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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

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

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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.

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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 13, 2005

In Praise of Daniel Okrent

"The public editor's job is a deeply political one. Rather than regret this he plunged in, changing the way the public is represented within the newsroom. That means tampering with the journalism gods. But they were angry with the New York Times, so it had to be done."

Ultimately Daniel Okrent will have had more influence on the New York Times than the notorious Jayson Blair.

Although his 18-month appointment as public editor was supposed to be a trial period, there was no agonizing about whether the position should be continued. Everyone knew it should be. Everyone knew it would be. And on April 5th, the Times simply named a new public editor, Byron E. Calame. He will officially take over in June. Okrent’s last column will be May 22nd. It should be an interesting one.

I see Okrent’s lasting influence in four main areas:

1.) He changed the way readers were represented at the Times; this is to my mind his most important and far-reaching accomplishment, and I discuss it more below.

2.) Executive editor Bill Keller created the job (and he had his own ideas about how it should work, which have been vindicated) but Okrent created the “office” of public editor, with various procedures for responsiveness. For example: an e-mail address ( and a phone number (212-556-7652) that actually work.

3.) He listened (and responded) to critics of the Times more carefully than people at the newspaper thought necessary— even the most partisan critics. He once wrote, “Closing one’s ears to the complaints of partisans would also entail closing one’s mind to the substance of their arguments.” This he declined to do. In fact, he said his primary advice to Barney Calame would be to “engage with the paper’s critics.”

I’ve had incredibly valuable, and frequently fascinating, conversations with Times detractors ranging from FAIR to CAMERA to Accuracy in Media; with people who find the paper anti-Catholic, anti-Labor, or anti-Whatever. The practice has done two things for me: it’s enabled me to empathize with the critics, but also with those who daily endure the assaults of the critics.

4.) One Sunday morning he called the New York Times a liberal newspaper. And even though he meant “…on social issues only!” it was still a profound moment in the history of the Times— and I believe a liberating one. He said it was his most important column and he’s right.

In appreciating Okrent, it’s good to go back to the reasoning that held across the 36 years in which the New York Times refused to appoint an ombudsman. It went like this: “Every editor should represent the interests of the reader, and respond to complaints if they have merit. That’s what good editors do. We have good editors. We need no ombudsman.”

There the matter rested until the deeds of Jayson Blair, which led to the Siegal Report in 2003, which recommended the ombudsman. Although it initially divided the committee, the old argument that readers were adequately represented by the system of internal controls was defeated in favor of a more “decisive symbol of accountability,” as Allan Siegal put it.

“The New York Times had a firmly entrenched, almost bitter opposition to the appointment of an ombudsman, and we turned around on that,” he later said. Yes, as a matter of policy. But Okrent still had to overcome this opposition in the day-to-day sense, and on the whole he succeeded.

It should not be forgotten that while Blair’s crimes were shocking enough, and the lapses that permitted them more so, the thing that was truly shocking to people at the Times, and in the rest of journalism, was that readers who might have alerted the newspaper to what was happening either gave up or didn’t bother because they assumed it wouldn’t do any good. No one was listening. (See “Blair’s Victims: That Helpless Feeling.”) As publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. said:

One of the things that I found most upsetting about the Jayson Blair ordeal is that we received so few phone calls from those individuals who were mistreated in his deeply flawed stories. They just generally assumed that newspapers operated that way. They expected that the editors wouldn’t care.

A rogue reporter could be explained. The collapse of internal controls was harder to explain, but that could be fixed with internal reforms. Yet that feeling among readers—“the editors wouldn’t care”—could not be explained, or refuted; and there was no easy way to fix it. This was a complete shock.

It led not only to the public editor’s position, but to a second Siegal committee that Keller created to search for ways to improve accountability, trust, and openness. That report (posted here as a pdf file) came back last week; and it has a number of imaginative recommendations in it, like this one under the heading “enlarge our working definition of what constitutes news.”

Our news coverage needs to embrace unorthodox views and contrarian opinions and to portray lives both more radical and more conservative than those most of us experience. We need to listen carefully to colleagues who are at home in realms that are not familiar to most of us.

Or this one on the way “cumulative coverage” can reflect hidden assumptions:

Though we have our lapses, individual news stories on emotional topics like abortion, gun control, the death penalty and gay marriage are reported and edited with great care, to avoid any impression of bias. Nonetheless, when numerous articles use the same assumption as a point of departure, that monotone can leave the false impression that the paper has chosen sides… despite the strict divide between editorial pages and news pages, The Times can come across as an advocate.

Or this one on how “framing” issues in one way excludes others:

The public editor found that the overall tone of our coverage of gay marriage, as one example, “approaches cheerleading.” By consistently framing the issue as a civil rights matter—gays fighting for the right to be treated like everyone else—we failed to convey how disturbing the issue is in many corners of American social, cultural and religious life.

“The public editor found…” This gets to the Okrent effect that may be the most lasting. There were a lot of ways he could have done the job; after all, he was inventing it from scratch. The key choice he made actually began with the choice Keller made to appoint an outsider. Not only had Okrent never worked at the Times; he had no newspaper background to speak of. This meant he could never speak with the authority of daily newsoom experience, which is virtually the only kind of authority newspaper journalists respect on questions of practice.

He didn’t have that. So what did he have? Okrent grasped right away that while having space in the paper, and an 18-month appointment from Keller gave him a certain power to shame and expose, his only source of authority, which is a different thing, lay with readers themselves, and his capacity actually to represent them.

His most intelligent move, in my opinion, was to define himself not as a colleague with the public editor’s job, or as an outside critic, but as a kind of super-reader, or “reader with access.” Meaning that unlike you and I, he could get answers, and put those answers in the paper. In Jacques Steinberg’s article announcing Okrent’s appointment, this philosophy was already on view:

Unlike most of the reader representatives at other newspapers, Mr. Okrent said, he does not intend to write internal memorandums to the newspaper staff, saying the readers were his constituency.

Part of creating the office of public editor was working out the procedures by which he could interrupt busy people, pose annoying questions and get replies from editors, reporters and bosses at the Times. Another part was taming the tide of incoming e-mails and phone calls so that his sense of what his contituency was worried about could be empirically grounded. Thus:

Dan Okrent, the public editor, told the committee that when readers complain to him, anonymous sourcing is the No. 1 killer of our credibility. We cannot afford to ignore that finding.

Indeed. And they could not afford to ignore Okrent because he had successfully tapped his only source of authority. Everything journalists at the Times do they allegedly due in the name of the Times reader. But that is an abstraction, and all too many journalists like it that way. The Reader as a distant god to be served is a way of not dealing with the messy responses of actual readers— sometimes called “real people” by newsroom inhabitants.

When the second Siegal committee tested other channels the Times had set up for receiving complaints or feedback from readers, it found “dismal results.” Meaning: no reply most of the time from the various desks responsible. But those who have tested the public editor’s office have generally found the opposite. Okrent or his office actually answer. This has become a standard the newspaper as a whole wants to meet; and there are many on the staff who do meet it— but not enough of them.

Numerous bloggers and critics of the paper—including myself—can testify to what Donald Luskin called a “productive relationship” with Okrent, who seems genuinely interested in what we have to say. (Ask Robert Cox.) This in itself is new. We’ll have to establish that all over again with Byron E. Calame, but I am hopeful it will happen.

I write today in praise of Daniel Okrent because he did a good job, but mostly because of the way he defined his job: the reader with total access, the writer weighing every word, a thinker willing to go outside the Times for better ways to understand it. He became that decisive symbol of accountability; the experiment has, I think, been a success.

Okrent and Bill Keller knew that the public editor’s job is a deeply political one. Rather than regret this he plunged in, changing the way the public is represented within the newsroom. That means tampering with the journalism gods. But they were angry with the New York Times, so it had to be done.

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

Jeff Jarvis seconds the motion:

Dan did more than change The Times, he changed journalism. He reversed the flow in the pipe and showed the good journalism that can come from conversation.

What made him different from other ombudsman was that he did not just try to represent or explain or slap the paper; he made the public an equal in the conversation and he pushed both sides to do better.

Armando at Daily Kos roundly disagrees. See Praise For Okrent? Logrolling? “Jay Rosen is respected by many, including mostly me, at dailykos. But he blew a lot of my respect with his paean to Daniel Okrent,” says Armando.

Personally, I felt completely unrepresented by Okrent, whose assistants fired off insulting and cruel e-mails to readers with complaints, who personally penned an insulting column (now behind a firewall) attacking critics from the Left and who never, to my knowledge, addressed a substantive criticism from the Left.

Daniel Okrent tells “On the Media” about his column calling the Times a liberal newspaper:

I probably did not do the paper as much service as I would have liked to with that column, because by the very headline, and the first line, which was: “Of course it is,” I handed the paper’s enemies something that could be taken radically out of context. I made it too quotable. I believe that, as I wrote at great length in that column, that the Times is on certain issues, social issues, a liberal newspaper as a result of the place that it is published from and the nature of the people, the backgrounds of the people who work at the Times. It’s not because somebody is sitting upstairs and saying let’s make this a liberal newspaper. It is a product of its place and of its people, and I think it’s really important for the paper to recognize that and recognize how it is perceived as a result of that.

New York Daily News reporter Derek Rose at his blog:

Our readers will continue to be our most important fact-checkers — and we need to make it easier for them to reach us. Publishing email addresses isn’t nearly good enough. We need to be interacting publicly with our readers — hopefully assuaging not only the concerns of an individual reader , but also demonstrating to everyone who cares to listen that we take customers’ complaints seriously.

Previous PressThink posts that bear on this one:

Some Blogging and Citizen Journalism Items…

I’m still in Oz at the moment, exploring life beyond the International Date Line (weird, weird) but on Monday, May 16 I’ll be joining in the big Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York, which is bringing a lot of influentials to town. Read Micah Sifrey’s description of what’s in store. I’ll be on the closing panel with Chuck Defeo, who ran the Bush/Cheney ‘04 online campaign; Tucker Eskew, deputy assistant to President Bush until 2003 and now a communications strategist; Arianna Huffington, fresh from the debut of The Huffington Post; Jeff Jarvis, whom you know, moderated by Jennifer 8. Lee of the New York Times.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has started a new weblog covering the world of blogs and assigned a top-notch reporter to it, Daniel Rubin. His official debut is Monday, May 16. But it’s up now and it’s called Blinq. “I cover the blogosphere,” Rubin writes, “trawling the nearly 10 million sites of vaunted wisdom and unvarnished pablum so you don’t have to.” Good luck, Daniel.

And at the opposite end of the Keystone State, Pittsburgh Dish has debuted. It’s a local blog started by three journalists. I’ll let them describe what they are up to:

First and foremost — oh, hell, exclusively — we hope, though trial and error, to be a resource to our community. With any luck we will achieve this by writing about local issues that escape the eye of traditional media, of which we were once a part at both daily and alternative weekly newspapers as well as the odd magazine or two. The Nation, Rolling Stone and the New York Times are not among these publications. And with even more luck, we will achieve this goal with a bit of humor, panache if you prefer, style and, when the occasion calls for it, gravitas. We hope that last thing is rarely required.

Journalists afraid to be serious? That would be funny. Anyway, warmest welcome, Dishers. You guys need a local bloggers list.

Wow. Voices of San Diego is a serious development in nonprofit, Web-based local journalism and citizen’s media. Read their about page— intriguing stuff. See Steve Outing’s take on why it matters. And check out Sarah Colombo’s piece in Online Journalism Review. There’s newspaper journalism in the project’s DNA. I agree with Outing: “Such non-profit news organizations could in the future fill a void left by the slow erosion of the newspaper industry.”

Witt Note: Dan Gillmor has launched Bayosphere, his new community blog. See more at PJNet. The Spokane mayor discussion is part of the first set of posts.

Posted by Jay Rosen at May 13, 2005 10:04 AM   Print


Daniel Okrent's most valuable contribution was his criticism of Judy Miller -- which was more than anyone else at the Times was willing to do. The mea partial culpa the Times did on the WMD story, carefully crafted to protect Miller, was nauseating. Only Okrent had the cajones to place the blame where it was deserved.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at May 13, 2005 12:56 PM | Permalink

I hope Okrent had an impact outside of the NYT.

I hope he elevated the position of Ombudsman for many news organizations that do not have (and may have refused to have) one. There are too few and hopefully Okrent has changed some minds.

I hope he elevated the position of Ombudsman for other Ombudsmen/women and Readers' Advocates. It might be interesting to survey other Ombudsmen to see if they consider his performance a model, or if they have heard from their readers, "Why aren't you more like Okrent?"

I may have missed it, but did Okrent ever discuss a News Council? Could there be synergy between Ombudsmen and a local/regional/national News Council? It came to mind again when the second Siegal report stated, "The newspaper should improve our interaction with television and radio programs." Why not on a News Council that brings together citizens, newspaper, radio and TV?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 13, 2005 1:18 PM | Permalink

Points well taken on the job of public editor, Jay, and grudgingly I will agree since it is, like being president, "hard, very hard."

I will still argue, however, that anonymous sources is not the number one issue for "readers."

I'm still waiting on the column which reports exactly how well The Times is doing on the pertinent issues that led to Jayson Blair?

Such a report may not have been part of the original mission - perhaps one indication that the plan might have had flaws?

But hey, it's no doubt very hard work.

Posted by: fast2write [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 13, 2005 2:17 PM | Permalink

One of "the pertinent issues that led to Jayson Blair" was that the Times had stopped listening to the complaints of both readers and persons writen about -- and in turn many had given up complaining.
If Okrent did anything, by boldly holding his colleagues up to scrutiny -- often in the face of considerable hostility from those colleagues -- he invited readers and sources to do the same.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 13, 2005 3:46 PM | Permalink

So what are Okrent's plans for the future?

I hope he stays in the business as a freelancer. We need him.

Posted by: Anna at May 13, 2005 3:49 PM | Permalink

Anna: Okrent will have a fellowship at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, and he plans to devote himself to a book on America during prohibition. I suspect he will speak out from time to time on press issues.

Tim (Sisyphus): The News Council is a dead letter. I was at a meeting of journalism bigwigs recently, which included Steve Lovelady, Dan Okrent, Lou Boccardi (former head of the AP, who was part of the Dan Rather truth commission) and others; the news council came up. The reaction was instant revulsion. That's always been the reaction. Okrent was familiar with the history; but I don't think he ever wrote about it.

It's not a subject on which you can have rational discourse with most American journalists. They consider it a step on the road to licensing, or just a bad idea. A hundred times I have heard the reasons why the National News Council didn't work and had to die. But that doesn't explain why in its place there had to be... nothing.

That decision--to replace it with nothing--was a critical moment in the life and times of the American press, but the consequences did not show up until much later.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 13, 2005 5:27 PM | Permalink

Jayson Blair is piffle! He was a brown-noser who got caught -- a failed "Phoebe." SO WHAT?

Jayson Blair wasn't a conduit of Bush administration propaganda. He didn't take Defense Department lies and sell them as truth. Get real!

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at May 13, 2005 7:34 PM | Permalink

So when the Times talks as if it has (or had) a bias problem--Jay, why didn't you just retort, "That's a bunch of noise!" Surely it does no good for PressThink to legitimize such mindless right-wing dogma.

Posted by: Brian at May 13, 2005 8:21 PM | Permalink


"The News Council is a dead letter."

[fingers in my ears] nah, nah, I can't hear you ... ;-)

"The reaction was instant revulsion. That's always been the reaction. ... It's not a subject on which you can have rational discourse with most American journalists. They consider it a step on the road to licensing, or just a bad idea."

Yup, sounds familiar. Times to Name 'Public Editor' to Be Readers' Representative

The position of a public editor, or ombudsman, represents a sharp departure for the 151-year-old Times, which has generally sought to police itself out of the public eye. Though variations of such a position exist at about three dozen newspapers, including The Washington Post, The Times has "traditionally resisted" the suggestion that it follow suit, Mr. Keller wrote in a memorandum to the staff today.
Pretty much the same reaction to Ombudsmen previously.

Interesting that a significant scandal at one organization can change minds about an in-house Ombud. It just took leadership from a few at NYT.

Trouble at Times Can Be Helpful in the Long Run
Keller doesn't have a "visceral aversion" to hiring an ombud
Siegal: Public editor will cause some nervousness at NYT
Ex-Baltimore Sun newsman has doubts about NYT's ombud

What would it take to get the newspaper, a news radio station and at least one network TV station to create city news council?

A barbed question. The answer may surprise you.

In all the time I have observed the Minnesota News Council, as a voting member from 1982-88, as an interested citizen from 1988-92, and as executive director since 1992, there has never been a time more promising for discussion of media fairness and for building public trust.

That’s directly attributable to last summer’s agonies at The New York Times: the published fabrications by the reporter Jayson Blair, the revelations that the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg failed to credit stringers who had done a lot of his legwork, and the forcing out of the paper’s two top editors.

As a result of those failures and embarrassments, The Times formed a committee, including a few outsiders, to recommend reforms. Among them: the hiring of an ombudsman, a position the paper had previously refused to consider.

That refusal grew from the insistence of the paper’s former executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, that every editor was an ombudsman. (Editors are too busy to do that job.)

The Times also refused to participate in the process of the National News Council, saying that outsiders had no business trying to influence the workings of the newsroom, and that such outside scrutiny was, in Rosenthal’s words, "the camel’s nose under the tent, and the first step toward government control of the press."

The truth is the exact opposite.
I suppose the Washington News Council and Minnesota News Council are not nothing.
The Minnesota News Council was formed in 1971 to promote fairness in the news media by giving an outlet for members of the public who feel damaged by a news story. Since then, the council has issued determinations in 120 cases. Gilson, who has directed the council since 1992, will addres the ethical questions raised by the consolidation of broadcast media, the increasing financial pressure on print media, and the effect of media outlets that make no effort to hide their political or social agendas.
Will the NYT again be the dragging their tails, as they did with an ombud?

(BTW, plug for CJR: A Public Editor's Private Story)

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 13, 2005 8:36 PM | Permalink

All these loud hosannahs over the NYTimes doing what they should have being doing all along makes me think of those indulgent parents who applaud when their offspring finally poops in the potty chair. In other words, I'm not impressed that NYTimes has finally realized that everything printed in their pages is gold. If the Times is the big deal so many claim it is, why is it following and not leading?

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 14, 2005 2:19 PM | Permalink

Read it again. Or take the ideological glasses off, Trout. I was praising Okrent for the way he did the job, not the New York Times for creating the job. The Times was more or less forced into it.

As for following not leading, might be good to look (click) before firing next time. Here is what I wrote in Flagship Turns, in Sep. 03:

Here we come upon an overlooked argument for why the Times should have made the decision long ago. By declining to develop an ombudsman, (the right way, the High Church's more serious way, the we-have-the-smartest-people way) the editors deprived other journalists around America of their leading example. Now was this wise? Times-like? Understand the natural order of things in a New York Times universe. There's the Sunday Book Review, the biggest and most influential, and then its thinner derivatives at the Post, and Los Angeles Times, down to the book page at the midwestern daily. That's the flagship leading the fleet. From this angle, (institutional pride) it's just unfortunate for the Times, for the public--and for journalism--that the newspaper didn't claim a leadership position in testing and developing the public editor position from 1970 forward. We might be further along by now in press accountability if Times-pride--and all that talent--had gone into it. That course would have been equally Times-like.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 14, 2005 5:12 PM | Permalink

I'll overlook the fact you slur me as an ideologue, and just say we are looking at the same thing and see two different things. You seem to be in the Jeff Jarvis camp that Okrent "changed journalism", while I see Okrent as a Martin Lutherish "here I stand, I can do no other". Reasonable people can disagree,(so they say) but to brand me as an ideologue is a low blow.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 14, 2005 6:36 PM | Permalink

What is Ideology?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 15, 2005 2:11 AM | Permalink

I didn't say Okrent changed journalism; and I didn't praise the Times for doing what it should have done, either, Trout. I said he did a very good job, and by doing so changed the New York Times. And what I said to you is either you misread it or you read it with ideological glasses on.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 15, 2005 3:02 PM | Permalink

1.) He changed the way readers were represented at the Times; this is to my mind his most important and far-reaching accomplishment, and I discuss it more below.

It's a riot to see these fluff pieces about Okrent surfacing here and there now that he is finally able to make his way out the door at the Times. Isn't that the scent of "rehabilitation" i smell?

Okrent accomplished nothing of substance as public editor beyond managing to survive his 18 month stint, barely. As for being the reader's representative, perhaps if he had listened to the real readers, he could have fulfilled that role. But he didn't. Instead, he proclaimed himself to be "the reader," and he listened only to himself, while treating the real readers with contempt and arrogance.

In closing, let’s note the part of this piece that has come to define Okrent’s work for the Times. That is the open tone of derision he takes toward readers who bother him with their e-mails. As usual, Okrent takes sidelong shots at these “irate readers” and their reasons for disputing his judgments (see below). Okrent began displaying this tone in his fourth column (1/18/04), and the tone has been present from that day to this. By the way: Was there something he might have learned from the “hundreds of messages” he received about the Swift Vets? There is, of course, no way to know—Okrent brags that he has ignored them! Indeed, he hasn’t even read “every word” of the coverage in the Times! Nobody does that, he says.

Dickens invented characters like Okrent, as he strove to describe a world in which idle, privileged, insolent people felt unvarnished contempt for their social inferiors. Okrent strolls straight outta those novels. But make no mistake—powdered people like Daniel Okrent are now in control of American discourse. Lazy, pampered, self-indulgent and stupid, they’ve made a sick joke of your interests for years. At some point, the public will have to find ways to end their control of our discourse.

Posted by: Steve Schwenk at May 15, 2005 5:15 PM | Permalink

As I recall, when Okrent walked into the office the Monday after his first column, 1,300 e-mails were awaiting.
We'll never know, but I wonder how many of those were "the real readers," as defined by Steve Schwenk ?
I suspect the great majority were "unreal readers" -- i.e., those unhappy with the Times, but for their own reasons, not Schwenk's.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 15, 2005 6:21 PM | Permalink

I can't believe I agree with Howlin' Bob, Armando, and his demented commenters. Daniel Okrent: bringing Red State and Blue State together! Add that to your list of Okrent's accomplishments, Jay.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 15, 2005 6:48 PM | Permalink

Will do.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 15, 2005 11:01 PM | Permalink

when Okrent walked into the office the Monday after his first column, 1,300 e-mails were awaiting.

Sure, it's hard work. But some are up to it, like Michael Getler, who answers 1000 e-mails he received on the Downing Street memo here:

I wonder how many of those were "the real readers," as defined by Steve Schwenk?

All of them, if they were actual readers of the Times.

I suspect the great majority were "unreal readers" -- i.e., those unhappy with the Times, but for their own reasons, not Schwenk's.

Good point. And that's the main difference between Getler and Okrent. One listens and seriously responds to his readers' complaints, the other dismissed them out of hand as though they were "unreal."

Posted by: Steve Schwenk at May 16, 2005 2:22 AM | Permalink

What an idiotic thing to say. Jay Rosen do you just drive down the center regardless? What an idiotic thing for someone to do.
Okrent's admitted he avoided dealing with Israel/Palestine until his last month. He's admitted no one asked for his slam job on the Tonys.
He's attacked a reader. He's refused to address serious issues that readers raised. He never delivered his election coverage analysis that he promised upon returning from what, his 90th vacation???????
Come on, before you shine him on, know your damn facts. Very disappointed.

Posted by: Ryan at May 16, 2005 10:15 AM | Permalink

I got an idea for doubters and critics of Okrent. Get together if you can or separately as you will and nominate or find someone informed to write a 1,000-1,500 word dissenting opinion about Okrent's term and I will run it, if a. it's good enough, and b.) factual and fair, with links where possible. And it should be a response to what I wrote, as well as Okrent's work.

I would be quite keen to have a good piece like that, so whatever way it comes in works. I don't usually write pieces like "in praise of..." so it's extra appropriate to have an opposite view in this case.

Of course one could simply do it at one's blog, too. I almost always link to such, so PressThink users will see it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 16, 2005 1:25 PM | Permalink

Jeez Jay, you're getting a little pedantic here. Most of us think Okrent had a difficult job that he did +/- well. But he does not live up to all the fawning adoration that you, Jarvis and others have heaped on him. I'm sure the loud hosannahs will only intensify as we approach the weekend.He was only there 18 months, there's no telling what the new guy will do---what's all this talk of "legacy"? Isn't there a middle ground where Okrent did an OK job but didn't change journalism?

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 16, 2005 2:50 PM | Permalink

For the third time: I didn't say he changed journalism. I said he changed the New York Times. If you think this is a modest achievement, I can find no reason to dispute you.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 16, 2005 3:50 PM | Permalink

Jay, thanks for your kind offer, but it does not seem worth the time or effort since he's leaving anyway. I'm happy with dissenting in the comments section.

But I do think the topic of 'readers' representative' is worthy of further discussion. With the proliferation of the new media, the old media press is going to have to adapt to survive. And being more responsive to readers is the first step along that path/transition. Lots of people believe that the traditional press is simply not doing its job these days. The blogs are doing far more, and doing it better.

Posted by: Steve Schwenk at May 16, 2005 9:18 PM | Permalink

"He [Okrent] has attacked a reader." --Ryan
Well, quell horreur !
And this is supposed to be a bad thing -- that, by way of example, Okrent fingered a reader who, in a public e-mail, wished a gruesome death upon the 3-year-old son of a Times reporter whose work he disagreed with ? Okrent's mandate as reader representative did not sentence him to the two options of either ignoring or endorsing the most venal of readers.
And when exactly, in an Internet age of universal attack and counter-attack, did "readers" become off-limits ?
That's a prohibition that would put most bloggers out of business in about two hours.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 16, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink

Oh the injustice of it all.

Posted by: Jack Sheldon at May 16, 2005 11:45 PM | Permalink

Okrent should have resigned when he aimed the firepower of The Times at an individual who wrote what he admitted was a stupid and intemperate (and private) email to Adam Nagourney. The fallout included weeks of threatening and harassing emails and phone calls, the latter of which affected not only the reader, but his children as well. It's a small miracle the reader wasn't physically attacked.

The reader in question, by the by, advocated against the publication of Okrent's personal contact information by people who thought Okrent might benefit from a similar experience. As it happened Okrent suffered through a rash of nasty phone calls and emails anyway, including one indirectly threatening his daughter, but not at the behest of the fellow he painted a target on.

Okrent compounded his screwup by managing to conflate an email, which could have been deleted — that's generally what I do with the right-wing crap I get — or dealt with in private, with descrating a synagogue or a church, thereby bringing into existence the heretofore unknown Temple Nagourney. I'd hate to be the Rabbi in that establishment.

Jay, I'll take you up on the 1500 words. It'll be a few days, but I think I can put something together. It isn't that I think the guy did a horrible job; just that he never really escaped the echo chamber of the institutional press and was unable to recognize some of the more egregious practices of the paper's reporters. And publicly assaulted a reader.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 17, 2005 12:34 AM | Permalink

Sure, Steve, it was an atrocity without comparison in the annals of journalism for that reader, me, to say something so mean in an e-mail to poor Adam Nagourney and his imaginary 3 year old son.

It was more of an atrocity than the fact that the Iraq war was based on a pack of lies, and that the NYT helped sell that pack of lies to the public, rather than to challenge or scrutinize them. It was worse than Dick Cheney telling Senator Lehey to go "F" himself on the senate floor. It was more shocking than Ann Coulter wishing death upon all of the occupants of the NYT building (wishing the planes had flown there instead of into the towers). Heck, Okrent did not go far enough. He probably should have put me on page A1 instead of just in the Week in Review section. That would have showed me!

Really, cry me a river, Steve.

And correct me if I am wrong, but it appears that you now think readers should have to adhere to ethical guidelines, as determined by NYT editors, just like you want bloggers to? And if they don't, they should be punished by people like Daniel Okrent?

That's funny because the NYT ethicist Randy Cohen (see link below) believes Okrent violated journalistic ethics in doing what he did. And had he known that Okrent published that quote over my protestations and without my permission, he would have come down on him even harder, he would have deemed it an outrage, that's clear from what he says at the end of the clip.

And yet, instead of being held accountable, as you think we lowly readers and bloggers ought to be, (Okrent denies he was censured, though Cohen suggests he was), Okrent gets puff pieces proclaiming that he changed the NYT and journalism forever, in 18 short months no less (including those lengthy vacations). Jack is right. "Oh, the injustice of it all!"

[The pertinent clip is from 1:34:05 to 1:38:35 in the link below from March 21, 2005.]

p.s. Jack, if that's really you, you're too funny. And still a troublemaker, I see!

Posted by: Steve Schwenk at May 17, 2005 6:45 PM | Permalink

From the Intro