ideas of '04: "Content Will be More Important than its Container"

Tom Curley, head of the AP: "We thought it was about replicating our news and information franchises online." That sums up Big Journalism's Web thinking for the era, 19995-2005. The American newsroom never went to school about the Web. Instead, it took what it was doing and "moved" it online.

The background is PressThink’s Top Ten Ideas for 2004. (“The year in press think, as it were.”) I’m explicating them one at a time. Here I’m on Number 6. Number 5, about news as less of a lecture, more of a conversation is here. Number 4, about open source journalism, is here.

6. “Content will be more important than its container.” Most writers, journalists and critics I know hate the word content. (See this guy, for example, who refuses to say “content.”) They hate it because it’s a leveler: if we say that a news report, a comic strip, a scientific study, and a blog rant are all “content,” then aren’t we saying they’re kind of equivalent? That’s an outrage to a writer, a journalist, a critic, so the word content must be an outrage too, they think.

But content is an analytic term. It refers to the “stuff” media carry rather than the carriage system itself. We need a term like that. It’s not a leveler; it’s just neutral. I think what smart people mean when they “hate” the word content is they hate thinking about things in that way. We should talk about literature— not content.

It was another important thing said by Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, in his big speech this year to the Online News Association: “Content will be more important than its container” in the next phase of Web development. “That’s a big shift for old media to come to grips with,” Curley added. “Killer apps, such as search, RSS and video-capture software such as Tivo — to name just a few — have begun to unlock content from any vessel we try to put it in.”

The means are there to unlock content from any vessel we try to put it in. Those vessels are the big media brands themselves, including the flagships of the press fleet. Here’s Admiral Curley telling them that news is becoming unhinged from “brand,” and so we who make news content have to re-locate where we brand it, and think about adding our voice at every step.

What Curley was saying ran parallel to what ex-newspaper man Tim Porter said in 2003: “The real lesson both the newsroom and the boardroom need to learn is that, in the age of the 24-hour scroll, the micro-fragmentation of electronic media, and the constant clamor for a news consumer’s attention by everyone from the New York Times to yours truly, all that’s left is the journalism.”

And if the journalism isn’t good enough, you’re in trouble. “Quality sells,” Porter wrote. “But, then again, in the monopolies most newspapers have enjoyed for decades mediocre has sold almost as well.” (More Porter: Indistinct Equals Extinct.) Curley again: “The franchise is not the newspaper; it’s not the broadcast; it’s not even the Web site. The franchise is the content itself.”

One example of this is the “stripping” effect of RSS, which stands for real simple syndication. When users encounter new PressThink posts in RSS form, they aren’t “at” my site, and they aren’t visiting the house of content I have carefully built for them in the domain. Look at GSO Live, a good example of an RSS-based site. You can visit with all the Greensboro bloggers, but you don’t have to go to any of their sites.

With RSS, readers get my post, the headline, the subhead— but not the blog environment of PressThink. Therefore the content has to be good enough on its own, without the house. It has to “say” PressThink: no logo, as it were. (This is one reason I put more effort into headlines and subheads than most bloggers. I’m trying to write “for” my invisible RSS readers.)

I think there’s a deeper lesson Curley intended by warning of “a big shift for old media to come to grips with.” Look at the capsule history he gave the crowd at ONA:

When the Web was born as a commercial content enterprise back in the mid-’90s, we thought it was about replicating — that is, “repurposing” — our news and information franchises online. Looking back, the first Web sites produced by many newspapers were very close cousins to the paper-and-ink versions.

Eventually, things began to change. More multimedia elements were introduced, although that was a painful experience for dialup users, and news companies that were used to one deadline a day began to cover stories differently for real-time consumption.

We thought it was about replicating our news and information franchises online. That sums up Big Journalism’s Web thinking for the ten-year period, 1995 to 2005. The American newsroom never went to school about the Web. That remains true to this day. Instead, it took what it was doing and “moved” it online. The results gave birth to the generic news sites we see today, as well as the Online News Assocation. But they also delayed a day of intellectual reckoning, and the costs of doing it that way were a subtext in Curley’s speech.

Here—in the politics of Web avoidance—journalists and the capitalists who employ them cooperated without having to coordinate their response. Publishers and media owners hate spending money on people because deep down they don’t believe their business runs on people. (They’re wrong, by the way.) They believe they own the news franchise, and the franchise—or brand—is what’s valuable. People come and go; journalists can always be fired and replaced. And you can see how a monopoly newspaper, a lazy CBS affiliate, or even an “alternative” weekly that had cornered its market might get that idea.

Journalists, meanwhile, are allergic to the idea of re-learning anything, especially journalism. And so “let’s replicate the franchise online” appealed to both groups. You make a concession to the new platform here and there—multi-media features, more constant updates—but the basic outlines of what you are doing don’t change. And you never have to go to school about journalism and the Web, which would be expensive and humbling.

I recall how astounded I was shortly after starting PressThink when I read an interview in Online Journalism Review with John Markoff, technology reporter for the New York Times, who said that in ten years “I assume that there will still be a paper, that I’ll still be writing for paper and they’ll still be killing trees a decade from now.” When people ask him about having a weblog, he says he tells them: “Oh, I already have a blog, it’s, don’t you read it?”

That complacent and high handed interview today is instructive for anyone puzzling through Big Journalism’s response to the Web. (Read it, and tell me you disagree.) When Markoff said that in ten years he would still be “writing for paper,” he had overlooked something rather important. Already in 2003, a majority of Times readers were online. Markoff and most of his colleagues believe they work for a print newspaper with an online edition. Psychologically, they’re still writing for “the paper.” For most of the readers, however, the New York Times is an online newspaper that also sells a print edition.

Curley spoke of “legacy technology, silo-ed bureaucracies and entrenched workflows” as barriers to progress. But an even deeper barrier is the intellectual legacy of defining journalism by the platform it runs on. And for evidence of that just look at my own institution: NYU’s Journalism program:

The Department currently divides journalism into three types of practice: newspaper, magazine and broadcast journalism. Most students concentrate in one of those three, each with its own requirements and course of study.

And every other J-school in the country has been organzied that way. “Content will be more important than its container” is thus a disruptive idea in journalism. In a way it is similar to that cross-platform battle-cry in the software biz: write once, run anywhere. (Originated by Sun Microsystems as a slogan for Java.)

There’s nothing left but the journalism should be good news for journalists— and J-school professors. But it won’t be until they go to school on the Web. And the truly sad thing is: no one can make them.

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links

Remarks by Tom Curley, President and CEO, The Associated Press — Online News Association Conference, Nov. 12, 2004. Readers advisory: an historic speech.

Richard MacManus at Read/Write Web, Content and Containers. (Jan. 6, 2005)

Dan Gillmor, having said his goodbyes and written his final column for the San Jose Mercury News, launches a new weblog. Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism (“A conversation about the future of journalism ‘by the people, for the people.’”) He reveals who his backers are: Mitch Kapor and Pierre Omidyar. He thanks his many moral supporters (I am one.) As for the new weblog…

I plan to use this blog to ponder the present and future of grassroots journalism; to begin to figure out what we might do together in this new world; and, in general, to have the kind of conversation that this huge topic requires.

The blog will find its way (the comment threads should be interesting) and it will become something different than Dan intended. As Susan Crawford said at her (elegant) blog, “the important thing is that it’s easy to tell that Dan’s whole heart is in this project.” I agree. I had this alternative title for the Gillmor blog, based in part on his interest in things Asian: Citizen Zen.

Gillmor’s farwell column in the Merc is a signifcant work of first-person reflection.

Power. Jeff Jarvis on the lesson of lessons in my Top Ten Ideas of ‘04 list.

To me, the abstraction of the abstraction of all this comes down to one word: power. It’s all about a shift of power from those who’ve had it to those who initially owned it and licensed it: the citizenry. And this is not happening just in media, of course. It is happening in marketing and advertising and commerce and culture and politics and may even come to government. But because the tools at work mimic media — though they are more than media tools — media is, for once, on the front edge of the trend.

Bob Stepno responds to this post with: “Tell the Truth and Run Anywhere.”

Terry Heaton responds with one of his own, warning TV news people:

Every individual television news person needs to understand that technology and consumer demand have taken all the rules of what it means to be a TV reporter, a newspaper reporter, a radio reporter, and a freelance journalist and jumbled them all together into one entity - the multimedia journalist. That person’s mission is to use every means available to bring his or her journalism to the public.

To the public, by every means available. I like it.

Doc Searls snarls at the word “content” again. And he has his reasons. Go look.

See What is the Message, a sophisticated media analysis site from the McLuhan Program at University of Toronto. In commenting on this post, they write:

Old-style journalists—be they the New York Times or CBS Evening News (soon without Dan Rather) or Globe and Mail—truly believe that content is king, and that their content is their brand. To them, the story or analysis or opinion is relatively irrelevant, week-to-week. What matters is the continuation of their brand. For their tentative move online, they require tight control over who accesses their site, and precisely how that access occurs. The contents of the story matters less than the fact that the user access it via a controlled log-in on their site alone, essentially demonstrating that, for them, their brand, being the content of their web presence, is king.

To which I say: “exactly.” That’s why you have to credit Curley with giving a radical’s speech. Read the rest. It’s good.

Over at The Lincoln Plawg, it’s Colour me unimpressed. They think I am all blog hype in my Top Ten List. Stylishly done post. “Blogger’s hubris, the legacy media and top papers’ stock prices.”

RSS-think. Here’s how I put it over at Simon Waldman’s blog: If I visit houses of content, as I seem to do on the Web, that is very different than the content as “visitor” to my house. He’s the Guardian’s Director of Digital Publishing. Waldman used my comments to develop his own thoughts about RSS and news: “We are moving to a world where - from a single interface - we can keep tabs on many, many, many more sources of all different types of information (as long as we can understand the set up proceedure).” See his RSS: a shift, from what…to what?

Simon pointed me to a resource I did not know about, but will be following: On, the social bookmarks site— a list of current links about citizen+participatory+media+journalism kept current by Shane Bowman. (RSS-based.)

Ed Cone notes that GSO Live, which I mentioned here, is “an aggregator I slapped together in an hour or so and keep updated with minimal effort.” Roch Smith Jr., creator of Greensboro101, comments at Cone’s joint: “Curley dismisses the container as being right were it needs to be — as if there is no need for further improvements. Content is king, but the container will advance too through the application of creativity and efficiency. Each will move the other.” (See my short interview with Smith here.)

Meanwhile, blogHOUSTON is a group site for the local blog community that consistently critiques the Houston Chronicle. See, for example, Improving the Chronicle: Some suggestions for 2005. And their About page.

Bloggers Without Borders debuts: “Bloggers without Borders is a citizen journalism hub, dedictated to raising conscience for, and about, events around the world. We use the tools and exposure of modern citizen journalism as a means to lend a hand in the creation of awareness and outbound information management.” Mission.

Mitch Ratcliffe on blog year 2005, “The year when blogging tools part ways with blogging religion for good.”

Beware rebels bearing manifestoes and the sleek taboos of trendsetters. Eat the dead, if their bodies aren’t too putrid, to learn from the lessons coursing through their veins. Start no religions except those you are willing to mock mercilessly. Trust experience without regard to the grammars available from local professional societies. Live and let live, else you will find yourself roasting on the spit of your own dogma. Create to be free, consume to die to yourself.

Here’s some blog news. Longtime PressThink participant “Ben Franklin” comes out as Mark Anderson of the University of Minnesota, who has now started a blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. Franklin was identified as Anderson by Hugh Hewitt the other day. But Anderson explains it a little differently in his first post. Welcome to blogging, “Ben.”

So far:

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 1, 2005 4:35 PM   Print


Jay, are you familiar with the story of Tribune Co. and how they've consolidated their print and broadcast operations? Not all cross-platform journalism is a good thing.

Posted by: praktike at January 1, 2005 5:55 PM | Permalink

But it won't be until they go to school on the Web. And the truly sad thing is: no one can make them.

I'm glad there are no analogies to our political system here.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at January 1, 2005 9:52 PM | Permalink

Journalists tend to be conservative. They like change as an element of news, but they don't like to change themselves.

Posted by: R. Thomas Berner at January 2, 2005 8:31 AM | Permalink

Journalists ought to be wide awake and taking notes. The working environment they are used to is falling away beneath them. And they're being exposed as being less "professional" than they told us they were.

Over at Crooked Timber they're having a long back-and-forth about journalistic standards and ethics. But the truth is that there are very few journalistic enterprises with nice, neat, sturdy standards in place. That's part of the problem. There are few rules, except for "objectivity" which isn't a rule at all, just a kind of mantra.

Somebody wrote somewhere (I read this just the other day) that 2004 began as a year when he sat down every morning to read the newspaper, and ended with him sitting down in the morning in front of a computer and going through a series of newsfeeds on an aggregator. Me too. I subscribe to one newspaper, and might drop it because I can get most of what I need on the web. The smart papers have feeds, so I read those.

What's left for journalists? Collect news, write it, have it vetted by copyeditors and such, then send it out on a feed. No more worry about story placement, what goes on Page One. Those kind of judgements no longer matter. The editors don't get to decide what I should think is important. I get to decide.

Posted by: JennyD at January 2, 2005 12:48 PM | Permalink

Thanks for the welcome. (Unfortunately, the link seems to be dead, but I appreciate the thought.)
Ben F.
aka Mark Anderson

Posted by: Ben Franklin at January 2, 2005 2:52 PM | Permalink

Remembering Ben/Mark's difficulty with links ;-)

Worth a cameo post to offer a URL fix to your new blog, Mark. Congrats!

Posted by: Tim at January 2, 2005 3:33 PM | Permalink

I posted a long commentary about Mark Anderson/Ben Franklin at my blog. Here is the link.

Posted by: Libertarian Girl at January 2, 2005 8:02 PM | Permalink

Hello, Tim. Ben... I fixed the link. Thanks for alerting me. I try to test them all, but...

I am only a little familiar with Tribune, praktike. Have links? I don't necessarily thing "multi-media" or "cross platform" projects are necessarily good. They can be really dumb.

Matt Stoller: I didn't understand your comment.

JennyD: I think you are totally on the mark in that one. Totally.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 3, 2005 12:36 AM | Permalink

And the truly sad thing is: no one can make them.

Well, their "bosses" can make them! Like, editors can tell reporters to read a blog tutorial, keep an internal/intranet blog (* ALL info orgs should have a top guy writing one), and report, daily, on interesting/ important blog info.

And the editors can do this after editors who don't do it, and see declining revenue, get booted by THEIR bosses -- the shareholders.

The question is when will a newspaper do it well enough to be successful/ effective, and have a model that is fairly easy/ standard for copying. I have hopes for Greensboro (but it's too local for me in Slovakia to contribute much).

I think Matt S was trying to be sarcastic, but misses the point that Bush is correctly responding to HIS boss(es) the voters. On fighting evil, supporting family morals, and especially spending, spending, spending Other People's Money (which Dems only wanted more of).

In fact, most folk DO have a boss, who CAN "make them" do something; but it usually is based on fairly drastic action (fire 'em! off with their heads! give 'em the axe!) if they don't.

You, Jay Rosen, should maybe be teaming up with Dan Gillmor (?); possibly Roger L Simon AND Marc Cooper, etc., to provide some practice in "doing it right."

I'm glad I gave up my Tigger and OldTigger forum psueds, now years ago; glad Mark Anderson has been outed. Real people, real thoughts, real flames (or prolly less). Just like I don't like "gay" now meaning male homosexual, I didn't like "Ben Franklin" meaning a big statist opinionater. I see Libertarian Girl (Wowsa! whot a hot babe) (oops sexist, down boy) (but she LIKES Rand) also wasn't happy.

Mark, getting money from the Violence based economy to complain about the Peace based economy, but previously not quite honest about it.

On the other hand, where else can one go to get any money for living and working in the world of ideas? I hope to start teaching next month, too...

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 3, 2005 10:43 AM | Permalink


Another excellent post. From my blog today:

We have to stop seeing our broadcast signal as the be-all-and-end-all of our daily mission. Every individual television news person needs to understand that technology and consumer demand have taken all the rules of what it means to be a TV reporter, a newspaper reporter, a radio reporter, and a freelance journalist and jumbled them all together into one entity - the multimedia journalist. That person's mission is to use every means available to bring his or her journalism to the public.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at January 3, 2005 11:15 AM | Permalink

I'm an Italian student of Communication studies.
I'm writing a thesis about blogs and mainstream media.

This blog is an envaluable source of inspiration for my research project (in Italy blogs aren't well known and there are only a few research studies on this subject).

I wrote a post on content vs. container on my blog...but it's in Italian, you won't understand it, I suppose!
Anyway thank you for your work!!


Posted by: Antonella at January 3, 2005 2:51 PM | Permalink

Grab that remote! ....tonight Monday, Jan. 3 at 6 pm EST I am scheduled to be on MSNBC to discuss the year in blogging with John Hinderaker of Powerline. I emphasize SCHEDULED.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 3, 2005 3:40 PM | Permalink

"There's nothing left but the journalism should be good news for journalists-- and J-school professors. But it won't be until they go to school on the Web. And the truly sad thing is: no one can make them."

Perfectly said, but it's a tough message to get across. I teach journalism in an "applied" program. The newspaper people on our advisory committee want to make sure we teach the importance of leads; the academic thinks there may grant money available for a monograph on student leads. I have to turn out students who are ready to hit the streets now, while also having some idea of the forces that are driving a fundamental remaking of journalism.

But what's happening is largely unseen. Not here, of course, but among a substantial number of readers, journalists and academics. No one's making me do anything about his (except my own guilt if I fail to at the very least give my students some idea of what's going to affect their careers), because too few are immersed in it.

(The Top 10 ideas of 04 will be required reading for my students. I'll "sneak" it in between headline writing exercises.)

Posted by: Mark at January 4, 2005 2:05 AM | Permalink

I see your point that this requires legacy media journalists to think and work in a different way. This post very articulately traces the shift with the reference to RSS feeds.

I'm more puzzled by the claim that the content/container, cross-platform shift undermines the connection between news and "brand." Yes, the boundaries that defined the work of legacy media journalists ARE certainly dissolving.

But the legacy media do not operate in a vaccum. Do we seriously believe that interactivity is undermining the relation between news and brand at Fox? At Sinclair? At the Weekly Standard? At the Washington Times? At the New York Post? For Glenn Reynolds? For John Hinderaker?

What does that claim mean for these folks? Or does it not apply to them? I'm afraid I can't make the connection. Help me out here.

If I were to guess, I would say these folks, like yourself, have adopted an ALTERNATIVE conception of the relation between the news and the brand. But that's quite different from undermining the connection between the two, isn't it? Can we really say this shift is "no logo, as it were"?

Isn't this at the heart of the issue? This is where all the thorny questions come to call: What perspective and whose interests frame the news? Who gets paid what, when, and how? How do we hook up revenues and distributed production? How do we market it? How do we make it recognizable? Wouldn't No Logo, mean no marketing? Doesn't that effectively mean no practicable business model?

I'm thinking the statement that cross-platform functionality undermines the news-brand relation must be legacy media specific to be intelligible. Doesn't it?

Posted by: Ben Franklin/Mark Anderson at January 4, 2005 2:57 AM | Permalink

Picking up on the points by Jenny D, I can endorse her view as a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in major papers. I got involved (but ignored) in the Crooked Timber debate in order to point out that the original proposition is based on an outdated, indeed mythical notion of the innate goodness and high standards of leading newspapers (or any newspaper). The truth is that standards, ethics and "intellectual honesty", as CT put it, have been swept aside by teancounters who see the bottom line being breached and now rule the roost. Hence: dumbing down, opinion dressed as fact, unwarranted assertions, axing of talent (a very serious trend) because its too expensive, and so on. Standards, forget it. Newsrooms have been "juniorised" as they say round here. Better a cheap young thing than a pro on a topgrade salary. Dead right Jay, it is brand think. But the moguls aren't thinking: they are listening to marketing people, who are merely undertakers for print journalism (and tend to "discover" imaginary market niches, making it worse).

If media owners were only journalists worth their salt. Talent makes successful newspapers and there is no magic formula.

If I was setting out in journalism now I would head straight for TV.

Posted by: Dave F at January 4, 2005 5:14 AM | Permalink

It sounds like Dave F is describing a context where the legacy media HAS a brand, it just doesn't involve respect for journalism or even look like journalism anymore. Jay, on the other hand, seems to be saying there is a concept of brand in legacy journalist shops that doesn't fit the new technological platforms. Don't we have yet another set of opposed viewpoints here? Is Dave talking about a different type of paper? I think you're both onto something important, but what the two of you are pointing toward hasn't been situated in relation to one another yet.

I suggested several months ago that downsizing and streamlining were centrally responsible for the debacle that is contemporary legacy journalism and that there is a certain irony in conservative scorn for one of the more immediate consequences of neo-liberalism in the public sphere. The more the media "downsizes" its way from competence to heightened profitability, the more the promoters of neo-liberalism have to look down on and use to justify the argument for further downsizing. Several commenters seemed to think this idea was unintelligible or laughable. Can I get a witness, Dave F? Are the problems of legacy journalism a consequence of neo-liberalism or simply a consequence of conflicted, half-hearted neo-liberalism? Or is the contradiction simply that neo-liberals can't abide the notion that the market could be mistaken?

Demotion and defunding of the news is the first face of neo-liberalism in journalism, before all the mythology about a communications revolution enabling a new social structure. This neo-liberalism is perfectly compatible with both the Republican and Democratic parties (Clinton, DLC). Why is this glaringly obvious aspect of the situation so difficult for so many to contemplate?

Posted by: Ben Franklin/Mark Anderson at January 4, 2005 11:12 AM | Permalink

Jay -- I don't have a link, sorry. The sad tale of Tribune Co. is told in Ken Auletta's Backstory. I couldn't find it here, so I assume it's only in the book.

Posted by: praktike at January 4, 2005 2:46 PM | Permalink

Jay - on Tribune Co. - read the chapter "Synergy City" in Ken Auletta's Backstory.

Here's a review:

Another alarming trend noted here is for newspapers and television to lower the wall between news and business. "Synergy City" delves into how the Chicago Tribune Co. has become a prototype for the cutting-edge newspaper company of the future.

The Tribune is a huge corporation that owns nearly a dozen newspapers, including the recently acquired Los Angeles Times, TV and radio stations and the Chicago Cubs, among much more.

Its flagship paper, the Chicago Tribune, now combines several of its operations in its newsroom, including radio, Internet and newspaper staffers working at a massive multimedia desk, behind which looms a TV studio with an elevated set for an anchor and three cameras.

"I am the manager of a content company," Howard Tyner, vice president/editor of the Chicago Tribune, told Auletta. "I don't do newspapers alone. We gather content."

I think it is adapted from two pieces he wrote in AJR in 1998:

Posted by: praktike at January 4, 2005 2:54 PM | Permalink

Ah, now I know what you are talking about. I read the Auletta book. Everything he warns about is basically correct; or let's say what he worries about--ex-Pillsbury executives plotting strategy for an editorial franchise, for example--is worrisome.

But there's a problem. Journalists placed their bets on, and their faith in, "the wall." The wall between business and editorial, marketing and journalism, counting room and newsroom. They knew there were dangers in the arrangement. They just never imagined they could be endangered by the wall working too well.

What I mean is the editorial people did something unwise as they sought autonomy withing a circumscribed area-- daily editorial decision-making about the news, commentary and features. They sought protection from business problems, and the whole challenge facing the business "side," rather than involvement in the decision-making itself.

Only by involving themselves in the business--and knowing a ton about it--and only by claiming a seat at the table when the marketing and technology and distribution puzzles were worked out did journalists have any hope of influencing the action when the business model began failing. They have essentially been on the sidelines-- complaining. The beancounters? They gripe about them, and how stupid they are.

It rarely occurs to them that they are powerless because they do not have (or understand) the data. What counter-arguments to the bean counters did the newsroom ever propose? Those arguments were there, but they lay on the other side of the wall that was supposed to protect the franchise.

Here's where the explanations become cultural and hook into my Number 7 Idea: "What Once Was Good--or Good Enough--No Longer Is."

I suppose if I belong to a "school" on this question it would not be with the journalists against the business side or the business side against the newsroom. It would be with the analysts of professional culture and its subtle, always human and frequently hollow effects, but also how the culture and mind of the press--what I obsess about here--interlocks so well with the political culture and professionals in other fields.

You have your view of what ideological flag the press flies. Ben has another, Tim another, Tom a third. I believe the primary ideology exhibited by national political journalists is closer to a religion: they are in the Church of the Savvy, some the cult of the insider.

Savviness is an ideology, I believe, and it is made all the more powerful by being accepted and accept-able ideology in journalism. It shows great flexibility, it has cunning. It allows for the cozy up. It was savviness, not some inner Nixon, that brought Ted Koppel to almost sit at the feet of Henry Kissinger and take lessons in diplomacy. The savvy take on things a Koppel would strive for is similar to the Realist Foreign Policy tradition Henry the K stands for. Koppel, we know by his own account, was fascinated. Still is.

The savvy--who are cool in all situations--require people more passionate (overheated) than themselves to exist. You need advocates or what fun is there in playing the neutral observer? When you think about it that way, it's easy to see why the left and the right can feel dissed by the same press. They're being slotted into the same savvy take on things that after a while just seems deluded and denuded-- not even realistic in the end because it's finally a pose.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 4, 2005 11:49 PM | Permalink

Church of the Savvy. Cult of the Kewl. Society of the Superior. Island of the Insightful.

As you see, I agree with Jay. They need the rubes, and they need the Spokespeople for the Right Way. Taking any bets on where they find each?

Posted by: AH at January 5, 2005 12:54 AM | Permalink

Hmmm ... I'm assuming you saw this, Jay. Access journalism -- "savvy" -- comes with a price.

Posted by: praktike at January 5, 2005 8:38 AM | Permalink

Oh, yes, I saw it and it didn't surprise me in the least. Objectvity, savviness and realism are among the hardest belief systems to counter, because they work by setting themselves against more visible instances of belief. They equate themselves with calm acceptance of the way things are, in contrast with how we might like them to be. Kissinger was a master of this.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 5, 2005 8:49 AM | Permalink

From the Intro