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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 29, 2005

A Jack Shafer Problem

Let me ask you something...

If you were the author of this, and a foil for the author of that, what would you do?

I tell you this de-bunking business gets tricky.

In Slate this week, Jack Shafer ridiculed the participants in the recent conference of Big Wigs on Blogging and Journalism—naming me, Jeff Jarvis and Dave Winer—because they spoke with such “fervor” about “transformation” and “revolution.” They promised too much to blogging, he feels.

He writes: “In language only slightly less fervent than Shamberg’s, conference participants declared blogs the destroyers of mainstream media.” Actually, that never happened; it’s a canard. And unfortunately Shafer didn’t provide any quotes to show that it happened.

But the rhetoric of transformation by Web—and of the Internet revolutionizing journalism for the better—isn’t really foreign to Jack Shafer. Not long ago, he was speaking it. So let’s study what he said (April, 2004) for clues to how he felt:

From a tiny point on the Internet just 10 years ago the Web has spiraled out to assume the central position in journalism for both news consumers and journalists. It’s also my assessment that Hearst would agree with me that the Web’s spinning into control has been beneficial to the art and business of journalism. Now, I know that these excited views about the Web and journalism may make me sound like an infotopian barking in the pages of a 1995 issue of Wired magazine. While preparing this talk, I walked around the house repeating my mantra that the Web has revolutionized journalism.

So then it’s okay to risk hype in describing the effects of the Web, and even tell people it’s changing everything. Jack does that, knowing he may “sound like an infotopian barking in the pages of a 1995 issue of Wired magazine.” Which, I have to admit, is a pretty honest statement. And what is it saying?

Don’t mistake me for someone who’s always going ga-ga over things. Cuz I’m not. But this change (the Web for Journalism) is big. Pay attention please.

I think it is correct to describe this as a moment of vulnerability: don’t mistake me for… (Handled gracefully, too.) And it is a moment of vulnerability, in his speech, when Jack Shafer says: “I walked around the house repeating my mantra that the Web has revolutionized journalism.” He doesn’t want to sound like a nut, but… has something to tell people. It’s about the Unstoppable Web.

What makes the Web so unstoppable-and I’m indebted to media scholar W. Russell Neuman for this insight-is that it’s become the uber distribution channel. In the old analog days, magazine distributors, newspaper distributors, music distributors, and movie distributors never bumped directly into one another. But during the past two decades, all the analog media-photographs, audio recordings, videotape, newspaper and magazine layouts, movies, radio, telephone, and television-have gone digital. The practical effect of this transformation is that every digitized media can flow through the Web into homes and offices. So when I say the Web has become central to journalism, I’m also saying that practically all old media has become-or is in the process of becoming-Web media. Newspaper reporters and television producers may think they’re still newspaper and TV guys, but if you dissect their work they’re really Web journalists.

Jack Shafer, Spinning Into Control: The Good News About the Second Generation of Web Journalism (April 2004.)

And I think that is a very good analysis. It’s the analysis of a revolution. It could sound like hype to some. This, I feel, is a constant vulnerability in writing about the Web and what it’s doing to something like the news business: there are the dangers of hype and ga-ga-ism on the one side, but there are also the dangers of complacency, and lack of imagination on the other. One gets excited. One also wants to remain grounded.

And you’re trying to pick the right words. (Spinning into control is a great image, by the way.)

So here is what I want to say to Jack Shafer: When I walk around the house repeating my mantra that the Web has revolutionized journalism (hey, same mantra!) I don’t want to sound like, or be made to sound like, an infotopian barking in the pages of a 1995 issue of Wired magazine, EITHER. Can you relate to that?

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links

Read Ed Cone’s column on the conference from the Greensboro News & Record— “Making the inside of the newsroom as big as the outside.” It’s thoughtful and it tells what happened. Bonus: No mention of Rosen or Shafer!

Dave Pell at The Blog Blog: “The battle of blogs vs. mainstream media played out in the virtual pages of Slate Magazine last week wherein the author managed to seemingly create a battle royale by first defining his opposition (bloggers) and then dismantling the version of reality that he himself had created.”

Tom Watson: “Shafer’s point is this: modern journos are - in general - incredibly blog-savvy. Sure, they get busted by bloggers; but the good ones use the blogosphere as a Candyland of rumor, data, and story leads.”

David Weinberger, who was there: “Jack Shafer’s piece in Slate misrepresents what went on at the WebCred conference.”

Len Witt: “And my guess is that when he writes about bloggers his readership goes up. So in this case it pays to bite the blogs that feed him.”

Ezra Klein: “Jack Shafer’s decided to take on the dicks who tout the blogs and I, as a blogger, could not agree more.”

Jeneane Sessum on the Harvard blogging conference: “The frightening thing is, they have no idea how ridiculous they look to the rest of the world.”

Doug Fisher: “I don’t read Shafer as saying those who say blogging will radically change things are a bunch of loons. What I do hear him saying, and I think rightly so, is that if you spend too much time reading your press clippings, while you’re not looking, the folks who wrote those clippings will move on and find a way to co-opt your vision.”

John Robinson, editor of the News & Record: “I understand where the traditional journalists are coming from. I was in that place a year ago. Some of the folks on my own staff are worried that blogging will hurt their credibility because it will require them to opine on the news. That’s far from the truth… You simply need to learn about the possibilities of the form, and there are many.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 29, 2005 7:48 PM   Print


Invite him into the discussion here.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at January 29, 2005 8:47 PM | Permalink

Revise your opinion, or add an asterix?

Posted by: praktike at January 29, 2005 8:50 PM | Permalink

Take satisfaction in knowing your ideas were having an impact, then keep on writing, but pass this two weeks, it won't matter.

Posted by: susan mernit at January 29, 2005 9:05 PM | Permalink

I disagree Susan, but thanks. It matters. Shafer's account of what went on at the conference is untrue. He's a journalist. People believe him.

As for "keep writing" about other things: yes. I already have.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 29, 2005 9:52 PM | Permalink

jay, the whole premise of the conference was the "transformational power" of blogging/the web, and how it revolutionizes information distribution. The vast majority of "the select" took that as an assumption, and the conference was all about how to harness that power.

And you were a very large part of that...hell, it was the subject of "Journalism v Blogging is Dead".

Posted by: paul_lukasiak at January 29, 2005 10:45 PM | Permalink

"In language only slightly less fervent than Shamberg's, conference participants declared blogs the destroyers of mainstream media." That never happened; it's a canard. And Shafer didn't bother finding any quotes to show that it happened. Apparently his standards, and Slate's, don't call for that.

The entire thrust of his article is that blogs are not going to destroy Big Media because if you look at communication history, the "old" medium finds a way to adjust-- and indeed, journalists already have adjusted a lot to the Web. This is not false. This is not a canard. It's a good point. It's worth making.

But Shafer had two gods to serve in his article. That point was one. The second was: he had to debunk someone. He was going to deflate the hype. That requires bunkers at the conference, who are spewing the hype Jack decided he was to pierce. Everything he wrote to serve this second God was false.

No one there declared blogs destroyers of the mainstream media. No one--I mean not a single person there--thought about blogging as replacing the traditional press. Shafer says we're ignorant of how the mainstream media find a way to adjust. The entire conference was actually about that.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 29, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink

Jay, you don't get it. To you, the "destroying the mainstream media" apparently means tearing down the New York Times building. That isn't what it means to Jack Shafer----and he made that much quite clear in his piece.

Shafer spends paragraphs setting up the quote you cite, explaining how Shamberg had predicted that "this clunky black-and-white camera would completely redistribute media power." He even includes a quote from Shamberg...

With portable videotape technology, anything recorded on location is ready on location, instantly. Thus, people can control information about themselves, rather than surrender that power to outsiders. ABC, CBS, and NBC do not swim like fish among the people. They watch from the beach and thus just see the surface of the water.

that sounds amazingly similar to the rhetoric of the blog triumphalists.

It is from within that context that he writes "In language only slightly less fervent than Shamberg's, conference participants declared blogs the destroyers of mainstream media." And within that context, Shafer's statement is an accurate assessment of JoBloCred.

Shamberg wrote about how this "video revoluntion" would destroy the mainstream media's ability (and authority) to define reality. That is what JoBloCred was all about --and that is what Jack Shafer wrote about.

Posted by: paul_lukasiak at January 30, 2005 5:01 AM | Permalink

Shafer's article misrepresents the tone and substance of the conference. There is pleny of hype-busting to do, and there was plenty to criticize at the conference. But Shafer published an article that made it sound like Jay and other speakers at Harvard were mooning about bloggers destroying journalism, which was not the sense of the conversation.

I would summarize what the bloggers told the big journos thusly: Listen to your audience, invite them to participate and help you improve your products, they have the tools now to really change the game.

We did talk about the economic pressure that free and cheap media would put on existing models -- think eBay and Monster, not a random blog -- and lamented the fact that such disruption could cost us much of real value by undermining the business of traditional journalism.

Posted by: Ed Cone at January 30, 2005 8:18 AM | Permalink

When I first commented, you apparently hadn't posted the guts of your piece yet. Having read it, here's what I think.

The nagging issue to the non-Web press, it seems to me, is not whether bloggers will play a role in the future, but who will be in charge. And I find a growing body of work suggesting that bloggers will be assimilated (like the Borg) into "the press." This is a false prophecy, because it assumes a mass marketing future.

In their famous (mass) marketing book, Marketing Warfare, Ries and Trout wrote that only the leader in a market can play offensive warfare. This is where a brand is so strong that it can overwhelm any upstart attempt to seize territory in the war. This is what people like Jack assume is happening and will happen with journalism.

However, the extraordinary power of the blogosphere is that it doesn't play by mass marketing rules, and that's what's really so bothersome to institutional America.

The two gods of which you write, Jay, have different value propositions. One is power over others, while the other is power over self. Both have their appeal and overlap to an extent.

I wasn't at the conference (I'm not a big enough cheese), so I'm unable to comment about whether his essay misrepresents you and your colleagues. My sense, however, is that he does, and my recommendation stands. Bring him in here and let us discuss this with him.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at January 30, 2005 10:12 AM | Permalink

Terry: If you read Jack's speech from April of last year, which is quite good, it is all about transformation and revolution. He does say that the old will be swept away by the new. There Jack Shafer is, if you will, a triumphalist about the Web, not a hype-buster.

But he limited himself to what is happening to and in Big Media. Once the transformation reaches outside, to blogging and to citizen journalism, he exchanges roles, and becomes the crap detecting, hype-busting, pretense-ridiculing skeptic telling the overexcited to calm down.

It's about professionalism. Once the revolution gets to re-destributing power it's time to say: don't believe the hype!

This tracks with what you are saying, I believe.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 30, 2005 11:11 AM | Permalink

The question of who'll be in charge and what will happen to old media's old role is still evolving. And being part of both gods remains difficult for old media, especially the second god; still there are overlaps. Terry's point on the blogosphere's transformative un-mass marketed power is where old media reaches its limitations. I found a quote from Umberto Eco that's fitting, "one thing we do know is that there doesn't exist a Mass Culture in the sense imgained by the apocalyptic critics of mass communications because this model competes with others" (Eco in Castells "Network Society," pg 404). These others are old media independents and blogs are part of them, as is OhMyNews. And how well the old adapt is what Ed calls "listen."

Posted by: Gerd at January 30, 2005 1:02 PM | Permalink

I really should lay low, but briefly:

"Once the revolution gets to re-destributing power it's time to say: don't believe the hype!"

Exactly. True.

There's a revolution going on for insiders. It's the same old same old for almost all outsiders. If you focus on the insiders, the entire world is shifting around. If someone believe that applies to outsiders, it's just hype.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at January 30, 2005 1:38 PM | Permalink

(This was e-mailed to me by John Crimmings. It is also in a comment thread at his blog, Blogenlust. I think he pretty much nails it.)

Jay: I think there is more agreement between you and Jack than meets the eye. Sure, he has misrepresented important positions from the Conference and he's created the impression that these are his ideas when in fact they've been discussed in the blogs for quite some time, most notably in your piece on Blogging vs. Journalism. You're right to criticize him for his lazy journalism and dishonest use of ideas.

However, I found his basic point to be that despite all the promise in blogs as media, there still exists certain limitations that will prevent blogs from turning into mainstream media. That is, blogs can have enormous influence, but they will not be able to replace the legacy media. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that is essentially what you've argued in the past, right?

For the sake of his article, and where he has gotten into trouble with you, is that it was easier for him to create a strawman out of Winer, Jarvis, and yourself than it was to basically repeat what it is you've all been saying for a few months (at least). Of course, he does this with an air of superiority that makes this especially hard to swallow.

On the bright side, I think the very existence of Jack's article is a tip of the hat to the increasing influence of blogs, and the future promise of a Journalism affected by the blogosphere. He's essentially added a Trackback to the end of his column that has enabled his readers to follow the discussion in the blogs and see for themselves where Shafer got it wrong or where he got it right. He didn't have to do this, and had he not, your response to the article would not be as center-stage as it is.

For me, this watchdog aspect of blogs is one of the most important influences the medium has on Journalism. I like the fact that Shafer was willing to put the watchdog on himself, even though he knew he would be heavily criticized. I can't think of many journalists, online or otherwise, that would do the same thing. Maybe it's a sign that Jack gets it, and even if he (wrongly) acts like he was the first to see it, it might not be all that bad that his piece is getting the attention.

John Crimmings

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 30, 2005 1:57 PM | Permalink

storm in a teacup

Posted by: Trevor Cook at January 30, 2005 8:27 PM | Permalink

... Who's contributed more to blogging hype? Bloggers or the news media?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 30, 2005 9:06 PM | Permalink

we should all congratulate Jay on the success of his ongoing self-promotion effort designed to make himself a central figure in the discussion over the impact of the internet on mainstream media journalism.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at January 30, 2005 9:08 PM | Permalink

"we should all congratulate Jay on the success of his ongoing self-promotion effort ..."

My view of it is that we could do worse. MUCH worse.

It's going to be someone, and he's basically a good guy.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at January 30, 2005 10:18 PM | Permalink

Ed wrote:
"I would summarize what the bloggers told the big journos thusly: Listen to your audience, invite them to participate and help you improve your products, they have the tools now to really change the game."

And when I spoke to all the journos in between the sessions, this was what was offending them. It was the whole paternalistic style that was wrong-- "we know what's best for you." Everybody was saluting Rick Kaplan for including blogs within MSNBC... but has anyone looked at that contraption of a page? Is there any page with the name "blog" in it which is any less personal than that page?

The best part was when Bill Buzenberg of MPR explained that they had a great user community setup... without any blogs. That's more honesty that we needed to hear.

If I can defend Jack here-- blogs aren't the web. they aren't even RSS. Blogs are blogs, a simple technology which is severely lacking the things we need for processing news and information.


Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at January 31, 2005 2:28 AM | Permalink

Blogs are one step towards listening to the needs of the changing audience, but that blogs are not rss misses the point that weblogs sped the spread of rss. And, you're right, Jon, blogs don't work for every organization, if a community platform set-up works better, then they should go with it; open source news projects aren't only using blogs either. I never heard that blogs were the web, who said that? And when we're talking about hype, weblogs gained mediasphere visibility during Iraq's main offensive in March 2003, call it hype or call it a new way to communicate, it helped some understand how the home media cheers in times of war. Or even the tsunami, It sure was unplanned "competition" in both cases.

Posted by: Gerd at January 31, 2005 8:02 AM | Permalink

Blog evangelism makes sense for the careers of Rosen, Jarvis and Winer -- after all, if Jay hadn't aligned himself with such self-promoters, who'd even hear of some guy at NYU J-School?

Most senior editors in print newsrooms have likely never heard of any of them, and, should one stumble across this little scrum, their cheerleading tone makes them immediately suspect. (Winer wrote a blog tool? He's behind RSS? Jarvis on TV? Rosen's their buddy? Well, no wonder...)

How to pry the facts out of those with a reason to hide them -- the watchdog function -- is still the focus in real newsrooms, and that's something bloggers can only approach if they (or their girlfriends) have a day job with the perps.

Posted by: Harry Haller at January 31, 2005 10:23 AM | Permalink

Harry, who has more sources, a newsroom or the public? This is what the evangelists (your term) are really selling, not their own ministries. You don't want to hear the message, so you (and Mr. Lukasiak) point to the messengers, insisting that their motive has to be self-promotion.

Arrogance gone to seed.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at January 31, 2005 10:36 AM | Permalink


I think Shafer has a point about some of the over-generalized attacks by prominent bloggers against the news industry. See for example, this post on Scripting News, particularly the bit about "reporters don't do in-depth reporting, they don't have a passion for truth, they serve some other cause, a cynical and self-preserving one."

Beyond the difficulty of having a reasoned discussion about the role the Web plays in journalism when your integrity and honesty are repeatedly called into question, there are some prominent people, Dave Winer being a top example, who do resort to the sort of the language of destruction and antipathy. It's hard to imagine Shafer or anyone else not taking exception once in awhile.

Derek Willis

Posted by: Derek Willis at January 31, 2005 11:22 AM | Permalink

The public in the aggregate knows everything, but most people with damning information aren't willing to risk publishing what they know.

People with an outrage to share leak it to somebody who can investigate it, set the wheels in motion to do something about it and protect them at the same time.

Can bloggers do that?

Some blogs are great for pointing to stories we might have missed. Some bloggers are good writers, entertaining. Some are well-situated to post photos when news comes near. Some bloggers cover obscure tech or their disease or Costa Rican travel in depth, which newspapers traditionally don't do in their limited space.

Bloggers at home at their keyboards are not out news-gathering. They can also be sitting ducks for somebody with an agenda to promote who wants to get it out there unexamined, without fairness or comment from the other side, if there is one.

Blogs are fun, sometimes interesting, but they're not a cure for what's wrong with media, as the pied pipers (who are ironically overly eager for media attention) who prosper on their backs would suggest.

If blogs do kill newspapers, will you be thrilled?

Posted by: Harry Haller at January 31, 2005 11:30 AM | Permalink

Shafer is attacking you because you link and talk to the web-hype crowd. As Atrios said, you link it, you own it. I believe he believes that you are somewhat responsible for who you talk to as well as what you say.

I'm still making up my mind on this point, but I too am disappointed in the Conference, because no well-known left-wing partisan bloggers attended.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at January 31, 2005 11:51 AM | Permalink

It's supply and demand, folks.

The demand for the "we will destroy you," bloggers-uber-alles blog evangelist, suitable for a critic's debunking purposes, greatly exceeds the supply of such figures. Debunkers have to cook the books to find them.

A more typical solution is John Dvorak's. You don't name anyone, you just assert that the over-promising, the hype are routine:

Blogs, or Web logs, are all the rage in some quarters. We're told that blogs will evolve into a unique source of information and are sure to become the future of journalism. Well, hardly...

and then he's off on his merry way to slay some illusions. It's realism on the cheap.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 31, 2005 12:21 PM | Permalink

The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old.

gee, its not that hard to find "we will destroy you" types after all....

"invent the next press" indeed....

Posted by: p.lukasiak at January 31, 2005 12:37 PM | Permalink

oh, here is another "hard to find" quote...

"We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. "

Posted by: p.lukasiak at January 31, 2005 12:39 PM | Permalink


Agreed that over-generalization is a bad thing, whether committed by journalists, bloggers or critics. But I gave a specific example, by a person who attended the conference. I didn't cook the books.


Posted by: Derek Willis at January 31, 2005 12:41 PM | Permalink

You don't want to hear the message, so you (and Mr. Lukasiak) point to the messengers, insisting that their motive has to be self-promotion.

we've heard the message. And we've seen the reaction of the messenger to other messages that they don't like. Rosen takes a far more prominent member of the press (Jack Shafer) to task by taking a quote completely out of context, and tries to make a big deal out of it. That's self-promotion in my book.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at January 31, 2005 12:42 PM | Permalink

Examples of what I mean by demand exceeding supply are being given by the participants.

Go talk to Hugh Hewett. I think he would probably say he's a blog triumphalist, or close to it. Certainly one can read his book that way.

Derek: I think it's fair to take blog posts, (like one from Scripting..) link to them, quote a bit, and say: "sounds pretty triumphalist to me, and go on to critique..." Read his piece. Jack didn't do anything like this. If he had, then we would be having an argument, perhaps, about Bloggers Vs. Journalists is Over. That would be great. Jack chose to write as if that piece didn't exist.

Demand exceeds supply.

Take Jack's "point" that blog boosters like those who mouthed off at the conference don't realize that the mainstream media adapts to something like blogging.

Every time a big media organization dips its toes into blogging, Jeff Jarvis is all over it at Buzzmachine. Is his understanding deficient, his argument lame? Fine. Link to his post and criticize him. But don't say Jarvis is unaware of a trend he has followed more closely than anyone at Slate.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 31, 2005 1:17 PM | Permalink


I'll grant you that Shafer's methods were not ideal, but just because he didn't cite an individual post and offer a critique doesn't mean that the kind of mind-set that he was harping on doesn't exist. It does.

Criticize the methodology, by all means, but there are people out there who do engage in the kind of overblown and vitriolic rhetoric that Shafer is writing about. I think the reason this struck home with me is that I very rarely see any of the more-reasoned commentators (such as yourself) call such folks to account. Media excess? Bad. Prominent blogger excess? Well, that's another story. It's hard to be lectured about responsibility and integrity by such individuals.


Posted by: Derek Willis at January 31, 2005 1:27 PM | Permalink

Derek: Okay, not calling blogger excess to account is a fair criticism to make of me and others, and may account for some of this. I will keep it in mind in future months of PressThink.

Despite my suspicious tone, I am not trying to say the booster mindset does not exist, anywhere. It floats around. It flares up. It should be criticized. It's not a fair reading of what happened at the conference, however. As a description of what I said there it has a truth content of zero.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 31, 2005 1:47 PM | Permalink

matt stoller: "I'm still making up my mind on this point, but I too am disappointed in the Conference, because no well-known left-wing partisan bloggers attended."

matt, you should take a look at jon garfunkel's piece Inclusiveness at the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility conference, in which he consider various axes of inclusiveness and measures the BJC conference against them. it's a thorough, thoughtful, and very smart piece. he concludes, quite credibly, that there wasn't a particular political tilt in the room.

Posted by: rebecca blood at January 31, 2005 5:01 PM | Permalink

What about Shafer Just Being Plain Wrong?

I don't think the blogs will destroy MSM power, though they may counter-balance it and I think that's what most blogs are claiming--that they media just can't get away with reporting with impunity only the reality they want you to know, the one they think is good for you.

Shafer is wrong in that...
1.) He is putting words in conferees mouths: no one is saying the MSM will be destoryed either literally or (as someone indicated above) figuratively. I think the truth is closer to blogs acting as a counterbalance and curbing the worst of the MSM's reframing and liberal-interpreting of reality.

2.) Yeah, the guys with the video cam were full of it. But here's the thing--blogs are *already* having their effects--their effects are not just theoretical or promised. Sure, handy-cams never got farther than cable access but blogs took down Dan Rather. Blog influence is not a prediction--it is a reality.

3.) In short, MSM has *already* been transformed, so the whole comparison to a handy-cam is as silly as comparing the web to the CB Radio craze.

1.) The web is not a video camera.
2.) The hype around the video camera preceded any actual effects from the camera.
3.) The web

Posted by: Lee Kane at January 31, 2005 5:43 PM | Permalink

Harry, I would not be thrilled if blogs killed newspapers, but I don't think that is even remotely likely. Look what John Robinson is doing in Greensboro. That's much more likely. Hell, he's even put the Letters To The Editor in blog format. Makes sense.

I'm one of those who believe there is a symbiotic relationship between the mainstream and the blogosphere. The former could live without the latter (but we'd have SUCH a dull world), but the latter certainly couldn't live without the former. That said, I think the day will come when more people know bloggers than know reporters, so it'll be increasingly difficult for anybody to get away with anything.

p.lukasiak, Forgive my ignorance, but what is the Shafer quote that has been so badly taken out of context? Thanks.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at January 31, 2005 5:50 PM | Permalink

I think if you read the comments on Jack's piece, you'll find that he's being told two contrasting things:

A - He's wrong because blogs are more powerful than he realizes. Just another old media guy who doesn't get "it."

B - He's wrong becaue no one's making the point that blogs are that powerful.

Talk about a Catch-22.

In any case, I think Derek has come closest to bringing some clarity to the scene. Pity all the bloggers and journalists couldn't do that.

Posted by: Beau at January 31, 2005 5:50 PM | Permalink

"No one's making the point that blogs are that powerful." Not accurate. No one at the conference. That is what I said.

"Old media guy who doesn't get it" was a charge Shafer himself introduced before anyone had a chance to speak it. You didn't notice that?

Watch the bloggers work me over here. (I've collected some comments below.) I'll send a U.S. dollar to the first who writes "Shafer doesn't get it." Send e-mail to...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 31, 2005 6:29 PM | Permalink

This is a very interesting discussion. I can't help but wonder, though, whether the way we talk about the relationship between blogs and journalism is making the various sides in this debate talk past one another. For instance, in a recent posting at my blog on this topic I wrote:

Just a thought: It seems that the desire to tear down blog triumphalism hinges on the use of the world "revolutionize" to describe blogging's impact on journalism. There's something about that word, which puts even blog sympathizers on the defensive because they're wary of the connotations "revolutionary" can carry. I think when people like Rosen use the word "revolutionize" to describe blogging's influence on journalism, what they mean is that it's having a functional impact on the field. That is, the way journalism is being done, is changing because of media like blogs.

Misunderstandings have arisen, though, because people have misinterpreted "revolutionize" to mean "over-throw." When these people hear that "blogs have revolutionized journalism" they're thinking of "revolutionize" in terms of blogs replacing traditional journalism. But that isn't the case. Blogging's impact on journalism is more "revolutionary" in the sense of the Industrial Revolution, than the Islamic Revolution. For the purposes of the debate, it might be less distracting and more practical for people to start finding another way to characterize blogging's influence.

Posted by: John at January 31, 2005 6:44 PM | Permalink

Isn't this debate just a recycled version of Toffler's "Third Wave" information age?

I see it in the rhetoric: "transformation and revolution".

There was the information society and New Economy. The Revolution in Military Affairs. And so on ...

In the context of the Pro-Am revolution, you [Jay Rosen] asked, "Why would journalism be immune?" Journalism is not immune from technological changes and it is especially influenced by changes in the noetic field.

But just as brick-and-mortar were not displaced by hyperlink clicks, neither were they immune from the pressures of disintermediation that B2B and online shopping brought.

If Shafer is accusing you (and others) of "Tofflerism" toward journalism - using blogs as anecdotal evidence - so be it. You are. You're not as much the futurist as a writer, but it is more a matter of degree, rather than categorical.

What should be recognized is the "blog" is probably transitory. It will be replaced by "son of blog" as a technology. The person behind the blog will just move on and adapt his ability to communicate to that technology.

So it goes ...

Posted by: Sisyphus at January 31, 2005 8:05 PM | Permalink

p.lukasiak, Forgive my ignorance, but what is the Shafer quote that has been so badly taken out of context? Thanks.

'He writes: "In language only slightly less fervent than Shamberg's, conference participants declared blogs the destroyers of mainstream media." Actually, that never happened; it's a canard. And unfortunately Shafer didn't provide any quotes to show that it happened.'

now, if you read the long introduction in Shafer's piece dealing with Shamberg's work, you get a very clear sense of exactly what Shafer means by that statement. Jay completely removed it from the "Shamberg" context, and then claims that "that never happened."

But if you look at some of Jay's own quotes from this page, its precisely the kind of thing that Shafer was talking about.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at January 31, 2005 8:53 PM | Permalink

This is a very interesting discussion. I can't help but wonder, though, whether the way we talk about the relationship between blogs and journalism is making the various sides in this debate talk past one another.

I think people are talking past one another because there is a completely different mindset between "the select" (those on the "inside") and those who are merely observers of the "the select's" internal debate (those on the "outside".)

The insiders are so insular that they really don't understand how they come across to everyone else, and the outsiders don't really understand what the insiders are trying to say because they aren't part of the "select."

Posted by: p.lukasiak at January 31, 2005 9:01 PM | Permalink

Dave Pell:

Like most who have participated in this faux debate, the Slate author merely blew over a house of cards of his own building. Let's get a few things straight. Journalists generally love blogs. That's why they get so much coverage...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 31, 2005 10:00 PM | Permalink

Relax, Jay.

Repeating, the most useful high tech tools are a gyroscope and a compass -- the gyroscope to keep your balance and the compass to keep your sense of direction.

Do not confuse noise with news. Evidence will accumulate over time and you won't have to respond. You need to husband scarce resources -- including your time -- to use it most productively.

Posted by: sbw at January 31, 2005 10:16 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Stephen.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 31, 2005 10:58 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Rebecca.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at January 31, 2005 11:32 PM | Permalink

You know, Shafer's piece was originally going to start, "The plea 'end the conflict' was first called into question by Jon Garfunkel's pre-conference response to Rosen's paper; by Saturday morning he made a post on the conference blog recognizing the one-sided nature of the this peace settlement..." but Shafer's editors asked him who the hell I was, to be speaking out of turn... ok that last part is just my imagination. I liked his piece, though certainly I felt his argument could have been a bit tighter.

Robert Cox made a great point about this today on the private BJC email list, which he forwarded to me. Wait-- savor the irony. The blogs are supposed to usher in open conversations, but there's still a private email list for the BloJo's! I'm glad I'm being spared that punishment, as a no-blojo.

Anyways, good things have come from this. Jay, you are always asking, "where's the bunk?" and today, you concede that you'd us to bring it to you when we find it. So, short of visiting, say, the bunk beds of Scripting News and JOHO, there's now a tag called blogbunk (it was originally going to be 'blog-triumphalism', but you like bunk so much.) Bring out the bunk! Gotta find that bunk! Yeeeah...! Bunking and de-bunking will be posted there.

Certainly, we are going through a revolution in how we we share, qualify, and process information. My sense is, from doing the research, and writing some "beyond blogs" modules over at, is that blogs are mostly emblematic of the change-- as P2P was to the digital music revolution-- than the ultimate solution that we hang everything off of.


Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at January 31, 2005 11:32 PM | Permalink

Bring out the bunk! Gotta find that bunk!

For the less broadly experienced of us, could this be a Funkadelic reference? George Clinton's opening show at Woodstock 99 in Rome, NY, represented the good time that weekend had hoped to be. [BTW, great time except for the last few hours -- the only balanced reporting was done by our newspaper and the Syracuse Post Standard. Forget about the MTV sensationalism.]

Posted by: sbw at February 1, 2005 8:22 AM | Permalink

From the Intro