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

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

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

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

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

Read: Q & As

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

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

Audio: Have a Listen

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

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

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

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

Video: Have A Look

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

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

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

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

Recommended by PressThink:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Group Blogs

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

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

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

Digests & Round-ups:

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

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

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

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

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

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

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May 8, 2005

Mr. Rutten, Our Thinking Has Evolved. Has Yours?

Leonard Witt, guest blogger here. Jay is in Australia. Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times joined the death of newspapers debate by doubting PressThink's post "Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die." That debate Jay can address. Rutten also took a poke at civic journalism. My reply...

Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times writes an opinion piece with the headline: Regarding Media Don’t Print the Obit Just Yet. He says as the railroads still run today, so will print media survive into the future.

He probably is right, but think what might have been if the railroads had better understood the future and made an honest effort to build a real public transportation system within and between cities and hamlets. The public would have been better off and so might the railroads. However, maybe Rutten’s analogy is on target for journalism of the future. We’ll have big media companies carrying the heavy freight, while the public makes its own way from idea to idea.

I only bring all this up because Rutten took a poke at civic journalism. He blames talk of the news media’s demise on three things. First the ideological commentators who:

want newspapers to die because their editors just won’t print the news they want in the language they demand…
Second are the academics for whom migration from one novelty to another has become a kind of career path. For them, the death of newspapers is the next new thing, something to be endlessly parsed and conferred over — until the next new thing comes along. This is the world in which new criticism gives way to semiotics, which gives way to deconstruction, which … well, you get the point. Does anyone remember communitarism and civic journalism? No? Well, they were the last flavor of the month, and let’s not go there.

Finally he buries the lead by blaming newspaper ownership, saying:

In fact, to an extent probably impossible to determine, the most recent declines in newspaper readership may be, in some large part, a consequence of excessive cuts in promotion and circulation budgets across the industry over the last five years.

If you want to read more about that later point look to Philip Meyer, an academic with civic journalism scholarly credits, who just wrote The Vanishing Newspaper. Or turn to Davis Buzz Merritt, co-founded of the civic journalism movement, and read his new book Knightfall.

What Rutten fails to realize is that much of the criticism and constructive ideas that grew out of public or civic journalism are still very much alive today, albeit with a slightly more evolved DNA. Its advocates have seen the opportunities embedded in the new technologies, and seized them, circumventing reluctant and often anti-intellectual newsrooms.

To follow that civic journalism continuum just look at what Jay Rosen is doing right here at PressThink. In the past Rutten and his ilk could write him off with their anti-academic slurs. But now in the era of We Media, it hardly matters what they think, or a least it matters a lot less.

I also will point Rutten to Jan Schaffer, the former director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, she now leads the J-Lab and is helping build citizen journalism models for the future.

Also Ken Sands, a long-time public journalism practitioner, now is in front of using new technologies to help newspapers and their audiences connect, just as he tried in civic journalism. Mr. Rutten, Ken Sands’ thinking has evolved. Has yours?

So why am I having this argument? After all Dave Winer, the who man helped make weblogs and now podcasting possible for the rest of us, said this weekend at BlogNashville that he doesn’t think any of us in the blogosphere should measure what we are doing against the mass media. The citizen publishing, citizen narrowcasting and citizen broadcasting movement has its own momentum and should define itself.

However, I spent nearly 20 years of my life in the newspaper business. I started at a tiny weekly and worked my way up to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. I love journalism. My daughter might be entering the business too. I agree with Rutten on this, I do think the demigods and the powerful would love to have a crippled press.

However, I thought the press was failing itself too years ago, and thought that through civic journalism I could do my little part in making it more complete—more connected to the audiences it was suppose to serve. Unfortunately, the newsroom is not very self reflective, which is evident in Rutten’s column. He points to academia, conservatives, lefties, and owners with just a passing reference that he and his newsroom colleagues play a role in the bigger story, which is as Rutten notes that Los Angeles Times readerships numbers last fall dropped 6.5% Monday through Saturday and 7.9% on Sunday.

Later this week I am going to post an IM Interview with Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte, a former Los Angeles Times journalist who turned academic. In that interview she talks about how, by avoiding large segments of the public, newsrooms practice “censorship by omission.” It leaves out women, minorities and whole communities. It is a newsroom flaw.

Civic journalists have been addressing this issue for 15 years—and looking for ways to solve this and other newsroom shortcomings. Did we succeed? Not yet, in large part because the journalists are so damn stubborn, change resistant and arrogant as heard in Rutten’s snide remark about “flavor of the month”—which this month and every other month in too many newsrooms is plain vanilla.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links compiled by guest blogger Leonard Witt…

This from Erik in comments and at the L.A. Observed blog:

Meanwhile, Michael Kinsley, Tim Rutten’s colleague at the LA Times, penned this somewhat satirical op-ed piece on saving the newspaper biz in today’s (Sunday’s) Washington Post…

Note from Witt: Tim Rutten, please contact the Indianapolis Star Tribune editor Dennis R. Ryerson and tell him that civic journalism is dead. It seems he missed your memo. In a Sunday editorial about the newspaper circulation he writes in part:

At The Star, we are committed to continuing, and improving, civic journalism…

More from Witt: I thought I might add that I have been blogging at the PJNet, the site for the Public Journalism Network for about two year. Some 6,000 unique visitors come to the site each month about 500 return each day. Unlike the LA Times, my readership grows. Seems like those readers also didn’t get your message about civic journalism’s demise.

Ken Sands, who is mentioned above in the blog, comments:

I can excuse the poke at civic journalism. That’s just ignorance speaking. But trying to blame the newspaper mess on the circulation and promotion departments? That’s hysterical.

Posted by Leonard Witt at May 8, 2005 6:55 PM   Print


Meanwhile, Michael Kinsley, Tim Rutten's colleague at the LA Times, penned this somewhat satirical op-ed piece on saving the newspaper biz in today's (Sunday's) Washington Post...

Posted by: erik at May 8, 2005 11:27 PM | Permalink

Death of Newspapers

I tried to post this comment and link last night but had some trouble with the interface.

News About The Decline Of News


The real fight is about getting enough reporters on the ground who can put out enough factual information and get it into people's hands - no matter what the platform - so that citizens in a democracy can make informed choices.

I hope the New York Times decides to begin speaking even more authoritatively on issues such as these - instead of spending millions of dollars trying to spin their way into the hearts and minds of Southern Baptists.

I will bet public editor Dan Okrent his salary verses mine last year that this effort will not go very well.

I hope it does, because it is hard to have a strong America without a strong New York Times - or at least a strong press, whether it's printed on paper or not.

Maybe the best thing we could do for the future of the country is to make the reconstituted New York Times archives free oline with permanent links. Then train every child - now being left behind by the White House euphemism that substitutes for a policy - how to use a computer and read the news on the Net.

Now that might actually make a difference.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at May 9, 2005 2:14 PM | Permalink

I can excuse the poke at civic journalism. That's just ignorance speaking. But trying to blame the newspaper mess on the circulation and promotion departments? That's hysterical.

Posted by: Ken Sands at May 9, 2005 2:16 PM | Permalink

From the Intro