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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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January 4, 2005

Top Ten Ideas of '04: "What Once Was Good--or Good Enough--No Longer Is."

"Decline in quality caused by staying the same: In the commentary and opinion category, standards have gone up because of competition from the blogs and other venues, especially the political mags. Compare 10 minutes of scrolling with Atrios to 10 minutes with a Richard Cohen column."

If you’re catching up: Background is PressThink’s Top Ten Ideas for 2004. (“The year in press think, as it were.”) I’m explicating them. I’m on Number 7. Number 6, about content and its container, is here. Number 5, about news as a conversation is here. Number 4, open source journalism, is here.

7. “What once was good—or good enough—no longer is.” I borrowed this remark from author Virginia Postrel, who does The Economic Scene column for the New York Times. On Nov. 30th she wrote:

The local newspaper faces the same essential problem as the independent bookstore, the local theater group (competing with the movies and TV), the local music scene, and so forth. What once was good—or good enough—no longer is. Newspapers, journalists, and their critics have to start by recognizing that circumstances have changed and strategies must change as well.

When what used to be good enough no longer is—because circumstances have changed—the people who had for years been doing “good enough” journalism suddenly have to recognize that demand for their services is growing thin. That’s hard. Either they raise the service level (the quality) or start fading away.

Ex-newspaper editor Tim Porter calls it intentional journalism. (Which could have made my Top Ten List.) He writes about “an editorial process that is regularly more haphazard than thoughtful, more opportunistic than planned, more luck of the daily draw than drawn from a long-term strategy.” To be intentional you have to defeat that.

Let’s take one example of a decline in quality caused by staying the same: In the commentary and opinion category, standards have gone up because of competition from the blogs and other venues, especially the political mags. Compare 10 minutes of scrolling with Atrios to 10 minutes with a Richard Cohen column.

By simply transfering the dreary old newspaper commentary section online, your typical American newspaper, led by your typical American editorial page and executive editors, never bothered to ask if the genre “middle-of-the-road newspaper column” or “op ed piece, unadorned with links” had the right information density or communication style—any value added at all—on the Web.

The narrow goal was to “re-purpose” existing content, stretch it over a second platform. Made sense to the people who thought of it. Efficiency! They couldn’t imagine how they were lowering standards in an expanded marketplace simply by taking “good enough” work and re-using it online, where there are more competitors, including an army of amateurs, many of whom are at least as sharp as your local columnists.

But wait a minute. If I can see that, you can see that, and a fellow press blogger like Tim Porter has vowed to keep hammering because he sees it too, then why don’t they—the editorial minds in question—see it?

There are some answers. One has been given by the Readership Institute, a think tank at Northwestern for the newspaper biz. They say a big factor is newsroom culture, also a constant theme at First Draft, Porter’s weblog. People at the Institute thought that long term declines in newspaper readership were not only a result of “trends,” but also a puzzling failure to rally forces and act.

“Readership Institute felt there must be an internal, organizational factor at play that was keeping newspapers from doing the things they knew they should do.” What was it?

Generally speaking, newspapers have an Aggressive-Defensive culture, where people are expected to approach tasks in forceful ways to protect their status and security. The primary behavior style (the way employees are expected to interact with each other) is Perfectionistic. Persistence and hard work are valued. People feel they must avoid all mistakes, keep track of everything and work long hours to meet narrow objectives. (Link.)

In that atmosphere it is hard to rally, and easy to never act. The culture defeats almost everyone who goes up against it. Drift is the norm. Even before the sea change in competitive standards brought about when daily journalism joined the larger content universe of the Web, there were quality problems in the old news factory. Porter explains:

The technology transfer of the last two decades that brought the backshop into the newsroom created an assembly-line environment on news and production desks that emphasizes speed over quality, and the development of secondary news products such as zoned editions means these news-hole beasts must be fed, resulting in demand for breadth (quantity) over depth (quality).

Lots of people know about these problems. They were ignorable for a long time. They always are. Until one day they’re untreatable. Porter’s current post is about the estimate by Peter Zollman that Craigslist is yearly siphoning off $50-65 million in potential classified ad revenue from the Bay Area newspapers. Porter used to work in that market:

To put that number in perspective, I’d estimate the San Francisco Chronicle has, after its current cutbacks, about 450 newsroom employees who earn on average about $60,000. That’s an annual payroll of $27 million. In other words, the money being lost by the Chronicle, the Mercury, their online operations and other Bay Area newspapers could pay for enough journalists to staff two Chronicle newsrooms.

Poof. There goes the money for two newsrooms, lost, ladies and gentleman of the press, to this site, which delivers community, quality, connection. Clearly, in classified advertising, what was once good enough no longer is enough to sustain the franchise. When that day comes in news it will be the reply to Virginia Postrel’s wake up call.

September, 2003: In publishing this op-ed piece with the Los Angeles Times, I had the strange experience of penetrating the newspaper’s online operation to fix something. Despite assurances, they had failed to include a “live” link to PressThink in the bio lines. But they did print the url itself with the http:// and everything; and so I called the city desk to try to speak with an editor. Found there were no editors available who understood what a link was, and why it mattered, or what the url meant. The “web guys” knew. Different silo.

By suggesting that my own call be transfered, I finally reached the kid on duty who was running the site live. He changed it for me in 30 seconds, though it took 30 minutes to get to him. He wasn’t a journalist, he was a geek, and all alone there. Or so it seemed to me. I felt like he inhabited a Los Angeles Times future that was a ghost town.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links

A much-awaited document is here: the Alexander Plan. See PressThink, Open Source Journalism Comes a Step Closer in Greensboro: A Plan is Shown. “Open and free archive. Bloggers at editorial meetings. Long tail ad network. New ‘always link’ policy. Obits as a blog. Those are some of Lex Alexander’s ideas for the Greensboro News & Record as it moves a step further into blogging, citizen journalism and the site as public square. The highlights…” Go.

Tim Porter, sitting in at Morph, the blog for The Media Center at API, pens The Times Buys Another Container. Says the New York Times Co. is hedging its bets by buying a half interest in one of the free dailies in Boston that competes with the Boston Globe— “another container,” when the action is going to be with the content. Porter:

Adaptation, flexibility, innovation, intentional decision-making, distinctive content, recognizable point of view – these are the qualities of the news organizations that will flourish in the coming decade. Unfortunately, the bureaucratic, self-preservational culture of most newspaper companies is fallow breeding ground for these characteristics. That is why I continually push leadership change as the starting point for newspaper change.

Corey Pein in the new Columbia Journalism Review: Blog-Gate: “Bloggers have claimed the attack on CBS News as their Boston Tea Party, a triumph of the democratic rabble over the lazy elites of the MSM (that’s mainstream media to you). But on close examination the scene looks less like a victory for democracy than a case of mob rule.” See too Jonathan V. Last’s critique of the CJR article in the Weekly Standard.

Citzen journalism works, she says. Debbie Galant of, a hyper-local Jersey blog, e-mails about posts (here and here) on a fire caused by downed power lines:

I was alerted to the event by readers, who then started feeding me pictures and other details. It was like being a rewrite man at a big paper. Five or six different readers (most whom I’d never heard of, or from) participated. The e-mails just kept coming.

I know it’s just a fire, not a story about political corruption or anything. A fire is pretty much the definition of local news. What surprised me was the how many people, seeing a story right in their front yards, thought of Baristanet as a place to file.

Another blog story for you. Few months ago I’m cruising around and come to a weblog on “the social customer manifesto” where I find this post linking to what Jeff Jarvis said in complaining about the Web company Real Networks, maker of Real Player: “Real Audio sucks. Real Video sucks.” The blogger, Christopher Carfi, quotes Jarvis and adds a lame joke, “So Jeff…get off the fence. How do you really feel about it?”

I leave a comment at his site saying what a lame post! (I despise Real) “I’m surprised you don’t have something worthwhile to say,” I write. “This is your beat! Isn’t Real the opposite of everything you stand for? I depend on a blogger like you to get to the bottom of Real Networks and the origins of their ‘abuse the customer’ philosophy.”

That led to a reply post, where Carfi promised to investigate and “see what, if anything, Real has done to address any of the issues raised.” Bravo, I said in comments. That was on Dec. 6. Now comes his post Real Jumps the Shark (Jan. 2), which is full of interesting stuff about Rob Glaser’s aggressively anti-social company. I commend it to you. Someone needs to do a business school case study on Real, the use of force, and the mind of Glaser. (See this Slashdot Q & A with him, and this hilarious and cynical attempt by Real to create a community site. No comments permitted, of course.)

John C. Dvorak in PC magazine says that the problem with newspapers is all that untargeted advertising cluttering up the pages. “The fact is, I don’t want this junk in my house. And that’s what today’s newspapers have become: Junk. Clutter. Who needs it?”

The Washington Post folks will focus-group the heck out of this “problem” and it will never dawn on those running the paper that maybe this newly discovered rejection has nothing to do with their product, but has everything to do with its packaging. This moment of enlightenment will take forever to come. The people at these papers are too corporate and dense to ever figure it out. Instead they will dumb down the content or add a column by Snoop Doggy Dogg to throw a bone to the demographic group they want to get on board.

My comment on the latest Pew Internet and American Life study… showing that blog readership jumping to 27 percent of Net users from 17 percent in February ‘04. (Here.) It amuses me that to balance off this good news it is said to be bad news—evidence of trend weakness, I guess—that 62 percent don’t even know what a blog is. How can that be bad news? To me it means that three out of five Americans on the Web have not been introduced to blogging yet. And that suggests continued growth. (See Jarvis on the data.)

The series so far:

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 4, 2005 1:02 AM   Print


Good stuff as usual, Jay.

The current generation of op-ed writers are the last of their kind. Everyone should take a picture so we'll remember what they look like 15 years from now.

Posted by: Matthew Sheffield at January 4, 2005 6:42 AM | Permalink

Mathhew, I'm sure you're wrong -- it's just that Powerline type guys, really really smart lawyers, with blazing fast oral skills and razor sharp argumentive skills, are going to be eating Dowd's lunch, and the NYT as long as they keep paying such losers.

In fact, op-ed work is the EASIEST in the world to outsource; newspapers would do well to have a stable of blogger/ writers, and choose the best one each day for their op-ed print editions.

Casual fact collecters "in the right place, at the right time, especially with a digital camera", will add to real reporter competetion. For the unexpected unknown news. But press conferences for the expected unknown will still need professional treatment.

I also still think not enough effort is going on about the difference between facts/ news in the past, and projections, expected news, in the future. Polls, for instance, are just projections of future news. While stock market closing prices are already history -- if they tell you how the market will move the next day, consistently enough, you could be another Soros.

And neither news nor speculation are so valuable about good and evil, and comparisons: is it better to feed 100 people today, 50 who will die of disease in the next two weeks; or give more aid to the 60 healthiest so that all of those helped regain health? There is no right answer...

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 4, 2005 10:19 AM | Permalink

Atrios v. Richard Cohen

As long as mass circulation daily newspapers (in print or online) continue making a 20 percent return on investment, there will be columnists like Maureen Dowd who get paid $1.2 million a year. Great gig if you can get it.

At some point newspaper columnists will figure out how to use links. But too many links can be distracting for readers who still like a coherent, well written argument that comes in under 1,000 words.

I'm not much of a fan of the Washington Post editorial page (that's an understatement). It is boring in large part because columnist spots are a reward for long-time reporters. Contrast the New York Times, which often hires experts from the outside to write columns, such as Princeton economist Paul Krugman, and lexicographer and former Nixon speech writer William Safire.

I've been playing around with a model for a weekly column for the past year and a half that draws on the best of what a newspaper column has to offer, plus the best of what the Web has to offer in the way of links to further information and research.

Here's this week's entry: Looking For Hope In All the Right Places

While some bloggers do a good job of getting links to new information out fast, most also lack any literary quality whatsoever.

Using Jay's comparison of Richard Cohen to Atrios, I tried it and discovered what I already suspected. It's a matter of taste.

I don't like the look of Atrios or the writing style of Atrios. There wasn't any information there I was interested in that I hadn't already linked to from my news headline blog.

For that matter, I found myself wondering: What is an "Atrios" and why would I link to it or spend ANY of my daily online time visiting the site?

I know something about the Washington Post and it's history. I know it at times has risen to the level of being a great newspaper, which sometimes defends the First Amendment to the Constitution with its resources. At times (although not so much on the editorial page this past year) it is willing to take on the powerful. And every once in a great while, it wins (Watergate).

Here's a question for the pro-blog movement. Could or would Atrios bring down a corrupt president? Could anyone working for Atrios even get in the room with a president?

Sorry, I'm as critical of the "legacy" press as anyone in this room. But for the past few days, while I'm conducting research into the role of the press in promoting science and defending democracy, I'm in the mood to defend the American press for its victories over the past couple of hundred years.

I suspect the best national news operations will continue to figure out how to do this Web thang and beat the little bloggers at their own game, just as I suspect the big oil companies will ultimately be in charge of the new energy future when the time comes.

It would be nice to see some new blood and the success of some upstarts in both of these areas. More power to anyone who can figure out how to do that.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at January 4, 2005 11:50 AM | Permalink

PS: If there is a smart blogger out there who can figure out how to derail Bush's plans to privatize Social Security, take away the rights of juries to punish corporations in the name of "tort reform," or stop the conservative packing of the U.S. Supreme Court, I'm all ears.

Please e-mail me at fast2write at charter dot net.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at January 4, 2005 12:14 PM | Permalink

Jay -- your point on the hilarity and cynicism of Real's "Freedom of Choice" site is spot-on. Going to that link is almost creepy - a community site with no community. It has the echo of a morgue.

Thanks for reading!

Posted by: Christopher Carfi at January 4, 2005 12:34 PM | Permalink

Does this mean we conclude that Microsoft and Real are the metaphorical "legacy media" of the internet who just don't get it? Will they have to go down because of their cartelized obstruction of the information revolution?

Is Apple less of a cartel, or simply a more customer friendly, less authoritarian cartel as they acquire market share? How "alternative" is the Apple model? I don't know, that's why I'm asking.

Posted by: Ben Franklin/Mark Anderson at January 4, 2005 1:19 PM | Permalink

Kudos to Jay and Chris. Great stuff!

Posted by: Ben Franklin/Mark Anderson at January 4, 2005 1:19 PM | Permalink

I'd be interested in what you thought about this new column now running in PC Magazine entitled, Newspapers Baffled by Declines at,1759,1747313,00.asp

Posted by: John C. Dvorak at January 4, 2005 1:43 PM | Permalink

I'm with you on just about all of this, Jay, but I think a little history and chronology helps explain how we got here.

At the time most newspapers made the choice to "repurpose" their "existing content" onto the Web -- i.e., as you put it,just hauling the "dreary old newspaper commentary section online" -- the blogosphere as we know it today really didn't exist. It was 96 or 97 and every newspaper boardroom was beginning to think about how to cash in on dotcom mania. After the bubble burst these people for the most part buried their heads in the sand and decided that the Web was over and they didn't have to worry about it any more. So the rise of citizen journalism and blogs has really caught much of the "legacy media" doubly asleep.

Similarly, when the Web took off lots of people (including me) warned of the decline in classified revenue for print publications -- but it didn't happen at first. Instead, the '90s boom actually benefited the newspapers' bottom lines. So, again, the newspaper companies said "See? You Internet crazies were so wrong!" Only now they turn around and realize that, whoops, the classified revenue is in fact fading fast.

As Jakob Nielsen says, "We typically overestimate what can be done in the short term. Improvements seem so close we can smell them, but human behavior and social institutions are slow to change. At the same time, we underestimate what will happen in the long term, because changes accumulate and accelerate."

It's 2005 and a lot of what people were saying in 1994 and 1995 is slowly but surely unrolling around us.

Posted by: Scott Rosenberg at January 4, 2005 5:12 PM | Permalink

Glynn Wilson probably is correct in saying that Duncan Black is not as good of a writer as Richard Cohen. But the overall point of the Black/Cohen thesis is true, nonetheless.

Stating one's opinion about the news is something that any reasonably intelligent person who follows world events can do. Many bloggers are far from elegant or stylish writers, but the same can be said for the majority of op-ed writers as well.

Posted by: Matthew at January 5, 2005 12:38 AM | Permalink

From the Intro