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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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April 21, 2005

Chris Nolan: The Stand Alone Journalist is Here...

...And the newsroom has left the building. "If the folks in the building want to insist that what they do has some sort of magical quality, well, today's stand alone journalists have an even better chance of becoming the next generation's most trusted names--plural--in news."

Guest writer Chris Nolan, the accomplished journalist and opinionated author of Politics From Left to Right, coined the term “stand alone journalist” to refer to the self-sufficiency of the individual provider, made plausible by the Web.

The first time I heard her use this term (at BloggerCon III in Palo Alto) I thought: That’s good coinage. She had found a spot between “blogging” as a trend in authorship and the press as we’ve always known it: here’s where you two are going to converge, said she.

Of course, Nolan was also trying to describe the kind of journalist she could feel herself becoming as Politics from Left to Right developed and the Web expansion wore on. (Her column in e-week.)

There have always been freelancers and journalists who worked on their own, but one of the headaches they shared was not owning the means of production and distribution. As Nolan says, “We have our own printing press” (the nifty modern weblog) and “RSS gives us our own delivery trucks or satellite feeds.”

A stand alone journalist is able to reach users directly, but also through bigger media sites that draw off the energy of many contributors. Nolan thinks a mixed future is likely, where you can go into the journalism business for yourself, sometimes contracting with media agencies, sometimes syndicating your work, sometimes publishing it at your own address (like, an effective platform for Nolan’s brand of snappy, intelligent, point-of-view journalism).

Now the stand alone model is not just an idea. The outlines of it are coming into view. The best example so far is widely known: Josh Marshall, a journalist with a stand alone operation called Talking Points Memo, supported by contributions and ads. (On Marshall’s fascination with open source journalism see my recent post Are You Ready for a Brand New Beat? which also profiles other stand alone journalists. )

In blogging years, Josh Marshall is old. There are some new developments. For instance, there’s this offer, now running from

NEW: To get paid for your Citizen Journalism articles, go to any site and create a Readers Write account or update an existing profile to receive payments. The Readers Write login pages have more information about the article payment program. (Also see this announcement.)

Then there’s this contest in video, announced recently:

As we move closer to our launch this summer, we want you to help us create content for Current TV. There are three different video themes our production team is working on now. We’d love to see your take. The deadline for submissions is May 12. We will accept all submissions up to five minutes. We’ll post the top 5 and you decide who wins. The winner will get a Studio development deal of $3,000 to pitch and produce three 3-5 minute pieces that will air on Current.

As I said, it’s just the outlines. As with this system:

NowPublic News is built on stories that people demand. By creating an assignment or voting on assignments you think are important, you help make the news. Here are the most recent assignments…

And see Metafilter too, with more links.

Special to PressThink

The Stand Alone Journalist is Here

By Chris Nolan
Politics From Left to Right

A few days ago, when Jay Rosen wrote and asked if I was going to do any more posts defining “stand alone journalism,” the phrase I coined to describe the work I do at my site, Politics From Left to Right, I demurred. My readers are interested in my West Coast view of politics and its intersection with technology, my feminist rants or my theories about Progress libertarians. As for the nuts and bolts of the news business as we practitioners see it, they’re not interested. Jay’s response was perfectly reasonable: Mine are.

So, here I am, spurred on by Rupert Murdoch’s speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. I don’t care for his politics but I deeply respect his news and business judgment (I’ve been inside The New York Post and they were good to me). And I’m impressed but not surprised that Murdoch has the nerve to tell American newspaper editors something they badly needed to hear.

The newsroom has left the building. Readers—and not just the young, whom Murdoch emphasized—gather their own information and parse it out as they see fit. And they find it insulting that anyone would tell them what to think about issues or events as they occur.

The Sheltered Newspaper Editor

Now, it should not have been necessary for Rupert Murdoch to give this speech. But editors, particularly those running regional newspapers in cities and counties across the country—the dominant, if not the monopoly news outlets in their local markets—lead cloistered lives. They are the same folks who once declared that newspapers would always be around because you could “read them in the can.” They think “bloggers” are interesting but are pretty sure they don’t have any in their communities. The few who have recently come to the idea that on-line writing has value seem to have decided that bloggers aren’t reporters or writers but a new money-saving device: high-tech stringers who will cover Little League games or late-night school board meetings they’re already attending. This whole on-line thing is interesting, they think, but they want to make sure they’re dealing with responsible people, not cranks.

I wish I were exaggerating about the cloistering and ignorance at work in the news business. The day after Murdoch’s speech, some smarty-parts put a picture of Craig Newmark up at ASNE. Although his photo appears on page 80 of last week’s Time (one of the world’s “most influential people”) only a few editors recognized the man who—with a staff of 14 and a lot of computers — ate the San Francisco Chronicle’s ad business. Even more startling: Only a few in the room had ever heard of his phenomenally successful CraigsList, the free on-line classified site that exists in every major U.S. city.

It’s worse than you think. About a year ago, I did a brief piece for Fortune about Craigslist and estimated it had annual gross revenues of between $7 million and $10 million. A profile done a few weeks later in the Los Angeles Times mocked my estimates. To do that sort of business, the writer said, Craigslist would have to carry 93,000 employment ads (for which it charges a modest $75 a week) a year. Well, if you go to the site and count a week’s worth of ad postings—as the LA Times reporter should have done—you’ll see that Craigslist is booking hundreds of ads every day. And they’re not classified. They’re the more lucrative employment display ads that newspapers treasure. That’s why the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News are hurting. The free classifieds at Craigslist give people just one more excuse not to turn to their paper. But, as the company’s CEO Jim Buckmaster pointed out this week, that’s not the only reason readers aren’t reading the paper anymore.

What’s this got to do with stand alone journalism?

Plenty. First, it’s a snapshot of the underlying economics, the way news editors have ignored changes in how their work and their payrolls are supported. How can any daily newspaper editor call himself a newshound when he or she isn’t aware of a seismic change in the classified ad business, once the bedrock of a paper’s service to readers?

This willful ignorance is a great example of newspaper editors remaining, as Murdoch said, out of touch with the world around them. It’s one of the many reasons why stand alone journalists have followed the news and left the building. It’s also why many talented writers and reporters are choosing to strike out on the web instead of getting newsroom jobs. Not that there are that many jobs to be had, of course.

Defining the Stand Alones

These are not bloggers. They are people who are using blogging technology—software that allows them to quickly publish their work and broadcast it on the Internet—to find and attract users. They understand that the barrier to entry in this new business isn’t getting published; anyone can do that. The barrier to entry is finding an audience. That’s why their editorial product is consistent, reliable and known. Readers have expectations and stand alone journalists understand this and put that understanding into practice.

So what—exactly—is a stand alone journalist? That’s a definition that’s going to vary with the person, of course, just as no group or reporters can really agree on what makes a “journalist.” For me, the stand alone journalist succeeds in getting stories told in an honest and forthright manner without benefit of working for a larger news outlet. That doesn’t mean they’re objective or impartial; it means they’re honest about their points of view or assumptions. A stand alone journalist understands that the main job is to inform readers; and the ethics that salaried journalists have when it comes to fairness, accuracy and honesty aren’t just phrases. They’re a discipline for doing the work that needs to be done: getting your facts right, your assumptions validated, your arguments well grounded.

The result is as varied as the individuals at the keyboard. Joshua Micah Marshall’s Talking Points Memo is a great example of this phenomenon for serious political junkies. But so is Roxanne Cooper whose “write your own caption” posts bring a standing newsroom joke to a whole new audience. These writers employ the same standards that newspaper people use to crank out their stories. Their style, however, is different. It’s more personable. It shares. It doesn’t hesitate to refer to other writers, even those in competition, to make a point, raise a question, to clarify a thought or idea. This is not news writing as we know it but it is informative and useful and it counts on the reader to participate, to argue and discuss. It believes in competition and different points of view; it’s flexible and open to reader comment and criticism. It can adapt easily. And people—thousands of them visiting these sites every day—love the more open style, in the same way they used to love their daily paper. The audience is growing every day. A technology called RSS—really simple syndication—makes distribution easy, too. We have our own printing press, RSS gives us our own delivery trucks or satellite feeds.

How It Might Work

Stand alone journalists are the next iteration of on-line news professionals. They stand alone because they aren’t salaried by existing news outlets. They aren’t part of an institution but seek to become one. They may be freelancers—many are—but the work they do on the web isn’t under contract for a larger entity. Right now, they are working for themselves by themselves or with other like-minded souls. Oh, and this won’t be limited to print, or I should say, type. The Internet can carry anything digital as long as it can ride the TCP/IP protocols that allow computer to talk to each other. Radio reporters will podcast their shows. TV reporters will V-for video-cast their work.

I don’t know if stand alone journalists will replace traditional news outlets entirely. They’re more likely to supplement the work of cash-strapped established news outlets. The New York Times isn’t going to give up its dominance of national or international news coverage. Nor should it. But its editors could start taking website posts—as they are written on the sites—from stand alone journalists as part of its news packages, for on-line and print. Enterprising niche sites, iVillage, for instance, might feature the regular writing of a stay-at-home mother. She’ll post to her own site and iVillage will take her posts as a centerpiece for discussion and comments by a larger audience she might not normally reach. IVillage will pay her (or her syndication service) for her posts which may well come at odd times and weird hours when she—like her audience—gets a rare chance to sit and think.

Some of these writers might already have posted their stuff on-line when the editor IMs—sends an instant message—or calls. Some might be assigned pieces, some may call the paper and pitch a story idea. Others might offer their work via special RSS feeds to clients in newsrooms and around the ‘net. They’ll offer stories but they’ll also offer a new skill. As conversations about the news become and accepted part of interpreting events, everyone is going to need editorial talent that can happily engage in debate or moderate an on-line discussion group. This is the unique mix that stand alone journalists will bring to their business. Because they are growing up outside the newsroom, they can be inside the attitudes readers have always had toward the high church of news.

Why will all this happen? Because there aren’t enough people (and there aren’t enough talented people) inside news organizations today. It’s bad now. It’s going to get worse. Payrolls, cut to the bone in many papers, are going to shrink even more as ad revenue falls as circulation hits new lows. Newspaper owners decided long ago that they were going to push down costs by cutting staff. As Craiglist’s Buckmaster has pointed out, they have destroyed their product—reporting and writing. But smart writers and reporters haven’t forgotten how it’s done; and they will sell their skills to news outlets, lots and lots of news outlets, maybe even to individual readers.

The critic Terry Teachout, another stand alone journalist, has this to say about the current state of journalism. He, too, was deeply impressed with Murdoch’s speech.

I‚ve said this before, but it can’t be said often enough: the mainstream media aren’t especially interested in serious art, and such interest as they do have is diminishing daily. If you’re looking to big-city newspapers to start reviewing more literary fiction, or to PBS to telecast more ballet and modern dance, or to your local radio station to continue carrying the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday broadcasts, you’re kidding yourself. They don’t care. Which leaves you with two options. You can sit around complaining about their indifference, or you can do an end run around them and use the new media to reach out directly to your audience, both existing and potential.

Teachout’s talking to artists. But he could easily be talking to any writer and reporter interested in covering—but seriously covering— the arts. The problems are the same, the solutions similar: Leave the building. Go off on your own.

Stand alone journalists will carry the desire for good, well-written journalism beyond the economic reality of newsrooms today. Where will they end up? Anywhere they’re wanted. And they will be wanted in many, many places because readers aren’t going to be tied to one news outlet, that paper that lands on the doorstep every morning or the 6 p.m. evening news cast. They’re going to wander around the web, looking for things they find interesting. Or they’re going to wander around the world looking for interesting things to put on the web. It’s unlikely that stand alone journalists will concentrate on who-what-when-where of breaking news. That’s a free service now for almost everyone; or it’s the result of being able—like the New York Times— to throw bodies at big stories.

It’s What You Have to Say

But I do think some of the best stand alone journalists will be our next generation of investigative reporters, following their noses where the story goes, supporting themselves with daily work on their sites while piecing together the big stories. This, too, is economics. Only the big, big papers—all three of them—are willing to spend the money on experienced reporters, often those best qualified to write and report long-term projects or complicated stories.

Stand alone journalists will also provide what we now label feature and opinion writing for large on-line sites like Yahoo, which are going to need to mix up their offerings to keep readers beyond their emphasis on breaking news. As we’ve seen, news is easy. But it’s hard to find a thoughtful voice who can gather herself in a timely manner, do the research and make the phone call that leads to an insight no one’s had. Yahoo and its competitors—who have built a news site but certainly don’t want to build newsrooms—will be better served by adding those writers. As we all know, all news and no color makes for a dull, dull read.

That’s also why the things we call now newspapers are going to need a similar sort of feature and opinion writing on their web and paper pages. It’s going to be writing—and writing well, not news gathering—that sets them apart. Newspapers will need folks who can turn a phrase or hold forth on an area of expertise; and they’ll rely on stand-alone journalists to fill in the gaps in their staffing, to write that color story, craft the profile, interpret the news.

Like their newsroom counterparts who don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the state of the press that puts their words on paper, stand alone journalist are going to use technology to do their work instead of letting technology dominate the way they do their work. Much of what’s called blogging is, I’m afraid, a stress on the widgets and gizmos, not on content and context. In journalism, it’s not how you say it, it’s what you have to say. Stand alone’ers, the good ones, will acquire even more of the credibility and authority automatically afforded their salaried counterparts.

How long will this equal standing take? “The secret’s out,” wrote Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle. “The stand-alone journalists are here, and they are digging out facts and leading crusades. They are also printing gossip and distorting facts — but hey, so are we.”

If editors and publishers take off their blinkers and stop doing focus groups and market tests and instead listen—really pay attention to what readers are saying and doing—things will change more quickly. If the folks in the building want to insist that what they do has some sort of magical quality, well, today’s stand alone journalists have an even better chance of becoming the next generation’s most trusted names—plural—in news.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

“So, fuck it. I quit.” Writer, Thinker, Big Name blogger David Weinberger Stands Alone at MSNBC. He had been appearing on-air in a special segment for bloggers…

I just couldn’t face implicitly confirming the idea that the blogosphere consists of big voices arguing with one another — spit fights! — instead of 10 million real voices engaged in every variety of human conversation and delight.

So, fuck it. I quit.

Austin Bay responds to this post:

Ben Franklin called himself a printer, but he was also a writer and editor. Now the Internet and blogware allow a writer-editor-publisher to reach a global audience and do so cheaply. Moreover, the talented writer-editor-publisher can circumvent the political hierarchy of the news organization. The game of “who you know” remains in play—- but demonstrating “who you can reach” via the Internet has made the political gamesmanship of “the news business” or “the publishing business” less determinative.

Technology has leapfrogged traditional print and broadcast organizations —much the way cell phone technology in East Africa has circumvented the old “land line” phone network.

Bay’s sketch suggests that writers who are largely self-published, in business for themselves, will drop in and out of journalism, in a pattern eluding the old hierarchy, which produced the kind of career path described by Adelle Waldman:

Being a reporter typically means moving from city to city, smaller paper to bigger paper, as you work your way up from the Smalltown Weekly to a major metropolitan daily. It’s the journalism equivalent of a doctor’s residency after medical school — you are simultaneously learning the skills you need to hone your craft and paying your dues.

Austin Bay’s point is there are different ways of paying your dues. “Demonstrating who you can reach via the Internet” is one way of disrupting the hierarchy that sets the rules.

Chris Nolan explains why we needed a term like stand alone journalist. From It’s not just blogging any more (June 22, 2004):

For a while I, and many others have been dissatisfied with the term “web logging.” That focuses on the technology, not on what the technology produces. So, after a little thought, I’m calling what I and others do Stand-Alone Journalism. Why Stand-Alone Journalism? Well, it’s accurate. A journalist – or a small group of reporters – can work on the web to produce what they want as they find it appropriate. And readers are equally free to read the work of individual journalist as they see fit, on their time, not on schedules set by TV networks or the newspapers.

Dan Gillmor: “It’s a catchy phrase, but an incomplete one. Even the best solo blogger doesn’t stand truly alone. We are all building on each others’ work, and learning from each other and our communities. The stand-alone journalist who misses this — and Chris certainly gets it — will not be standing long.” Gillmor’s edit: ‘Stand-Alone’ Journalism in a Connected Age.

Look what happens when stand alone book critcs stand together. “Book club for blogging world.”

Classy debut for BusinessWeek’s new blogging venture. They took their time, faced the learning curve, and did it right. Blogspotting: Where the worlds of business, media and blogs collide. Bares watching. Welcome, Stephen Baker and Heather Green. Plus: the cover story: Blogs Will Change Your Business.

Paul Conley says it’s happening already in the trade press: “These new ‘stand alone’ journalists are most likely to come from the specialized business press, where customers will pay high rates for quality information… traditional B2B publishers need to be aware of the competitive threat posed by their readers. Thousands of people in the B2B audience already have the tools to launch a competitive product — expertise, sources and publishing software.”

Ethan Zuckerman: Is Christian Science Monitor the World’s Bloggiest Newspaper? Highly recommended for the newspaper geek in all of us.

Phil Boas, deputy editorial page editor at The Arizona Republic, seems ready for the stand alone era. From The Masthead, magazine of the editorial writers association. (Via Powerline.)

…When you no longer need the millions of dollars in capital, the multi-million dollar press, the network of delivery people fanning out across the land, to start a newspaper, the door opens to competition.

If great gobs of capital will no longer separate you from that competition, what will? Information. Or rather, the quality of your information.

We are headed to the Web in a big way and our readers, especially our most engaged readers – the bloggers - are going with us. They are giving us a taste now of what our new environment will be like. They will challenge and cajole us to confront our biases and our mistakes. And if we don’t confront them, they’ll clean our clocks.

They’ll be our competitors and our colleagues and they’ll force us to dig deeper into issues, think harder about them. They’ll show us how to coalesce expertise on a breaking story and drill deeper for the more complete truth. They’re already teaching us today how to own up to our mistakes.

Very similar to Chris Nolan’s vision. Meanwhile, Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters responds to Nolan (April 21, 2005):

Perhaps the better way to create distinctions isn’t by labelling the blog or the blogger but the post or the thread. There are times when I perform stand-alone journalism; other times, I’m a self-published pundit; the small amount left amounts to a very poorly secured diary. The revolution in newsroom thinking won’t be an acknowledgement that a handful of bloggers are stand-alone journalists. It will come when people finally realize that all bloggers can be stand-alone journalists if and when they choose to be.

Silicon Valley Watcher (Sep. 20, 2004): Mike Magee—successful “stand alone journalist.”

Joe Gandelman says for all the hot air about citizen journalists, most bloggers are “citizen op ed,” which is no revolution, even though it is fun for all involved. Then he asks why don’t we see more interviews like this one from The Talking Dog. It adds original information. But it’s rare. Gandlesman wants to know: is blogging living up to its potential? See the discussion in his comments too.

Bloggers are pretty good at this, though.

Jeff Jarvis posts his links on citizen journalism for the presentation he made to the Radio & Television News Directors Association meeting in Vegas. Helpful if you are new to the subject.

In Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over (Jan. 15, 2005), I described one reason to bet on the stand alones.

Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation— for the user’s trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There’s a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times “brand,” and creating it from scratch. Bloggers are “building their reputations from the ground up,” as Hiler said, and to do this they have to focus on users. They have to be in dialogue. They have to point to others and say: listen to him! The connection between what they do and whether they are trusted is much alive and apparent. In journalism that connection has been harder to find lately. Journalists don’t know much about it.

Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion (June 23, 2004): “In my view, a stand-alone journalist is exactly what it says - someone who has quit writing professionally for an established media outlet to earn their living almost exclusively from blogging/personal journalism via ads and subscription. Rafat Ali at is the perfect example of a stand-alone journalist. Robert Scoble is not.”

I just came across this fantastic bibliography of major articles online about weblogs and blogging, put together by Kairos News. It includes articles back to 1999.

Clay Shirky from ‘02, Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of Publishing (Oct. 3, 2002).

A lot of people in the weblog world are asking “How can we make money doing this?” The answer is that most of us can’t. Weblogs are not a new kind of publishing that requires a new system of financial reward. Instead, weblogs mark a radical break. They are such an efficient tool for distributing the written word that they make publishing a financially worthless activity. It’s intuitively appealing to believe that by making the connection between writer and reader more direct, weblogs will improve the environment for direct payments as well, but the opposite is true. By removing the barriers to publishing, weblogs ensure that the few people who earn anything from their weblogs will make their money indirectly.

The search for direct fees is driven by the belief that, since weblogs make publishing easy, they should lower the barriers to becoming a professional writer. This assumption has it backwards, because mass professionalization is an oxymoron; a professional class implies a minority of members. The principal effect of weblogs is instead mass amateurization.

The Difficult Life of David Shaw
The Los Angeles Times’s “ideas correspondent.”
National Review Online, Apr. 22, 2005

Cathy Seipp, in her “From the Left Coast” column, has a suggestion for the wizards at the Los Angeles Times. It concerns media writer David Shaw, with whom PressThink has occasional business. “I don’t know why the Times doesn’t just retire Shaw from his bland, fakely objective phoning-it-in media critic’s beat and let him expand the food column — in which he compellingly reveals the various pet peeves and recurring annoyances that vex his remarkably soft life — into a full-time wallow.”

The article suggests that Shaw was supposed to turn into some kind of “ideas correspondent” but didn’t get the memo that media wasn’t really his beat.

Posted by Jay Rosen at April 21, 2005 1:12 AM   Print


Should the term "stand alone journalism" relate something more than just the independence aspect? I applaud the term in that it separates the recreational blogger from a journalist, and yet there is no reference to it's digital quality?
Can there be a "stand alone" journalist within other media forms? A "stand alone newspaper journalism" or "stand alone podcast journalism" or radio or handclapping or whatever form the communication takes? I grant that the Web/Internet gives a unique opportunity of distribution and production (combining many disparate aspects of over media), but the term "stand alone" in and of itself lacks, to me, a coherence in its apparent (to someone that has not been exposed to it previous) definition.
As this still the gestation/birth state of the term's construction, why not be able to add a modifier?
A stand alone digital journalist as opposed to a stand alone radio journalist for example. At some point technology may grow to the point that the ease of distributing other media forms may equal that in the electronic area in individual's accessibility. Who knows.
Another query, does standing alone necessarily designate independence? I don't feel so.

Posted by: anorpheus at April 21, 2005 5:50 AM | Permalink

First, wow! That's a great piece.

Second, a question for Chris: I notice that you refer to the audience of the stand-alone journalist as 'users' rather than 'customers'. I like that usage--why did you choose it?

Posted by: adamsj at April 21, 2005 8:07 AM | Permalink

But this still looks like we're limiting the definition of "journalist" to "opinion writer" or "first-person feature writer." That's an awfully small segment of the media.

There can be a value in intelligent analysis of news, and blogging is a neat tool for doing that. But where is the "news" going to come from if the press withers under the assaults of Craigslist and bloggers?

Here's an experiment -- pick up a handful of newspapers of varying sizes and scan the stories. You will find many stories that could not have been done -- at least not with any sort of efficiency -- by bloggers.

The reason we wound up with monopoly newspapers in the first place is because market forces dictated that this sort of work could only be done with an economy of scale. Even if you remove the printing press (unlikely, since any enterprising newspaper also has printing contracts with several community publications), you still need a fair amount of capital to do the most difficult work in journalism. And you still need a brand name to get your phone calls answered.

Why have we forgotten this?

Posted by: Beau at April 21, 2005 8:55 AM | Permalink

On the Internet everyone has a voice and anyone can listen.

Posted by: paul at April 21, 2005 9:26 AM | Permalink

We've forgotten nothing, Beau.

When everyone has an Internet enabled mobile phone that is also a camera and recorder, then anyone and everyone can be an on-the-spot reporter.

As for all the "training" that journalists supposedly get -- it amounts to nothing of value. Their product speaks for itself. Any literate person can do as good a job of basic factual reporting as a trained journalist. Probably better, since an amateur will lack the seen-it-all arrogance of the journo.

There is nothing the media can do now that the Internet-enabled citizen will not be able to do faster and better.

Posted by: Evil Pundit at April 21, 2005 9:41 AM | Permalink

Evil Pundit, how would the Internet-enabled citizen have broken the Watergate story?

Posted by: adamsj at April 21, 2005 10:00 AM | Permalink

Evil -- The "training" isn't the hang-up. I don't doubt that a lot of bloggers could step into a local newsroom, get a quick tour of the benefits plan and the publishing system, and fare just fine.

It's the economics. It's the vetting process of editing. It's the teamwork. It's the accountability -- yes, I still insist that a publication that answers to readers and stockholders has more checks on it than a blog whose comments can be filled with the echoes of like-minded enablers.

There's also this to consider -- to be an amateur reporter with a bunch of gadgets, you have to have a fair amount of money and free time. Those who can't afford to spend the bucks or the time will be left out. Is that really more democratic?

Finally -- do you honestly think "an amateur will lack the seen-it-all arrogance of the journo"? Bloggers aren't arrogant? And meet some more journalists -- we aren't all jaded beyond repair. Just those of us who are aging.

Posted by: Beau at April 21, 2005 10:19 AM | Permalink

Good stuff. I would only add that the independent journalist of tomorrow will be multimedia skilled. We can no longer separate print from visual, for the Web demands (and facilitates) both. Specialization will come via niche, not skill, and this is the real challenge to our universities.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at April 21, 2005 10:51 AM | Permalink

It's the accountability -- yes, I still insist that a publication that answers to readers and stockholders has more checks on it than a blog whose comments can be filled with the echoes of like-minded enablers.

The word "can" is what makes this sentence useless, since they "can" also be filled with rabid (if not near-psychotic) opponents.

But anyway, my actual point is to ask why you confliate "readers and stockholders" here as if they are both something than a newspaper has but a blogger (or stand-alone journalist) does not.

I have no stockholders, but I most certainly have readers. In fact, I have readers who "can" show up in the comments as they see fit, instantly, and say whatever they want. That's more direct, instant, and uncensored accountability from readers than newspapers have,

Posted by: The One True b!X [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 21, 2005 11:15 AM | Permalink


Thanks for all the comments, compliments and questions. Let me try to respond. This is roughly the order I'm reading.

I used the word "users" without any sort of deliberation and it's probably a hang-over from my years covering Silicon Valley where folks who use computers do just that.

One point is worth emphasizing here: We are early. I think there will be as many stand alone journalists as there are ways to approach the job and ways to use any and all forms of technology. So I think discussions about who can do what are somewhat premature; we don't know. This is my version of where we're headed but the path isn't going to be straight, the way isn't going to be certain.

As for writing and reporting: For the most part, I think folks who start down the path I've outlined here will have some experience and training. Speed is important in and out of the newsroom. Some people can and do think quickly and make good news judgments with little experience. Many don't. Training – experience – makes it easier.

Posted by: Chris Nolan at April 21, 2005 12:05 PM | Permalink

Chris, it may have been simply automatic usage, but I appreciated it. When people describe me as a news 'consumer' or a news 'customer', I tend to reach for my copy of Revolver to calm down a little.

Posted by: adamsj at April 21, 2005 2:06 PM | Permalink

Chris: Great article. I suspect that this is indeed the way journalism might be headed (whether it SHOULD be or not, cf. Beau, is a whole 'nother question I am not touching for now), and we're doing so much wandering around in the dark with our project that it's a relief, if not a joy, to stumble across something like this piece, which credibly suggests to me that we might be on the right track after all.

And, Terry, your point informs exactly what we're doing. One of the first things I did was pull together a list of what equipment it would take to fully equip one standalone multimedia reporter. We're building from there.

Posted by: Lex [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 21, 2005 2:36 PM | Permalink

Lex -- If your project works, you'll be aggregating the reporting work of local citizens. That'll be great stuff. But I'd argue that each citizen's blog will be made stronger by the fact that it's under the same umbrella as other reporters and editors, professional and semi-pro. To me, that's an argument against the stand-alone journalist.

I can see stand-alones in niches that would otherwise defy aggregation -- say, the chess blog that I read. We've already seen that stand-alone punditry is feasible. But if your project works, it should prove that there's value to being something other than a lone voice in the wilderness.

Posted by: Beau at April 21, 2005 5:13 PM | Permalink

Beau, I've been an advocate of the DIY approach -- Do It Yourself -- since the punk-rock movement. I don't think it's a necessity in our particular case, but because I might be wrong, I want at least a small cadre of journalists -- first, here in-house; then among our readership -- trained and equipped to function as standalones if need be, as soon as possible.

Posted by: Lex at April 21, 2005 5:24 PM | Permalink

Does scale matter to this? A lot of things covered by metro, regional, and local press aren't going to sustain or generate the kind of audience that will produce the revenue to feed and clothe a "stand alone" journalist.

You could say that those things will cease to be news in the blog-o-press, but that seems like a bad thing for our political system.

Or should only the self-motivated (and independently employed) report on city council in the future?

Posted by: John at April 21, 2005 5:32 PM | Permalink

A lot of things covered by metro, regional, and local press aren't going to sustain or generate the kind of audience that will produce the revenue to feed and clothe a "stand alone" journalist.

That scale issue is a major problem that I don't believe has sorted itself out yet. I keep getting close to approaches that will work, but haven't yet gotten there, and I've been working at precisely that local level for a little over two years now.

Posted by: The One True b!X [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 21, 2005 6:43 PM | Permalink

To me the stand alone journalist is like a mental step. In practice, everything is different, but you're prepared if you've taken clear steps in your mind first. Obviously stand alone journalists are better off in networks of some kind.

Loose or strong? Place-based or interest driven? Nonprofit or commercial? We don't know. Let people go out and try stuff. Then we'll know. A successful network of stand alone journalists who benefit from their connections to each other and from the scale on which their efforts are organized... right, we're not there yet.

But the mental steps we took to put that picture together are probably sound. Conceiving of a stand alone journalist is a necessary step in seeing a network like that emerge into sustainability.

Stand Alone Journalist has a "sprung from cages" feel. It's liberation language --for a phase in the de-industrialization of news.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 21, 2005 11:30 PM | Permalink

As far as local coverage goes, the little free advertiser with local coverage is the only dead-tree paper that gets read in our house. It may have ten pages of real-estate ads, but it does have good coverage of school-board meetings, city council goings-on, and the occasional juicy story of corruption in high places. It apparently makes money (it has faithfully come once a week for six years) and is locally owned. It doesn't bother with anything but city news, rightly figuring that everyone in Silicon Valley reads Yahoo, Google, NYT Online, or SFGate for anything that isn't local.

My own guess is that dead-tree papers will become _very_ local and will abandon attempts at being one-stop-shops for news.

Posted by: Foobarista at April 22, 2005 2:27 AM | Permalink

Something to consider ... the stand alone journalist model may be prototyped here but find roots elsewhere. Perhaps in an economy where the economics are more amenable, people are more (wireless) "wired", but still written in English to maximize international readership?

Korea? India?

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2005 3:01 AM | Permalink

"Stand alone" journalist. Oh, that's what I've been for the past couple of years. Guess I need to change my business cards. Does that come with any more respect?

Posted by: Gordon Joseloff at April 22, 2005 3:12 AM | Permalink

Folks want facts (like unbiased Wikki?/ reliable facts), and reasonable opinion/ speculation about the future. Plus guidance about WHICH are the important issues/ important questions to ask.
And they want fun when they read anything; plus occassional asides (of the kind that THEY like), but not too many.

Lots of niches. Yet a real de-certification issue is whether a politicized readership can even agree on the importance of different facts (like the fact that Kerry promised to sign , but has not yet, the you-know-which-Form).

Or that it was 30 years that the Khmer Roughe began their genocide, thanks to the success of the anti-War Leftists in America getting the US to leave SE Asia.
There are facts, and there are meanings behind the facts; and speculations about the future based on the presumed understanding of the facts.

Lots of stand-alone journalists seem better at predicting than the MSM -- blogs help keep some of the inconvenient facts current.

Who do you trust? The very key issue -- you trust who you read.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at April 22, 2005 10:19 AM | Permalink

From the view of a local newspaper, What is the difference between a respected "stand alone journalist" and the AP or NYT?

If the answer is none, what does that say about the AP or NYT?

If the answer is some, what does that say about the AP or NYT?

Posted by: Tim at April 22, 2005 11:59 AM | Permalink

What a wonderful, thoughtful piece. Thanks.
I'd like to share my opinion that 'stand alone' journalism is already a fact in the B2B press, and will likely expand fastest there. There's more about this on my blog about trade journalism.

Posted by: paul conley at April 22, 2005 2:46 PM | Permalink

Paul: Next time do it like this:

There's more about this at my blog.

'Stand alone' journalism and the trade press

Now you just added value to the thread.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 22, 2005 11:41 PM | Permalink

Beau: But I'd argue that each citizen's blog will be made stronger by the fact that it's under the same umbrella as other reporters and editors, professional and semi-pro. To me, that's an argument against the stand-alone journalist.

Agreed. I worry that the average news consumer will not have the patience to establish a trust relationship amoung a plethora of stand-alone journalists, unless they are packaged under a brand name.

Posted by: Fenrisulven at April 23, 2005 12:52 AM | Permalink

Agreed. I worry that the average news consumer will not have the patience to establish a trust relationship amoung a plethora of stand-alone journalists, unless they are packaged under a brand name.

In some situations, that's how it will play out, in others i won't have to.

That sounds trite, but it's important that we stop falling into the trap of, "It's going to be THIS way."

Posted by: The One True b!X [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 23, 2005 3:24 AM | Permalink

You're both right. I see a demand for a diversity of media. Not a new dominance by a new form.

Now if we can just convince the stockholders that this is a good thing so we'll have capital to invest ...

Posted by: Beau at April 23, 2005 8:42 AM | Permalink

But how is stand-alone different from vanity press? Current TV's call for amateur video is just public access with better (or not) lighting. Their notion that viewers can't influence content is about 20 years out of date. Bunim-Murray has made a fortune out of viewers who become cast members (case in point: everyone on Real World grew up watching Real World).
And as for: "Enterprising niche sites, iVillage, for instance, might feature the regular writing of a stay-at-home mother. She'll post to her own site and iVillage will take her posts as a centerpiece for discussion and comments by a larger audience she might not normally reach". But why would she want to? iVillage will put it's dead hand all over any independent blogger. If you want to read a blog by a SAHM--you'll find one without the dubious help of iVillage.

Posted by: RachelCohen at April 23, 2005 6:07 PM | Permalink

But how is stand-alone different from vanity press?

How is any published writing different, at its core, from vanity press?

No matter the medium, no matter the level of "establishment", publishing ones writing is at least partly an inherent arrogance -- you have some sense, somewhere, that what you have to contribute is worthy of people's attention.

The only reason the question is asked of "stand-alone" and not of "established" is because, well, the established press is established, is a known quantity, has existed long enough for it to have an institutional (if bruised) credibility and acceptance.

It's all vanity, somewhere inside. Doesn't mean it's worthless.

Posted by: The One True b!X [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 23, 2005 6:57 PM | Permalink

From the Intro