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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 24, 2005

Tim Porter Lets Out a Roar

"More simply, professional life isn't turning out quite the way these journalists thought it would - and it makes them mad." Tim Porter, writing about his former colleagues in the American newsroom.

Most people go to J-school hoping to get into the newsroom. Tim Porter started journalism school the day he left the newsroom. Porter spent most of his career in daily newspapers, winding up as a top editor at the San Francisco Examiner. Then he quit, started his weblog (First Draft) and began serious study of the world he had left, including the people he had worked with— editors, reporters, photographers.

The first time I sunk into First Draft and saw what it was, I knew I would be a loyal reader. The title (which I love) comes from one of the clichés we have to suffer about reporting— that it is “the first rough draft of history.” This is a slogan I have always hated. It is both pretentious and unbelievably lax (“just a draft, right…?”)

But First Draft by Tim Porter was actually about a man’s humbling. Or at least: initially so.

“I practiced journalism, but I knew almost nothing about it.” It’s one of my favorite sentences in blogging. It appears in Porter’s Eliminating the Bimbo Factor (September 17, 2003.) Porter means that he knew how to do the job, but not how to understand it while doing it. This is an extremely important distinction. I have never been able to communicate it as well as he did in that post.

“I had precious little information about my own profession, about its best practitioners (or greatest charlatans), about its history and role in the development and preservation of democracy, about its standards or even about the people I intended to inform— the community around me.”

First Draft, I realized, was about a man humbled by a lack of knowledge who decides to go out and get some. He approaches this task with a certain intensity, and even anger, because it is revealing of his own career— in fact his own illusions. With Porter, the education is coming after the experience, an “explosion” that also brought us Jeff Jarvis as Buzzmachine.

That’s why First Draft is such a brilliant title for a blog by Tim Porter. He’s writing in the voice of a second professional (a thinker, writer, critic, consult-er) “against” the first— the newsroom pro who thought he knew a lot about journalism but got that part wrong. The pro knew how to get the paper out, and justify it as better than it was.

So in a typical Porter post there’s the scrupulous and passionate discussion of the latest data showing how deep the rot runs in newspaper journalism, and, under that, another story plays. A writer named Tim Porter is doing a second draft of his own history in journalism, and this time around he is richer in arguments, insights and facts.

Where his newsroom illusions were his old colleagues still are. And so he begins to write manifestos back at them— literally. Quality Manifesto: Good Enough is Not (Dec 4, 2002.)

Newspapers are not the victims of homicide but of suicide. They are not dying at the hands of demographic changes or emergent technologies. They are killing themselves with clichéd writing, formulaic stories, hackneyed photographs and adherence to a self-destructive, journalistic form that emphasizes breadth of news coverage over depth.

Porter thought it was easy to get lost in social trends and their analysis. The newsroom was failing for reasons of its own. Porter said it straight out, and directly to his former colleagues. You aren’t good enough. That is why you are having problems.

Newspapers don’t have a societal problem; they have a quality problem. In an age of increasing public sophistication – and diversification – about media consumption, newspapers, for the most part, continue to produce a bland mixture of agenda and event coverage, he-said-she-said government news and an established array of feature stories focused on predictable characters who no longer elicit sympathy or surprise from readers. Whether editors plaster this daily spackle on paper or spread it on the Internet, the public is not buying. It is no longer good enough.

On April 13 Porter told us about the editors of America at their annual meeting discussing—no lie—“the future of newspapers,” yet only a handful of them knew who Craig Newmark was or what Craigslist was about. Not that he was surprised: “Most top editors at newspapers don’t spend much time online,” he said. (See Poynter’s Steve Outing on the episode with Craigslist.)

The reason I am telling you all this is that Tim Porter’s journey reached some sort of crossroads lately. Out of crisis came clarity. And on Friday, (April 22) Porter wrote his greatest post, The Mood of the Newsroom, in which you will find all that I have been describing. But it’s more than that. It’s the result of everything Porter has been learning in his J-school. Here’s one section. The rest you must read, if you have any feeling at all for his story:

Yes, my friends in the newsroom, there’s less money and there are fewer people. That’s not really your fault - although it wasn’t TV news and the web and shifting demographics alone that drove the readers away. Boring stories, formulaic content and refusal to change with the times are all also culprits.

But, I am sorry, my friends in the newsroom, much of the rest is your fault. The journalism, the leadership, the mandate to reflect and engage your community, the necessity to make tough, but creative decisions in the face of conflict, as all industries must do from time to time - those are all your responsibilities and you have abdicated them.

The obdurance and avoidance endemic in newsrooms rests on a bedrock belief that the “problems” at their newspapers are best solved with more bodies or a return to a more “traditional” form of journalism.

This belief exists in every newsroom I’ve been in during the last 18 months and while it is certainly understandable - most people prefer a known past, however glorified it may be, to an uncertain future, regardless of the promise it may hold - I believe it is dangerously destructive. It focuses on what was rather than on what could be. It is a virtual “benchmark” against which all is measured, usually unfavorably.

Even younger journalists too young to recall the halcyon days of the press invoke phrases like “staffing situation” and “lack of resources” when explaining certain newsroom condition. They have drunk the newsroom Kool-Aid and ingested the defensive culture.

It’s truthtelling at its best because Tim Porter shares every dream these people have— still. The Mood of the Newsroom is sullen and dim. Porter’s second draft shines. It’s time to check in with his weblog if you care about saving what was good in the old newsroom code.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Jeff Jarvis agrees: Tim Porter’s best post ever. See The future of journalism is not its past.

That we’re at a tipping point has been Jarvis’s theme lately, especially after Rupert Murdoch’s “many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably, complacent” speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. (Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit says of the tipping point: “I think he’s right.”)

Now add The Economist to the list of those who agree. “[Murdoch’s] speech—astonishing not so much for what it said as for who said it—may go down in history as the day that the stodgy newspaper business officially woke up to the new realities of the internet age,” said the magazine in Yesterday’s papers. “What is clear is that the control of news—what constitutes it, how to prioritise it and what is fact—is shifting subtly from being the sole purview of the news provider to the audience itself.”

My contribution to that literature is Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die (March 29).

Want understand why people read blog? Compare this account in the Christian Science Monitor, “Newspapers struggle to avoid their own obit,” to Porter’s post. They treat the same subject, and were published three days apart. The article is a good one by industry’s standards. Randy Dotinga did the best he could within established newswriting conventions. And Porter’s post blows away Dotinga’s account.

People will say I speak apples to oranges. I no longer argue with that. I treat it as a step one. Step two: because we have the Web, people can compare apples to oranges, and ask: which am I missing more? In that world, the comparison is apt, and we can use it to understand why people read blogs.

In American Journalism Review, Tim Porter asked why newspapers even do endorsements. See What’s the Point?

Ken Smith (Weblogs in Higher Education): “As Jay Rosen interprets it, then, First Draft is the log of Tim Porter’s self-education. At the same time, it is place where he creates a new public voice. It is no accident that the two go together in a weblog.”

Porter has been writing a lot about the work of the Readership Institute, which has been trying to figure out how to draw younger readers back to the newspaper, and testing prototypes. Read industry veteran Alan Mutter on lessons learned: Getting smart about dumbed-down news. Mutter was once the assistant managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle; Porter had the same title at the San Francisco Examiner.

Robert Andrews in Wired: Vive les Blogs! “Spurred by a culture of popular expression and debate that can be traced back to France’s 17th-century salons, the French are embracing weblogs with a greater zeal than anyone on the European continent.”

Ken Sands of the Spokesman-Review is talking sense at Morph:

So here’s the problem with most blogs being created by news sites — they simply add one more place for people to go to find information, one more RSS feed in the aggregator. People don’t need more sources of information, they need fewer.

Before you launch any new initiatives on the web, ask yourself how this is going to make life easier for your readers.

More on The Stand Alone Journalist by Chris Nolan. The weekend brought this commentary from Linda Seebach in the Rocky Mountain News: JOURNALISM EXISTS IN THE MESSAGE, NOT THE MEDIUM. “Ed Morrissey, Captain Ed at the Web log called Captain’s Quarters, certainly was doing journalism when he blew open a Canadian corruption scandal that was under a judicial publication ban in Canada.”

Katharine Seelye, media beat writer for the New York Times, examines Arianna Huffington’s plans for the Huffington Post:

She has lined up more than 250 of what she calls “the most creative minds” in the country to write a group blog that will range over topics from politics and entertainment to sports and religion. It is essentially a nonstop virtual talk show that will be part of a Web site that will also serve up breaking news around the clock.

Among those creative minds: Walter Cronkite, David Mamet, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, James Fallows, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Sen. Jon Corzine, Gwynneth Paltrow, Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer, Mortimer B. Zuckerman, David Geffen, Barry Diller, Tina Brown and Harry Evans. I am quoted by Seelye thusly: “These aren’t exactly people who lack voice or visibility in our culture. Gwyneth Paltrow has no incentive to speak candidly and alienate future ticket buyers. Barry Diller doesn’t have time to hunt down juicy links for his readers. And where does Jon Corzine fit into any conversation those two might be having?”

Ed Cone’s reaction: “Barf.”

See also Gothamist’s Jen Chung on it, “Celebs to Form Group Blog That’ll Give Other Bloggers Much to Blog About.”

I received this letter from a young journalist, Scott Heiser, at the University of Colorado:

Mr. Porter and Mr. Rosen:

As I read the prose you’ve both written, I’m left confused. As a
young journalist, I’ve fallen in love with the profession more than I
thought I could ever love something. The sentiments you are
expressing leave me with an eternal feeling of searching, “So what do
I do?”

Everyday when I pick up my newspaper, I can’t help but marvel at the
product in my hands. It’s not that I can’t see the “amount of anger
and hostility, of distrust and suspicion, of inertia and ennui that
pollutes the journalistic environment in these newsrooms” coming
through the pages, but in the end, it still smacks of an act of
devotion, of love.

Nostalgic? Perhaps, but is the ideology sea change in journalism to
profit margins over well, journalism in the Murdoch-era not at least
as responsible?

Even so, and your diagnosis is apt, that “although it wasn’t TV news
and the web and shifting demographics alone that drove the readers
away. Boring stories, formulaic content and refusal to change with the
times are all also culprits,” - my question stands. What am I - the
one sucked in by mythology of Tarbell and Hersh just the same - to do?…

There’s more. Read the rest—and my reply—in comments.

Seth Finkelstein of Infothought isn’t a PressThink participant anymore. How sad. In fact, he’s so unhappy he will only link to Google’s cache of PressThink, and not the actual blog. Ouch. “When a lead dog of a pack congratulates you on your help in the pack’s hunt, that’s a good time to start checking yourself for fleas,” writes Seth. It’s a reference to this kind of thing from Hugh Hewitt.

Posted by Jay Rosen at April 24, 2005 12:07 AM   Print


Working in a newsroom on the Peninsula (California) I can concur with the Porter's mood-description. And yet, the fellow reporters and copyeditors I personally know are not as hackneyed as individuals but only as an amalgam.

Oddly enough whenever something creative, different, even "sparkling" starts to cross our desks or come from our metaphorical pens, it is toned down and blanched for consumption by the managing editor who toes the line dictated by the publisher.

How much of this is newsroom culture or corporate culture that Porter critiques? I see often see optimism among the ranks (reprimanded again and again, but still there, phoenix-like) but skepticism and caution in the management.

It isn't that I disagree (and "staff situations" and "resources" should not be the catch-all excuse for poor creation, just the potential ease at which it can be executed) with Porter's conclusion, but is the barb aimed at the right target? The culture of the newsroom is schizophrenic -- serving two (or more) masters. Business and news.


Posted by: anorpheus at April 24, 2005 8:21 AM | Permalink

Tim Porter, I think, would agree, and so would I, that newsroom culture is a wounded, angry and wailing beast that defeats honest changes.

In his Mood post he said both publishers and journalists were responsible:

The working stiffs, these angry ink-stained wretches who once provided the passion and the personality to newspapers, have strapped on the same blinders as their penurious publishers, who persist in milking the highest possible margins from their businesses rather than investing in the technology, ideas, partnerships and people who can reinvent their business and editorial models.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 24, 2005 10:24 AM | Permalink

Jay ... Thanks. If I wasn't humbled before, I am now. ... Tim

Posted by: Tim Porter at April 24, 2005 10:51 AM | Permalink

The Readership Institute produced a wonderful piece of research in their 2000-2001 "Impact" study, noting that newsroom culture was a key component in the complexity of newspaper readership. I wrote about this in an essay in October 2003 called "The Defensive Newsroom." Thanks to the Long Tail, it's the most read piece on my Website.

Fear is a corroding thread that reaches out far beyond the newsroom in which it exists. It touches everything with which it comes into contact, and that includes the audience of a television news show. If our newspaper brethren can safely conclude that defensive newsroom cultures turn away readers, why can't we see that it does the same thing to television news viewers? People who consistently come to work in fear of their jobs simply cannot do a good job of reporting and presenting the news.

I continue to believe that we've dug the hole in which we live, and that many -- if not all -- of the reactions and responses we hear from the MSM in the wake of change are actually fear in disguise.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at April 24, 2005 10:54 AM | Permalink

I have to agree with Anorpheus. Once a long time ago, when I left magazines to join newspapers, the editors told me I was too creative and needed to tone down my writing and ideas. I did. It was the old editors, the ones who'd grown up in the business in the 1970s who were clinging to ways of newspapering past. After three newspapers, and one failed job interview because I was "too opinionated" for the other edtiors, I gave up on newspapers.

It's so sad because the most talented people I worked with over the years have also left newspapers...for the same reasons I did.

Posted by: JennyD at April 24, 2005 10:59 AM | Permalink

Jay, thanks for these series of posts!

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 12:04 PM | Permalink

"...there are also forward-thinking reporters and editors and photographers who envision and are working to create a journalistic future built on new story forms, deeper community connections and more truth-telling and watch-dogging." - Tim Porter, First Draft, April 22, 2005 (emphasis mine)

Very idealistic, in the abstract. But God help us if the liberal ideologues disguised as impartial journalists, who populate so many of our newsrooms, intend to bless us with more of their own personal brand of "truth" and self-appointed "watch-dogging" of the kind practiced by, say, CBS' 60 Minutes. Let's hope such "reporting" doesn't continue to be regarded as objective.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at April 24, 2005 1:16 PM | Permalink

To Trained Auditor:

Is that auditor and in 'auditing accounts' or an auditor as in 'a listener'?

Exactly where do you find all those "liberal ideologues disguised as impartial journalists, who populate so many of our newsrooms." Being liberal myself I can tell you they are not identifiable from their writings.

In General:
This sentence pretty much expresses my opinion of most newpapers and magazines - "clichéd writing, formulaic stories, hackneyed photographs and adherence to a self-destructive, journalistic form that emphasizes breadth of news coverage over depth." My opinion of television news is far worse.

I just hope the "creative, different, even "sparkling"" referred to in one of the comments doesn't imply making news sound like a novel as some recent articles in Science News have done.

I find it difficult to continue reading a science article that starts out comparing criminal justice system to the egg laying practices of bees.

What I would like to see is good, basic and direct writing overflowing with accurate in depth information presented in a well organized format.

Posted by: Gail Davis at April 24, 2005 1:59 PM | Permalink

To me, phrases like the "liberal ideologues disguised as impartial journalists, who populate so many of our newsrooms" are a kind of music, sort of like chanting. We wouldn't ask about the truth content of a Sousa march, and that's how I treat statements like TA's-- the right's favorite music.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 24, 2005 3:42 PM | Permalink

To me, phrases like the "liberal ideologues disguised as impartial journalists, who populate so many of our newsrooms" are a kind of music, sort of like chanting. We wouldn't ask about the truth content of a Sousa march, and that's how I treat statements like TA's-- the right's favorite music.

Damn, you beat me to it.
I would only add, "and a little Sousa goes a long way..."

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 24, 2005 10:04 PM | Permalink

Gail, this kind of auditor, i.e. trained to find whether assertions of fact are both reasonable and substantiated.

Jay and Steve: It's an honor to be considered just one instrument, among many increasingly heard, in the orchestra playing what we hope will be a requiem for the currently dominant media.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at April 24, 2005 11:17 PM | Permalink

Dominant? Over what?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 24, 2005 11:21 PM | Permalink

I meant the ideological bent that predominates in the most influential (dominant) media organizations. Which I believe can be fairly characterized as liberal, based on admission against interest by some of its chief practitioners.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at April 24, 2005 11:35 PM | Permalink

Okay, okay. I gotcha now, TA. Now can you play "Battle Hymn of the Republic?" I always liked that song in grade school. And you would agree, I think, that your truth is marching on.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 24, 2005 11:44 PM | Permalink

From Moonbats to Wing-Nuts

Another way to look at bloggers who "fisk" and torment the "MSM" is simply the discomforting of the comfortable, especially when they make mistakes. Journalists don't like to think of themselves as the comfortable, or powerful. Some are, most aren't. The multi-millionaire talking heads on network TV, and the less affluent on cable and talk radio deserve the most attention if wealth and editorial control are the measure.

There's probably a parallel, and not necessarily a flattering one, between journalists afflicting newsmakers and bloggers afflicting journalists. ...

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 2:22 AM | Permalink

I received this letter today from a young journalist, Scott Heiser, at the University of Colorado.

Mr. Porter and Mr. Rosen,

As I read the prose you've both written, I'm left confused. As a young journalist, I've fallen in love with the profession more than I thought I could ever love something. The sentiments you are expressing leave me with an eternal feeling of searching, "So what do I do?"

Everyday when I pick up my newspaper, I can't help but marvel at the product in my hands. It's not that I can't see the "amount of anger and hostility, of distrust and suspicion, of inertia and ennui that pollutes the journalistic environment in these newsrooms" coming through the pages, but in the end, it still smacks of an act of devotion, of love.

Nostalgic? Perhaps, but is the ideology sea change in journalism to profit margins over well, journalism in the Murdoch-era not at least as responsible?

Even so, and your diagnosis is apt, that "although it wasn't TV news and the web and shifting demographics alone that drove the readers away. Boring stories, formulaic content and refusal to change with the times are all also culprits," - my question stands. What am I - the one sucked in by mythology of Tarbell and Hersh just the same - to do?

I respect the challenge you've offered beyond the words I possess. It is noble, and it is edifying.

Yet I still have problems with what is being proposed. If journalism, the religion of it, is not the function of the media business, but instead profits are, is it any wonder that people stop reading because they've got clear perceptions about where the ethics stop and start: $$$.

You've both been there, been through the muck of budget cuts and this fanciful attachment. You've both felt compelled to make clarion calls to the mainstream media about just where things are going. I understand why it's not just as plausible for journalism as an institution in the democracy, to make a stand, a real one, and say to readers, publishers, advertisers, et al that there are certain principles we will not compromise on - there is always an incentive TO compromise for better ratings or a better circ. But I don't believe that one must metamorphize the institution itself. That case seems to be overstated. The internals are killing journalism, and it does follow that internals could save it.

Is obstinance the way out of the abyss of irrelevance? Absolutely not. But if blame is to be proportioned for the crimes committed against journalism, the willingness to descend deeper and deeper into the realms of the possible to grab more market share has got to be partially to blame. The spineless nature of a journalistic industry that is mostly worried about getting paid than about getting the news is there too.

The "what if" exercises are useful, but it seems to me that certain tenets will never change, and most importantly, why would we want them to? Why would we ever want to betray the essential mission of truth-telling? Perhaps it is not about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted anymore, but then what is "it" about? I write a column for my paper here in Boulder and I've narrowed "it" down to trying to engage people. I don't know that writing is capable of doing better.

I don't mean to play into the "defensive culture" and certainly the boilerplate process stories are hurting more than helping, but I'm still left just so utterly confused. It's not that I don't want to change, and am not excited for the future of journalism, but that I'm so lost here. I don't quite understand what is so different from the newspaper's commitment to "truth-telling and watch-dogging" and that of blogs or other mediums.

At the end of the day, journalism is about the doing, the production of something new and interesting, and I hope this discussion brings about something wholly useful for news producers and consumers alike. What that may look like, I have no clue. But I'm guessing you both believe it doesn't look much like an upside-down pyramid.


Scott Hesier
University of Colorado-Boulder

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 25, 2005 7:55 AM | Permalink

Well, Scott, I haven't "been there through the muck of budget cuts" and other indignities, in the sense of working for a daily newspaper that went through it. Like you, I am a student of these changes.

I do, however, have experience in going into newsrooms--as a speaker, a man with an idea--trying to sound an alarm and often running into a brick wall. I did it for ten years, 1989-99, and made about 50 newsroom visits, plus dozens of professional conferences and seminars.

I don't mean to suggest the responses were uniform, but I know a good deal from personal experience about the nasty reflexes in what Porter calls the "defensive culture" of newsrooms. (I can recall the folded arms and rolled shirt sleeves of the reporter at the Miami Herald who informed me that the editors don't really make up the front page-- events in the world do!)

What to do? A full answer could fill a book. Don't become like these guys (the "assembled editors") so ill-informed and out-of-touch with their own predicament. That's criminal. Don't adopt the victim's mentality that Porter so vividy describes. Educate your older colleagues about the Net. Grab the first opportunity you have to work on the newspaper's Web product. But don't take a job at any place stuck in the "re-purposing of content" stage.

Realize that while there is a conflict is between profit-taking and public service (no one is disputing that, yet your letter seems to suggest that "someone" is) there is also a conflict between public service and the defensive, hostile culture Tim writes about. And appreciate, too, how there's a conflict between the "influence model" of profit-making in newspaper journalism, as described by Phil Meyer, and the current strategy, which is profit-taking but not future-making, and actually destroys influence.

As for falling in love with daily journalism-- there's nothing wrong with that. It might be the only thing that saves the situation. But you should learn to separate that love from the production routines that make up the daily rituals in journalism. These are sometimes defended as if they were the thing itself, but they're just the way one generation of news workers learned to do it.

Finally, truth-telling is of course the first commitment in journalism. No one is saying otherwise, and no one is saying "times change, buddy, get a new commitment." If we describe the core values of journalism at a sufficiently high level of abstraction--truth, accuracy, fairness--then we can all be traditionalists and go tut-tutting around about how "some things never change," and "people will always need..."

But don't mistake that for thinking, okay?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 25, 2005 9:18 AM | Permalink

Actually Jay, I don't dispute there is friction between "between profit-taking and public service." The idea that there must be a conflict between the interestes of profit-making and public service is just another "Sousa" march.
Journalistic organizations hum it [it is my observation] because it's easier than understanding the needs of advertising clients and addressing them while maintaining their public service mission.

Posted by: laurence haughton at April 26, 2005 12:00 PM | Permalink

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