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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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August 14, 2005

"Things I Used to Teach That I No Longer Believe" Was the Title of the Panel... the journalism professors' annual convention. "To learn, when you are ready to pass the torch, that some of the best and the brightest don't want your torch, because they think it went out a while ago, counts as a sad day for J-schoolers of a certain generation."

San Antonio, TX: Back in October I accepted an invitation from David T. Z. Mindich, who runs a journalism historians’ list-serve, to be part of a panel at the AEJMC convention, an annual event for journalism teachers. The panel had a clever title, “Things I used to teach that I no longer believe,” which had a curious affect on me and three other panelists. The result was that we each spoke openly of our disillusionment.

First up was Carl Sessions Stepp, a contributing writer to American Journalism review, a former national correspondent and editor for the Charlotte Observer and USA Today, and a professor at the University of Maryland’s J-School. He said that most of what he believed when he began teaching in 1983 he still believed, with one big exception.

Then he would have said that nearly all journalists employed in the field were people “on a mission.” They saw their work as a noble public service, and shared a sense of duty that helped them define what the service was amid a hectic news environment. Students quickly picked up on this creed, and newsoom culture supported it.

That was then. Now, he said, the sense of mission is not the same. He didn’t say it was gone; plenty of journalists still heard the call. And young people still showed up in his classes ready to believe. But changes in the news business and “workplace culture” have turned the mission into a fairy tale much of the time. There is no universal sense of calling any more, Stepp declared. Journalism as a whole isn’t “on a mission,” but journalists as individuals still can be. Stepp said that is where he placed his hopes.

Next was Dianne Lynch, dean of the School of Communications at Ithaca College, a journalist, and former executive director of the Online News Association. She told us a startling story about an exceptional student who gave up a four-year scholarship worth over $200,000, including tuition, room and board, even travel money. The student came to the dean’s office to let Lynch know that she was quitting journalism and switching to sociology. “I decided that I just can’t be in such a terrible profession,” the student said, adding that it did not seem to her a field where a young person could “make a difference.”

There was a slight gasp in the room at that. This was because the phrase used, “make a difference,” though tedious and vague, was once the very thing that identified to journalists their own idealism. You didn’t do it for the money, and it wasn’t the wonderful working conditions, or a chance for advancement. For a certain generation (whose mortality was lurking about the panel, way under the laughs) journalism, at its best, was all about “making a difference.” Speaking truth to power, and all that implies.

But for one of Ithaca College’s best students this was a joke. Lynch to crowd: “she gave up a $200,000 scholarship just to get out of journalism.” We let that sink in. To learn, when you are ready to pass the torch, that some of the best and the brightest don’t want your torch, because they think it went out a while ago, counts as a sad day for J-schoolers of a certain generation.

Lynch thought the 24-hour news cycle had trivialized everything; the constant updates demanded by the Web were part of it, she said. For me the story was about her own reaction. “Well, I think you are making a mistake,” the dean in her said, “but I accept your decision and wish you the best.” Could she honestly say—here in San Antonio—that it was a mistake? Lynch sat down with that question hanging.

Then there were the hilarious stories ruefully told by Maurine Beasley, who also teaches at Maryland. (The first woman to gain tenure there.) She’s a past president of the AEJMC, a former Washington Post and Kansas City Star reporter, and a book author. Beasley to pleading student: “It seems me that you’re simply looking for three cheap summer credits, for which you intend to do almost no work.” “That’s it exactly,” student says, “Professor Beasley, you understand!”

Each of her tales showed how a vast gulf was starting to open up between her and many of the students she saw in her classes at Maryland. In some cases, mutual incomprehension had set in. Beasley teaches a course that is featured at other J-schools, “Women in the Media.” It’s basically about what happened when second wave feminism met the American newsroom and media power structure.

Opening up the workplace to women professionals was a key demand for Beasley’s generation; and she has chronicled the fate of that demand in her written work. But now the problems for women were elsewhere, the opening up was considered ancient history, and the J-School students (who are overwhelmingly female these days) were not so much third wave as no-wave feminists.

On my own list of “things I used to teach that I no longer believe,” I had:

  • When I started I would commonly say to students, “it’s not the content, it’s the form.” (Or: the medium is the message!) I thought this was very wise. Then I learned that content is king, sort of an opposite lesson, and it seemed wise for its time too. Now I don’t see either statement as useful or wise. To figure out when content is king you don’t need slogans like “content is king.” They hurt more than they help.
  • I used to teach it implicitly: journalism is a profession. Now I think it’s a practice, in which pros and amateurs both participate. There were good things about the professional model, and we should retain them. But it’s the strength of the social practice that counts, not the health of any so-called profession. That is what J-schools should teach and stand for, I believe. I don’t care if they’re called professional schools. They should equip the American people to practice journalism by teaching the students who show up, and others out there who may want help.
  • I used to teach that the ethics of journalism, American-style, could be found in the codes, practices and rule-governed behavior that our press lived by. Now I think you have to start further back, with beliefs way more fundamental than: “avoid conflicts of interest in reporting the news.” If you teach journalism ethics too near the surface of the practice, you end up with superficial journalists.
  • The ethics of journalism begin with propositions like: the world is basically intelligible if we have accurate reports about it; public opinion exists and ought to be listened to; through the observation of events we can grasp patterns and causes underneath them; the circle of people who know how things work should be enlarged; there is something called “the public record” and news adds itself meaningfully to it; more information is good for it leads to greater awareness, which is also good; stories about strangers have morals and we need to hear them, and so on. These are the ethics I would teach first. And I would teach the ideas that these ideas overcame. For example: Politics as the king’s mystery—“le secret du roi,” the French called it—is an idea that journalism stands against, and helped to overcome. (See Robert Darnton on it.)
  • For many years I taught in my criticism classes that pointing out bias in the news media was an important, interesting, and even subversive activity. At the very least an intellectual challenge. Now it is virtually meaningless. Media bias is a proxy in countless political fights and the culture war. It’s effectiveness as a corrective is virtually zero.
  • Alas, I used to teach that the world needs more critics; but it was an unexamined thing. Today I would say that the world has a limited tolerance for critics, and while it always needs more do-ers, it does not always need more chroniclers, pundits, or pencil-heads.
  • In courses on the press and the political system I used to tell students that the White House and the press corps struggled and even warred at times, but also needed each other. That’s not accurate any more.
  • I never taught this explicitly, I said, but I am certain I believed it: reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. This is one reason the press cannot be overridden. I couldn’t say that today. The scary thing is, I don’t necessarily know what to teach instead.

What Carl Sessions Stepp and Dianne Lynch and Maurine Beasley talked about in San Antonio was discussed in two earlier PressThink posts, plus the comment threads after. First is my Deep Throat, J-School and Newsroom Religion. (June 5, 2004)

Investigative reporting, exposing public corruption, and carrying the mantle of the downtrodden [are taught] not as political acts in themselves—-which they are—-and not as a continuation of the progressive movement of the 1920s, in which the cleansing light of publicity was a weapon of reform—-which they are—-but just as a way of being idealistic, a non-political truthteller in the job of journalist. (Which is bunk.)

In reply came Orville Schell’s “We Have Been Bull-Dozed Aside,” (July 21) in which the Dean of the School of Journalism at Berkeley wrote:

What I worry about is not so much that the next generation of journalists will be swayed by or sell out to press mythology, but that they will end up so bereft of good models and so despondent about the state of their profession that they may lose all hope and idealism. Then what? After all, if you are going to be a journalist, repayment must come in some other currency than dollars. One of those alternative currencies journalism trades in is “able to make a difference.”

What I have lately been trying to say to my colleagues in J-school is clearer to me now, after the panel in San Antonio. Here is what I believe. The official religion has run out of gas. The tribes that are out there chasing Pulitzers and Duponts (plus market share, advertisers and ratings) do not know what to believe about themselves, their future, or their present value in the world. As I wrote in June:

When the New York Times had to decide recently what goods to charge for at, did it choose good old fashioned shoe leather reporting? No. It chose the columnists. The religion we teach them in journalism school cannot account for this.

Similarly, “making a difference” was never a good enough standard for teaching or doing journalism. It was a lazy idea, the press putting one over on itself. For the liberal journalists and professors who were the believers in make-a-difference journalism were babied by their profession, and their J-school training, which allowed them to believe in agenda-less journalism at the same time.

And in fact, they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be. We in the J-schools failed to catch that. The people on a mission never got around to justifying their mission in the language of democratic politics. They talked about it as a neutral public service instead, but speaking truth to power isn’t neutral, and making a difference isn’t just a service to others. We in the J-schools didn’t do well with that, either.

Later the language of politics took its revenge, and overwhelmed “mission” talk, which had failed to impress the public, as well, because it was increasingly non-descriptive. Natalee Holloway mocks the mission night to night. Culture war mocks the mission left to right. And in the mutually incomprehensible classroom encounter the mission is clearly expiring. It seems to me we’re better off knowing that. How does it seem to you?

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

These notes are for Mark Hamilton (of Mark on Media) who couldn’t be there but wanted to be.

DON‘T SHOW ME THE LOVE… The Anchoress responds to this and other posts she sees as related. “It is the fault of the journalists who have lost control of their own objectivity.” She explains:

If journalism wants to redeem itself, regain some credibility and attract bright, energetic writers, perhaps it needs to rein in its passions a bit, stop continually writing from a place of hate or love and begin to re-embrace objectivity. Or… at least a move to moderation. Can the press still, consciously, force itself to be moderately—rather than stridently—biased? I think that should be do-able. And yes…a thing is always doable if you want it badly enough.

There’s more in her Coupla interesting pieces on Journalism. See also this interview, On the Couch With The Anchoress.

PressThink’s odometer rolled over to a million visits last week, according to Sitemeter. That’s since September, ‘03.

David Wineberger interprets this post:

I want to head off what I think is an unwarranted conclusion based on Jay’s statement that if you put together enough accurate reports, the world is intelligible. The wrong conclusion (not Jay’s) would be that we all come to the same intelligible world. Nope. The PoMos are right: Narratives don’t get built out of facts. Narratives tell us which facts matter. Within a narrative, it’s important that journalistic reports be accurate. But accuracy is not enough to bring about intelligibility or to tear down an existing intelligibility.

As Glenn Reynolds might say: Yep.

Bill Quick at Daily Pundit:

Journalists go to work and do their jobs to earn a paycheck and provide the necessities for themselves and their families. The notion that their job is something intrinsically greater than that is, well, silly. If you don’t think so, ask all the journalists in the US to work for nothing more than the chance to “make a difference,” and see how many you have showing up in the newsroom the next day.

Of course, there will still be many, many journalists who are willing to do exactly that. We call them the Blogosphere. And that is the New Thing that is shattering the clay foundations of the journalism myth.

Steve Lovelady of CJR Daily in comments:

This statement leaves me clueless: “And in fact, they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be.” — JR. Where along the way did the facts lose their power to make a difference? See my reply here.

The scary thing is, I don’t necessarily know what to teach instead. Mark Hamilton comments:

I read some despair in that last sentence. And the fact that Jay doesn’t necessarily know what to teach instead makes me feel like retreating to my bed and pulling the covers over my head… I want to fire as many students as possible with a passion for journalism: I want to produce newspeople who are as engaged with the world around them as they are with their craft.

And we can’t do that (or at least I can’t do that) without a grasp of what journalism should be, what of its past is worth keeping and which of its understood principles are no longer valid. It’s no longer enough to repeat old words by rote.

Susan Mernit comments on this post: “Maybe this is the moment that a new journalism can find its way, one driven as much by search results and link laws as by craft. Maybe craft is something more of us can learn to own. Maybe we need to admit the world is pressing re-start and that’s going to be okay.”

OmbudsGod comments:

With all these journalists “on a mission” and “making a difference,” is it any wonder why there is so much bias in the press? Notice that no one talked about fairly and accurately reporting what they see, they would much rather change the outcome. I hope you take a second to stop and let this huge admission sink in. Journalists don’t go into the profession to impartially report what they see, they go into it to steer where society goes.

Mark Tapscott of the Heritage Foundation thinks Rosen has let the cat out of the bag.

Journalism teacher Andrew Cline: “Yesterday, I put the finishing touches (almost) on my syllabi. Jay Rosen’s discussion of journalism education sends me back for another look at them this morning…” Read the rest, and Cline’s earlier post about the AEJMC:

Modern journalism and journalism education just isn’t set up to connect with communities. It’s set up to shoot for the big enchiladas in Washington D.C. or New York…

This is me, in the comments:

Odd: 155 comments, many of them reacting to what I wrote about “making a difference,” but not a single mention of another of my lessons: how I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more.

The Administration of George W. Bush, with its retreat from empiricism, its doctrine of infallability, its hostility to science, its attack on the press, its manipulation and intimidation of intelligence, its philosophy of “we make reality” and the amazing innovation of the Bush bubble (which protects the president from the American people) have forced me to doubt that. Reality can be put to one side, as with the case for war, or global warming, and there are no limits to how fungible the facts are.

These are political innovations for which Bush does not get enough credit. Each one of them goes well beyond what previous presidents—who may have longed for the same freedom from fact—thought they could get away with.

Read the rest.

From a 2002 essay of mine in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Taking Bollinger’s Course on the American Press.” (Before I started blogging or knew about it.)

Think of All the President’s Men and its success in casting journalists as heroes of Watergate, which of course recasts Watergate. Think about polls and the way journalists have helped write them into politics. Bollinger sees how the common practices of journalism—which include common lapses—shape the contours of the public arena and make the world what it is….

What’s different about stepping into Bollinger’s world is that, in it, the press not only observes and reports freely, it acts upon us with its freedom. It’s an institution with a brain, of sorts. It has ideas and priorities—not just information—that it wants to get out into the world. It is always forming, as well as informing, the public, framing debate as it relays the news. It can be reckless and brainless, and must be watched.

Related: See PressThink, Journalism Is Itself a Religion. “The newsroom is a nest of believers if we include believers in journalism itself. There is a religion of the press. There is also a priesthood. And there can be a crisis of faith.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 14, 2005 1:27 PM   Print


In my last year as a news director, I hired a young woman with a journalism degree for an entry-level job. A few months into the job, she got into a public fight with the Assignment Editor and -- in the middle of the newsroom -- stood up and said, "F-ck you" to the guy. This, of course, was something I could not tolerate, so I disciplined her.

A little later came performance evaluations, and I gave her a bad review. The next day, I got a phone call from a different state. It was her mother -- yes, her MOTHER -- complaining that I had given her daughter low marks.

"She's really such a sweet girl, and she tries so hard."

This episode in my career was one of the reasons I got out of the business. The "make a difference" crowd had been replaced by one with a sense of entitlement and lust for celebrity, and the business of news had become business 101.

A journalism degree has become an MBA with perfect hair, a self-centered "job" instead of a community-centric vocation, and it's terribly sad. And the thing most of us refuse to see is that our viewers and readers know it.

We need to teach people more about life than how-tos and ethics, and we need to include the art of argument as one of the fundamentals of making a difference with a camera or a pen.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at August 14, 2005 3:55 PM | Permalink

Another thoughtful post, Jay, especially as I make plans for my own journalism class in a couple of weeks. The list of things I'm no longer sure I believe has gotten so long that it might be easier to try to list what I still do believe.

But I think the biggest thing I no longer believe is the notion that journalists somehow serve as proxies for the public: that we sit through tedious city council meetings, fill out baseball box scores and wade through piles of police reports to winnow out all but the most interesting and pertinent items, which we then fashion into brief, readable and reliable news stories. Then, occasionally, with luck and diligence, we stumble across a story that people don't even know they want to read until we show it to them.

That notion of journalism seems to be just about gone. People who really care about an issue can go to source materials: agendas, official reports, websites, expanded cable game coverage. People who don't really care won't take the trouble to read a digested version just so they can feel like informed citizens.

That change is neutralizing some of the industry's oldest bromides:

1. Keep it local. But an amazing number of people no longer much care what's going on in "their" town. Their lives rotate from Wal-Mart to fast food to cable TV. A community is just a place to collect a paycheck.

2. Follow the money. Hell, we can't even get 20 percent turnout for million-dollar mill levies.

3. Just report the facts, and people can make up their own minds. But argument precedes, and all but precludes, the facts. Partisans aren't looking for truth; they're looking for ammunition.

Maybe I'll just try to teach them to write punchy ledes and forget the rest of it.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 14, 2005 4:26 PM | Permalink

Better yet: Teach them your ideals, David, but point them away from newspapers and network television.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at August 14, 2005 8:40 PM | Permalink

I've never been a journalism professor, and to this day I have no desire to become one, because, despite various entreaties, I always figured that after about 10 one-hour lectures, I would have exhausted whatever wisdom I have to share after 40 years practising the craft.
Which is, basically, "Try to cut through the bullshit and get to the bottom of things."
That's what it's about, and that's all it's about. Which, as I have noted before, is a premise that utterly destroys the traditional notion of objectivity, which presumed that "he said/she said" journalism was the alpha and the omega of the trade.
In fact, "he said/she said" is a cop-out. But that's not a new insight. I intuitively knew that along about year two of the 40 years, and I have preached that ever since.
Still ... this statement leaves me clueless: "And in fact, they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be." -- JR
Where along the way did the facts lose their power to make a difference ?

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 14, 2005 9:04 PM | Permalink

Steve, 10 one-hour lectures ought to be enough to get you through a semester.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 14, 2005 9:50 PM | Permalink

'News is what someone wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising'
~Rubin Frank; former president NBC News

Like the million other readers, I know that at the Press Think rocks not only boats of propaganda, but also mainstream rivers. May many, many, more millions discover the leaves of this spring ...

BTW, Phillip Knightley tells a story about his former editor, Harold Evans. Every generation needs more investigative journalists and less copy cat reporters... According to the article, the role of journalism is to 'defend people without power from those who wielded it unfairly, expose corruption, make a difference to the lives of ordinary citizens' Restoring citizen's respect for journalism: we are not without power

Posted by: Jozef at August 14, 2005 9:58 PM | Permalink

Sorry to rattle on, but I forgot to mention one thing I do tell students at least twice each semester that I think I still believe: Much of the instruction in journalism class is aimed at teaching a method and style of journalism that almost everyone agrees is conceptually obsolete and in need of a serious overhaul. Part of the students' mission, if they ever do become working journalists, is to figure out how to do that.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 15, 2005 12:27 AM | Permalink

Lynch's student switched from journalism to sociology because she wanted to "make a difference". I'd guess many social change seekers remain in journalism because they believe it's a greater vehicle to achieve that desire than some other professions.

But suppose readers and viewers don't desire the same social changes these journalists want?

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 15, 2005 10:03 AM | Permalink

Still ... this statement leaves me clueless: "And in fact, they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be." -- JR
Where along the way did the facts lose their power to make a difference?

Facts -- as objective occurrences or observations -- do not make a difference. It is their interpretation and application that has the greater impact on society, and thus the story.

For example: some months ago a Canadian MP recorded several conversations he had with the national health minister as well as the chief of staff for the Prime Minister. The conversation, according to the MP, involved possible postings in exchange for his supporting a budget bill. The MP later posted an edited version of those conversations on his website.

The stark facts are that the conversations took place, and that they were recorded. However, the fact that they were edited means the actual content of the recordings is in dispute. It is the interpretation of those conversations -- whether or not the minister was offering something in exchange for political support -- that becomes the news story, the one the reporters want to write about.

Another example: some insulation fell off the fuel tank of the space shuttle Discovery during launch. The application of that is the grounding of the Shuttle fleet as a result. The application becomes the bigger news story, because people interpreted the fact and applied the interpretation with more widespread implications.

The trick in J-school, I should think, is to be able to teach the budding reporter the difference between a fact, the fact's interpretation and then the application. If they can recognize the process, it goes a long way towards establishing the balanced narrative required for good journalism.

Posted by: PhantomObserver at August 15, 2005 11:29 AM | Permalink

Having a crisis of faith, David Crisp?

Those ol' readers aren't paying sufficient attention? Don't want to read the bad news, the difficult news? Sounds like a good reason to give up journalism and go into PR.

One of the journalist's main jobs - one I haven't given up on yet - is to tell folks things they don't want to know.

Who the hell wants to know about corruption in the legislature, genocide in (pick a part of the globe) or the general failure of the political and social culture to live up to expectations. Journalism, at its best, records the facts of Pogo's Theorem: We have met the enemy and they are us.

That is the job: To stand in for the rest of us at the courthouse, the state house and the streets, to be a witness and post the facts for all to see. If folks choose to ignore it, and they will, it's still there, every day on deadline. And there will be those who notice.

Otherwise, we get the fragementation and trivialization of the news we see today, the devolution into tinier segments of affinity groups and self-congratulatory critics. I agree with Jay. We need more doers and fewer pundits.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 15, 2005 11:29 AM | Permalink

Jay says, "There were good things about the professional model, and we should retain them. But it’s the strength of the social practice that counts, not the health of any so-called profession."

And Terry Heaton notes that "A journalism degree has become an MBA with perfect hair, a self-centered "job" instead of a community-centric vocation, and it's terribly sad. And the thing most of us refuse to see is that our viewers and readers know it."

I agree and here is what I find in my teaching.

I teach at an open admissions college that is being "gentrified" by rising tuition and vanishing loans and grants for higher education, but we still have a pretty diverse student body. We have many kids from the middle and lower classes in terms of family income. These students don't always have the perfect level of academic or social skills of the rich, but they are hungry to be journalists and will work for nothing at internships to try and get their foot in the door of a newsroom.

A colleague from Medill recently told me he envies me my students because they haven't "grown up with a sense of entitlement." He said where my students were willing, even eager to meet real journalists and go to news-related events, his students couldn't be bothered.

Professional journalism today is dominated by the interests of the corporate if not the rich. Look at what is covered, how stories are framed, who reporters interview, the faces we see in print or on the screen.There are folks of color and various genders, but as far as economic class, the stories are told from the perspective of the rich and powerful.

Dominated discourse is a form of bias that occurs when the social position of the actors in any situation determines the truth and weight of their arguments, not the facts of the matter.

Notice that the majority of the stories about Cindy Sheehan include quotes from Pres. Bush, but don't include even a single quote from Sheehan. The press's deference to the President based on his status automatically skews the story. Instead of a story about opposing claims to truth which could be evaluated with good reporting, it becomes the story about how a powerful man is bothered by a nobody who apparently can't even speak for herself.

As economic diversity disappears from our country in the face of an increasing divide between rich and poor, the number of folks who can find news they can use from professional journalism outlets is shrinking.

Media can ignore large segments of the population in its reporting, but it can't make them read/listen/tune in to it.

I try and teach my students the practice of journalism and alert them to problems in the profession these days.

Posted by: Barbara K. Iverson at August 15, 2005 1:36 PM | Permalink

Jay writes:

For many years I taught in my criticism classes that pointing out bias in the news media was an important, interesting, and even subversive activity. At the very least an intellectual challenge. Now it is virtually meaningless. Media bias is a proxy in countless political fights and the culture war. It’s effectiveness as a corrective is virtually zero.

I’m not sure how convinced I am of that: I think media criticism can be an easy way to get the public involved in politics. If the general public learns to recognize bias in media, they begin to become conscious of the ubiquitous attempts to control what they think. Paying attention to the differences in how our newspapers and television stations try to communicate with us is a logical first step in media consciousness.

Posted by: Ryan Sholin at August 15, 2005 1:55 PM | Permalink

I used to teach it implicitly: journalism is a profession. Now I think it’s a practice, in which pros and amateurs both participate. There were good things about the professional model, and we should retain them. But it’s the strength of the social practice that counts, not the health of any so-called profession. That is what J-schools should teach and stand for, I believe. I don’t care if they’re called professional schools. They should equip the American people to practice journalism by teaching the students who show up, and others out there who may want help.

Jay, it was that very logic, that journalism is not a profession, that Lee Bollinger used when he eliminated the J-School at UMich, and when he tried to do the same at Columbia. His argument was, what business is it of the academy to be teaching a "craft?" What other craft has its own dept at major universities?

If journalism is something everyone can do, then what exactly are journalism departments teaching the few (as opposed to the many in the whole student body) who are in journalism?

If it's about ethics, then why isn't part of a philosophy department? If it's about rhetoric, then maybe it should be part of the English department? If it's about some commitment to a higher calling, then how about the divinity school?

I don't mean to be flip, but my point is that journalism is in trouble, both as a profession and a craft. I think journalism was never really a profession, and now as it is under greater scrutiny, that is revealed. And so there are two ways to go: work to become a profession, or relinquish the idea of profession.

Both come with benefits and consequences. I'm still trying to think of which is a better choice.

Posted by: JennyD at August 15, 2005 2:41 PM | Permalink

Man, Jay, do I need to get out of the Deep South.

Teaching journalism is not even an issue at colleges of communications in these climes.

All the students are into PR. And the deans who give promotions and tenure want research, not teaching anyway. Maybe there are professional journalism schools out there somewhere, but not around here.

As for the professional argument, I have revised my thinking of late. Journalism has turned into a profession, a 9 to 5 job. It is no longer a calling or a craft, because the corporations which own the presses require safe little professionals who can, among other things, pass a spelling test, a drug test and a psychological test to get hired. The best journalists I have ever known were way too crazy to get hired today by the Newhouses of the world.

Then take the public editor's column in the Sunday New York Times. They are so obsessed with free-lancers meeting the ethical guidelines imposed on staffers that they are losing the good will of the best free-lancers in the country, myself included. Even good corporations understand the concept of goodwill.

When the business editor of the Times e-mailed me the pdf file of the guidelines, it was so fat I could not even open it on my Macintosh computer. Luckily, I also own a PC. When I read the guidelines, most of the document is not about ethics anyway. It is a gigantic tome to the corporate control guidelines to protect the New York Times Company, not a guide to practicing ethical journalism.

The best way to practice journalism that makes a difference today is to publish your own Web site (or blog) and kick some ass. Screw the corporate professionals. They will be obsolete soon enough.

If you find a student with some real talent who wants to make a difference, send them over to me. Maybe I can put them to work. I've been kicking ass and taking names for years, which hasn't done my long-term professional career prospects that much good.

But you know what A. J. Liebling said in 1960.

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."

Posted by: GW at August 15, 2005 2:45 PM | Permalink

I'm not sure where Barbara K. Iverson is getting her information about Cindy Sheehan, but it sure ain't the MSM.

Iverson thinks Sheehan is downtrodden, because the press gets quotes from GWB but not from Sheehan. Ok, sure, whatever. But a story Saturday in WaPo (that right-wing rag) by Michael Fletcher, says Sheehan is working with a political consultant, a team of public relations professionals, and has a TV ad out. Joe Trippi is also involved. Also extremist anti-war groups like Codepink and TrueMajority. I'll ask Iverson, how many "grieving moms" have this kind of political support? Certainly not the downtrodden and ignored.

I assume Iverson is a member of the "reality" based community, because her "reality" is not based on facts. Sheehan certainly has every right to do what she is doing, but when the press casts this as a simple morality play, with Sheehan as the grieving, ignored mom, who only wants a (second) meeting with GWB, and GWB as the cold, heartless, bicycle riding, limo riding Chimpy McHalliburton Bu$hitler,the press has become a tool of propagandists. Yeah, I know, the press rejects propaganda from the government, but is more than happy to advance propaganda by terrorists, by airing their recruitment videos of blowing up US troops, and anti-war propaganda, like what Sheehan is dishing up.

Posted by: kilgore trout at August 15, 2005 2:53 PM | Permalink

This isn't directly on point, but I liked the way it was written. Very intelligently. Came via e-mail to PressThink's box. Alan Anderson, Granite Bay, CA writes...

Is there a way to get news in the world that isn’t dictated by what political party the owners of the news agency belong to? Maybe I’m not as well educated as the people on the news stations I’m watching and listening to. I just don’t know why I turn to one channel and get one story and then turn to another and get a totally different story. Could it be the people who write and/or spin the story?

My gosh, someone please tell me the truth. I’m seeing a woman camping out front of President Bush’s ranch in TX. (Cindy Sheehan). Just for those who don’t know who she is, she gave birth to a brave, patriotic American son who joined the Army. He was sent to Iraq to do his duty for the American military that is in the middle of a war with some bad people there. I’m not really sure why we are there at war but we are. My heart goes out to Ms. Sheehan her son died there in Iraq. What more pain can any mother feel but to lose a child? She’s mad as hell at something. Her son made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and we should all thank him and her for his bravery. As for mom camping outside of Bush’s ranch, if she’s not breaking any laws then let her be. She’s got issues she has to come to terms with. She blames the President for her loss. We all have an issue one way or another with the way this war was started and has played out till now. I’ve read news articles or maybe some were political spin blogs. They all do nothing but bad mouth the other side’s story. Her son died, she’s sad, mad, and has to vent her emotions someway. End of story.

The second story of the week that I can’t understand is the whole 9/11 Able Danger story. I watched one station and got that they told the 9/11 Commission and then I go to another channel and hear that no one ever said anything to the commission about it. So does anyone know what the heck the truth is? I know that 4 planes on September 11th, 2001 crashed into the Pentagon, World Trade Centers and a field in PA. I’ve only heard since then that it was a lack of different intelligence agencies being able to communicate with each other because of political red-tape. Well looks like we’re back to square one. I feel for every family affected by the events that played out that day. I also feel for every family who has a family member or more go off to war and die for his or her country.

It is time that we as Americans fix our problems within our system and truly protect our country here at home and find ways to protect it from the outside. Now that I’ve said all of this I don’t feels so stupid anymore. It seems that the stupidity is coming from the people we trust to give us news. The real news, not the spun version of the news depending on which political party the news agency is associated with. I see a lot of blogs out there giving news. Is it news? Or is it really just another person’s spin? Maybe instead of calling them Blogs we should call them Spinsters. Wait that is too hard to type.

Alan Anderson
Granite Bay, CA

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 15, 2005 3:00 PM | Permalink

Dave McLemore, Good post. But as someone who not only teaches the occasional journalism class but also owns a tiny weekly, I'm still trying to figure out how to make a living printing stuff that people don't want to read.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 15, 2005 3:07 PM | Permalink

Jay, I get the sense that posters (including me) have a very different definitions of what is a profession versus a craft. Could you define it, in terms of your definition as used in this post? Thanks.

Posted by: JennyD at August 15, 2005 3:19 PM | Permalink

Barbara wrote:

I teach at an open admissions college that is being "gentrified" by rising tuition and vanishing loans and grants for higher education, but we still have a pretty diverse student body. We have many kids from the middle and lower classes in terms of family income. These students don't always have the perfect level of academic or social skills of the rich, but they are hungry to be journalists and will work for nothing at internships to try and get their foot in the door of a newsroom.

I think that this gets at the heart of it. While the "make a difference" credo might have run out of gas for some (the media saavy, hyper-educated, professionals, etc.) I see it being alive and well in many quarters (and, it is not a "netural" public service either.) For the middle-school students I used to teach in Flatbush, Brooklyn and the people getting their BA's in journalism at thirty with one or two kids the issue was not so much that the practice of journalism was unappealing, it was an issue with where they could find a public medium to communicate with their neighborhoods and communities.

The White House may no longer need the press, but it needs churches to trumpet its cultural values and it needs the social networks of NASCAR. If we can no longer presume that the sites of power need the press, why can't we figure out what it does need and then bring the practice of journalism there?

The practice of journalism needs to have expression at these forums, and I do not think that a newspaper as a stand-alone observer of the world will do.

I am not sure how that is done, but as a start I think that we need to find a way to educate, train, and recruit public journalists from these communities, and find novel ways to incorporate serious journalism into the regular communication of these public spaces.

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss at August 15, 2005 3:27 PM | Permalink

So true, Alan Anderson, when you say: "It seems that the stupidity is coming from the people we trust to give us the news."

These are real, on the record quotes from Cindy Sheehan, but have you seen them anywhere in our "trusted media"?

Cindy sez:"...get American our of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you'll stop terrorism." Somebody sign that woman up as State Department spokesperson!

Cindy also sez: (and haven't we all thought this at one time or another?) I am not paying my taxes for 2004. You killed my son, George Bush, and I don't owe you a give my son back and I'll pay my taxes." Now GWB is expected to raise the dead. Is that in the Constitution?

Further, Cindy sez:GWB, et al. ... "need to be tried for war crimes and go to jail." Don't you think France has already checked this out?

Further depressing quotes from our gal Cindy include: "This country is not worth dying for." She wasn't talking about Iraq. Also ..."the mainstream media is a propaganda tool for the government." So why is the press so uncritical of you, Cindy? The press loves to be used in a cause they believe in, and Cindy includes the obligatory reference to Hitler and Stalin concerning Rumsfeld. Plus the cliche that GWB went to war to enrich his buddies, and it's ALL ABOUT The OIIIIILL.

Jeez! Cindy has repeated every trite anti-war talking point, and the press just loves it! Yeah, the press is ignoring grieving Cindy. Whatever.

Posted by: kilgore trout at August 15, 2005 3:33 PM | Permalink

Jenny: I felt--and said at the time--that Bollinger's questions were dead on. I don't think they were well understood by (most) J-Schoolers, who naturally resented the "interference," but that might have been his fault, too.

In any case, you are wrong to suggest that he wanted to in any way "eliminate" Columbia's Journalism School. (What happened at Michigan is a different story.) I don't think it was ever a serious option at Columbia. (Plenty of people connected to the school or to the rear guard in journalism suggested it, though, without producing evidence.) College presidents are not in the business of eliminating sources of prestige like that. Add to that the beating you would take in the New York Times about it? Not thinkable.

Bollinger asked a question many defenders of the school were unable to hear, since they were obsessed with a different question: what relationship should J-school training and curriculum have to professional practice? Every red-blooded member of the tribe knows that "keeping it practical" is the right answer, and too much "theory" is bad. (Very bad.) But that's what people like Bollinger want-- more "theory," less "practice," it was thought.

It was an ignorant reaction, and completely missed what he was after.

Bollinger was asking them a much harder question, and most of them never showed up for his exam. It's closer to what you said, Jenny. Bollinger's query went something like this:

Let's say you're right in what I'm hearing, and teaching craft skills, craft wisdom, and craft ethics is the way to go for Columbia's J-School. What connects such a school to the rest of the university's knowledge engine? Do you know? Can you explain it to me? We don't have any other professional schools that would say that, "we teach the craft, primarily." What model do I consult to know if you have your connection to the university--and the larger world--right? Have you changed it as the world and the university have changed so profoundly over the decades? Are you confident that the rest of the institution--you're part of Columbia, a top ten research university and Ivy League--understands the connection between you and it?

They were good questions, and extremely on point. Asking them has helped the school.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 15, 2005 3:36 PM | Permalink

I'm neither a consultant nor a journalism professor, Mr. Crisp, so I'm reluctant to offer advice. Oh, hell, who am I kidding. EVERYONE loves to give advice.

If you want folks to read your newspaper, make it readable. Rather than try to compete with TV or the internet, give 'em context. The news is rarely happy or even particularly stuff we can use. But it can and should be chewable, the stuff that makes people grind their teeth over that first cup of coffee.

And make the prose sing. The blandization of American media is a sad thing to behold. If someone's telling a lie, say so. Don't just tell both sides of the issue, tell the third and fourth side.

I'd suspect in Montana the tension between environmental concerns and property rights still generates some interest. What does one man/one vote truly mean in a municipal election? If everyone is for that, how come the ACLU filed suit in Billings?

And you might borrow Steve Lovelady's adage, print in boldface above every newsroom terminal and press: "Cut through the bullshit and get to the bottom of things."

There is some power in pissing people off.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 15, 2005 4:03 PM | Permalink

The problem with saying this: "There is some power in pissing people off" is that "people" are (is?) not monolithic. So who decides who gets pissed off, and who doesn't? Which group gets to feel the "power" of the press, and which group doesn't? Isn't that the heart of the problem and the basis for bias wars?

Posted by: kilgore trout at August 15, 2005 4:29 PM | Permalink

Thanks Jay. FWIW, we are asking very, very similar questions in the Ed School.

Posted by: JennyD at August 15, 2005 4:35 PM | Permalink

It doesn't matter, Kilgore. The one constant in the reporters' firmament is that someone's always going to be pissed off. The facts decide who.

The purveyors of the bias wars - left or right - never quite get that bias is largely in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 15, 2005 4:39 PM | Permalink

It's not the facts, Dave, it's the facts the press chooses to use to frame the story. Since Ms. Iverson brought up Cindy Sheehan, this presents us with a classic example. There is plenty of material on record that indicates that Cindy is an anti-Semite, extremist hatemonger. She has been out front with her fringe ideology. But for whatever reason, the MSM chose to frame her as "heartbroken everymom" rather than give us all the information about her, which would allow us, in Orville Schell's words: "to let people make up their own minds." It's not the pissing people off that bothers me, it's the withholding of complete and comprehensive information by the press, that would allow the public to make an informed decision about any given subject, that offends me.

But fortunately we now have some diversity in the press. In order to be well informed, you need to read the NYTimes and NYPost; watch CNN and Fox News. It's getting more difficult for the press to lie to us---and that's a good thing.

Posted by: kilgore trout at August 15, 2005 5:06 PM | Permalink

Jenny D.

There is an extensive literature on the subject of journalism as a profession. It's a pretty big subject for a blog post, so here are two links that might help. The first is a blog post, the second a paper presented at an AEJMC conference, like the one Jay went to this week. I've posted these links here before, so others may have already seen them.

Who You Calling A Journalist?

IS JOURNALISM A BONA FIDE PROFESSION? What the literature and the law reveal

Posted by: GW at August 15, 2005 5:15 PM | Permalink

Kilgore, you're right. Withholding of complete and comprehensive information is offensive. But comprehensive and complete are cumulative terms.

As I understand, the information about Ms.Sheehan's views on U.S. support of Israel came from a letter she sent "Nightline's" Ted Koppel after her appearance on the program.

It was not, I gather, part of her early message at Crawford. Somehow, the information got out, whether via Ms. Sheehan or otherwise. And it quickly made its way wonderful world of the Web and has only recently become part of the larger story.

I'd be very surprised if it doesn't now become part of the mainstream coverage. But you seem to believe it 'bias' that the mainstream media didn't report her more extreme views early on. Short of having copies of the email last spring, I'm not clear on how they they would have known. Why do you consider that media "lies?"

You say "There is plenty of material on record that indicates that Cindy is an anti-Semite, extremist hatemonger." Really? Where was this info before?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 15, 2005 5:48 PM | Permalink

I don't want this thread hijacked by Cindy Sheehan's story, latest installment in the blogosphere's media circus. If you can connect it to the post and comments on the post, good.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 15, 2005 6:23 PM | Permalink

What a fascinating litany of self-pity, with doddering professors bemoaning the death of their creation, perhaps wondering if they might have caused its demise with planting self-righteousness in its craw?

It is said Hitler invaded Russia because he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and wanted to gain his destiny ahead of schedule before he died, and in that pursuit he madly slaughtered everyone in sight, including his "own" people.

Sometimes I think journalists are behaving in the same way, fomenting Gotterdammerung before it is too late. Oh, but that’s right: Dan Rather WAS caught in a lie, finally! Gee, I love back-Gotterdammerung, when it splashes back on its authors!

Posted by: Gerryz at August 15, 2005 8:39 PM | Permalink

Glynn, I read both these links, and I am not certain that the definition of profession is accurate.

When I think about professions, I often start with the easy ones, like medicine. Physicians didn't actually look to government for professionalism; actually, they looked inside their own ranks and focused on the training of physicians, on the standardization of skills and practice and "technology" in the sense of practice, and then raised the standards for all these. For a source, look to the Flexner Report from early in the 20th century, which was financed by the Carnegie Corporation.

Other professions have had similar transformations. Law, for example. Lawyers are certified by the bar association, not by the government. Physicians are licensed by the state, but it is physicians who design the tests and set the standards. Likewise with actuaries and architects.

How do journalists stack up here? Are their standardized skills that all must know, and a high standard of entry into the profession? Is entry monitored by other professionals (beyond the decision to hire a newbie)?

Here's another question: How could you distinguish the work of a professional journalist from a non-professional? Clearly you could do that with, say, surgery. How about an appendectomy done by someone who has never been to medical school? Or a build designed by non-trained architect?

Opening up the question in this way, rather than getting emotional about ethics or bias or whatever, exposes the weakness in the entire structure of journalism and journalistic enterprises.

I have to say, though, that I love debating about this stuff. Thanks for opportunity.

Posted by: JennyD at August 15, 2005 8:59 PM | Permalink

I will grant you all that "facts" can be
slippery things. And one persons' "bias"
is another persons' truth.

The problem you people is have is that you
can't - or won't - get the EASY facts correct.

Whenever I read a story about my specialty,
it is usually so filled with errors to make
it unusable. Null Content.

Which makes me think ... why should I believe
your writing on stories about subjects of which
I have no direct knowledge?

However, I do enjoy the colorful writing I
read in the sports sections.

Posted by: Ted at August 15, 2005 9:03 PM | Permalink

What exactly is it that you want, Kilgore ?
That every mother who has lost a son in Iraq correspond to your politics?
Ain't gonna happen, Ace. Their grief is beyond anything that you or I can comprehend, and frankly, if you are anything other than a stooge, you ought to respect that.
And Jay is exactly correct when he says, "I don't want this thread hijacked by Cindy Sheehan's story, latest installment in the blogosphere's media circus ..."
Whenever a thread, here or elsewhere, is perceived as threatening -- or worse, if it is perceived as off of whatever subject that is currently obsessing the circus -- the circus clowns always move in to change the subject to their flimsy grievance of the moment is.
This is a perfect example.
Cindy Sheehan, indeed.
What the hell does that have to do with the current fork in the road facing journalism educators, which is the subject of the conversation that Jay is trying to start ?
And don't try to tell me that this is not part of an orchestrated infestation. The tactic is obvious on its face.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 15, 2005 9:04 PM | Permalink

Dave, Now you're starting to list the things I used to teach about journalism that I'm not sure I believe anymore. Yours is the classic answer: If people don't like your journalism, give them better journalism. I've preached that sermon for many years, both to students and to corporate bosses.

But where does, say, Sean Hannity fit into that equation? Or, for that matter, Instapundit? Or Gannett? Or guys like Gerryz, who seem to lack all capacity to distinguish good journalism from bad?

I'm not sure a market will always exist for what you and I think of as quality journalism. I hope it will, and I think it will, but I'm not sure I'm confident enough in it to tell my students that it will.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 15, 2005 9:12 PM | Permalink

gosh ... isn't this link timely ... you
people scrutinize others. can you stand
the heat yourselves?

Helen Thomas anyone?

here's the link ... to a right wing blog
of course ...

Posted by: Ted at August 15, 2005 9:13 PM | Permalink

Journalism needs teachers who can match skills of PR masters such as Max Clifford whose kiss-and-tell stories of politicians, pop stars and footballers tend to be the lifeblood of many a tabloid newspaper...
'Max Clifford's secret with tabloid editors is that during the course of a year, he places stories with all of them, thereby keeping them all happy.' What Makes a Great Spinmeister?

Posted by: Jozef Imrich at August 15, 2005 9:14 PM | Permalink

I'm not a journalism professor, I'm not a journalist. I'm probably not everyman, but I am distant enough from the 'field' of journalism to read these comments with some perplexity. Because all of you have said what journalism means to you, and the purpose of journalism. I've heard mention of a 'calling', I've heard mention of journalism as an extension of the progressive movement in the 1920's, I've heard journalism as social activism.
But noone has really said that the purpose of journalism is to tell people what is going on. I as a (former) newspaper reader (I've never watched tv news) read the newspapers to find out what is going on. I used to assume that if I read something in the newspaper, it would inform me. I don't any more. I assume newspapers are there to attempt to convince me. Thus, I don't read them. I read blogs, I read brief articles on the web (Yahoo news, newspaper websites, etc). I'm quite confident I am far better informed than I was when I read the newspaper, and I am far better informed than if I still read the newspaper.
Really, there are two issues in my post. The second, less important one, is What has the web done to journalism? I can learn more in 20 minutes of surfing the web on any topic (from journalists, private blogs, commentators, and a whole variety of individuals) than I could by subscribing to a newspaper-so why subscribe to a newspaper.
The first, more important one (for your purposes) though, addresses your question of purpose. I would guess that I am pretty typical of a journalism consumer: I consume journalism to learn what is going on. Why do none of you produce journalism with the express purpose of simply (merely, only, nothing but) telling me what's going on? And if you are not giving me that, is it any surprise that I'm not buying the product any more?
(one exception: "Try to cut through the bullshit and get to the bottom of things" strikes me as exactly what I'm looking for-the one voice who sounded out of place!).


Posted by: Steve at August 15, 2005 9:16 PM | Permalink

Lovelady, conspiracy theories don't become you.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 15, 2005 9:22 PM | Permalink

"When the New York Times had to decide recently what goods to charge for at, did it choose good old fashioned shoe leather reporting? No. It chose the columnists. The religion we teach them in journalism school cannot account for this"

Just the fact that the NYT did something did not mean that it was a good business decision. IMNSHO, it would have been better to leave the columnists free and charge for the business, science, and arts sections.

Posted by: David Foster at August 15, 2005 9:38 PM | Permalink

Jenny - The definition comes from the published, peer reviewed academic literature, such as it is. It may not be accurate in your mind, it may not be accurate in the literature, heck, we are clearly from all the discussion here not even clear on whether journalism is or should be viewed as a profession or whether journalism schools should be professional schools?

Most academics I know deride the idea of simply teaching skills in this way, which is the basic question Jay mentioned about the Columbia Journalism school.

As for what is taught in journalism schools at the undergraduate level, it is usually referred to as a profession - without anyone ever providing a definition of what a profession is, which is why I wrote the paper in the first place.

Maybe we should put this under the category of what is NOT taught in journalism schools that SHOULD be.

Seems to me students have a right to know ... if anyone can figure it out.

Posted by: GW at August 15, 2005 9:47 PM | Permalink

I found Jay's opening comments on this very instructive since I've been out of teaching for a couple of years now.

I went back into journalism after 9/11 because it seemed vital again. Then Jayson Blair came along and blew it, so we are back to 24/7 sensational crime on cable and mostly rewriting press releases in the newspapers. That's one definition of a profession. Show up 9 to 5 and fill the space between the ads. It's all about the money.

On another note that contradicts the myth of this business about journalists making a difference is that corporate ethical standards prevent journalists from even pretending to make a difference - by banning what is mislabeled as "advocacy" journalism.

That's another subject I tried to address as an academic - to no avail.

The Society of Environmental Journalists - a professional organization as opposed to a union - got bogged down in this debate in the early 1990s, pretty much ensuring that no reporters covering the environmental beat could ever make a difference on the environment again. Big mistake, but that's another dissertation.

Posted by: GW at August 15, 2005 9:58 PM | Permalink

It's true, dealing with bias now won't do the press any good. The press has been out-of-touch with the American mainstream for so long, it was inevitable that as soon as alternative communication channels came forward, it would be be discarded.

If, back in the 1980s, the managers who were so worried about lack of diversity in color and sex had considered the 80-20 Democrat-Republican split an equal problem, instead of listening to FAIR and taking comfort in getting hit from both sides, something could have been salvaged.

I'm not saying necessarily that the 80-20 split tilted coverage to the left. Instead, it should have been a big red flashing indicator that the press was out of touch with a country that hasn't returned 51% for a Democrat in any presidential election since 1964. And in a buisiness based on communication, ever single day's work will implicitly inform the customers that the producers are out of touch with them.

Rather than worry about this evident imbalance, the press spent three decades doing buisiness as usual -- in practice, three decades of telling the public that it didn't understand the public, that it wasn't part of the public. After the press put in that much work laying the ground, the stage was set for a White House to say to the press, "We don't have to talk to you. You don't represent the public." The people already believed it, because the press had implicitly said so for years.

And now it's too late. There are too many alternative channels of information; the traditional press as an institution doesn't have enough of the audience to convince the public as a whole that it is a representative of the public. And economically, it can't -- because a significant stratum of current viewers/readers would go away to their own alternative media if they tried.

Posted by: Anonymous at August 15, 2005 10:10 PM | Permalink

Journalism is a job.

Succesful journalists present information in an entertaining way.

The measure of a journalists success is making the future less suprising.

MSM and other legacy media are being beaten hands down at this by Blogs.

On the Internet we route around your censorship.

Posted by: Rob Read at August 15, 2005 10:18 PM | Permalink

I don’t understand how any journalist could believe themselves capable of reporting anything without introducing their own bias. Everything we experience is filtered through our own worldview before we ourselves even understand it. What is reported and how it is reported is inherently biased by the reporter. I don’t know what they teach you in J school, but I suspect that the “higher calling” concept is crippling your understanding of bias.

US troops fought Iraqi army troops in Iraq. Are they colonialists or liberators?
Some Iraqis celebrated in Baghdad after US troops moved in. Were they liberated citizens, collaborators or a mob preparing to loot? Was it a large crowd or a handful?
A bomb exploded killing Iraqi army recruits. Was it the act of a resistance fighter or a terrorist?

The Internet has completely changed the way I gather information. I have access to news and commentary from all over the world. I especially enjoy blogs since, in some cases, they are written by the sources themselves or by people who are closer to the sources than any reporter could be. I know what those sources’ biases are because they tell me, and in some cases, those people’s worldview is what I’m interested in learning about.

Posted by: Mark K at August 15, 2005 10:21 PM | Permalink

I love how dedicated journalists are to their profession! However, and i doubt anyone will understand much less respond.

As dedicated to your profession as you all claim, why is it the average american majority is the one who still feels left out?

I'm afraid there is a widening gulf between the press and the public! Don't get me wrong, you guys have a very hard job to fill (starting to realize that myself). But, after reading the comments in this section, you all are still grappling with why you love your profession, (which is good and all in and of itself), instead, of remembering that the public at large is what pays society's bills!

Instead of being hijacked by the extremists of our society, in search of the sensational. Remember those of us who do make society go around!! We love this country as much as those screaming extremists (no... i'm not just talking about mrs. sheehan either!)

I know my writing sucks, but hey, that's why i used to count on you guys/gals on getting my points across! Now... i have to show the entire world my written ignorance!!


Posted by: Panther at August 15, 2005 10:31 PM | Permalink

The idea that journalists should "make a difference" has ruined modern journalism. They should report the facts objectively, not in service of an agenda. We don't have a press corps these days, we have an ideology corps.

Posted by: TallDave at August 15, 2005 10:32 PM | Permalink

I agree with Steve. The "I want to make a difference!" and "I want to speak truth to power" is exactly why you are losing market share.

Your job is to provide information, not spin. This happens way too much when some journo decides to spin the monthly unemployment figures into 'speaking truth to power.' You know, many of us have taken econ classes and we don't buy the spin.

It gets even worse with military reporting, where many journos apparently don't even bother to learn the terms of the story...the factual errors boggle the mind. Maybe instead of learning how powerful your job is and how you're going to use that power you guys should be doing some basic reading.

That's the crux when selling information. Once your information is deemed unreliable or tainted, of course people will go elsewhere. I also agree with the poster who asked for more context. I despise CNN when to cover an issue it puts on two opposing viewpoints...gee I could simply go to those people's blogs and learn that myself. I also despise when journalists interview other jounalists...seeing Larry King ask Christiane Amanpour about the Afghani legal system is simply hilarious.

and if you keep spinning for one side, don't be suprised when you lose half the population to a competitor who does the same as you, but from the other angle.

Posted by: Aaron at August 15, 2005 10:40 PM | Permalink

Glynn, I offer this: there are lots of academics who define professionalism in terms of the "technology" of the profession, by which I mean the skilled work of enacting the profession. The doing of surgery, the diagnosing of disease, the arguing of a legal case, the writing of brief, the design of building that will stand up, the creation of a machine that will turn energy into movement.

Education is in deep trouble because it failed to define the practice in terms of specific professional technology. Now, anyone and everyone thinks it's easy. It is, or it's not. But what's worse for teachers who have struggled to learn to teach better, the profession has abandoned them by clinging to some wrongheaded notion that ethics or some sort of wedding to government or higher thought is more important that actual work of teaching or learning.

Journalism is right there. If you argue that there is no practice of journalism to be taught professionally, then it is nothing more important than embroidery. It's a craft, and anyone can do it. Just pick up a book at Michaels and couple of threads and you're in. Is that really what you mean?

There's no practice, just desire? Really. That means a drug addict could be considered a professional.

I don't think so. BUt you are started down this path. Be careful where it takes you.

Posted by: JennyD at August 15, 2005 10:42 PM | Permalink

a couple of things. First, electronic media, whether online sites of the established media or the new blogging media is probably exerting a profound and growing influence on news reporting. As an anecdotal aside: a friend who delivers newspapers as a side job mentioned that when someone moves, the new owner/renter is often unlikely to subscribe if age 40 or under.
Second, the "just the facts" part of journalism (I actually had a class in high school) seems to be discredited. I find that also in my profession(am a behavioral scientist type): just reporting the findings is denigrated, especially if you work in a "hot" topic like HIV or gay rights or civil rights. You are expected to take a position. Personally I find it quite hard to find news sources that present to their best ability the facts, as well as commentary about the facts. Often the facts are slanted, either through judicious use of words with connotations in the right direction, or through the omission of information (for example, that the person being quoted is a former Clinton or Bush appointee).
This is why I recently discontinued my own newspaper subscription and now -- when there is a topic of interest -- read multiple online news reports as well as blogs.
But, if there were a newspaper that really tried hard to present all the relevant facts, and made efforts to disclose the mysteries of the king, and provided commentaries from all sides (kind of like the McNeal News Hour), I would be eternally grateful.

Posted by: David Chiriboga at August 15, 2005 10:51 PM | Permalink

I am reminded of the guy who looks for his keys under the lamppost because that's where the light is.

Journalists are still looking in the wrong place: they think that if they found a truer, more pure idealistic version of journalism, THEN they'd have readers.

The fact is, your customers don't give a darn about you "making a difference." They just wanted the facts, ma'am. Yes, you can argue about bias and ethics and pontificate about the role of journalism to fight corruption, but the only people who think that journalism is about such issues are journalists and other intellectuals. Everyone else wants the news.

That's your problem: not that a girl who know so little of the world that she thinks a SOCIOLOGY degree "makes a difference", not even that she might have a better chance at it than you. No, that "making a difference" was your goal, and still is theirs.

Consider what your customers want news for. Maybe then your torch wouldn't be the white flame of justice that you hoped for, but at least it would provide you some light.

Posted by: anonymouse at August 15, 2005 11:23 PM | Permalink

It is obvious that Jenny D and Steve have has made the best and brightest comments on this thread. Their observations fall on deaf ears. Only the nutjob searching for a life or a meaningful thought has responded to her. This is no surprise. Some covering fire over Kilgore Trout... an easy target to the nodding heads. (no offense KT, but you left yourself open to the talking point counter attack... no bias here, just move along)

If you want to determine the problem with journalism, journalists should look in the mirror. But no, that is logical. When one is on a crusade (make a diff), logic is not an option.

Posted by: Horst Graben at August 15, 2005 11:41 PM | Permalink

You see, this is why I don't like news driven by focus groups.

Here, in a short time, we've had a mini-focus group on the future of the media. And if we count votes, the media lost. We in the biz can all shuffle off to retirement. Or find job as 'content providers.'

But the findings are contradictory and self-referential. The order is in for news that isn't biased but has an opinion; that is fact-based but not too many facts. Straight-forward but feisty.

OK. You win. But first a question: those of you who get your news from blogs or Yahoo or news sites, where exactly do you think the reporting comes from?

Somewhere behind the verbiage and flash art, you'll likely find it was reported by a MSM reporter.

That's not to say the web isn't a good source of news. It is. But if you think you're leaving the old media behind, you're in serious denial.

I'm all for gathering news from as many sources as possible - all received with large amounts of critical judgment. But reliance on blog news too often leaves you in affinity-group land, where you hear the things that justify your own beliefs. If that's how you want to learn about the world, that is, I suppose, your choice.

David Crisp asks where the Hannity's and Instapundits fit into the media equation and it's a good question. Largely, the cable talk shows and many of the political blogs are the triumph of opinion over news. We all have opinions much as we all have belly buttons.

As for the folks who confuse bad journalism with reports that challenge their own political/cultural bias, they have always been with us.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 15, 2005 11:51 PM | Permalink

Given some of the grand "missions" that journalism has adopted--legalized abortion being chief among them--perhaps it's better that the profession is losing its sense of mission and becoming just enough 9-to-5 job. We've been fussing about abortion for over thirty years, yet the press still calls one side by the name it likes, "prochoice," while refusing to use "pro-life" outside direct quotes.

And there's the the fact that many in the media, as a matter of stated policy, avoid words like "terrorism" when the victims are Israeli Jews. Kill a Jewish child, and you're a "militant." But kill a BBC journalist and you become a "terrorist." That isn't bias. That's bigotry pure and simple.

Unborn babies and Jewish children as Untermenschen. Is there any wonder why young journalism students are becoming disillusioned?

--Mike Perry, Seattle, author of Untangling Tolkien and editor of Dachau Liberated

Posted by: Mike Perry at August 15, 2005 11:56 PM | Permalink

Journalism does not seem to me to be a profession if it is practiced correctly. Rather, it is a question of a person having a certain kind of talent - the ability to correctly apprehend the reality underlying appearances - coupled with an ability to convey that understanding of reality to readers by using language skillfully.

But what I see in the papers, when I bother to read past the comics, is a kind of superficial and even adolescent understanding of whatever is being reported on, coupled with a pathetic inability to use language correctly, much less skillfully.

On the internet, on the other hand, I can find skillful writers who seem to be able to see fairly deep into any situation, and are aided by the abilities of a network of similarly capable people, some of whom are the readers themselves.

Well, for whatever reason, the toothpaste is out of the tube & you can't get it back in. I don't believe that any thinking person trusts the news media in general anymore, at least on any political topic. We all try to find a source that seems to share first principles with us (Fox News for the patriotic, for instance) and take our news from that source. Likewise, we find bloggers who seem to get at matters from a perspective that makes sense, & we stick with them as filters for the news.

Perhaps all the real journalists will be bloggers in the future. Do you suppose we will ever see a School of Blogging?

Posted by: harmon at August 16, 2005 12:01 AM | Permalink

I have been more concerned with the premise of the commments in this thread than any I have seen for much of my time on the internet.
I am a consumer, and a average normal citizen of middle america. What has happened to "journalism" (and I use quotes in general terms and I believe it has disappeared as a legitimate and honorable profession) is of their own doing.
In my young years, learning to gleen information during WWII, I depended on the Newspapers for acurate information, I believe to this day it had a high degree of accuracy and was fairly reported.
Over the years, it has been an experience that is more and more disappointing, so obviously biased, to the point that it is reprehensible.
I have gone from reading 5 papers a day to none. I still get one a day, but only for the stories on the sports page, and much of that is also lousy journalism. I get my information and facts from sources available on the internet, and not all from the blogs. It is apparent they have a bias as well, but for the most part, are honest about their political bent.
If journalism is to return to an honorable profession, and organs like the New York Times and the Minneapolis Tribune want to be viable again, then they need to return to reporting facts that represent all sides of an issue or event, and are not presenting the opinion of the editorial board and publishers. That is the condition is so apparent in their daily issues today that one has no difficulty in seeing through it.
As it is, whenever I see a headline for a story that might interest me, I read the last 3 paragraphs first, and I usually know what I need to know. The result is I don't read the story.
All the time I need to read a complete newspaper, other than the sports and stock market reports, is approximately 5 minutes.
Freedom of the press has evolved into bias of the press.

Posted by: Kieth I at August 16, 2005 12:06 AM | Permalink

It's a great thread, and I'm passing it on to a kid just trying to break into your racket. But from the outside, what strikes me the most about journalism is not what you once taught that you don't believe anymore - it's the implicit narcissism. Depend on it - a Time reporter gets part of himself blown off in Iraq, the story will be far bigger than any tales of heroism that have come out of there. In column inches and focus, it's still bigger, even a year or two later. You'll even do stories to the effect that the Administration hasn't gotten out the heroism stories effectively: unless they can, like, MOVE me the journalist, their stories are just Not Going To Get Out, and it's their fault that they don't. Make me do my job, turkey.

Since Watergate, you guys have thought you're the story. And it's just like media bias; I don't think most of you go around saying, "Lemme craft a good sneer at McChimpy for today;" the sneers leak out and you don't even notice them. Same with the idea that your reactions and your activities are worth a story. I don't suppose you ever say, "Hey. My reactions are a LOT more interesting than some booby's with a badge and a Glock, or a helmet and a firehose. After all, I'm ... A Journalist. I'd better center this story on me. It's what my readers would want me to do." No. You just do it, over and over again. I don't imply you notice your narcissistic practice any more than the sneers. But we do.

Posted by: Simon at August 16, 2005 12:09 AM | Permalink

Ted says, "Whenever I read a story about my specialty, it is usually so filled with errors to make it unusable. Null Content."

That observation wears a long beard, and it is exactly the ungenerous thought I usually have when I read media criticism by blogging nonjournalists: absolutely clueless.

My guess is that the reaction Ted and I have to each other is wired deep inside all humans who possess, or fancy they possess, specialized knowledge. The outsider always seems hopeless.

Which is pretty much the reaction I have to observers here who say journalism blew it when it abandoned "just the facts" reporting. That's dead wrong. Blogs succeed because bloggers have successfully abandoned the strictures of verification and objectivity that prevent journalists from saying what they know to be true.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 16, 2005 12:16 AM | Permalink

I'd be tempted to agree with Jenny D. except that the results so far from Teach For America show that teachers who majored in the subjects they teach get better results than education majors do.

Similarly, I'd expect that the average econ major could write a better story about the latest unemployment figures than we typically see in the NYT or WaPo.

Most newspaper writing is horrible. Just compare, for example, a few articles from The Economist to a few from the Washington Post. The Post writers insult my intelligence every day with cutesy leads, opinions masquerading as news, and a plethora of unnamed, and hence unbelievable, sources.

Posted by: Jeff H at August 16, 2005 12:18 AM | Permalink

I no know what it would have been like to been around when the Dinosaurs looked around and thought, "Hey, where did all this snow come from? I trust its going to go away soon."

The press believed credibility was something that it could spend. They started spending it on February 27th, 1968. By January 26, 1992 it was all used up. American journalism is a dead institution: whether you believe you are telling the truth, whether you believe you should tell the truth, whether you are telling the truth - it doesn't matter. Because after spending all of your credibility trying to 'make a difference', the American people will never believe the press again.

After January 26, 1992, I stopped paying attention to the press. I knew the truth, because I knew the man. I knew that was being lied to, and what's worse is I knew that the press knew it was a lie and didn't care. After that, I started going straight to the people making the news to get my facts. If I want to know what is happening in Iraq, I ask a few Marines and a few Iraqi's. Going to a journalist to get your facts is like going to a librarian to get an operation or have your care fixed. Get your facts from people who are experts in the subject at hand. As an expert in a few subjects myself, I always find the presses coverage of the things I truly _know_ to be laughably bad. Every person who I respect for thier knowledge of something assures me that this is also true for the subjects that that are expert in.

Hense, I'd just assume all you relics lose your jobs. If there is anything at all more useless than a journalist, it's a professor of journalism.

Posted by: celebrim at August 16, 2005 12:21 AM | Permalink

Dave McL,

The big question is: where are the advertisers going?

Watch the Chrysler ad budget for a glimpse of the future.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 16, 2005 12:27 AM | Permalink

Since Watergate, you guys have thought you're the story.

Who are you addressing?

Hey everyone: you can stop with the "you guys" and the "you" in reference to journalists, the lot of them. You aren't whispering into the ear of the press here just because the blog says PressThink on the top.

We're just people--some are professional journalists, some are not--with specific ideas and views. We're not the National Press Club finally gathered to hear your diagnosis of what's wrong with it. If you want to tell us for the 3,001st time that journalists lost trust because they forgot how to do "just the facts" reporting, balanced and accurate and true, fine, no problem, that's totally allowed, just say "journalists," not "you guys."

The guys you want just aren't here.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2005 12:29 AM | Permalink

Dave McLemore,

You don't have to take it as a personal affront to yourself, although you can if you wish! But, more to the fact that this is a silent backlash from many & former paper readers & t.v. watchers expressing their opinions because no one else is doing it for them!
It is hard for anyone person or body to be self analytical in regards to their performance. But, when your told to your face or webscreen one can become highly defensive, i do understand! Please... don't be offended, i am not trying to play a pshycologist! Just trying to be helpful!

But i do agree with you to a certain point about where most bloggers get their news from. And in that i do see where the bloggers and reporters can use each others to their mutual benefits.
Instead of seeing the bloggers as rivals and or beneath the true profession of journalism. Look at them more as providing the context to your time constrained, content limited proffesion!
You all aren't being put out to pasture yet! Unless the press chooses to...


Posted by: Panther at August 16, 2005 12:30 AM | Permalink

This discussion is a delightful insight. I'm an outsider to journalism -- consider me a consumer of your "product", and I agree with Steve and Aaron above.

On more than one occasion, trying to follow the evening TV news on political races, I've seen and heard nothing but horse-race comparisons and vague but lip service on which/what/why the cantidates beliefs and positions are. That's why I've turned it all off. I can do better reading blogs and such on the internet.

Journalist, heal thyself? Try this:

News should illuminate, elucidate, and illustrate.
News should not castigate, remonstrate, or titillate.

Present information and it's significance. Save the political posturing and social hand-wringing for the editorials and commentary sections.

And above all, the information should be factual and complete. A half-truth is a deception. If you don't know, say so. Let the reader understand that there is more to be told.

Posted by: Chuck at August 16, 2005 12:41 AM | Permalink

I think that Journalism education should be like Library Science, offering a Masters Degree, but no BS or BA. People going into journalism should know something besides how to write and gather news.
I remember a large Illinois university in the 1970s where the journalism students were in an uproar over a proposed requirement that they would no longer be exempt from actually having to meet the College of Liberals Arts and Sciences minimum number of math and science courses to obtain a BS degree. Their alternative was to take a couple years of a foreign language to get a BA. The outrage from journalism students that they might have to take a course in statistics or computer science or learn the language of another culture stuck with me. I noticed too that the journalism school while having some "change the world" students (is that really a good thing?), also had a lot of "journalism was my second choice after I found out how easy the courses were and how great the parties were" people. To borrow a phrase from Ross Perot "that giant sucking sound" was people who couldn't cut it in other majors flowing to easier majors, of which journalism was perhaps second only to the College of Education. As for people with a mindset of reporting the facts (as opposed to intrepreting the facts), I didn't see them among the students that I knew, nor did I see that position promoted by the faculty.
I took 3 courses in the Journalism school, dropping the last one with an A average in disgust over the low quality of the program. I concluded that the major lacked rigor, that the profession attracted an overwhelming number of mediocre students and that the teachers were undeservedly arrogant. There were precious few intelligent, curious students who gave a damn about unbiased reporting. Since then, I have seen nothing to change my college-formed opinions about the state of professional journalism.
I have had the pleasure of reading various newspapers from towns, both big and small, that were written in the first half of the 20th century. In many ways they reinforce the notion that the rise of journalism as a college major has mirrored a decline in the profession as a whole. Today's stars of reporting and journalism are almost invariably people that have done something else with their lives and who have a basis of knowledge in some other discipline.

Posted by: Cedric Richeson at August 16, 2005 12:41 AM | Permalink

The reason expertise in blogs is so rich and rewarding to people starved of information reading the MSM is, I think, because of the dearth of research and verification of what is in the stories. Bloggers must become deeper sources of information and insight in order to be read. The press depends on its bully pulpit(s) and wonders why that pulpit is shrinking.

In the news right now we have "oil at record prices" headlines instead of "Oil seems high but in real dollars it is less than in the Carter administration." Or one party spokesman gives an inflammatory quote and the article must quote an opposition quote to be fair instead of giving me 2 grafs on why the first statement is objectively false. Politicians and pundits *know* that their statements will not be questioned, because that is not the self-interpreted role of the press in this day and age. Bush says "Kerry only passed 1 bill in his career", and the reporter gets a Kerry spokesman to say this is attack politics instead of the reporter simply researching whether this is true or not, then presenting that fact back to Bush. ("He actually passed 13, Mr. President. Do you retract your statement?") Then get a reaction to those facts from the opposition--not just to the quotes.

Many news reporters have become aggregators of quotes, rather than aggregators of knowledge. Soundbites are for 5 second clips on TV and political ads. If you want me to read your article, get to the underlying facts (not meaning) teach me more than the guy one click over from you and show me how you peeled the onion to get at truth.

As I wrote the last sentence, I realized that many might read that as "Truth", but I just want "truth". It might be "true" that a politician was quoted as saying "ABC" but telling me that is not useful information unless the story is about his opinion, rather than about the topic of the quote. "Bush Says Economy Strong But Others Disagree" is a useless story. If you don't understand why, then journalism is lost forever.

Posted by: Keith at August 16, 2005 12:56 AM | Permalink

We have thought of some of these things. For example, that it might be good for journalism students to know something besides journalism. That idea actually occurred to some of us during our long climbs up and down from the ivory tower.

Which is why all undergraduate journalism majors must have a second major at NYU-- like history, or biology or English. At the graduate level, we discourage anyone from applying who majored in journalism in college.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2005 12:56 AM | Permalink

I am glad to hear that NYU requires a second major. Do you know what second major(s) are most popular for journalism majors at NYU?

Posted by: Cedric Richeson at August 16, 2005 1:08 AM | Permalink

"Who are you addressing?

Hey everyone: you can stop with the "you guys" and the "you" in reference to journalists, the lot of them. You aren't whispering into the ear of the press here just because the blog says PressThink on the top.

We're just people--some are professional journalists, some are not--with specific ideas and views."

Wait a minute? You guys aren't even journalists, ex-journalists, or even journalism professors? If you are not, then why the heck am I coming to you for information about journalism?

And if you are, then my comment stands. And you should be glad that no one actually thinks that we have the ear of the national press club. Then you might see some real anger.

Posted by: celebrim at August 16, 2005 1:09 AM | Permalink

Jenny said (in quotes):

"I offer this: there are lots of academics who define professionalism in terms of the 'technology" ..."

Not sure where you are coming from, but around here, that would be called "trade school." No self-respecting liberal arts professor would go there.

"Education is in deep trouble because it failed to define the practice in terms of specific professional technology."

Really? That's news.

"If you argue that there is no practice of journalism to be taught professionally, then it is nothing more important than embroidery. It's a craft, and anyone can do it."

I didn't argue that, myself specifically, but when you think about what you just said, I believe you just defined - bloggers.

Many an editor has been quotated over the years saying just that, although all the corporate news companies require a college degree now - they just don't necessarily check to make sure you actually have one in some high profile cases (can you define Jayson Blair?).

"I don't think so. BUt you are started down this path. Be careful where it takes you."

I didn't blaze the trail or start the path. Just trying to help you in your quest to be educated on the subject : )

Posted by: GW at August 16, 2005 1:13 AM | Permalink

The guys you want just aren't here.

Well isn't that part of the problem? The "guys we want" won't listen to us. So perhaps when those with a gripe finally get a hold of someone who is part of the establishment, we let them have it. The press in general has an amazing ability to dodge criticism and accountability, don't think this goes un-noticed by the proles.

Journalists as a breed tend to be incredibly thin-skinned and defensive, and highly dismissive of the general public. One need only look at the op-ed pages of the major dailies to get a taste of the disdain for the common folk that emanates from the coastal enclaves. The press who for so long assumed to speak for the masses has found its voice muted by the very public they look down upon. There is a serious disconnect between the press and the public, the backlash is growing. No longer are we content to just accept what is sent our way, that level of trust eroded long ago.

Perhaps Journalism is dead as profession, and now we get what our liberal educators have created, infotainment media driven by profit instead of truth. One need only look at the overwhelming coverage of these spectacular media creations such as Natalee Holloway, Cindy Sheehan, and the various celebrity trials to see what direction “journalism” is going. I find it odd to hear the J-School Frankenstein’s lamenting the monster they themselves created.

Posted by: Gabriel Chapman at August 16, 2005 1:23 AM | Permalink

This is certainly a lively debate, but I'm having trouble seeing past the politics of a lot of the posters to get to the essential nub of the thing. What's wrong with media and media education seems to be whatever "I" think it is. When I edited a newspaper, one of the things I had to cope with was trying to report for 45,000 readers, each of whom had their own definition of what a newspaper should be, and that seems to be the case here.

A lot of people (journalists, educators, bloggers) are struggling with the question of how journalism should/could be done, not what we replace it with once we've thrown it out, or made it something that complies with what "I" think it should be.

The idea that most blogs are better researched than good journalism is questionable, as is the idea of getting the truth about something as complex as Iraq by talking to a few soldiers and a few Iraqis. We need good journalism from a multitude of sources, including personal sources, to help us figure it out.

The question isn't how we bend the media to "my" view of life, it's how to we get to that good journalism, and I've seen only a precious few suggestions for that here so far.

Posted by: Mark Hamilton at August 16, 2005 1:34 AM | Permalink

You, and the people you link to, say all this as though it were a bad thing.

You're having to come to terms with the fact, as you never realized but as all around you can see, that you're not, and never were, the people's tribunes. You're just press hacks.

Most of the new kids get it. Some behave worse than others, but you can hardly expect people who knowingly choose to be press hacks to behave very well.

Get over yourselves. Reporters (before the "journalists") got (or made up) hot stories because it beats working, which by all accounts it still does for some people. If it doesn't for you, go find honest work.

R. Alazar

Posted by: Mr. Alazar at August 16, 2005 1:43 AM | Permalink

This is an impressively earnest piece. In some ways, I think my own field of law has some of the same problems as journalism, in some ways even more frustrating. The points about ethics, for example, rang true. I see a lot of discussions of legal ethics among lawyers as more about "what you can get away with" than true ethics.

I have never really believed that my choice of vocation had much to do with "making a difference." That concept strikes me as egoistic, arrogant and doomed to frustration. I'm not even sure what it means. Did Stalin make a difference?
Mother Teresa? Stalin murdered far more people than Mother Teresa ever helped. Who made the most difference? Did William Randolph Hearst make a useful difference when he fomented the Spanish American war? I think that we'd be better off with journalists with the goal of reporting facts that are useful, accurate and objective as soon as they can be determined. A person who knows his job and does it is a lot more valuable than one who is intent on "making a difference," because I don't know what that entails. It sounds suspiciously like becoming the next Woodward and Bernstein or making history. We need fewer Dan Rathers and more journeymen. To be a reporter who can dig up essential facts, with reasonable timeliness and accuracy is as admirable as being the next Edward R. Murrow. I would tell them that the aim is to be a good journeyman reporter first, and a columnist only after you've earned it. It's not enough to be a clever wordsmith, you have to tell the truth, and to know what that is takes a lot of experience.

When I watch a White House press conference and reporter after reporter asks the president if he doesn't think he owes America an apology for being wrong about WMD in Iraq, I get disgusted. They have concluded that he was somehow dishonest, but that isn't their prerogative. That is for the finders of fact, me and other citizens, to decide. It seems as if the reporters think it is their job to belittle the official before them, to impugn his character and create the impression that what he says is unreliable and dishonest. That's not what I expect from those who represent me, the news consumer. They are my proxies, and should ask the questions I want answered, not to argue with the official or comment on his remarks. Too often these reporters resemble Helen Thomas more than Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley.

I would tell them that an attitude of entitlement and superiority is unworthy of a true journalist. Respect for one's readers and less concern about being recognized are gold. If Jayson Blair had focused on being worthy of the trust he was given, fairly or not, he wouldn't have become a cautionary tale.

Posted by: AST at August 16, 2005 1:50 AM | Permalink

I'm a professional writer/editor, but one thing I have not observed in the comments to date is a discussion of the role of writing quality. I seek to write well -- clearly, concisely, coherently -- and enjoy reading others who write well. Conversely, poor writing detracts from the attractiveness of an article, regardless of content, and often causes me to stop before the end. Too many writers rely upon literary shouting or other manipulations to attract attention rather than crafting a quality product. This contagion is lowering respect for the profession.

Posted by: civil truth at August 16, 2005 1:54 AM | Permalink

Perhaps Journalism is dead as profession, and now we get what our liberal educators have created, infotainment media driven by profit instead.

Wait a second: liberal educators--not media execs, or Wall Street's demands, or button-clicking viewers, but liberal educators--are the ones who created "infotainment media driven by profit instead of truth?"

Wowzer. I mean, I know the universities are next on the culture war hit list and everything, after Big Media is finally discredited. And honestly, I know we deserve it, after poisoning the minds of the young for so long. Ever the realist, I'm even ready to go to the right wing's liberal educators re-education camp (as long as it's in the summer...) but is this a preview of how much disbelief we're going to have to suspend?

Just tell me now, so I can prepare... Were we (liberal college professors) responsible for Enron too? Was that us? I am ready to confess, I just need to know the scope of the menace I'm responsible for.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2005 1:54 AM | Permalink

Not my fault you let your "profession" become hijacked. Are you really going to say that those who taught the craft bear no responsibility for its current position? Your fingertips must hurt from pointing the blame at so many others besides yourselves.

Big media is doing a fine job of discrediting itself. Then again, the journalists themselves fall prey to the very "groupthink" they so often criticize those ignorant red-staters of

Posted by: Gabriel Chapman at August 16, 2005 2:05 AM | Permalink

As expected, PR gets a solid knock by commentators here, summarised as "if you are only interested in good news, go into PR". In thirty years of running PR businesses, I have NEVER met a journalist who understood what we really do. I have never met one who wanted to know, either. They always prefer to trot out the cliche view. Well, good PR professionals do engage in the bad news, it's just they do it in private with their clients. They do more to keep companies honest than you would ever want to beleive. We are the ones who explain to clients, especially in the marketing function, that they have to tell the truth, not try to pass off some advertising bullshit to the media. Especially these days when corporate lying as no chance of getting past the anonymous whistle blower.
Peter Hehir
New Zealand

Posted by: Peter Hehir at August 16, 2005 2:12 AM | Permalink

"Just tell me now, so I can prepare... Were we (liberal college professors) responsible for Enron too? Was that us? I am ready to confess, I just need to know the scope of the menace I'm responsible for."

Please Jay, don't belittle this redneck red-stater. The scope is not insignificant and many of us in fly-over country have noticed the pandering that goes into either the west coast or east coast! Middle america is not just made up of the much hyped & corrupt Enron yahoo's & other negative stereotypes! If anyone is remotely connected to the MSM, i'm gonna let them know what i think!

Unfortunately, i'm sorry that it had to be you! But, you just happen to have grabbed the wrong end of the stick in this matter!


Posted by: Panther at August 16, 2005 2:34 AM | Permalink

"Unfortunately, i'm sorry that it had to be you!"

your website!

Posted by: Panther at August 16, 2005 2:38 AM | Permalink

Total objectivity is indeed impossible. With enough time (it wouldn't take much) pure objectivity would eventually fail after one mistake.

The real problem is that either todays "reporters" see any objectivity as pointless, or they believe they are sufficiently objective. Journalists should make an attempt to report facts even if those facts don't conform to their leftward bias, but it is very clear that a great majority of the MSM does not bother.

Perhaps liberals believe that their viewpoint is too important to justify making money or securing credibility.

Posted by: Josh at August 16, 2005 3:05 AM | Permalink

I am an attorney and a former soldier. My brother is a computer engineer. I can say with complete confidence that MSM writing on any of these topics is usually riddled with errors, from the trivial to the fundemental. These are the topics that my brother and I know about - what am I to assume about the reportage on topics of which I know little? Am I to assume that reporters are all over those topics, and it's just my areas of specialization where they display woeful ignorance? What would you assume?

How is it that a journalist who spends months on assignment in Iraq is totally unable to differentiate different types of vehicles (tanks vs armoured personnel carriers vs self propelled artillery etc) or correctly reproduce military unit and organization designations? I mean really, you spend MONTHS IMMERSED in this stuff, and it's still all wrong (with the exception of John Burns). I used to teach this stuff to farmboys with grade 10 educations and they were able to grasp the essentials in a matter of weeks. There are plenty of non-classified manuals which explain all this stuff - and many of them even have pictures!

Seriously, how am I supposed to take reportage seriously when I am constantly tripping over all the errors? Is it really a wise move to basically write-off all military vets by writing this way? How about the NYT just hires ONE editor who used to be in the service - they could even do it as a diversity hire - and have him vet all the stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, not for content or bias, just for factual and technical accuracy.

Posted by: holdfast at August 16, 2005 3:20 AM | Permalink

A few folks have mentioned that the "make a difference" desire has been journalisms undoing. I agree. Think about what making a difference means, in nuts-and-bolts details, for a journalist and compare it to other professions.

A doctor makes a difference by patching up people who would otherwise die. A fire fighter makes a difference by pulling a kid out of a burning building. A tow truck driver makes a difference by getting you home when your car breaks down on I-90. But how does a journalist make a difference?

By convincing people of "the truth." As you see it anyway (propagandists convince people of stuff you don't agree with). Isn't "making a difference" just a polite way of saying "convincing people to believe the right things?" Which is fine really, but it's not journalism - it's advocacy. So if the NYT decides to charge for columnists and give away the rest, they're just deciding to charge for the folks most up-front about doing what "making a difference" really means.

Jay was right with his observation that simultaneously wanting innocence and power was a contradiction that couldn't hold up. For those of you (not "you guys", just "those of you") who got into this profession to "make a difference", look into your heart - what did that mean to you then? Does it still mean something to you now?

If so, does it mean "giving people the best information I can so they can make their own decision, even if I disagree with it?" Or does it mean "convince enough people to make the right choice that the world will be better?" If it's the second one, if what you really want out of your professional life is to get people to adopt your moral convictions and change the world because of it, then square up your work with your desire and become a columnist. Or a pundit. Or a politician. Maybe even a priest. But don't call yourself a reporter, because a reporters job is to report, not convince.

If you want to be a reporter, then do like Rob Read suggested - try to make the future less surprising to your readers but stop worrying about their morality. Yeah, I know - that makes it harder to make a difference. But decide what you want - innocence or power.

Or rather, ask your students what they want, and guide them as best you can one way or the other. Let them know they can't have both. Nobody is innocent if they intentionally set out to change public opinion. Because the truth will never quite be perfectly on their side, and they'll need to hide or massage a few bits of it here and there, or else the "higher truth" might not be received quite as well.

Posted by: JMHawkins at August 16, 2005 3:56 AM | Permalink

Some of us are out there 'making a difference' - or at least trying to affect a change for the better. Maybe I've been away from Academia too long, though. I want the torch, and from certain people I think I'm getting it. Or, should I say 'certain torches'? There are some things connected with Old Media that I (and others) don't want any part of ...

We may be a small 'rebel alliance,' but I think our numbers are growing and will continue to do so. It was a shock to me going from J-School to the 'real world' of modern media seven years ago. The stint, though, was worth the time. I probably stayed at least one or two years too long, though.

Anyways, great post and don't give up on some of us out here toiling away in the trenches. I really think a literary journalism revival is just around the corner as well. There is a new hope. ;)

Muncie Free Press

Posted by: kpaul at August 16, 2005 4:05 AM | Permalink

I chose to be an engineer in order to make a difference.

I have the honor of desiging the I/O board for the worlds first BBS. (a precursor to the www)

Did I make a difference?


Reporters can make a difference by the stories they choose to write.

The difficulty always is that such stories can easily turn out to be half truths.


Take the current attitude towards Islamic terrorists (ooops - insurgents).

So called content neutral journalism is not content neutral. It objectively aids folks who wish to enlarge the scope of tyranny in the world.

I'd like to see an anti-fascist journalism. One that promotes self government over the rule of thugs.


And the commenter who said bloggers have no fact checkers.

Every one of my readers is a fact checker ( I have open comments) so on average I have 100 fact checkers every day. On really good days I have 2,000 fact checkers.

What DM (Dinosaur Media) organization has even 100 fact checkers on a given story?

Journalism as a profession is shrinking. Journalism as a public art (any one can join in) is growing very fast.

A scary time for those in the old media. Exciting for those in the new.


It is all about the money. Ad revenue supports reporters. Where is ad money going? Targeted marketing on the internet.

i.e. computers and communications are changing everything.

As an engineer I have helped design a system that puts me in competition with engineers in India.

No one is immune.

I do have one thing in my favor. It takes a lot of effort and time to learn the engineering trade. Journalism has no such barriers to entry.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 16, 2005 6:49 AM | Permalink

Dave Crisp writes:

Blogs succeed because bloggers have successfully abandoned the strictures of verification and objectivity that prevent journalists from saying what they know to be true.

Oh come on! Talk about long beards. Due to their very nature, blogs are almost always self correcting and in shorter time than it takes to get a correction from the editor in your daily newspaper. That assumes the editor's correction can be found in the first place.

Blogs succeed because their opinions, prejudices and sympathies are laid bare. I enjoy the op/ed pages for that very reason. I actually found this post by following a link from Instapundit. But what am I supposed to make of another of Glenn's posts linking to the NYT that changed its verbiage to cast an unfavorable light on GWB? What am I supposed to make of Howell Raines admission that the NYT was making no attempt to be objective, that it was in fact a liberal paper? Or what I am to make of the CNN chief who said journalists were being targetted in Iraq with nary a shred of evidence? Or the recent editorial in the NYT that carried lines not written by the author?

Professional journalists are expected to at least make an attempt at objectivity. Call it a double standard if you will but hey! you chose the profession. I agree with Roger Simon when he says it will never happen. Since journalism is your job, there should be plenty of words for you to both report and editorialize. I'm not asking for perfection. All I ask as a journalism consumer is that you attempt to keep the bias to a minimum for simple reportage.

Posted by: NTropy at August 16, 2005 6:57 AM | Permalink

I’ve only read the first 7 or 8 paragraphs so I’ll keep my opinion based on an initial problem stated as a lack of zeal for a sense of mission. Contrary to Mr Stepp, personal mission is the reason for any current disillusionment because its always comes down to me. Objective truth –raw impartial factual observation- is boring and not self-serving. Journalism has reaped of arrogance from the 60s onward and now most in the profession have evolved into self-centered liberal/leftists. It’s pure PC party-line ideology discrediting and/or bashing anything perceived to the right. Its a work place mentality us against them and just not as exciting because personal glory has dwindled.

Posted by: steve at August 16, 2005 7:04 AM | Permalink

Cindy Sheehan is a good story.

So are the Gold Star Mothers who supprt the war.

So tell me Oh great journos, why don't we get at least equal time from the war supporting mothers? Don't they have a good story to tell too?

Or is it always about Chimpy and his bad decisions.

BTW very bad decisions are very common even when winning wars. (WW2 has lots of examples - which is another journo problem - no historical context)

The question you have to ask yourself as members of the public who claim to want to make a difference - why does it look to a large number of readers that the press looks like it supports fascism? Is that the difference you hoped to make? More thug governments in the world?

Vietnam was the low point of advocasy journalism. Why. Re-ed camps. 100,000 post war murders. 500,000 boat people. And yet I do not see one shred of evidence that the anti-Vietnam War folks are the least bit sorry for this outcome.

BTW I supported the policies that lead to that horrible outcome. It will be an eternal stain on my record.

However it is nothing new to journalism. Look at the many journos who thought Soviet Socialism was the wave of the future and reported accordingly.

The rot has been there all along.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 16, 2005 7:41 AM | Permalink

Darn it M. Simon, *I'M* supposed to complain about Vietnam!

Fact: the US press wanted to "make a difference".
Fact: Cronkite, most others in the press, wanted a policy of US out of Vietnam
Fact: the US, under Nixon, left Vietnam.

Fact: after the US left, there was nobody to stop evil genocide -- so evil genocide happened.

Logical conclusion: everybody who wanted the "policy" of the US to leave Vietnam, was supporting the result of genocide.

Fact: no major news proponent, including Jay Rosen, has accepted their advocacy "made a difference" in Vietnam -- and the difference was ACCEPTING, instead of fighting against, genocide.

That's the "most important" narrative of Vietnam; and it is THAT narrative which, unspoken and festering, is rotting out the moral core of journalism.

As of Nixon's re-election in 1972, either it was good or bad that America left Vietnam.

In the comment about partisan's using news as ammunition -- I suggest the goal of a good journalist is to give THE BEST ammunition, to BOTH sides.

I'm trying, above, to give more ammo to the side that wanted to stay in Vietnam and fight genocide.
And there's the easily confused of issue of "what is being done" with "how" it is being done.

Nixon's illegal bombing was a bad "how"; his lies were bad "how" (plus he was arguably very unpleasant); his purpose was good -- fighting evil commies.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 16, 2005 8:00 AM | Permalink

And in fact, they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be. We in the J-schools failed to catch that. The people on a mission never got around to justifying their mission in the language of democratic politics. They talked about it as a neutral public service instead, but speaking truth to power isn’t neutral, and making a difference isn’t just a service to others. We in the J-schools didn’t do well with that, either.

Thank you for finally figuring that out.

Political activism- often referred to as 'making a difference'- is not compatible with performing a 'neutral public service'. A lot of people who claim to be journalists are actually part-time political activists (if they were full-time, they would be propagandists, not journalists). This has hurt the credibility of the press tremendously, and I don't see a quick or easy fix for the problem.

However, at least some prominent people in the field are realizing what the problem is. That's progress, at least.

I don't want this thread hijacked by Cindy Sheehan's story, latest installment in the blogosphere's media circus. If you can connect it to the post and comments on the post, good.

Fair enough.

Mrs. Sheehan is acually a pretty good example of some things you touched on earlier. It's fairly obvious that some journalists want to 'make a difference', and think that putting Mrs. Sheehan front-and-center is a good way to do that and get a ratings boost: "Tonight, at 11, the mother of a dead soldier 'Speaks Truth To Power!'"

It is quite disgusting to see a mother exploited by political opportunists who hope to discredit the cause her son died for.

Posted by: rosignol at August 16, 2005 8:05 AM | Permalink

Gabriel Chapman's right. The term "profession" has been corrupted by people calling their occupations "professional" when they aren't, because they wanted the status of real professionals like doctors and lawyers. That's why even secretaries call themselves professionals these days. One characteristic of a real profession is that its members hold each other accountable for the quality of their work. Journos used to do this. Formerly, nothing delighted a reporter more than to prove that another reporter's story was flat wrong and publicize that fact. The reporter who broke the false report was expected to fess up and write a correction. Yet, look what happened in the Dan Rather memo scandal. It was a member of the public who showed convincing evidence that the memos broadcast on "60 Minutes" were forgeries. CBS's competitors kept a respectful (to Rather, not to the facts) silence. Rather isn't expected to air a correction, his company writes a dubious report that the memos might, just possibly, maybe, perhaps be genuine--"we can't tell." Then Rather's colleagues give him an award for other reporting regardless of the disgrace he brought on his so-called profession. The reason both Nixon and Clinton got disbarred, while Rather remains a TV journalist, is that real professions penalize their erring members. Fake professions don't.

Posted by: Martin at August 16, 2005 8:45 AM | Permalink

This lengthy discussion perfectly captures (for me) Chris Lasch's argument that the professionalization of the press is directly tied to the lack of participation in the political process in the U.S.

If, as some have suggested, the role of a professional press is to provide information, why do we have the First Amendment? Argument is what's lacking in today's press, and it's what makes the blogosphere so enjoyable. This is what the public needs and craves, although they may not be able to articulate it. It's certainly what our democracy needs.

Along with that, though, we need honesty. Pretending to be detached while offering argument is the height of hypocrisy. Transparency is the byword of the blogosphere, as it should be for the mainstream press.

This "professional press" meme is vastly more important than people think. Making a difference ought to be the core of every journalist's soul. But is that "professional?"

Posted by: Terry Heaton at August 16, 2005 9:18 AM | Permalink

Good reporting is out there. I know because every now and again I stumble across it in the Wall Street Journal (my office has a subscription). I read a long article and end up thinking "well, now what?"

That's the clue that the article presented only facts, not bias and opinion: One is left to draw one's own conclusions.

It's rare, even in the WSJ, but it does happen. (btw: It never happens with the Denver Post; they are always "considerate" enough to tell you what to think in addition to delivering the facts, when they go to the bother of doing more than reprinting AP stories)

If you want to "make a difference", become a politician and do it openly. I agree with most everyone else who commented: One cannot both "make a difference" and be an honest reporter.

Posted by: mrsizer at August 16, 2005 9:34 AM | Permalink

Exactly why do we need a J-school? I am not a journalist or work in the news media but I see great reporting online by people who have never looked at a j-school. What is the purpose of J-school? I'm not just trying to stir the pot either. I would have a tendency to trust more a reporter with extensive experience in the field he or she is reporting on than a "MSM" reporter.

Posted by: Richard Cook at August 16, 2005 9:43 AM | Permalink

Think Kaplan's article, The Media and Medievalism ( is appropriate to this discussion. Key graf:

"The medieval age was tyrannized by a demand for spiritual perfectionism, making it hard to accomplish anything practical. Truth, Erasmus cautioned, had to be concealed under a cloak of piety; Machiavelli wondered whether any government could remain useful if it actually practiced the morality it preached. Today the global media make demands on generals and civilian policymakers that require a category of perfectionism with which medieval authorities would have been familiar. Investigative journalists may often perform laudatory service, but they have also become the grand inquisitors of the age, shattering reputations built up over a lifetime with the exposure of just a few sordid details."

Trying to "make a difference," of course.

Posted by: uninitiated at August 16, 2005 9:46 AM | Permalink

The first thing I thought of when I read this was of a constant debate when I went to j-school and that was that the professors thought USA Today was the future and it was good. I argued it may be the bright future but its emphasis on shorter stories with less depth was a bad idea.
I think I proved right. Maybe they stopped believing what they taught on that front. I hope so.

Posted by: Scott Butki at August 16, 2005 10:18 AM | Permalink

This kind of talk is the whole problem with journalism today. It comes from the perspective that the journalist himself feels lowly compared to those "in power." It doesn't reflect the reality, in the case of Cindy Sheehan, that this "nobody" has been given too much coverage and the press is only beginning to realize now that she is a nutcase who is badly hurting the cause of the leftist journalism anti-war movement.

The real story now is how likely war in Iran will be. But maybe the Cindy Sheehan coverage is happening because journalists are patriotic and want to create a diversion...they don't want to shine any light on whatever secret plans we have for the liberation of Iran.

I read blogs and don't read newspapers anymore.
Journalists could maybe get a clue at places like or or even which is the best "newswire" website despite (or maybe because of) its arch-conservative readership.

Posted by: Jim Peterson at August 16, 2005 10:22 AM | Permalink

The "make a difference" comment struck a chord with me too for it explains both why I entered the newspaper industry and, ultimately, one reason I left it.

I thought that by being a journalist I could stop or reduce apathy in the communities in which I cover. I wanted to comfort the afflicted and help the poor and homeless and make readers think and all the other litany of things many journalists want.

Over time I found myself believing this less and less.
Were there times when I felt I really made a difference? Yes.
Did they seem to be coming less and less often? Yes.

At my last newspaper, in Hagerstown, Md., I was put on the education beat. I come from a family of teachers and had always thought I was too unorganized and too shy to be a teacher but being a reporter had forced me to address those weaknesses.

The more I wrote about teachers in the classroom the more I wanted to BE that teacher in the classroom.

It prompted the question: Which occupation makes
a difference, really, in the big scheme of things?

Yes, I may indirectly make a difference by pointing people to a public hearing or controversty they may not know about or exposing some lie but most of the time any difference made was indirect.

Whereas teaching.. well, you are directly affecting the present and future.

So now I'm in a masters program to teach elementary school. I worked special education for four months and realized how much of what I knew - from journalism and elsewhere - about the topic was so wrong and inadequate.

So now I'm not a full-time reporter - only doing freelance writing during breaks between classes like this week - but started my blog to still opine on journalism because whether it's a craft or a profession it's still tremendously important.

Especially to a news junkie like me.

But it's also a profession that can be tremendously draining and without rewards and hard to feel like you're doing something that matters.

Posted by: Scott Butki at August 16, 2005 10:34 AM | Permalink

"Make a difference."

Is that the special goal of professional journalism?

No. Every professional wants to make a difference. Engineers make a difference be building better machines. Nurses make a difference by helping patients recover from illness.

And others make a difference too. Violent dictators make a difference by slaughtering citizens. Unethical investment bankers make a difference by swindlng investors.

This "make a difference" thing is actually a value-free slogan that can be applied almost anywhere.

If journalists want respect for their specialized work, they need to more closely define what it is that they do that is so unique and important. If journalists can't do that, indentify goals of their work and specialized mechanisms to achieve those goals, then they are in trouble.

Right now, I can't see that journalists have goals (beyond the make a difference slogan) and they are quickly losing control of whatever systems they had for achieving those goals (as blogs, etc. takeover these).

Posted by: JennyD at August 16, 2005 10:41 AM | Permalink

The longer I blog the more I realize that the precepts of good journalism - credibility, narrative, information in the form of both raw data and anecdote - are extraordinarily powerful, but the social circle of paid journalists (and especially editors) is a very mixed bag.

That is what J-schools should teach and stand for, I believe. I don’t care if they’re called professional schools. They should equip the American people to practice journalism by teaching the students who show up, and others out there who may want help.

That's where it's at, Jay, teaching people to have a conversation again. There are values that good journalists must fight for; a thinking and responsive readership is one of them. A readership of simple information consumers allows extremists to distort everything with noise.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at August 16, 2005 10:59 AM | Permalink

JennyD, I'm having a hard time understanding your point. I don't think journalism is a profession in the sense that law or medicine or architecture is, but that doesn't mean it's unimportant.

I don't think firefighting is a profession either, but when kids are stuck on the 12th floor of a burning building, I don't call the embroiderers' guild.

Professional journalists are people who get paid to commit acts of journalism. Period.

Journalists who don't own printing presses have never had much control of the systems for achieving their goals. Perhaps their control is eroding further, but I'm not sure that's true. The blogs that so many here see as an in-your-face response to MSM actually open a lot of doors for journalists who simply wish to practice their craft without having to answer to anyone but readers. Careful, bloggers, when you criticize journalists: You may be talking about yourself.

Making money is a different matter. This may be a great time to practice journalism, just a lousy time to expect to get paid for it. But I'm not sure I want to tell my students that either.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 16, 2005 11:17 AM | Permalink

Their lives rotate from Wal-Mart to fast food to cable TV. A community is just a place to collect a paycheck.

With this sort of arrogant elitist BS, it's little wonder the world of journalism is viewed as the armpit of professions.

Posted by: Buster at August 16, 2005 11:31 AM | Permalink

I’m beginning to appreciate the challenge a journalist faces when trying to report the news effectively. Can one really convey a story with “just the facts”? Sometimes, perhaps, but I suspect that in most cases, it would leave the audience with more questions than answers.

Everyone wants the news reported the way they themselves would report it. They want it from someone who shares their values and opinions be they the lay preacher from rural Texas or the kid in the ‘Che’ shirt from Berkeley (or indeed the kid from the mosque in Cairo). Anything else will seem like attempts at manipulation by the media. Shouldn’t they expect to get their news their way?

Should the news educate or just inform?

Posted by: Mark K at August 16, 2005 11:45 AM | Permalink

Blogger here: I use the hell out of journalism's own sources. When I was a kid, this is what I believed about journalists at large: they knew what they were talking about. Now I use those same sources to blab at people who think I have a clue. My "circulation" is low: maybe fifty people a day or so. There's not many folks who care about, say, the geopolitical ramifications of the metadebate between Huntington vs. Palmer. ("Clash of Civilizations" vs. "Ridding the world of tyrants.") But when they think I'm full of it, they call me on it. The press at large seems to react to "being called" as if they were 17th-century nobles looking down upon the rabble.

Which is sad, because the rabble is frequently Eating Your Lunch (tm) when it comes to quality journalism. Now that I have better than a junior high-school education, I routinely shriek, at the radio newsfeed, at the newspapers, at news commentary both on the left and the right, because of the sheer historical ignorance being presented as fact... and journalism's assumption that the public is simply too stupid to see the difference.

If Journalism as a "profession" doesn't think that the public is stupid, it certainly has a funny way of showing it. Some examples:

1. Balkan war footage showing the downed F-111 jet in Serbia. Well-known t.v. international news anchor working off Serbian t.v. images saying "we're not allowed to tell you where this is happening" .... while the city of Novi Sad is clearly written out in Cyrillic at the bottom of the screen. This wasn't clandestine news being shunted to a grateful public: this was lazy journalists being too self-important to tell the truth of their utter ignorance of cyrillic script.

2. Similarly, a recent news show overseen at an airport, where a major network's Moscow correspondent visibly strugged with the pronunciation of Russian names. Well, there's credibility.

3. Similarly, a radio newsfeed with a reporter from a major service, describing tensions between the between the Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia ethnic groups. Which, as any teenager with an interest can find out, is totally incorrect: Kurds and Arabs are ethnic groups, Sunni and Shia are religious sects... or is "Kurdish" some new flavor of Islam about which the public hasn't yet heard?

That's off the top of my head on a random Tuesday morning. Believe me, I could go for pages if I really tried.

The debate between facts and narrative is meaningless, because the assumption seems to be that it can be debated in a vacuum, blithely context-free. I'm not talking political bias here -- there's plenty of that to go around. I mean the basic story. If mainstream journalists can't do the basic homework required of any history undergrad -- a.k.a. tie their grandiose "journalistic narrative" to that collective meta-narrative the rest of us call historical reality, why should they be surprised to find that the public, which is frequently as-or-better-educated, holds the MSM in contempt?

Can't sell your paper? Stop whining and blaming the public. Because the public has had a bellyfull of it already. Instead, try this very simple advice: assume the public is just as smart as you are, and might actually know when it's being sold a crock of crap.

Posted by: Russ Mitchell/Boxing Alcibiades at August 16, 2005 11:53 AM | Permalink

I used to think of myself as a "career journalist." I wrote my first story for money in 1968; served (note the wording) as a beat reporter, investigative reporter, columnist, feature writer...fill in the blank. I left newspapers on the tried-and-true trajectory to magazines, then on to books. I have awards for writing and editing; examples of my work are featured in a couple of college J-textbooks; I have been lucky enough to achieve much of what I hoped for when I first sat down at a typewriter (remember those things?).

I certainly don't consider myself a journalist now, because I believe as a career, it slipped off the rails. The nails in the coffin of my career came when I "jumped sides" to run a series of media seminars for the firearms industry. I put together a series of events hooking up jounalists and shooters. I wish that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU who teaches J-school could have sat on my shoulder and met those dozens of journalists...local...regional...national...print...electronic...a good cross-section.

I think if you'd been there with me, you'd have gone back to your respective universities, scrapped everything you were teaching and started over from the ground up.

Michael Bane

Posted by: Michael Bane at August 16, 2005 11:54 AM | Permalink

David C.:

Actually, I have a goatee and not a long beard :-}

What I can specifically refer to is an obituary
about a heroine of mine.

Grace Murray Hopper.

It made a number of easy-to-catch factual errors.
Among them:

Her date of birth.
Her military rank.
The name of the industry group she advised.

The feeling I had was if the writer missed the
small stuff, how I could believe the BIG stuff?

That was not because I held some perceived
technical wisdom or language awareness or
jargon the un-initiated don't know.

It was that I was sufficently aware of simple
facts that either the author of the obit or
his/her editor were too lazy or too stupid
to try to verify. Or perhaps because THEY
didn't care to be accurate, they felt their
readers wouldn't care or notice either.

So much for 'trying to make a difference'.

Posted by: Ted at August 16, 2005 12:32 PM | Permalink

Dave McLemore said:
"As for the folks who confuse bad journalism with reports that challenge their own political/cultural bias, they have always been with us."

As opposed to the political/cultural bias of the journalist, which defines "good" journalism?

Posted by: raf at August 16, 2005 12:40 PM | Permalink

Many thanks to Jay Rosen for hosting this conversation.

I admit that I get my news from you people, just not via tv or paper. Via the internet and using blogs as starting points, I link to reports from all corners of the globe. This is a good thing.

In fact, the internet has created more, not less interest in news and current events. Due to the wide variety of choices and thousands of BS detectors, inaccurate and/or slanted reporting is now revealed daily.

Technology facilitates watching of the watchers. Power to the People, Right On!

The first step in recovery is admitting to yourself that you have a problem.

Jay, you are to be commended for opening you and your profession to much ridicule.

Posted by: Horst Graben at August 16, 2005 12:58 PM | Permalink

Many news reporters have become aggregators of quotes, rather than aggregators of knowledge. Soundbites are for 5 second clips on TV and political ads.

Okay, I've been on both sides of the fence. Taught one semester of upper level university journalism (making me in no-way-shape-or-form an expert on the education side of the argument). Have been a full-time television journalist for the past 13 years. Been in the business for 18.

The above quoted statement sums it up nicely. We all too often run two opposing soundbites and call our story balanced. Well, what if it's not? What if the official soundbite for one party (not talking political parties here, although that can sometimes be the case) is factually, and demonstrably false. The gutsy thing would be to call them on it. This would be factual reporting. With proper context. But gutsy.

We in newsrooms rarely cast the light on ourselves. And rarer still can we withstand it. The quality of journalists entering the profession is sadly lacking. I won't say more so than in the past because I don't know. But I do know, that graduating with a 4-year-degree in both Journalism and Radio/Television, I quickly realized how under-educated I was. It became my job to educate myself about world politics. My job to learn about the stock market. My job to understand various religions and their core beliefs. My job to give myself at least enough exposure to subjects to recognize that in fact I didn't know anything about them.

Unfortunately, I see too few of my colleagues willing to devote the same effort. Their sole source of information is the local paper (if they read it- you'd be suprised at how many do not) and the Associated Press wires dropped into their computer terminals every day.

As I've moved into management I've tried to rectify this. Self-education becomes a subject of annual reviews. It becomes a daily discussion topic within our newsroom.

And still honest mistakes are made. We are human. But I fear, the culture of not appearing to be a lapdog of the establishment has created something just as bad. We practice "gotcha" journalism at almost every level. How can we trip up the president? Let's show this "everymom" camping outside his ranch in Crawford. All she wants is a chance to talk to him.

Oh, wait, he in fact has already met with her. Oh, wait, she said at the time how healing the process was. Oh, wait, should we re-work our original story? Should we have done a little more legwork before running it? Should we issue an updated story, making clear there were facts not reported in the original and get both sides reaction to that? The answer to all three is usually no. That would be to admit we made a mistake. Bury it on the corrections page. Or sweep it under the rug. We don't meet the same standards we expect of those around us.

And it's this attitude which has indirectly fostered the disconnect between ourselves and the public. It's contributed to the charges of bias. No-one likes a hypocrite. And in age of the internet, hypocrisy (or it's appearance) is easy to spot. Sometimes it's through ignorance (back to the beginning of my post). Sometimes it's through laziness. Sometimes it's through bias.

It's been touched upon here; the 80/20 liberal/conservative split within newsrooms. The biggest problem this creates is fighting for balance. Since we've been practicing advocacy journalism and victim journalism (every story through the eyes of a victim- "little johnny can't read") for so long, challenging the tenets of our co-workers makes every day a battle. Not out on the street of your community. Not within the halls of city government. A battle at your desk. A battle while getting a cup of coffee or wolfing down a sandwich at your computer. If you advocate what you percieve as balance, and what your co-worker percieves as bias that day and many more to follow are incredibly unpleasant. Not to say it shouldn't be done. But you pick your battles. You decide "Is this a ditch worth dying in?" If you don't, then you run the risk of turning into that droning noise that everyone finally stops hearing because it's so constant.

The great irony is as I look around my newsroom, we run pretty close to 50/50 in terms of political beliefs. Yet we hold a reputation of being a conservative shop. For trying to take our corner of our profession back to basics. For trying to get back to reporting the news. Give the facts, not two screaming heads, not a series of talking points, just the facts.

So Jay, what belief did I hold that I no longer do? It'd have to be that we exist to tell what happened, who was involved, where and when it happened, as well as how.


Posted by: KJSmith at August 16, 2005 1:39 PM | Permalink

I read the initial post and some of the comments following it, and did not see any reference to the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you have them do unto you." In the NT's Sermon on the Mount, its referred to as the "sum of the law and the prophets" -- the whole guide for life rolled up into a mere 11 words. British common law and (for awhile) American common law was based on implementing the Golden Rule.

I'd think if journalists followed the Golden Rule in their thinking about reporting stories, it would provide a solid foundation for a coherent set of professional ethics that they could count on. A re-statement: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Project yourself into each story subject and ask, "Would I feel I was treated accurately, completely, and fairly if I read this about me?" You won't go wrong in your practice of journalism.

Posted by: Mark Michael at August 16, 2005 2:19 PM | Permalink

Hello, I come from a lower middle class family so many of you will probably not be interested in what I have to say. I made great grades in school but as we all must seem to learn that "who you know" is more important than "what you know" I recently lost my job and hopefully will have a new and better one soon. I was at Purdue University studying Political Science when 9/11 occurred, I left because I saw many of my professors as being 'naive internationalists' and I have studiously followed the news and discussed world issues with my friends since I was a child. So, I became a journalist and worked at the local newspaper here covering sports for a little while.

One of the biggest complaints I have with "the media" that is shared by almost everyone I have talked to and that keeps me "down" in self-esteem is the treatment that Journalists give "anti-war" protestors who, in reality, aren't "anti-war" at all. A media who has been hijacked by foreign contributions and a "rally for peace" that celebrated a "cease-fire with Iraq" that never existed because until the UN could verify that Iraq had adhered to the cease-fire and resolve that international peace and security had been restored the US Coalition had to remain operating under Article 51.

I deplore everytime the media goes on a campaign in support of "anti-war" activists like Cindy Sheehan. I want a patriotic news service that has an understanding of history and a real grasp of history as well when they are reporting "news" and "current events" To me, historians make better "journalists" and I feel that perhaps many "journalists" who want to report current events would do a better job doing so if they had degrees in history instead of journalism.

No one I know will tell you they support the "anti-war" movement, yet they get so much attention, they go about saying that they "speak for America" They don't speak for me, in my mind, the anti-war movement is the US Marines and such.

I don't want to hear "all sides" of the story, I want to hear my side, the side that speaks truth, I want truth to fill the airwaves, one grounded in history, in facts, not one that is just the rantings of some thoughtless emotional knee jerk reaction, people need to see the truth and come to grips with it.

Sorry for derailing your topic. I really enjoyed reading all of your posts.

Posted by: drifter at August 16, 2005 2:35 PM | Permalink

Contrary to some reports, I 'm a fan of a few blogs myself -- enough of a fan that I check in daily, even if for a moment.
However, I don't favor them for the various noble reasons cited here, some of which are nearly as nauseating as the "make-a-difference" meme; I favor them because the best of them are great performance art, just as a handful of newspaper columnists are.
The NY Times has a piece on its Arts page today capturing this truth. In the course of writing a profile of Lee Pappa (The Rude Pundit), Margo Jefferson notes that blogging is "theater; a stage that lets us choose our exits and entrances while playing any part we please. Anyone with a blog is a performer. And all theatrical forms are blogworthy, from diarylike realism to explosive sature."
She just as easily could have phrased that "And all blog forms, from diarylike realism to explosive satire, are worthy theater."
Add in the advantages of no censorship, no compromise, no time or tone restraints, and presto, what you have, every day, is performance art.
And the fathers of that aren't Walter Lippmann or Scotty Reston or Woodward and Bernstein. To the contrary, as Margo notes, they are Lenny Bruce, Tom Lehrer, Richard Pryor and, yes, Hunter S. Thompson. "Bruce and Pryor were masters of stand-up comedy as political theater," while "Thompson was a master of journalism as performance art."
I think she's on to something; I think that's what keeps us coming back to our favorite blogs. (That, plus no pesky subscription costs or solicitations.) Not that they're self-correcting. (That's a myth.) Not that the cream rises to the top. (It doesn't.) Not that they're more insightful than other forms and formats. (They're not.) But simply that the best of them are great performances, easily accessible, quickly digested and strangely addictive.
This thread alone is a case in point.
Soon enough, Jay will strike the set, construct a new one, and we'll be off and running again.
But don't think of it as the new journalism; we'd be fighting to keep our eyes open if that were the case; think of it as the new Broadway.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 16, 2005 2:39 PM | Permalink

Mr. Rosen--

NYU requires a second major. When and why did this come about? Do other Journalism schools follow suit? I studied journalism briefly at the University of Maryland in the early 70s. I was disappointed with the journalism faculty, but no more than the faculty in general. As someone who has studied politics, economics, and mathematics, I'd like to second (or third or fourth) the comments about reporters not understanding the subject matter about which they write.

Posted by: Joe Miller at August 16, 2005 2:46 PM | Permalink

On Making a Difference

Everytime I see a discussion of teaching "just the facts" journalism or people say the do not want journalism to make a difference, I scratch my head and say there are many different kinds of journalism.

The just the facts folks and those who just want to know what's going on in the world can turn to the wire services all day long every day, along with headline news sites like the Locust Fork News or the Drudge Report.

Sometimes just the facts reporting can make a difference. Just by going to an ignored country and doing a story about poverty or AIDs, for example, can galvanize public interest and spur politicians to act.

But there is more to it than that. As a journalist who has considerable experience making a difference, when I went into teaching journalism I taught something called the "red flag lead." This came out of my experience covering environmental issues on the Gulf Coast in the late 1980s. It was a new beat after the Exxon Valdez, you may recall.

Not just to toot my own horn but to contribute to the knowledge of how this works, here's the deal. There are some of us who recognize that modern journalism is a direct, evolutionary descendent of the night watchman whose job it was to warn the tribe of eminent danger back in our hunter-gatherer days.

Part of the job of journalism, profession or not, is to warn the public of eminent danger, whether it is a threat of a terrorist strike, a downturn in the economy, a corrupt politician, or a plan to put a hazardous waste landfill in your neighborhood.

My own experience with this kind of journalism resulted in a number of successes, one of which inspired the name of my newest Web site. Because of my investigation about 13 years ago, the people of Blount County learned about a plan to dam The Locust Fork River and flood their property. They fought it and won. That is making a difference.

If you like dams and don't think people have a right to know what the government is up to and should not "fight city hall," you may be for facts only journalism that does not try to make a difference. It says more about your political point of view than a bias of journalism, but it is probably just beating a deader than dead horse to say it here.

TV journalism does this in a different way than print, and national news organizations do it differently than local news outlets. Sometimes criticism of "the media" or "the MSM" tend to paint with a broad brush. This Web site is about "the press," not "the media," although Jay is defining "the press" - as I do - to include "the blogosphere."

I think the folks who hate "the media" need to spell out which media you don't like, specifically, for starters, and what exactly you don't like about it in terms of specific stories and cases.

Posted by: GW at August 16, 2005 2:53 PM | Permalink

GW says: "...journalism is a direct, evolutionary descendent of the night watchman whose job it was to warn the tribe of eminent danger ..."

The tribe probably had a fair consensus of what they needed to be warned about maybe even "imminent" danger, be it ever so un-eminent. One problem with some "journalists" today is that they do not regard the opinions and beliefs of the "tribe" as relevant. They keep warning of false threats and ignoring real ones ... from the point of view of the average "tribesman." And then they get huffy when the "tribesmen" don't honor them for their enlightenment. And then they explain to each other how superor they are because they see what is a real threat so much more clearly than those common sorts.

Posted by: raf at August 16, 2005 3:45 PM | Permalink

I don't think there's any way to have a discussion like this *w/o* a broad brush. I'm in it for precisely the kind of journalism/history-in-progress that would give Steve Lovelady above narcolepsy.

I gave a couple examples above: I also like your "night watchman" metaphor. Then again, being interested in the sort of news I am, I would be.

But what I hate is the arrogance and seeming obliviousness to the courtesy of fact-checking. Consider it this way: there are thousands of folks out there who are home versions of copy editors. You know how copy editors get into the business... they scream and gripe about grammar until they find themselves at an editing desk. Same here. Just as a historian must be willing to "stop on THIS dime" and do a 180 on his hypothesis in the presence of new information, so should any credible newsroom -- in print or otherwise. That kind of candor, consistently applied, would be much more likely to get me to subscribe, rather than simply browse and shriek.

My examples are above. You've got to be able to establish the context, and make that contextualization credible, or else it's a game of "which facts" go in. An in cases like the above-mentioned lady, would it be such a crime to say "we don't know" or "our current information suggests?" Then it's not a case of "you got it wrong," but a case of providing the most needed and credible information, in the timeliest possible manner. Which will obviously vary by the given media's cycle, be it daily, weekly, what-have-you.

Posted by: Russ Mitchell/Boxing Alcibiades at August 16, 2005 3:47 PM | Permalink

Jay, just for clarification, in the bulleted list of "things I used to teach that I no longer believe," should the paragraph beginning with "The ethics of journalism begin with propositions like..." be bulleted individually, or should it be part of the previous item? (That is, are you saying that the listed propositions are what should be taught instead of "the codes, practices and rule-governed behavior that our press lived by..." (previous paragraph), or are you saying you don't believe in those propositions, either?) Inquiring minds, etc...

Posted by: Old Grouch at August 16, 2005 4:15 PM | Permalink

"Nobody is innocent if they intentionally set out to change public opinion. Because the truth will never quite be perfectly on their side, and they'll need to hide or massage a few bits of it here and there, or else the "higher truth" might not be received quite as well." - JMHawkins, above

"Making a difference" is intentionally setting out to change public opinion. Yet much of our dominant media pretend they have no such intentions. Instead, they truly believe that conveying their ideology to readers and viewers is communicating "higher truth" to them. Which is how many of our advocacy journalism advocates can believe, "Facts have a liberal bias."

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 16, 2005 4:36 PM | Permalink

The sooner journalists are evaluated based on their own "credibility, narrative, [and] information in the form of both raw data and anecdote" the better (to borrow Matt Stoller's phrase.) This happens somewhat, mostly in magazines like The New Yorker, but sadly not enough in day-to-day reporting.

The problem, I think, is that most J-schools train young journalists for a profession that will do its best to obliterate POV, passion, concern, etc. But if we teach them the craft (writing, verification, disclosure) and the background knowledge, and then send them out to write on their own they will be more honest in what they write, and thus, perhaps enjoy more credibility than the faceless professional reporters who rely on their publication to give their voice authority.

I don't subscribe to the "rampant bias" critique; I think there are professional norms that confine writing, fitting it into some colorless, triangle-shaped notion of news that is, really, boring as hell.

Perhaps then we will also get rid of the whole whole uber-category of "journalists", which to my eyes is a less-than-constructive way of thinking about the craft (same goes for the uber-category of "bloggers".)

And Steve, I too read that NYT quote ("Anyone with a blog is a performer. And all theatrical forms are blogworthy, from diarylike realism to explosive sature") but I think it is quite reductive of what you find out there. Sure, RudePundit is theatrical, but I can also point you to hundreds of other who are serious writers and thinkers. It is not always some grand performance (and when it is, it is usually because it is something someone believes passionately about.)

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss at August 16, 2005 5:02 PM | Permalink

Part of the self correcting nature of the press was lost when most cities and towns became one newspaper towns.

Who is fighting the "Front Page" wars any more?

In that respect blogs are a HUGE resource for the press.

Some one to have an argument with.

Competition in the press makes more business for both sides.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 16, 2005 5:15 PM | Permalink


You did an excellent job of pointing out the dangers and bad practices of refineries.

So good that there hasn't been a new one built since '76.

So there is a cost to advocacy journalism.

Why is it we only learn the benefits and not the costs?

Posted by: M. Simon at August 16, 2005 5:25 PM | Permalink

Jay, back to things I used to teach but no longer believe:

I used to tell students that nobody who wants to be a journalist should expect to win any popularity contests. It's a dance done in public, before critics who know more about any given topic than you do and who may not want the public to know what they are up to.

But I don't know what to tell them about the rampant hostility that now runs through so many of the posts here and elsewhere in the blogosphere. My disagreements used to be primarily with readers, who might question my competence and judgment but who nevertheless agreed fundamentally that trying to get things straight was a worthwhile and achievable goal, which is why they bothered to complain in the first place (commenters who think journalists lived in a cocoon before the Internet came along are seriously deluded). Both my readers and I essentially wanted the same thing, no matter how much we might disagree on how to accomplish that thing.

Now I feel that I should warn students that they will encounter endless criticism from people who have never read their work, who will automatically assume the worst of them, and who take pride in their failure to support even the most rudimentary of journalistic ventures.

Am I overreacting? Is the hostility I find toward journalism on your site (which is among the most civil and thoughtful of sites) a sign of a fundamental shift in how Americans view journalism, or is it just another manifestation of the badgering nature of the blogosphere?

Posted by: David Crisp at August 16, 2005 5:25 PM | Permalink

I think you got it, TA. Seriously: "Nobody is innocent if they intentionally set out to change public opinion." That's exactly what I was trying to say.

The closer you get in journalism to "intentionally set out to change public opinion..." the less innocent your journalism is, and so it doesn't matter if you stop just short of some fantasized "line," you still need to defend the journalism you are doing by realizing the politics you are crafting "with" it.

On the whole, and certainly at the top, the American press has declined this challenge, clinging instead to ideas of neutral professionalism, and a contentless public service standard. These I treat as official claims to innocence (no agenda other than to "serve.")

And if you listen to "make a difference" talk (as I have, obsessively, for 15+ years) and you observe things like the Pulitzer Prizes (and what they honor) you do find a model of public service in which the highest good is work that a.) tells the truth, b.) exposes problems and c.) leads to reforms, action of some kind.

We do not find a "highest" good like: work that exposes problems so profound there are no reforms imaginable, just sober contemplation. Because that doesn't make sense in the public service grammar elite journalism chose for itself.

Of course, defenders of the grand newsroom tradition of enterprise reporting would say: Jay, we don't "try" to cause reforms. No. We uncover problems and lay out the facts, and it is public pressure, public outrage (or the threat of it) that causes action to correct a problem. It's at best indirect, and willy-nilly. Not a plot.

My current answer to that is: fine, let's say indirect. The press is clearly trying to change public opinion if the desired reaction to a properly done investigation is civic outrage, and public pressure, which leads to action by someone else. "Nobody is innocent if they intentionally set out to change public opinion."

And that, Steve, is why I wrote, "... they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be."

But I have to add: there is life for the press after its political innocence is "over." You don't have to claim chronic agendalessness to be respected and good. That's what the transparency revolution is trying to say to journalists.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2005 5:35 PM | Permalink

But Dan, to say that it is performance art is not to say that the artist behind it is not a serious writer and thinker.
In fact, many would claim that Rude Pundit is just that -- a serious thinker who has come up with a manner of delivery that successfully attracts attention, and therefore, readership.
Or, as a wiser editor than I once said, "Sell the sizzle, but deliver the steak."

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 16, 2005 5:38 PM | Permalink

Jay -
It's true that of all the Pulitzers, the one for public service is the most highly regarded and sought-after.
However, there is also a Pulitzer given each year for "explanatory journalism."
I confess, I haven't paid attention to who's been winning it lately, and it's entirely possible that the judges in that category in a given year don't even agree on just exactly what "explanatory journalism" is. (The two years that I was a judge, we couldn't agree on anything.)
But that might be where to go to look for "work that exposes problems so profound there are no reforms imaginable, just sober contemplation."


Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 16, 2005 5:52 PM | Permalink

I think the folks who hate "the media" need to spell out which media you don't like, specifically, for starters, and what exactly you don't like about it in terms of specific stories and cases.

I don't hate the media, I'm part of the media, although I went in a specialized niche of it because of my interests. But I'll bite.

I hate the fact that the New York Times treats pro-lifers, evangelicals and devout Catholics like an alien species, by its own admission. I hate that it engages in puff advocacy for gay marriage while refusing to even present hard news stories that contradict that advocacy -- by its own admission. I hate the anti-Christian bigotry of the New York Times' op-ed columnists, which was never more evident than on the "values voter" issue following the presidential election. I hate the New York Times' well-documented pro-abortion bias, as shown, for instance, by its "coverage" of the partial-birth abortion ban. I hate that all these biases are parroted by the network newscasts that weight the NYT's news judgment so heavily in their decision-making and by local newspapers across the country that regularly reprint NYT stories and columnists.

And I hate that journalists, like several posting here, pretend this is all just a figment of the public imagination or a manipulation by a few partisans. I'm not a partisan, and I'm not stupid, either. I'll gladly compare test scores with any journalist not in "flyover country." The coverage on Terri Schiavo was so slanted I wanted to puke every time I read it. Ditto embyronic stem cell research. Ditto "gay rights."

You would think after this has been exposed again and again it would get better. You would think that after an election when a sizable percentage of Americans put moral values at the top of their list of concerns that repeatedly urinating on those values would be recognized as a mistake. But it actually seems to be getting worse.

Jay writes about the culture war as though it's something the mainstream media got dragged into. Wrong. It was not the American public that got journalists into the culture war, it was journalists themselves who insisted on being there and taking sides. The pity party when it finally catches up is just about insufferable.

Posted by: Anonny at August 16, 2005 6:10 PM | Permalink

Grouch says:

Jay, just for clarification, in the bulleted list of "things I used to teach that I no longer believe," should the paragraph beginning with "The ethics of journalism begin with propositions like..." be bulleted individually, or should it be part of the previous item?

That is, are you saying that the listed propositions are what should be taught instead of "the codes, practices and rule-governed behavior that our press lived by..." (previous paragraph), or are you saying you don't believe in those propositions, either?

Thanks for asking. The two graphs were really supposed to be one, and I broke them in two because it looked better. But it's not either of the alternatives you offered. There isn't anything in your standard code of J ethics I would not teach. It's not that I don't believe in such codes and practices. Accuracy, fairness, balance, the disinterested account, "getting the other side," don't practice payola are all goods I would endorse.

But... I don't believe you can understand the subject of journalism ethics very deeply by looking primarily at that level. So in the second part of the item, I gave examples of ideas and ethics that lay beneath what gets called "ethics" in J-schools and newsrooms and craft culture. That's where the ethics discussion has to start.

I also draw your attention to this passage:

I would teach the ideas that these ideas overcame. For example: Politics as the king's mystery--"le secret du roi," the French called it--is an idea that journalism stands against, and helped to overcome. (See Robert Darnton on it.) If there were a deeper apprecication for this, journalists would view their use of confidential sources with the more jaundiced eye the practice deserves. For they are restoring conditions like "the king's mystery" in their relations with, say, Karl Rove, whom they often discuss as a magician of sorts.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2005 6:25 PM | Permalink

Looking at many of the comments here, I think that many, if not most, people look into their daily newspapers, tv newscasts, etc. as they would a great mirror.

That which reflects what they want to see is good journalism. That which doesn't is bad.

It's a very depressing thought.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 16, 2005 6:37 PM | Permalink

... simply that the best of them are great performances, easily accessible, quickly digested and strangely addictive.

I too think performance (and maybe performance art) captures something about blogging. I agree that stand up comedy is closer in spirit than column writing. Steve's various suggestions are fertile. I do know this: a while ago I started thinking of a PressThink "set" or cycle as taking place in three acts-- well, stages really.

Act One: A Post (plus date, plus title: Rollback!)

Act Two: "After..." (what they're saying out there about and around the post)

Act Three: Comments (what happened to the post in the thread.)

A post is really a performance of that cycle. It works when all three acts speak to each other, etc. I would not want to take the comparison too far, and it could get out of hand. The whole point of doing PressThink the way I do it is to create an arc of thought that sustains itself over a few days, maybe a week at most. Then it "falls" to the archive level, where it is accessed in a different way (Google.) So that's a performance cycle-- kinda.

What is this page? It's PressThink's stored performances when the blog's show moved temporarily to Boston. (Pretty good record, too, if I say so myself.) There's something to this idea by way of Jefferson.

Finally, I know for the writer of a blog--and I'm pretty sure for the readers, too--one of the more elusive attractions is that a blog is, for all human purposes, "alive." If you go away and come back, it has likely changed, and could even have "gone" somewhere in your absence.

I think this is part of what attracts us to reading the blogs we know well-- these things are growing whether we're there or not. We know this, and it keeps us coming back.

I might as well add, even though I said "finally," that this is already one of the 4-5 most trafficked PressThink'ers ever, (Instapundit and Romenesko) and the quickest comment thread to 100 replies ever.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2005 6:54 PM | Permalink

That which reflects what they want to see is good journalism. That which doesn't is bad.

It's a very depressing thought.

Probably because it is a very wrong thought. But I'm sure many journalists find it quite comforting.

The thread I see running through a great deal of the criticism here is not that it doesn't "reflect me," but that it is factually in error. And despite all the belittling of a "just the facts" approach to reporting, getting matters of fact correct must be the starting point. Putting the facts in context, or explaining what they mean is secondary to the primary necessity.

I found this discussion mesmerizing, but, like much of what was taken for granted as unchangable near the end of the last millennium, discussions like this remind me of the retirees sitting around discussing why the buggy whip industry failed.

We have entered, and are rapidly penetrating deep into a technologically altered landscape where the old notions of print-based journalism will become meaningless.

I predict a new division of labor: An infrastructure of some sort - with an inbuilt collective fact-checking capacity similar to that of the Blogosphere - that provides commoditized factual reporting. It may not come from large corporate enterprise, either. The costs of delivering such a commodity have dropped to the point almost anybody can generate it - witness cell phone pics of disasters now being sought by mainstream journalism operations.

Various other divisions will use this commodity news as grist for contextualization, analysis, propaganda, corrections and additions, and jumping-off places for new investigations and commodity factual reporting.

The lines will be blurred here and there, but the end result will, I think, be a considerably higher level of factuality, contextuality, and understanding that the current system exhibits today.

Posted by: Bill Quick at August 16, 2005 6:57 PM | Permalink

It's not a bad thought, Bill. Nor is it comforting. But thanks for noticing.

Factual errors are a fact of life. Print types make them with some regularity. As do bloggers. It's the human condition. And I agree, you have to get the facts right.

But what are the facts?

Not being able to read signs written in Cyrillic or mislabeling a Bradley for a tank or a F-111 for something else, while annoying and correctible, isn't the most egregious of journalism's problems.

No, I don't see the thread of 'factual' errors being the problem. I see the interpretation of error of being the problem.

Reports don't align with someone's beliefs on abortion/voting/military action/race/etc. and it's interpreted as being erroneous and biased.

That's not exactly critical thinking.

We wrestle daily with reporting the facts that we have on hand and on deadline. And we continually add to those facts as they become available. I'm more than happy to print the facts and let the reader make up his or her mind.

But I don't think all those various interpretations must then become the model for journalistic truth.

Print may very well become meaningless and outdated. More likely transformed, but let's say meaningless.

What is it being replaced by?

Posted by: Dave Mclemore at August 16, 2005 7:14 PM | Permalink


Air America, the great liberal hope, got lots of press over the course of several weeks when they started up.

Now that we see that it was started by stealing government money from children and old folks hardly a blip.

Bias? Or just a story no one could possibly be interested in?

So just what kind of mirror is it?

BTW where are the stories of the pro-war Gold Star Mothers? Musta missed them.

What kind of mirror is it?

One way maybe?

Posted by: M. Simon at August 16, 2005 7:18 PM | Permalink

For many years I taught in my criticism classes that pointing out bias in the news media was an important, interesting, and even subversive activity. At the very least an intellectual challenge. Now it is virtually meaningless. Media bias is a proxy in countless political fights and the culture war. It’s effectiveness as a corrective is virtually zero....

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2005 7:26 PM | Permalink

Liberals stealing government money from children and the elderly is kind of man bites dog don't you think? The destruction of a service organization that was paid $10 million a year for its services.

Kind of like conservatives who favor embryonic stem cell research.


Well how about something that completely discredits a conservative position? How about the outbreak of a prohibition war in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico? The Texas papers are hot on this but the national media seems uninterested. What if it crosses the border?

We never see articles on Republican Socialism: price supports for criminals.

Most papers see prohibitions as a positive good except for abortion.


Where are the stories of harm caused by various black markets?


It is not just left vs right. It is conventional wisdom (mostly left) combined with historical ignorance.


Did I mention the pedeling of moral panics? Meth use went down for the last two years. Meth reporting is hitting new highs. (heh)

Let me see now wasn't the last Meth Moral Panic of this proportion in '68 or '69?


A lot of mental health folks are coming around to the notion that drug addiction is a symptom of other problems. Yet all we get from the mainstream media is based on the "drugs cause addiction" model.


Now the funny thing is you can find out about this stuff if you just look. Google is an impressive resource. However, very very few want to buck the conventional wisdom.

Reporters don't seem to know what questions to ask.


One of my favorite recurring stories is: teen use of X is (up) (down). Depending on the particular funding requirement du jour.

And yet the press keeps falling for these stories like a pig with a ring in its nose.

It is not just a left vs right thing.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 16, 2005 7:48 PM | Permalink

No, I don't see the thread of 'factual' errors being the problem. I see the interpretation of error of being the problem.

Reports don't align with someone's beliefs on abortion/voting/military action/race/etc. and it's interpreted as being erroneous and biased.

That's not exactly critical thinking.

Dave, when fact and belief clash, belief loses. It's that simple. I may believe that the world is flat, and so if I object to you reporting that it is round, I am basing my objection on a non-factual proposition, and you are basing your reporting on fact. However, if you report the world is flat, and I object and point out that it is round, than my factual "belief" trumps your erroneous fact. However, my flat-world belief is not, in the end, a problem for journalism. Facts do have a way of intruding on belief, which is why flat-worlders tend to be in the distinct minority.

I think you exaggerate (perhaps understandably - they are throwing darts at you, after all) the public's dissatisfaction with reporting as being a matter of facts clashing with beliefs. There is an element of that, sure, but the true rage comes from a multitude of instances where that is not the case: instead, something is reported as being a fact when it is not, and then upon that report, journalistic analysis proceeds to build edifices of erroneous conclusion. A major example would be the Rather fiasco, where forged documents were presented as factual, and in which some journalists have still not managed to admit the papers were forged, apparently because the fact of their forgery conflicts with journalistic beliefs that wish otherwise.

A minor example would be the local reporter on the courthouse beat that misquotes, or selectively quotes, a city councilman and ends up presenting as fact a view that entirely misrepresents reality.

You must start with fact. Where you go from there is almost wide open, but without that foundation, you are lost before you begin.

I said I thought many journalists would find your opinion comforting, because it permits them to tell themselves that they aren't the problem, their uncritically-thinking readers are. But what use is that? Mainstream media is still hemorrhaging readers and eyeballs. Blaming the readers may make you feel better, but in the end, it will still put you on the porch with the other fogeys, discussing the end of the buggy whip business.

What is it being replaced by?
This is an interesting question because it touches on the entire issue of factuality.

I made a prediction as to the nature of the structure I thought would replace it (which you apparently ignore). Of course my prediction is not factual, because it cannot be. It hasn't occured yet. That which has not occurred cannot, by definition, be factual. It is an educated guess, based on a long career spent making educated guesses about things like this. (I am a much-published science fiction writer and novelist, as well as the author of a major non-fiction book on e-publishing).

Now, I am perfectly happy to make that prediction and then - with the caveat that it is a prediction, nothing more - erect towers of speculation, prediction, analysis, and context upon it.

A journalist, faced with an answer to your question, would have to either ignore it entirely (no factual answer presently available) or - much more likely - would pick a prediction like mine, or perhaps an entirely different prediction - and present it as fact because it was offered by some "authority."

Forget that it would not only be most likely factually in error, it wouldn't even be factual in the first place.

Yes, the third option would be to present a prediction as prediction - but is that journalism? And it it journalism as it is generally practiced today on the news pages of most papers?

You tell me.

Posted by: Bill Quick at August 16, 2005 7:55 PM | Permalink

Question? Does being a journalist make one tend to always look for the more cynical things of this life... thus, ending up as a casualty of cynicism itself?

In other words... does being a journalist necessarily mean becoming a cynic as well, about everything?

I dunno, just thought i would throw that out there.

Posted by: Panther at August 16, 2005 7:57 PM | Permalink

In other words... does being a journalist necessarily mean becoming a cynic as well, about everything?
Journalists remind me a lot of cops and EMTs, with whom they have a lot in common. In all three you see a deep strain of idealism at war with the blackest of cynicism. These people all see too much of the dark side of life to maintain an entirely balanced point of view. I know. I'm one of them myself.

Posted by: Bill Quick at August 16, 2005 8:09 PM | Permalink

"Air America, the great liberal hope, got lots of press over the course of several weeks when they started up.
"Now that we see that it was started by stealing government money from children and old folks hardly a blip."
-- M. Simon

Here's a thought for you, M. Simon: This is America, where -- with the exception of the right wingnut segment of the blogosphere -- innocent until proven guilty is a guiding principle. We don't declare that anyone "stole" anything until a court of law so deems.
So -- and I know that this thought must leave you, like any attack dog, gnawing in frustration at your chain-link fence -- why don't we let Eliot Spitzer, the U.S. Attorney investigating the matter, decide whether anyone "stole" anything, instead of leaping five steps ahead to the devoutly-wished-for conclusion ?
This is exactly the sort of thing that gives the blogosphere a bad name.
"Self-correcting" my ass.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 16, 2005 8:34 PM | Permalink

This is a grab bag after about a million comments, but here goes.

How about a less high-falutin' sense of "make a difference." Getting the right information to the right people.

A small, everyday example. Write a story about a free welding training course. Instead of the dozens that were expected, hundreds apply. The state brings in extra instructors. Lots of people get welding certificates, which are a route to a decent-paying job. A good deed that only a mass medium can accomplish.

A bigger example. Somewhere in a rural Alabama county, a school district will be building a new school wing sometime soon. The money they use to do that comes from a pot of money the state had largely forgotten. A reporter covering the state Senate saw a lawmaker waving around a list of how much money is owed to each district. It turns out the governor was trying to take the money and plug up a hole in the state budget. The morning the story was printed, a lawyer appeared from the district with the most to lose. "We didn't know about it until you called the superintendent yesterday afternoon for a comment," the lawyer said. The district sued, and eventually won. That whole school will not be my monument, but at least one of those bricks belongs to me.

It's rare to get a win like that. That's why I've ceased to be surprised when people leave journalism to go directly into politics, teaching or the ministry. They want to have a direct impact, not the indirect one you have when reporting.

Now, it is more than possible that I mangled some of the technical terms regarding how welding works, or the legal background of the school money. I, and most reporters, are basically generalists when we first come to a subject. Subjects we don't write about a lot, we may never develop much expertise in. However, I quickly build up a body of knowledge on subjects I write about frequently. Good reporters try to read widely and deeply on their coverage areas. It would not surprise me to find that those economic reporters for the Washington Post and New York Times who were disparaged earlier are bearers of advanced degrees in that field.

Part of the problem is that general-interest journalists don't write for specialists in the field. We write for the folks who know even less than us. So specialists may often be unimpressed with how we translate their world to the bigger one outside.

Errors are wrong, and should be corrected as soon as possible. We print all our corrections on the front page.

But when I hear from experts, I generally find that the information is not so much wrong, as not right enough -- that I've glanced over the nuance they've spent years mastering

Sorry guys, but even if I am a newbie to your field of endeavor, I would argue that you, citizen, are also a generalist when it comes to the life of the republic, unless you are an elected official, paid lobbyist, or government employee. The newspaper is one of the last holdouts for the wonderful notion of a well-rounded person, that you should know a little bit about everything. Antiquated though it may be, I find that idea worth preserving.

Jay, this hasn't done much to advance your original question, which is what's to be done about the crisis of faith in journalism education. But it's clear the generalist versus specialist debate (which is part of what Bollinger was talking about) remains thorny.

There are very few general-interest publications in our society big enough or rich enough to support highly specialized journalists, reporters who have been formally educated in law, economics, architecture, art, music, engineering, cuisine, etc. So I'm not sure that folks who invest years of their life to get an education in those specialties can count on finding work in the chosen field, or keeping it over the long term.

Now clearly, some cable channels and web sites are doing something like speciality journalism. Maybe Discovery Health has picked up the torch from Science Times. And the world of trade magazines lives on.

But if the great newspapers, wire services, magazines and television news outfits crumble, we're likely to end up with fewer deep specialists than we have now. That's something that the critics who assail those institutions with such vehemence might want to keep in mind.

As for teaching journalism to everyone, that's an intriguing idea. Maybe I need to write up a grant application to Knight Foundation. Maybe we can't go back to every decent-sized city having two newspapers, but the more the merrier. At least, dear citizen, you might get a clearer understanding of what the inside of the sausage grinder looks like. You might stop confusing time pressure, lack of resources and human imperfection with a big political plot.

Posted by: Jeff Amy at August 16, 2005 8:39 PM | Permalink

Jay - As for the traffic, it's Dog Days and Congress is in recess and Bush is in Crawford with Cindy.

As for all the anonymous political conservatives who come here day after day to attack the press and journalism and say things like we "urinate" on their values, how do I get the point across again that a free press was at its outset - including the early days of talk about professionalism - pro-science and anti-dogma and for progress.

There are plenty of pandering conservative Christian publications around, and in the blogosphere, to keep you happily lurching backward in history. But the Times and other corporate mass circulation newspapers and the TV stations have heard your message loud and clear. The Times now covers revivals like rock concerts. What else do you want?

Come on down to flyover country and watch the local TV news. You would be in heaven. They do stories like, "How do you get to Heaven?" And they always, always smile and joke when delivering the news, even if they are interviewing the parent of a soldier injured or killed in Iraq.

That's what I hate about "the media." Happy news and religious pandering. But then, I'm an intellectual descendent of H.L. Mencken. Loved his Scopes Monkey Trial coverage.

And I forgot to mention earlier, I recently blogged about a new book on Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine and the Promise of America

Posted by: GW at August 16, 2005 8:51 PM | Permalink

Oh, forgot to mention, it's Yeungling time, and I have to pee...

Posted by: GW at August 16, 2005 8:55 PM | Permalink

As for teaching journalism to everyone, that's an intriguing idea. Maybe I need to write up a grant application to Knight Foundation. Maybe we can't go back to every decent-sized city having two newspapers, but the more the merrier. At least, dear citizen, you might get a clearer understanding of what the inside of the sausage grinder looks like. You might stop confusing time pressure, lack of resources and human imperfection with a big political plot.
No, but dear citizen might be justified in finding those to be excuses for not very good reporting.

You call yourself professional? What other profession would accept those excuses for failure in what is ostensibly your job?

"I'm sorry, but time pressure, lack of resources, and human imperfection are responsible for my taking out your liver instead of your appendix."

It may actually happen, of course, but those will never be considered acceptable reasons.

Posted by: Bill Quick at August 16, 2005 9:26 PM | Permalink

Well OK. It's allegations and Spitzer is on it.

Shouldn't papers be investigating what went on?

Wouldn't that be the antidote to all the misinformed bloggers?


As I have pointed out earlier MSM could benefit from opponents.


BTW how does innocent until proven guilty affect the reporting on Bush?

Hardly at all I expect.


BTW I'm not part of the right wing smear machine. I thought Clinton got a raw deal from the Rs.

Every time he said Osama Republicans wagged the dick.

Even I thought Clinton was at least trying to distract from his problems with the Rs. How wrong I was.


Did I mention the uncritical coverage of drug prohibition?

It is not just left vs right.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 16, 2005 9:29 PM | Permalink

CJR Daily: Who We Are

And as a media monitor, CJR is also a resource for all Americans who want the best possible version of their free press.
BuzzMachine... by Jeff Jarvis
But over in Romensko's letters, Steve Lovelady seethes:
Amazing. Mark Yost, an [editorial page] editor at Knight Ridder, the ONE news outlet which has consistently exposed the lies at the heart of the Iraq invasion and the grim reality of the current occupation, turns on his colleagues.
I can't wait to see how the KR Washington bureau and the KR Iraq contingent reponds to this one!
There he is, guys. Go get him. You owe your readers no less.
What is amazing about this is that Lovelady is the managing editor of the friggin' Columbia Journalism Review Daily. You'd think that he would welcome intelligent, reasoned, two-sided discussion about media's coverage of this controverial story. Instead, he acts like the fat kid on the playground egging on the bullies in a fight.
And we certainly know where the Columbia Journalism Review stands on war coverage, don't we now?
"Best possible version of their free press," my ass. No wonder journalism's dinosaurs like Lovelady are circling the bottom of history's toilet bowl. Good riddance.

Posted by: Bill Quick at August 16, 2005 9:32 PM | Permalink

I dispute the premise that "making a difference" means having or showing a bias.
When I wrote, way before this current "eidemic", cop and court stories about meth busts, as I discuss here,
am I showing a bias?
I think I'm making a difference by both stating just
the facts but also educating the public about both
how easy it is to make meth and what the effects but I'm not saying how I feel about, say, legalization.

For most of my reporting on local government my goal was to fight ignorance/apathy by telling about how things really are versus stereotypes, be it writing about the local homeless problem or
school testing issues. I think that made a difference but I don't think I'm showing a bias unless you consider educating people and telling stories a form of bias.

One of my favorite stories at my current newspaper came when I noticed the county government's plans for building a new landfill included putting trash n top of an old cemetery. Pressed, government officials said they tried without success to find any local relatives of anyone buried there so it wasn't considered a big deal.
Well, call me biased but I thought it deserved more of a public airing than that. So after writing an initial story and getting a call from two or three relatives I picked up the phone book and called everyone with a last name matching that of the tomb stone and emailed a post to a local genealogy group and wouldn't you know it - I found like 50 relatives in 24 hours.
They pushed and got the county to agree to move the graves to a non-landfill site.
I think I made a difference but if it was a bias
it was to tell people what the government is up to.

Posted by: Scott Butki at August 16, 2005 9:40 PM | Permalink

Let's ignore the political bias.

Does anyone think journalists cover technical or economic issues well?

How about sports?

oh, and if you guys are upset at not being called journalists, then please stop calling us "the public" and call us "the readers" or "the customers."

Posted by: Aaron at August 16, 2005 9:48 PM | Permalink


Of course, your meth story is in reaction to the numerous "problem" stories already in the media - you are the corrective, and bravo, though I already knew that meth was widespread years ago.

Regarding your other story, it also is interesting and useful information, shining the light on government. I can accept that this is an important "mission" of journalists, but I'd have to think anyone who found out about this (except the bureaucrats apparently) would feel similarly and thus it is not some special journalist trade secret.

Posted by: Aaron at August 16, 2005 9:57 PM | Permalink

So far down so much to say...

I am not sure what to say except that maybe "j-school" isn't the best place for anyone to learn how to become a journalist, at least not right away. I checked Mr Rosen's Bio and I am pretty sure "j-school" was not on his list, but being a journalist was for a short time was.

I spent 12 years in student journalism, first as volunteer, then as an employee for 3 independent student newspapers. These independent newspapers competed with the "j-school" papers on campus, but it wasn't really much of a competition, in so many ways.

The "j-school" paper was always on time, their copy-editing was excellent, the stories were always excellent examples of current journalistic styles and yet our paper put together by student volunteers was always more exciting, albeit ripe with amateurish mistakes that come with caffeine addled nights. Our circulation was larger, our ads sales were greater and our mistakes were sometimes very big.

The fire and passion that was bred in that one small office, with it's collective structure taught these "unofficial" journalists what it really takes to become a journalist, dedication and trial by fire. These students would usually have a fulltime course load, most were getting great grades and scholarships in their official curriculum yet they would spend 40hrs a week working on the independent newspaper.

Journalism is really more of a philosophy than a profession, a philosophy that can only be learnt through the boiler-room that is a editorial meeting, one without boundaries. I believe most j-schools have too many boundaries and breed passive journalists.

J-school students never have to fight, really fight, argue, call names, hijack the copy desk, threaten palace coups, burnout to the point of tears, the way most students who worked for independent newspapers did. They never learnt the most important skill of all, the conviction to fight for what you believe in.

The most committed writers that came out of the independent papers went on to write (and win many awards) for the mass media, and many went on to create the alternative media revolution that came with desktop publishing. It is sad to say that the rise of J-schools in the 20th century was the start of the death knell of journalism.

You can't teach passion of beliefs, you can't even teach the beliefs if the student doesn't get to experience it in their training.

Posted by: Leslie Smith at August 16, 2005 11:15 PM | Permalink

Jay, it's pretty clear you think the more one discusses (ideological) media bias the dumber one gets.

If I understand you correctly, Jay, you feel it's senseless to begin characterizing that bias in part, for example as liberal, because the debate quickly becomes "politicized". Better to simply accept that everyone has a perspective, including ideological (perhaps even liberal, though one musn't speak that label).

As you say, early in your career you thought that wrestling about (ideological) media bias may be beneficial in some way, but now you think it's a waste of time when there's laundry to fold. So I'm curious: Have you settled on this with absolute finality? Is it possible you might change your mind back? Are you absolutely sure there is never any truth-seeking in bias discourse? Are some capable of truth-seeking in that manner, but others aren't? How do you know, for sure, who is and who isn't? Might some bias warriors be right in some cases (or even on the whole), and if so, isn't that valuable information?

I ask these questions because the problem, of course, is our dominant media insist that their reporting does NOT reflect a perspecitve (e.g. is not biased toward the left), but is instead objective. In that environment, your approach - - taking off the table of press criticism any characterization, especially ideological (or is it only ideological?), the varied biases which you see everywhere - - a significant portion of any observer's vocabulary for attempted truth-telling is placed out of bounds. For those who agree the dominant media's work-product IS NOT objective nor unbiased (you included Jay, I believe), removing that vocabulary hamstrings an observer's ability to specify what the dominant media's work-product IS.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 16, 2005 11:23 PM | Permalink

Let's ignore the political bias.

Does anyone think journalists cover technical or economic issues well?

That's that clued me in to the epidemic of ignorance in journalism- about every third article I'd read that covered the tech beat would contain significant factual errors (specialty IT publications were better, about 1 in 10, but around half of the articles were basically reprints of press releases).

If journalists screw up that often in my field, why should I think the error rate on other topics is any less?

The most factual part of a newspaper is probably the sports section.

Posted by: rosignol at August 16, 2005 11:56 PM | Permalink

"Best possible version of their free press," my ass. No wonder journalism's dinosaurs like Lovelady are circling the bottom of history's toilet bowl. Good riddance." - Bill Quick

Ah. Well here's a precious moment on the internet.

Steve can take care of himself. But certainly Mr. Lovelady's critics are adept enough to differentiate between his work that shows up on CJR Daily and any personal opinions he may express on a the friggin' letters section of a journalism site.

Or maybe it's just the opportunity for a cheap shot.

By your standards, Bill, are we supposed to judge your journalism by such crap?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 17, 2005 12:20 AM | Permalink

TA: What I have said about the bias discourse is tbat it is not truth-seeking. It has political potency, expressive power, and it is cultural significant, also a sign of public opinion. Certainly I agree journalists brought it on themselves with certain claims they made. That doesn't make the bias discourse truth-seeking, however. I think a lot of it does come down to, "you're not narrating the world the way I see it." (Which in most cases will be a true claim.)

The clearest explication I could find of how I view the question of ideology in journalism is in a post I wrote about Paul Klebnikov's life. He was a Forbes reporter and editor who worked in Russia, taught them big lessons in transparency, and was killed in a contract-style hit in Moscow last July. He was a remarkable person:

You could say Paul Klebnikov died for truth, and some did say that. But you cannot say his only cause was the truth. You cannot say he kept his politics separate from his journalism (category: investigative.) You cannot say that his only public commitments were to his profession, or that he was just a neutral agent reporting what went on, but taking no part in it.

You cannot say he distanced himself from the story of the new Russian state in order to see it clearly. (Rather he immersed himself in it, in order to see it whole.) You cannot say he had no stake in the subjects he was writing about. You cannot say any of the things that journalists like to say about themselves when they are out to convince us--or maybe it's themselves--that the story is the story, and politics of it is left to others.

Klebnikov believed in truth-telling, in hard-hitting, fact-filled, tough-minded exposes, the form of reporting with the highest prestige in the American press. He also believed in civic reform, dreamed of a better Russia, and let that dream motivate his work as a reporter and editor.

Civic reform? It would be a comic under-statement to say that our journalists do not grant prestige to that; and if you asked most of them: are you a civic reformer? they would grimace first before telling you no, that's not our role. This is all part of an apolitical--and ahistorical--identity our press has developed in a secure republic. Necessary, it is said, because truth must prevail over "politics."

"Mr. Klebnikov's work--informed and sometimes brazen--inserted him squarely into the worlds of Russian business, crime, power and wealth," wrote C.J. Chivers of the Times. That work also inserted him squarely into Russian history, which he sought to affect for the better. By also having a politics, was he compromised as a journalist? No, we cannot say that. He was constituted as one. It would insult his memory to call him detached, and yet he was a great reporter who died for truth, and angered powerful people by exposing their deeds.

I am trying to introduce those complications. I think the press has lost ground in part because it's become incapable of recognizing its own politics. Here's how my post about Paul Klebnikov started:

Only in a highly developed and reasonably secure political system do journalists have the luxury of thinking apolitically about their work. Only when democracy and the rule of law have won, historically, is it possible to "lose" your political identity as a journalist and go around saying things like "we're just reporting the news." Or I'm a professional and so my politics don't enter into it.

Journalists who operate in more dangerous situations can never afford this illusion.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2005 1:43 AM | Permalink

Four times over the past 40 years I've had news stories written about something I'm up to.

Each time they've gotten the story wrong. Errors of fact and errors of emphasis.

I've never been contacted before the story runs to check it over.

When I've been on the other end, writing stories, I always would run them by the subjects before printing. Seemed incredibly basic. And resulted in much better stories.

This simple attention to getting things right seems the minimum thing writers should do.

-- stan

Posted by: Stan Krute at August 17, 2005 1:48 AM | Permalink

Jay says:

"I think the press has lost ground in part because it's become incapable of recognizing its own politics."

Yep. It is the bias that masquerades as no bias.

I blame it on lack of diversity and lack of competition.

The internet has given Old Media competition. What is Old Media's general attitude? Dismissive.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 17, 2005 3:21 AM | Permalink


Here is my take on your meth story. The points you didn't cover because "everybody knows.....


Did you ever deal with the fact that meth labs are a consequence of prohibition?

Did you ever ask why only a small fraction of those who try meth become addicted?

Did you ever ask what is the nature of addiction? Is it a function of the drug? Or something else?

There is zero questioning in the main stream press of the nature of addiction. Why? The whole drug war is dependent on the "drugs cause addiction" model. What if that model is wrong?

Addiction or Self Medication?

There is more on my side bar. Scroll down.

Worse than ignorance is "what we know that ain't so".


So there is your unrecognized bias.

As I said. It is not just a left/right issue.

It is the unwillingness to confront underlying assumptions. As Jay has pointed out.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 17, 2005 4:04 AM | Permalink

Ok, M. Simon. Thanks for the comments here and at my blog. I'm late for the first day of education classes for the fall semseter but I'll read and respond to your remarks tonite.

Jay, I'd like your take on what I wrote in my posts yesterday.

Posted by: Scott Butki at August 17, 2005 7:29 AM | Permalink

I'm not a teacher, but here's what i used to believe about journalism that I don't believe now: "The reporter isn't (shouldn't be) part of the story."

You're always part of the story, even when you're doing your level best to be objective. The story you produce will be shaped and limited by your perspective, your intelligence, your grasp of larger and connected issues. As the original (valid but limited) conservative critique explained, reporters who don't understand a related concept will never grasp that their story has omitted it. It's always what you don't know that gets you.

So for those here arguing for "just-give-me-the-facts" reporting: You try it, and then get back to me. Unless your report begins with the sentence "The Earth cooled," you've left out something that's important to somebody.

And for those who say "See? Even this guy says you can't be objective": I think the discipline of objectivity in one's thinking and the creation of objectivity as a process are valuable and worthy goals for anyone who wants to do journalism, be it for corporate media or your own local blog.

Here's what I believe today: The most valuable journalism is reporting that cuts through the artificial self-defense of "balance" and tells the reader exactly what's going on and what it means. And the problem with that model is, most journalists really aren't qualified to do it.

This isn't a critique of the model (its value is connected to its rarity), and it isn't a slam against journalists. It's just a recognition that a J-school degree does not confer special wisdom. The ability to see a subject clearly and thoroughly and with insight is rare, and it comes only after much study and experience. And it isn't going to make you popular.

In the Old School, the owners of printing presses and transmitters annointed such Wise Men (and they were almost always men). That's not true today.

But judging by the victimized political rhetoric and blanket condemnations of the press that I've read on this thread, such wisdom is just as rare in the public as it is in the newsroom.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at August 17, 2005 9:53 AM | Permalink

Scott wrote:

The "make a difference" comment struck a chord with me too for it explains both why I entered the newspaper industry and, ultimately, one reason I left it.

I thought that by being a journalist I could stop or reduce apathy in the communities in which I cover. I wanted to comfort the afflicted and help the poor and homeless and make readers think and all the other litany of things many journalists want.

Over time I found myself believing this less and less.

I think those lines are very telling. "Make a difference" was a lazy creed, and a misleading one. In some ways it oversold journalists on the effect they can have. It permitted you and many thousands colleagues to believe in "comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable" without thinking through the actual politics of that statement.

You ought to follow the work of Jenny D., Scott. She was a journalist for 15 years and quit to go into education, and she blogs about it.

Odd: 155 comments, many of them reacting to what I wrote about "making a difference," but not a single mention of another of my lessons: how I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more.

The Administration of George W. Bush, with its retreat from empiricism, its doctrine of infallability, its hostility to science, its attack on the press, its manipulation and intimidation of intelligence, its philosophy of "we make reality" and the amazing innovation of the Bush bubble (which protects the president from the American people) have forced me to doubt that. Reality can be put to one side, as with the case for war, or global warming, and there are no limits to how fungible the facts are.

These are political innovations for which Bush does not get enough credit. Each one of them goes well beyond what previous presidents--who may have longed for the same freedom from fact--thought they could get away with.

I find it amazing that people in the Bush coalition and the Republican party aren't more alarmed by these things. In fact I believe they are quietly alarmed, the smarter, less ideology-soaked ones, but like the rest of us have no idea how to combat something as deep and anti-modern as a flight from empiricism. They're just hoping it doesn't lead to a major scandal or disaster, and they think the alternatives (to Bush) are worse.

Their silence is creepy. If any one of them saw a corporation being run this way (the CEO in a bubble?) they would recognize signs of danger immediately. What I say about it, what the Democratic Party says, what the press says, what allies say is irrelevant. W. towers over them all. The only dissent that matters at this point is from within the Bush coalition itself.

It's actually a character test for those people. Do they hate the left more than they love the world? So far the answer is yes, they do. That's sad, it's also disturbing. And I have no idea what to do about it. So I write.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2005 10:19 AM | Permalink

Mr. McLemore (quote): "Not being able to read signs written in Cyrillic or mislabeling a Bradley for a tank or a F-111 for something else, while annoying and correctible, isn't the most egregious of journalism's problems."

No sir, it's not. The haughty, holier-than-thou reaction to being corrected, and concomitant refusal to accept and act upon those corrections, on the other hand, is among its worst.

If you're at a desk in Atlanta, reading Cyrillic is pretty arcane and unnecessary. I can understand that, I'm a generalist, too. But when you're covering a war in Southeast Europe, and you're an international news agency with global reach, having staffers who can read the local script is suddenly not arcane. Similarly, a **Moscow correspondent** should be expected to at least be able to pronounce words and names in the language: otherwise it's clear that at best he's a talking head passively reading a script. Correspondent != news anchor, right?

This is why I said that "Facts vs. Story" is meaningless without context. The context makes what is required quite clear.
The story: F-111 shot down.
The Question everybody wants to know: where was it shot down?
The Answer: right on screen. Novi Sad, up by the Hungarian border.
The Maddening Lie: "We're not allowed to tell you where this is."

(This is how all those lofty sentiments are expressed? One serves the public by treating them as if they were idiots?)
Your objection has nicely illustrated my position: if the response of the press (to this long-mummified horse) was some press-appropriate version of "we've got a reader out there who reads Cyrillic and says Serbian TV says it's Novi Sad (perhaps then throwing up a quick map pic)... no problem. Hell, local journalism does this with style and aplomb every day for the traffic reports! But the response of the press at large seems to be disdain that the public would demand competence in the manufacture of a product.

Similarly, to use your own example, when you're in a war zone, reporting on a war, you need to be able to distinguish between an M1 and a Bradley. It's not like they're hard to distinguish! If some editor back stateside who's never held a bullet, let alone an assault rifle before blows that while he's arranging photos, then sure, who cares. Put it down as one for the corrections page, where it'll never see the light of day again. But when you're reporting on action in the field... that counts, and the credibility of any journalist who can't tell the difference between the tank (with the huge cannon), and the Bradley )with the pop-gun and troops), has now begun to approach zero.

In context, facts that are basic and essential to the story aren't trivial facts at all, and one does a terrible misservice to one's students if one allows them to think that. And if J-school continues to pump out grads whose response to the notion that there might be critical facts is disdain... then why should the customers care to purchase said product, let alone hold these faulty practitioners up as somehow deserving of special status and respect? Since when did basic competence become regarded as such a lofty bar to hurdle?

Posted by: Russ Mitchell/Boxing Alcibiades at August 17, 2005 10:25 AM | Permalink

As we have said, (at the end of this piece), "There is an elegant truth here, unsaid: Journalism has become a kind of agendized religion, with some journalists believing they are passing on the word and meaning of God's will and intent. We are being asked to accept their word as sacred, as if they, by virtue of their profession, must be heeded and remain unchallenged- and the exercising of free will, to believe otherwise or to question the sanctity of journalists and their agenda, has become an intolerable and defining characteristic of evil men."

You may not see that truth- but a lots of us do.

Posted by: Sigmund, Carl and Alfred at August 17, 2005 10:51 AM | Permalink

"We are being asked to accept their word as sacred."

By whom? Where? In what language? Where did you get this wacked out idea?

Grow up, guys. Your oppressor is in your mind. Don't you see that you have become what you abhor? Victimologists.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2005 11:06 AM | Permalink

Tell me, Herr Doctor(s), when did critique of "The Media" become our culture's compulsive Rorschach test?

Each of us looks at it and each of us sees something different: Something sinister, something good, something stupid, something misunderstood. But we all look at it. It's what we have instead of clouds and ink blots today.

I think we cannot see what we cannot imagine, and what we imagine is typically a projection of ourselves.

But then again, I'm crazy.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at August 17, 2005 11:12 AM | Permalink

Jay: heartfelt agreement. Victimology doesn't get us anywhere. I love the fact that i can reach out and put my hands on news from all over the globe, right.... NOW.

*Improvement* should be the order of the day and generally of this thread, not whining. The "please get your facts straight crowd" to which I belong is not an inherently hostile audience. In fact, we're probably the ones most likely to contribute to your bottom lines by being subscribers and purchasers of the content.

Posted by: Russ Mitchell/Boxing Alcibiades at August 17, 2005 11:23 AM | Permalink

Jay, thank you for the compliment.

One of the most telling things I've learned after leaving journalism and doing work in more technical field is how little journalists know about it. Every story about education ends at the classroom door. Journalists rarely (an to my knowledge, never) actually look at the work of "teaching." They write about test scores, money, NCLB, ideology, victimology...but never the work of teaching.

Another example: recycling. Always accompanied by pictures of ugly landfills. Ahh, recycling will solve everything. In fact, recyling is expensive. It consumes a lot of energy, thus contributing to air pollution. It costs taxpayers a bundle, and produces little. In some places, recycled goods go from the special truck into the landfill because no one wants the recycled materials.

But that doesn't fit the agenda of most environmental reporters. I don't think journalists have fully explored the costs/benefits/alternatives. It is a technical problem.

I remember as a reporter building a case for the point of view in my story. It was the same as acting as a lawyer, actually. I wrote a story about how binding arbitration benefitted public safety unions. I selected the facts and threaded them into a story that painted this picture. I believe it was an accurate story, and that it exposed the flaws in a public policy. But I was building a case, just like a lawyer. And there wasn't another reporter building the alternative case.

So, I wonder if I was really showing just the facts? Or just my facts? Or if it was really fair, or unbiased? Or should I have started that story with a lede that said: "I'm going to build a case to show that this policy is flawed."

Posted by: JennyD at August 17, 2005 11:48 AM | Permalink

Jay, here's an example of journalists asking us "to accept their word as sacred", or close enough to it that it still supports the point being made by Sigmund, et. al. above (you may recall):

...the 30-year-old memos he disclosed on the show this week "were and remain authentic," ... "Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not, I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill," - Dan Rather
"This is going to hold up. This was thoroughly vetted." - Andrew Heyward

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 17, 2005 11:58 AM | Permalink

Bizarre. And did anyone treat those words as sacred? How victimized were you by them? I repeat: grow up. They had no force whatsoever. They stopped no one, and impressed no one. Rather was deluded; he big footed his president into backing him.

I personally talked to three reporters from the vast MSM conspiracy who were investigating the CBS memo debacle and doing stories about it in their national newspapers during the days of corporate denial, now remembered as a period when only the bloggers were on the story. (Which is a lie.)

You know what they said about "This is going to hold up. This was thoroughly vetted," by Andrew Heyward? Makes it a bigger story, they said. We all knew the story was going to collapse when none of the CBS document experts came to a strong defense of it.

Sacred my ass. You're in a victim head. Get out of it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2005 12:41 PM | Permalink

An example of journalist 'haughtiness'? Where are the stories on the Air America funnt money issues? Where are the stories on Cindy Sheehan's inconsistancies- all of which are documented? It wasn't journalists that made the Dan Rather story.

Where are the stories of journalists agreeing cooperating with the PA's code of conduct, so that Palestinians are only seen in an 'approved' light?

Speaking of the Palestinians- where are the stories on the final disposition of the Mohammed Al Dura matter? Not even discussion in the MSM.

Why is it that only MEMRI.ORG can be depended on to accurately report what is said in languages other than english, in the middle east?

If there were anti black rhetoric spewed in the same way anti Jewish remarks are made in the Arab world, you guys would be all over it. If there were anti black and racist agendas taught in schools, you guys would be having a field day.

In fact, when certain issues are discussed in the media, you guys don't give a damn. Your agenda is far more important than your honesty- and everyone in America knows it. Why do you think journalists are regarded so poorly?

No doubt many of you will take offense at my words- and you cannot question the veracity of my remarks. Many of you just think you and your work are above criticism.

That very few of you even admit to the reality and veracity of many criticisms, will only ensure your marginalization- and will only guarantee the influence of this generations pamphleteers- bloggers.

You see, you, in your hubris, have created us- and we are a lot smarter than you give us credit for. In the end, bloggers have and will have a lot more influence than you might care for- and the zero sum game of truth and reality, that ought to scare the living daylights out of you.

Posted by: Sigmund, Carl and Alfred at August 17, 2005 12:46 PM | Permalink

Jay said, in part, ... "I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more.

"The Administration of George W. Bush, with its retreat from empiricism, its doctrine of infallability, its hostility to science, its attack on the press, its manipulation and intimidation of intelligence, its philosophy of 'we make reality' and the amazing innovation of the Bush bubble (which protects the president from the American people) have forced me to doubt that. Reality can be put to one side, as with the case for war, or global warming, and there are no limits to how fungible the facts are."

Now you are talking, Jay. We have talked about this before, although no one else picked up on it, back when discussing "faith-based knowledge" vs. "empirical knowledge."

Remember, Bush doesn't read the newspaper, he gets his information from God and Condi, in that order.

Members of the vast right-wing conspiracy, many of whom like to harass us here on a regular basis, get their information from God and Rush and O'Reilly.

Here's a segment from my Sunday column this week, in which I objectively took on The Problem With Liberals.

A lot of conservatives I know are what you might call "complete dumbasses," defined by the mere fact that they form their opinions out of thin air, with a little help from other dumbasses on talk radio and Fox News.

They take their talking points on faith, just as they take their faith-based religious views into the political realm and argue for dumbass things like teaching "intelligent design" alongside the theory of evolution in science classes. Intelligent design is not a scientific theory. It is a political argument to continue the dumbass fight we've been having in this country since a Tennessee high school teacher had the guts to challenge the religious dumbasses in court. . . .

Many of them have never read a newspaper or a magazine or an entire book, not even the Holy Bible they like to push in other people's faces to justify their bigotry and hate.

The problem many on the left have with the MSM these days is that journalists sometimes simply report what people say, even if they know it is patently false. Remember the line from the movie All the President's Men when Jason Robards, playing Ben Bradlee, said: "We don't report the truth. We report what people tell us."

That includes the religious zealot Jerry Falwell, or the president, even if we know they are completely full of it. Cable TV talk shows are the worst about this, not so much the New York Times. But that would fall under the category of criticizing "the media," not "the press."

Also, it has to do with the perversion of how objectivity is defined by the press. We must print both sides, whether they distort the facts or not. That's why I have argued for a new definition, but it's going to be hard to change 100 years of journalism education history and a long string of text books that got it wrong.

Posted by: GW at August 17, 2005 1:09 PM | Permalink

Oh, and if you want to teach journalism students something valuable in this line of thinking, put together a lecture on the "Ways of Knowing." I didn't get that lecture and have that discussion until the second year of a doctoral program in communications, and it was perhaps the most eye-opening piece of information to me in all of my years in education. If an army of journalists came out of undergraduate programs with that bit of knowledge, it might actually make a difference in producing the kind of press and the kind of world the so-called "brights" are trying to create.

Posted by: GW at August 17, 2005 1:16 PM | Permalink

Jay, many people believed Dan Rather at the time, too many. Sure, some media folks may have smelled a rat, but how quick were they to inform their readers and viewers of their suspicions?

I guess one thing we're just going to have to agree to disagree about, Jay, is the power of the dominant media to influence the masses* who recieve their news primarily from a network broadcast news program or major newspaper. Given that, now I think I see how you can be so apparently indifferent to ideological bias in our dominant media.

* I am adversely affected ("victimized", though that term is clearly overwrought) by the policies of public officials (at all levels of government) elected in my lifetime by the misinformed masses, and in other ways by the impact of a biased dominant media (a subject for a much longer discussion). I am not being pejorative when referring to the masses, by the way - - it's just that not everyone fully informs themselves with a wide scope of information before making political judgements.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 17, 2005 1:44 PM | Permalink

The Big Chill

Blogs are the best thing to happen to journalism since the First Amendment.

Seems that nothing, not the move from yellow journalism to objectivity in the first half of the previous century, not the take over of MSM by journalism taught in school instead of learned on the job, not the impact of radio and then television news reporting, nothing has affected journalism as much as blogs. And this is only the beginning.

I dreaded the influence of “All the President’s Men” had on young people who thought journalism would be a “cool” course of study. They could dream of becoming Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman. I feared the journalism market would become crowded by the time I got back to my studies after my hiatus brought on by low grades -- in other subjects -- and the draft.

Anyway, the chill in enthusiasm for journalism in young people may be the shift away from the idealism brought on by Woodward’s book and the movie. (Who wouldn’t want to have a shadowy Hal Holdbrook illuminated by dramatic indirect light and the red glow of his cigarette as a source? Sorry Mr. Felt, you’re no Hal Holdbrook. The truth doesn’t measure up.) That and the right wing campaign to paint anything in the MSM that doesn’t agree with them as liberal bias may have had an impact in young people’s mines. You know, if you are far enough to the right, the center looks liberal to you; objectivity is seen as bias; the truth as a smear. The campaign is working as indicated by the chilling effect on campuses.

Jay, as your post argues, there is much that is wrong with journalism. However, as we all know, it is nothing so noble as partisan politics. The competition for the news consumer and personal ambition can and has lead to many failures in professionalism which, as part of the terrain, are aired in public for all to see. This washing and exposure of dirty laundry may give journalism the appearance of the same taint as business had in the 1960’s when the capitalist dream appeared more like some gross exploitation instead of recognizing the latest disclosures as the shake out of bad journalism.

To me, the worse offence is the use of unnamed sources. I was taught that no bit of information should be used that is not attributed to some source. In Washington, this is especially ignored -- which is in violation of a journalistic rule since the most important newsbyte in a story like this is why the bit of information was leaked. I can understand why it’s published. A juicy bit of un-attributed news that would move the story onto the front page, above the fold, or lead off the broadcast is hard to resist. Reporters will always maximize their position; it is the duty of editors to see that first draft of history is accurate and in context as much as possible.

And who comes to the rescue to see that what is taught in schools, bragged about at seminars and ensconced in pundits is actually fulfilled: blogs. Blogs may be the savior of journalism more than any letters to the editor, ombudsmen or previous forms of feedback such as tar and feathers could ever hope to be.

By the way, have you thought about other disciplines and the dislocation between what is taught and what is practice? The medical field? Law enforcement? Political Science? Are journalists better or worse than these in practicing what they were preached? Context anyone?

Posted by: scout29c at August 17, 2005 2:01 PM | Permalink

This is not an original observation, but one of the the fascinating things about those who cling for dear life to their "we-are-the-victims" fetish is that they are in charge.
They control the White House, they control both houses of Congress, they control the Supreme Court, they control the majority of the 50 state houses. They control most of the small businesses in the country and they run most of the big ones, including the dominant media conglomerates.
It's absolutely perverse, this reluctance to acknowledge victory -- or is it a dread of acknowledging victory ?
Come on, guys, open your eyes -- it's your America !!
On some level, I can understand the aggrievement of the disenfranchised. But this is different; this is the aggrievement of the enfranchised.
I've never seen anything like it before. And I'm still not sure what's in it for them. They must think something is in it for them, otherwise they wouldn't cling so tightly to the pretense.
But damned if I know what that something might be.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 17, 2005 2:27 PM | Permalink

J-schools unfortunately don't recognize the reality (or resist the reality) that Journalism has become entertainment. The best journalism of the past tended to focus on the facts, but in today's society, facts alone don't sell newspapers (or drive ratings). The emphasis on getting advertising dollars (caused when media conglomeration went wild after the Telecommunications Act) has degraded the quality of journalism and has eroded the public trust. As long as the media remains a slave to ad revenues, journalism will suffer. As long as large media companies own the gatekeepers, journalism will suffer. The only solution, it seems to me, is to break up the media mini-monopolies which gentrify the news and force it into the same predictable money making mold. Good reporters aren't enough to stop the slide. Good management needs to be in place as well.

Posted by: Adam at August 17, 2005 2:48 PM | Permalink

No, Auditor, where we disagree is right there in your sentence about "the masses who recieve their news primarily from a network broadcast news program or major newspaper," and another one about the "misinformed masses."

I don't believe there are any "masses," just citizens. And I don't believe in seeing people as masses, talking about them that way, or forming my ideas about politics by reference to their supposed ignorance or herd behavior. The more you think of other people as masses, the less able you are to treat them as a public.

I think it's illiberal and anti-democratic; and if you're frustrated by the masses and blame the news media you are living in a state I would call delusional.

And for the last time the "you" in "You see, you, in your hubris, have created us..." has no referent here. (If anything, I am on the side of the independent bloggers, not the press.) The guys you want to vent at aren't here. You're talking to yourselves. Do you care? Or is your loop so closed it doesn't make any difference to you?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2005 2:55 PM | Permalink

OK, Lovelady is a twit, but anyone reading this thread would have to see the "theatre" provided here.

At 10:19 AM Jay goes into a paranoid anti-Bush screed (bolstered, of course, by Ron Suskind's "anonymous source", the basis for the "reality based community---hey, if it ain't anonymous, it ain't real!). But then at 11:06 AM, Jay drops this little jewel: "Grow up guys. Your oppression is in your minds. Don't you see you have become what you abhor?" Doctor (Jay) heal thyself.

Then we are treated to the "objective" views of GW thusly: "a lot of conservatives I know are what you might call "complete dumbasses." Hey, don't hold back GW, and don't wonder why the "dumbasses" flee you like rats from a sinking ship.

Honestly, you can't make this stuff up----they just don't get it, and considering the attitude displayed here, they never will. Fortunately, even "dumbasses" have alternatives, and it ain't you GW. Sneer your way into the unemployment line---we'll be cheering all the way.

Posted by: kilgore trout at August 17, 2005 3:06 PM | Permalink

To Lovelady:

I live in a blue state; all three branches of government are controlled by Democrats, and thanks to gerrymandering, I don't see that changing anytime soon.

But as an independent, I can't tell you how difficult it is to suppress a smirk when I hear my blue neighbors kvetch about how the federal government is controlled by Republicans. But of course, they are more than happy to live in an area/state that is completely controlled by Democrats. Yeah, I'm cryin'.

Posted by: kilgore trout at August 17, 2005 3:22 PM | Permalink

To Jay Rosen, Daniel Conover and Dave McLemore:

I think we need a new definition here. I have been called out by both Conover and McLemore for lumping local media in with national media. I apologize now. Most surveys and polls show that the public (heart) their local media but they despise the national media. I'm in that group.

In monolithic internet groups, "the press" or MSM or whatever, is shorthand for a certain type of media/press. The problem at PressThink is that many who comment here (and read PressThink)are part of the "press" but not MSM.

I want to go on record here, that while I castigate MSM for their myriad flaws, I still (heart) my local press, and by extension, honor and respect all "local" press.

Posted by: kilgore trout at August 17, 2005 3:34 PM | Permalink

Nice try, Kilgore, but you're tilting at the wrong windmills.
Jay is a blogger, for crying out loud.
As is GW.
As is (gasp!) Lovelady.
Not one of three is a member of the MSM; each of the three, in fact, has for his own reasons walked away from the MSM.
Try to get the essential details right; it will make your arguments less easy to dismiss.
Although, in this case alas, it would make your argument evaporate.
Facts are funny ol' things, that way. Inconvenient as hell.
As Jon Stewart would say, "DAMN you, facts !"

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 17, 2005 3:38 PM | Permalink


I am mostly in disagreement with your characterization of Bush. I say this as a guy who is still fond of Bill Clinton (he was only all too human).

I think a lot of the "Bush lies" have to do with intel that can't be released for proper public evaluation because there is a war on.

Clinton had the same problem (operational security). Without a war on he did not have much public support to act on what his intel indicated. Plus every time he moved in the direction of acting the Rs screamed "wag the dog" and proceeded to "wag the dick".

Clinton actually said he probably should have attacked Afghanistan in 1998.

Law vs War

As Churchill said (aproximately): "In war truth is so precious that it must be protected with a bodyguard of lies."

There is a war on. At least the Islamic Nazis (an Oriana Fallaci phrase) think so.

Well willful blindness is nothing new.

Look at the record of books and writings about Hitler pre-WW2.

A Nation Terrorized.

In any case our most pressing problem in Iraq today is not the attacks but their Constitution which as written will put women back under sharia (4th class citizens).

What do we get as news? Cindy S. 24/7. Well it has the death of a son. Human interest. A woman who believe the war in Iraq was done for the Israelis by the neo-cons. Is hugely anti-Bush. What is not to like?

A lot of what I see in the press is a pining for the glory days of Vietnam. Forgetting the aftermath. 100,000 murdered. 500,000 boat people - 1/2 (aprox) died at sea. A anti-democratic government. The press sure made a difference on that one.

Why we want to do that again?

Posted by: M. Simon at August 17, 2005 3:46 PM | Permalink

Aaron: We are the only newspaper in town and the local tv and radio station usually get their news for us. So not to pat myself on the back but if I hadn't asked questions about the landfill and jumped on the issue it would not have been raised. The families involved had no idea what was about to happen.

Thanks for the compliment and the feedback.

Jay, thanks for the response. And just as I was gonna ask, "Who is Jenny D?" (Sorry, Jenny) she comments so I'll be watching - and maybe emailing - her.

It's been fascinating in recent months watching reporting from the other side of the fence. But it also means that any leaks.. well, I'll be the suspect whether guilty or not.

Keep up the good writing, everyone.

Posted by: Scott Butki at August 17, 2005 3:47 PM | Permalink

OK, Lovelady, you'll never understand me. I can live with that.

Posted by: kilgore trout at August 17, 2005 3:49 PM | Permalink

NTropy refers to a story about reporters being targeted in Iraq that has no evidence.

Here is a story about reporters that are being attacked with evidence. Why you not hear about it from the national media?

Killing Reporters on the Borders.

The story was broken nationally by a link to a blog. The linker? Instapundit. The man is a national treasure.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 17, 2005 3:56 PM | Permalink

Kilgore, I appreciate the effort to define terms. Maybe we can now work at consensus on what's included in MSM.

I assume you mean the Washington Post, the NYTimes, Time and Newsweek and the old Big Three networks: NBC, CBS, ABC. Does MSM also include CNN? The Washington Times? LA Times? Fox News? How about upper end of the cable or the talk shows?

As for content, what constitutes MSM failings? Does it include when the coverage supports the Administration or corporate powers, i.e., when Judy Miller's furthered the White House's war plans with her reports on WMD? Or it largely when the reports are critical of the president? (It can be any president and any ideological bent, BTW.)

I ask - and I'm dead serious here - because so much of the allegations of MSM failings addressed here appear, indeed the criticisms of those hometown newspapers we all love, depends so much on perspective.

When they report the mayor, the alderman or the president acted unwisely/foolishly or illegally, the media - hometown or MSM - is either dead-on accurate or hopelessly biased.

Now don't get me wrong. Getting stuff right is important. Getting the facts available on deadline and reporting them correctly and fairly is the goal. And the media - all of the media - have signficiant concerns with the work of sloppy, lazy or ignorant reporters and editors.

But how can facts presented, even though unflattering, be a matter of bias.

It used to be that if we pissed off folks on both sides, we were doing the job right. But that's vainglory. Now, you never know what the reaction will be.

But when someone says 'the media are liberal' I want to ask, 'compared to what?' For all the readers/viewers out there, there are some who are more liberal than you. And some who are much more conservative.

So thanks for the effort to define the terms. It's a valuable and necessary thing. But we've only just begun.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 17, 2005 4:12 PM | Permalink

GW just lost 2/3s of his audience by calling Conservatives dumbasses. (those who might have voted for a Republican recently)

So how is this: I voted for Bush and Obama. GW has offended me (as does most of the Dinosaur Media).

I see this kind of bias (overt and subtle) all the time in the Dinosaur Media. With hardly a hint of balance except on the op-ed pages. (and yes I understand GWs piece was an op-ed. It does express a pervasive attitude)

I count myself as a liberal. When I was growing up liberalism meant ending tyranny by any means necessary. By that criteria Bush is a liberal (on some subjects). So why isn't the press cheering Iraq while pressing to correct mistakes in implimentation? I'd say because the press today is no more liberal than it as when it was cheering on the Communists of the world from the Soviet Union to the North Vietnamese. The press in fact has used "liberalism" to cloak its actual reactionary nature.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 17, 2005 4:23 PM | Permalink

Jay, thanks for some great thoughts.

You're really wrong about folk believing Rather -- I'm sure lots of folk who voted for Kerry believed him.

"how I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more."

That's because facts ONLY have meaning within a story, a narrative; and primarily with respect to some political policy. (OK, in sports it also is true -- a "bad trade" means a bad season, and the following year the sports writer will point that out. If he was right.)

Policy that is implemented has effects, and it is the bad effects of policy that should bite back -- bad effects relative to the plausible alternative.

For instance, IF there is a Leftist media bias (policy), "reality" should bite back, anti-Leftist news should gain market share, and Leftist media (like CBS?) would get discredited. Less biased media (Fox?) would become more popular.

Um, I think reality DOES bite back, still. I think Leftist media-elite who deny bias are in the bubble, and "hoping" for no bite back. I think you, Jay, see reality biting back, but are in continual denial of the facts. This is called "cognitive dissonance." (oops, I forgot. You think I'm psychotic. How...special.)

You're in a bubble far more than Bush.

Steve L. asks "what more do they want?"
tax cuts AND spending cuts. Actually smaller gov't, not just talk about it "in theory." [The economy, with low inflation, low unemployment, is GREAT. Media bias ... little coverage.]

Partial birth abortion made illegal in a way that the courts accept, rather than a continuation of killing 6 month old human fetuses that could be delivered except that the mothers find them inconvenient. [Media bias -- NO pictures!]

School vouchers all over America, so parents have real choices for their children, rather than just a few experiments and bigger gov't pushing some program -- though more focus on results is good.

"Winning the war" in Iraq; whatever that means.

Bush actually hasn't given conservatives much; but Kerry was worse. Which reminds me. Kerry testified to the Senate that he was: Illegally In Cambodia at Christmas -- but there are no facts to support this claim. I'd say reality bit him back; a bit. If the Leftist media was really more interested in facts, Kerry's Lies would have been used more against him by one of the other 8 dwarfs running for the Dem nomination.

One idea of a primary is to get all the dirt out there while still "in house". Try Marc Cooper, he hates Kerry ... but hates Bush even more!

With candidates, as with policies, alternatives matter. With global warming, Kyoto costs a huge amount (for sure), for very small benefits. (I support a Hart-type gas tax, up a cent every month until the budget is balanced.) Better tech is lots more likely to work, sooner, and long term cheaper. Not certain though.

Finally, back to "making a difference".

Why not measure it?
Like, in number of US lives lost in Iraq?
Minimize; Maximize; or neutral (no difference)

The patriot above, essentially wanting Public Relations for Bush and the war effort, clearly wants the US to win with the MINIMUM of US casualties.

The Moral Hazard you nearly get to is this: a "neutral" press position means more US soldiers will die than a PR pro-war position, if it makes any difference. (Nobody knows how many. Nor if Casey Sheehan died for press "neutrality" or not.)

But the real issue is PR against the war, against Bush, against America -- because that tends to MAXIMIZE the deaths of US soldiers.

Unless you mean something else about "making a difference".

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 17, 2005 4:24 PM | Permalink

It saddens me that a post that has encouraged so many great comments, has attracted folks that just want to delimitate everything as "us vs them". Saddens me a great deal.

A terrific post Jay.

If I can respond to one thing:

For many years I taught in my criticism classes that pointing out bias in the news media was an important, interesting, and even subversive activity. At the very least an intellectual challenge. Now it is virtually meaningless. Media bias is a proxy in countless political fights and the culture war. It’s effectiveness as a corrective is virtually zero.

We, and other blogs in our region have been attempting - by pointing out the bias of the news media towards Natalee Holloway - to get coverage for Latoyia Figueroa (see ) with some success. The All Spin Zone ( has been particularly effective getting Latoyia Figueroa's situation in the news by doing this bluntly and directly. So I would say pointing out its effectiveness as a corrective “virtually zero” isn't always the case – it can still be useful.

Posted by: Karl at August 17, 2005 4:40 PM | Permalink

M. Simon, I'm confused. You say the media are ignoring the violence along the border. How so?

The AP, Times, Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta Constitution-Journal, as well as the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News have covered the most recent outburst of border violence in Nuevo Laredo since April.

Were you referring to the violence against reporters? On Aug. 14, Susana Hayward of Knight Ridder reported on "Mexico's drug gangs silence newspapers by killing reporters' It ran many newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

And just for fun, I went to the New York Times website and did a search on border violence. I came up with this in the first of 20 citations.

August 17, 2005
Citing Violence, 2 Border States Declare a Crisis

August 16, 2005
Mexico's Fox Tells U.S. To Help Out in Drug War
By REUTERS (Reuters) News

August 16, 2005
U.S. Defends Crime Fighting Near Mexico

August 11, 2005
Texas Town Is Unnerved by Violence in Mexico

August 6, 2005, Saturday
World Briefing | Americas: Mexico: U.S. Consulate To Reopen; City Official Gunned Down
By Antonio Betancourt

August 2, 2005, Tuesday
17 Are Killed in 2 Incidents, Fueling Mexicans' Fears of Violence

FOREIGN DESK | July 30, 2005, Saturday
World Briefing | Americas: Mexico: U.S. Shuts Consulate In Lawless City
By Antonio Betancourt

July 28, 2005, Thursday
World Briefing | Americas: Mexico: Local Police Return To Streets Of Violent Border City
By James C. McKinley Jr.

July 5, 2005, Tuesday
Corruption Hampers Mexican Police in Border Drug War

June 28, 2005, Tuesday
Mexican Forces Rescue Dozens Apparently Held by Kidnappers

How is this ignoring border violence?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 17, 2005 4:54 PM | Permalink

I will say, Jay, that each of your posts makes your position more clear to me. That's not something everyone can say:

1. Discourse about media ideological bias (e.g. "liberal dominant media") is not "truth-seeking", it's a waste of time. It becomes politicized; it's based on political definitions that are relative - - "You're liberal" is always equal to "You're less conservative than I."

2. You don't believe in classifying citizens into groups based on common characteristics (e.g. "masses who recieve their news primarily from a network broadcast news program or major newspaper"), because it's illiberal and undemocratic. Also, because doing so decreases one's ability treat them as "a public" (that last one is a bit of a rhetorically circular head-scratcher, but I'll ponder it...)

Yes, it certainly does seem to me that you're constraining the vocabulary of media criticism. Accordingly, I question how well truth can be told about what the media is and does when an observer's language is limited so.

(By the way, when I say "you" I mean Jay Rosen: NYU journalism professor, political liberal, writer whom I enjoy reading but with whom I respectfully disagree on occasion. I generally say "dominant media" when I mean the media with whom I have a bone to pick, some of whose members read and post here. If the two seem conflated in my posts, then I have miswritten.)

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 17, 2005 4:58 PM | Permalink

M. Simon:
Okay, one more time, with feeling:
GW is a blogger, and a pretty successful blogger at that.
He is not MSM. He is not even press. He is a BLOGGER.
So stop pretending that he represents MSM. He is, if you guys are right, exactly what will supplant MSM.
It's like using a tennis player to complain about baseball.

Tom "It's Not Too Late to Invade Vietnam" Grey:
Could you take me through the logic of the statement that a "PR pro-war" press would result in LESS American casualties in Iraq ??
I honestly don't see how you get from A to Z. Seems to me it would just as likely lead to more American casualties -- a lot more, in fact.
Hitler probably thought a muzzled, PR pro-war German press would lead to less Nazi casualties too.
Didn't work out that way, though.
Never has, in fact.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 17, 2005 5:04 PM | Permalink

I've been addicted to this thread the last few days. But school starts next week, and it's time to stop thinking about what I won't tell my students and start thinking about what I will. I think I will tell them this:

1. That journalism is an honorable calling that plays a role essential in democracy. Either that, or Thomas Jefferson was a fool.

2. That objectivity is not an ideology but a tool that helps reporters think clearly about complicated issues. It is an aid to discovering the truth, not a substitute for truth.

3. That biased is just another word for human.

4. That, with respect to the fungibility of facts, what Jay said.

5. That writing accurately and well is a useful skill to learn whether you ever try to sell a story or not.

6. That reporting isn't about you.

7. That bad journalism hurts real people.

And at least three old bromides:

A newspaper's job is to print the news and raise hell.

No wonder they hate us: We have all the best seats right up front.

And from "The Front Page": Who the hell's going to read the second paragraph?

Posted by: David Crisp at August 17, 2005 5:20 PM | Permalink

I like the "addicted to this thread" part.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2005 6:39 PM | Permalink

Well, it seems that like the Dan Rather debacle, the MSM has been trumped again- on what is turning into a big story, Air America. Michelle Malkin has some interesting court docs.

It is interesting to note that bloggers and not the MSM managed to find what is the MSM's bread and butter source of material- public documents.

I wonder how and why that happened. Nothing to do with an agenda, right?

Posted by: Sigmund, Carl and Alfred at August 17, 2005 7:00 PM | Permalink


I misunderstood GW's point about getting the piece refered to published. If it did not actually see print I'm obviously in error.

As to the reporters being killed: it did not get the flood the zone treatment that the killing reporters in Iraq did. And yet it is much closer to home. My theory is that the reporters couldn't figure any obvious way to tie it to Bush without attacking prohibition, which, it seems, most reporters support.

BTW most of the the drug war articles that I have written were published in an obscure local weekly called "The Rock River Times" so in fact I suppose that makes me an official journalist. Just trying to supply some balance to the press. :-) OTOH the paper runs a lot of conspiracy and black helicopter stuff (and despite all that add revenue is growing - go figure).

Posted by: M. Simon at August 17, 2005 7:29 PM | Permalink

Oh, come on.
A fight between Air America investors and one of its client station owners over what's owed and what's not?
This is your idea of a big story ? Lawyers posturing against lawyers?
That's about as big a story (to the general public) as my fight with Verizon over my latest cell phone bill.
Very interesting to me, for sure. But to the rest of the world? I don't think so.
Faced it -- Enron it ain't.
Can't you guys find anything better than that to keep you busy ?

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 17, 2005 7:54 PM | Permalink

I'm sorry, Steve- did you miss AA attempting to commit a crime by moving/hiding assets? And does the matter of the childrens org getting shafted by AA, and the attempted cover up, abandoned when they were caught, not matter? Did you miss the part where despite promises, nothing has been paid back yet?

Posted by: Sigmund, Carl and Alfred at August 17, 2005 8:06 PM | Permalink

I missed nothing.
Here's an idea: Let's let the U.S. Attorney decide what's a crime and what's not -- and then press charges, or not.
I know "innocent until proven guilty" must seem like a liberal plot to you, Sigmund, Freud and LeRoy, or whatever your name is, but in fact it's the law of the land.
If you have to rely for your "news" on Michelle Malkin -- maybe the one Oriental-American on the planet who thinks the illegal internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was a really great idea -- then that speaks for itself.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 17, 2005 8:23 PM | Permalink

I am not interested in making this an Air America thread or a Cindy Sheehan thread. No. On those who wish to bring the latest blogging culture war road show to town, PressThink will take a pass. That means I either kill your post (no warnings, no explanations, other than this here) or close the thread. So don't. Find somewhere else to reiterate with passionate intensity.

I'm willing to stipulate, however, that the agenda-shoving ideology-loving peacenik beatnik crafty leftist MSM suppressed [fill in name of your story] to advance its whatnot, until the little guy bloggers forced them to cover it and exposed this "journalism" sham for what it really is: Jane Fonda by other means. Happy? Now go away.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2005 9:00 PM | Permalink

Jay wrote:

Odd: 155 comments, many of them reacting to what I wrote about "making a difference," but not a single mention of another of my lessons: how I used to believe that reality always bites back, and there are limits to how fungible the facts are. No more.

How very Liberal of us all to believe that. I think those limits will only be restored by something expressly based on empiricism, say the economy. Until then, perhaps, "journalism" is condemned to serve the information needs of its public -- and that is politics.

Steve, point taken (and appreciated) on the performance art.

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss at August 17, 2005 9:30 PM | Permalink

Dan Crisp, Thanks for your 7 points of light and three bromides. If your students learn those lessons, there may be hope for the future.

Or at least the blogs will be better.

7. That bad journalism hurts real people. Now if we can just get corporate ownership to learn this one.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 17, 2005 9:43 PM | Permalink

Jay, just so I understand - does that mean you think blogging can't be effective as a media watchdog? That MediaMatters and others are just spinning their wheels?

Posted by: Karl at August 18, 2005 7:47 AM | Permalink

I missed nothing.


Here's an idea: Let's let the U.S. Attorney decide what's a crime and what's not -- and then press charges, or not.

That's a great idea. I like that idea. Let's apply it to more stories. Like, say, the Plame mess.

Naaaa, never happen. The prosecutor hasn't even determined that a crime was committed yet, and just look at all the airtime and column inches that the story has gotten.

I know "innocent until proven guilty" must seem like a liberal plot to you, Sigmund, Freud and LeRoy, or whatever your name is, but in fact it's the law of the land.

It's only a liberal plot when it only applies to liberals, and the standard applied to conservatives is 'guilty until proven innocent'.

By the way, when were you planning on letting us know about Victor Navasky, anyway?

Posted by: rosignol at August 18, 2005 9:06 AM | Permalink

Jay, just so I understand - does that mean you think blogging can't be effective as a media watchdog? That MediaMatters and others are just spinning their wheels?

I didn't say bias criticism is ineffective, Karl. It can be a very effective way to mobilize resentment at an institution, and activate hyper-politicized feelings of victimhood, as we saw repeatedly and pathetically in this thread.

I said that bias criticism is not "truth-seeking." That doesn't mean that no one ever found and told a truth while hunting for bias. It means that on the whole and as a matter of practice, this is a point-scoring (philosophers would say "instrumentalist") discourse.

We don't need fancy words. We remember a lot of it from the playground: "Oh yeah? Well what about..."

Media Matters was created because, in the opinion or the founders and funders, the right was outdoing the left in the bias wars-- successfully "working the refs" as Eric Alterman put it. David Brock and company wanted to counteract that. Yeah, I'd say they have been effective at what they wanted to do. One might even say that a group like that is necessary.

Oliver Willis (who works for Media Matters) said at this very blog that the press is beat (limp, cowardly) and "has to be played," a version of: they do it, so we have to do it. Here what he said exactly:

Right now, the right’s megaphone is loudest which is why I’ve been trying to get my side to get equally loud…. Frankly, we can do all the hoping and pining for the long lost responsible media but it isn’t ever coming back. The press is useless and has to be played.

Willis at his blog (in a post called "Beat the Press") says he agrees with the Bush White House: the press is just a special interest: “... it should now be clear to progressives that the media is most definitely a special interest group that you need to slap around in order to get democracy accomplished.”

This is the logical result of the bias wars, which are mostly about tactical battles fought for inches of ground in a game of who can discredit whom faster. It is taken for granted by both sides that one side deals in "facts," "truth" and "what the record shows" while the media (and of course the enemy) peddle only lies and distortions.

Have you ever noticed how frequently bias talk includes terms like "obviously," "blatantly," "no reasonable person can deny.." and "can you imagine if the circumstances were reversed and it was a Republican who...?" Those are signs of what's up. Not ultimately but obviously and blatantly do reason and truth belong to us, and no person willing to reason can deny it. That is the message. That is also the appeal.

My own view (unprovable) is that participants in the bias discourse are somewhere aware of their own distortions, feel unclean about it, and to avoid cognitive dissonance they have to puff themselves up as totally justified, totally right on both the facts and the law, just as the media is totally set against them. They need to believe that they are fighting people totally shameless, blatantly one-sided, etc. Listen again: "No reasonable person..."

Or just look at the pathetic post above this one, where rosignol says the news media applies "innocent until proven guilty" to liberals while "the standard applied to conservatives is 'guilty until proven innocent.'" That's the victimized, hyper-politicized, comically self-righteous discourse I refer to. And it happened while I was typing my answer to you!

The example you gave of a similar crime the news media isn't looking into because the victim isn't a white girl may have been effective, and necessary, and even just, but in making your points did you also say that these kinds of stories, when television news gets ahold of them, are overdone and manipulative no matter what the race of the victim (they exploit the suffering of the families, so as to bring the audience in on the drama) and we should have less of them? That's what I mean by truth-seeking.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2005 9:40 AM | Permalink

Thanks for the reply and for the nuance. Nuance doesn't come over that easy on the net does it :) Shoot - it's hard to get across nuance in day to day, face to face conversations.

..but in making your points did you also say that these kinds of stories, when television news gets ahold of them, are overdone and manipulative no matter what the race of the victim (they exploit the suffering of the families, so as to bring the audience in on the drama) and we should have less of them?

Great question - no I did not - but I understand your point. Others did question the usefulness of this reporting and they were (and are) a major part of the discussion. TV News sells fear and pain far too much IMHO. Shoot - it seems *all* news outlets do - blogs and otherwise.

Two questions looking at this: Why one person's plight over another? Why do it at all?

In response to the first question, a few of us are working together to build a widget that folks can add to their sites for localized public service announcements - first focused on missing persons. Basically - blogs as this generation's milk carton. If there is anyone here who wants to help - we have a thread going at Philly Future. I want to see this happen.

I can't answer the second question. It's beyond me. I don't know. But should that discourage us from trying?

Posted by: Karl at August 18, 2005 9:53 AM | Permalink

Swell. Bush "hates science". You can tell because he tried to deny federal funding for stem cell research. And he's not on the bandwagon with Kyota. That bastard!

Of course, when the Left villifies Larry Summers for some innocuous comment about sex differences, or when it politicizes the teaching of science on campus, or when it bitches about not enough quota spots in the engineering department, or when it runs PC inquisitions and enacts hate speech codes--hey, pro-science! They love science! You can tell they love science so much because they want to take it over. It's those guys--those right wingers, because the Republicans who know better are complicit in their silence--who have set a new standard in hostility to science. Amazing.

This is Rosen's problem: he won't provide context for any of his sweeping claims about the Bush administration and his fanciful theories concerning their war with reality. He'll call them innovations while brushing away a discussion of their historical use by other presidents (he gets short with you when you bring that up--well, shorter). Goddammit stay on the same page!

Now the remarkable condescension that has become more and more a fixture of his writing here is melting into zero-perspective rage. But at what? At the zombies who come here to fight pointless political battles? But Rosen's latest posts are those of someone who sees the Loveladys and their antagonists having so much fun splashing around in the water that he would like to join them too. Wait up, guys! I'm getting my trunks on!

So he makes increasingly heated and exanding claims in an effort to get people he doesn't like--who shouldn't be here--to shut up (it never works, Jay, so get your delete finger ready).

Rosen thinks maybe Media Matters is necessary, even if they are just as mendacious as the generic right wing nuts who "work the ref". (Again, zero perspective.) Rosen should be reading Bob Somerby more closely these days. Somerby writes (very acutely I would say) about the failures of the press and the excesses of the Right and the excesses of the Left--and lately about the tendency of what he calls the "liberal web" to take up the tactics of the kookiest right wing elements--to disastrous results. And unforunately this leads to a very unsettling place where the public "have to be lied to" for their own good. Those are the tactics of the partisan apparatchik. The very tactics that Rosen can't make up his mind about.

His indecision speaks volumes.

Posted by: Brian at August 18, 2005 11:00 AM | Permalink

You're a hardened propagandist. Every twisted, hate-filled thing you say gives me the creeps.

This is me in the comments to "Rollback," responding to a lefty blogger complaining about Somerby:

Ron: I haven't seen Somerby's post challenged and refuted (I know a lot of people don't like it, but that's different.) Have a link that explains what he gets wrong? I'll gladly add it to the After section. If you don't have one, I would recommend that you do a post.

Wilson seems to me a very poor choice for lionization, Ron. (This was Somerby's point.) If you're Wilson and you say repeatedly and with great indignation that your wife did not "authorize" your trip or send you to Niger, but then fail to mention that she did in some way recommend you for it, then you're an ass. Wilson knows how the discrediting game works. He should have known his wife's recommendation would come out. What was he thinking? "I know how to stonewall too"? If you have an explanation I would love to hear it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2005 11:20 AM | Permalink

Jay, I ment to add "No reasonable person..." -

I definately got it. Saddly it seems to be the default mode of operation for far too many participatants, in far too many discussions I take part in - not just on bias in the media, but in politics in general, and in technology.

Posted by: Karl at August 18, 2005 11:45 AM | Permalink

Steve, very nice use of Hitler -- he effectively used PR for Hitler Germany ... but he LOST.

Minimize/ Maximize issues are dependent on agreement of what the desired outcome is.

Does the Steve Lovelady "narrative" assume or desire a US loss in Iraq, and thereby want to minimize the US soldiers lives lost (wasted), by withdrawing early? This IS the right strategy, I'd say, for all on the side of Hitler...

I'm assuming the US will help Iraqis WIN, and have a democracy. Of course it's less expensive in lives to stop fighting than to LOSE. (Perhaps the S. Vietnamese, Cambodians, Tutsis, and Darfur Sudanese don't fully agree.)

The fact is, we don't know if the US/ Iraq democrats will win, or lose; nor if the terrorists will win.

I think you're being simultaneously condescending and yet unbelievably dense when you say, about pro-war PR: "I honestly don't see how you get from A to Z. Seems to me it would just as likely lead to more American casualties -- a lot more, in fact."

I thank you for at least acknowledging pro-war or anti-war "PR" can have an effect on the number of casualties, perhaps a big effect. (In fact I do NOT believe you fail to see my logic, I think you just disagree, in the most lazy way you can think of. It IS a long thread already)

So let's talk about 3 more real examples: WW II - Hiroshima, Vietnam, Iraq.

I claim dropping the bombs ended the war sooner, and saved US lives; and even Japanese lives. It was dropped in a very pro-war PR campaign. How much publicity for the B-29 bombers crashing days before? How much for details about D-Day prep with some 879 soldiers drowning in training? How many "Private Ryan"-type German soldiers executed by advancing allied forces? How many fotos of allied soldiers, disgusted by SS guards at death camps, just murdering the guards? Not much; not much criticism of the war. The current news, of the time, was prolly around 90-95% on the pro-war PR side.

More anti-war PR press might have caused a delay in Hiroshima, increasing by some 2000/ week the US casualties.

Is this in agreement with your narrative?

Vietnam -- of course it's too late to invade; is it too late to LEARN? Oh wait, facts & reality, like the KILLING FIELDS, haven't bitten the anti-war protesters (like you and Jay, who wonders why reality doesn't bite anymore). Anti-war support FOR commie victory has been a disgrace for 30 years. But I have to admit, if you want the commie victory at the fewest US soldier lives lost, the way is to oppose Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin resolution, oppose any action to escalate, and support surrender, er, "peace with honor" as soon as possible for the "senseless" war.

ONLY if you accept genocide as better than fighting against genocide was Vietnam senseless, or a mistake. (How we fought there -- LOTS of mistakes. Estimates of early “victory near” were especially terrible, over time; Pentagon Papers shows lots of mistakes.)

Had the press remained pro-war PR, and accurately predict a coming genocide if the US leaves, so that the US was still engaged there when Nixon was booted, I think Ford and even Carter could have avoided letting the commies win (-- like with more funding for the S. Vietnamese defensive Army, and more air power to fight against N. Viet tanks.) [I think the press did pretty good in booting Nixon, but terrible in getting the US to leave Vietnam – yet also that, without the anti-war/ anti-Nixon energy, Nixon wouldn’t have been booted. It’s hard to separate the post-68 anti-war from anti-Nixon.]

My narrative has the press, after '68 & Tet & Nixon winning in 68, taking an anti-war PR position with few stories of the likely outcome if the US leaves. And virtually no front page NYT stories at all a month after the US did leave, thereby omitting reports on the reality that should be biting the anti-war folk – until the great Killing Fields movie.

Is this in agreement with your narrative?

Now in Iraq. When there are 90 front page NYT stories about Abu Ghraib & Gitmo, to 10 stories about Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, and other victims of Islamofascist terrorists, I think the MSM is acting about 80% anti-war/ pro-terrorist.

This results in more potential terrorists seeing all this anti-war, anti-Bush energy, so there is a belief they really can “win,” in any case it is certainly possible to strike a blow against the Great Satan of the USA. When the potential terrorists are told how bad the US is, the “guiding” Imam can merely read aloud from the NYT quoting, perhaps like the National Enquirer with only one source, somebody saying how terrible Bush is – and then say, “see, even the people in America know how terrible it is.”

My narrative has such anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-America publicity increasing the number of terrorists actually joining.
Does your narrative really have the anti-Bush news decreasing the number of new recruits? Or no effect? Or perhaps you lack the courage or intellectual integrity to say the effect on terrorists of your narrative?

Too much PR anti-war, anti-Bush is, inversely, PR on the pro-terrorist side, so there are more terrorist recruits. If more potential terrorists actually join the terrorists and become active, this increases the number of US casualties, as well as Iraqis.

(And you expect me to believe you honestly didn’t know this before?)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 18, 2005 12:20 PM | Permalink

Brian, I noticed the same uncharacteristic behavior of our host as well. Is he joining the suicidal bandwagon? I hope not.

Wineberger says:

Narratives don’t get built out of facts. Narratives tell us which facts matter. Within a narrative it’s important that journalistic reports be accurate. But accuracy is not enough to bring about intelligibility or to tear down an existing intelligibility

'Narratives tell us which facts matter' implies that some facts don't matter. This postmodern mindset appears to influence much of the reporting on the war. Bad facts (For the US) fit the narrative. Good facts don't.

Crisp says:

7. That bad journalism hurts real people.

8. Soldiers are people.

Posted by: Jeff Hartley at August 18, 2005 12:22 PM | Permalink

"..hyper-politicized feelings of victimhood, as we saw repeatedly and pathetically in this thread." - Jay, above
"That doesn't mean that no one ever found and told a truth while hunting for bias. It means that on the whole and as a matter of practice, this is a point-scoring (philosophers would say "instrumentalist") discourse." - Jay, above.

I hate to resort to this, Jay, because liberals ought to be able to honor abstract principles even when it's their own ox that's being gored. But let me help you understand my side's "grievance" about ideological bias by relating it to ideological bias that you may see:

Talon News
Sinclair Broadcasting
Fox News

Granted there will be exceptions, but on the whole, are these three "news" organizations ideologically biased to the right? Can anyone, perhaps you if you tried earnestly, make an empirical, reasoned case for that claim? Can you say anyone who relied on them for information in some instances was poorly served? I think you reasonably can. However, I also think one can make a reasonable case that other media organizations, on the whole, are ideologically biased to the left, and thus poorly serve their readers and viewers.

Instead of seeing the extremes and throwing up your hands, saying "Pox on you both", how about deeply investigating certain claims of bias? Surely there are some criteria that can narrow down which claims merit further investigation. Then, maybe criteria can be identified (even agreeable to both sides*) against which claims of bias can be evaluated.

* Areas for common ground are likely to be found in admissions against interest.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 18, 2005 12:30 PM | Permalink

Jay:"My own view (unprovable) is that participants in the bias discourse are somewhere aware of their own distortions, feel unclean about it, and to avoid cognitive dissonance they have to puff themselves up as totally justified, totally right on both the facts and the law, just as the media is totally set against them."

Until you are willing to define some objective measure of bias, like articles on NYT front page, and then try to measure the bias, most of your complaints about "media bias complainers" are qualitative fluff.

I suggested in my long screed one measure, let me expand it: compare the number NYT front page articles on Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and all Coalition holdings, with the number about the victims of Islamofascism who have been murdered.

Where is YOUR measure of media bias, or lack of it?

Your constant claim of no-bias seems almost silly without "facts" -- especially in a post where facts and reality biting back are supposed to be key issues. (Could it be you have to 'puff yourself up as totally justified, totally right' on the media bias issue?)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 18, 2005 12:31 PM | Permalink

I suggested in my long screed one measure, let me expand it: compare the number NYT front page articles on Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and all Coalition holdings, with the number about the victims of Islamofascism who have been murdered.

Help me out here, Tom. Are you saying you don't see coverage of Iraqis maimed and killed by terrorists in that sad country?

Because I do almost every day, followed soon by complaints that the major media only cover the 'bad' news.

Are you saying that for every Abu Ghraib story the Times published he should have published a story about murderous actions of the anti-US faction in Baghdad? Because, though no expert on Times coverage, I'd feel safe in saying they published both, at times on the same page.

Or are you saying there should be some equivalency - for every 'negative' story there should be an equal 'positive' story, down to column inches and word count?

If so, that's now how news works.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at August 18, 2005 1:13 PM | Permalink

Tom Grey - - Jay's repeated position is not that there's "no bias" (he sees all kinds of bias everywhere), it's just that discourse about ideological media bias is silly, a waste of time. I've said to him before it's easier to accept that when the status quo disproportionately benefits the ideology with which one sympathizes.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 18, 2005 1:17 PM | Permalink

Once again I'm amazed y'all keep this going as long as you do. I go away for awhile and do some real work and come back and find all kinds of distortions, however.

So just for clarification purposes, I didn't lose two-thirds of my blog audience - because conservatives do not read my blog, the best I can tell. The Locust Fork is for smart people : ) Can conservatives read? (Just kidding people. Get a sense of humor).

And just for the record, I am a liberaltarian on the blog and on the radio. You see, down South even liberals do not want the government in our bedrooms.

And I am not just a blogger. I am a free-lance journalist who also taught journalism for nine years, including tenure track at Loyola University New Orleans for two. After 9/11 I wrote Howell Raines a masterful letter and did a considerable amount of reporting for the New York Times, most of it uncredited of course. But I did fulfill a lifelong dream: A page one byline in the Sunday Times. So there.

I am also a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and was the New Orleans bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News for about four years.

I blog now because I am tired of being told what the angle of the story should be by editors in New York, and because I like being in business for myself and controlling what I write about and how I write about it.

We are about to put out a print version of The Locust Fork Journal, so I will be the editor and publisher of a smart, progressive print publication in about a month, complete with print advertising as well as Web banner ads and blog ads. But the main purpose of the print product is to promote the Web site, a novel approach to be sure. The Web site is now getting almost a quarter of a million hits a month after only five months.

I like Press Think primarily because I have an interest the debate about the blogosphere versus mainstream journalism, or my term for it, corporate journalism. I am also still interested in journalism education, because I dabble in it on a free-lance basis too.

During the fall semester, I will be putting together a seminar for journalism classes and the public on using the Internet. The first booking is already in the works for Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

What I am finding after moving back to Alabama from Washington, D.C. and New Orleans is that a lot of people are online using e-mail. But the MSM Web sites are so bad around here that they leave a hole big enough to drive a mac truck through for someone to grab the online news audience with a fast and tasteful Web site.

So we don't just blog. We scan the headlines from the major papers and wire services and produce a news page that looks like the New York Times - without the pop up ads.

And if you have never tried to read the Washington Post online through a dial up connection, you may not understand that we use the print version of Washington Post stories and help our readers to those stories without having to go through the main interface. It's a real service that people appreciate, especially the poor Democrat activists in these parts who are very frustrated with the conservative media.

Yes, I said conservative media. The three largest circulation newspapers in this state, as well as Louisiana, are owned by the Newhouse chain. They have a long history of union busting, and always, always, endorse the Republican candidate for president. I am sure there are a few liberal reporters working there, but they have no power and mostly show up and crank out bad copy to fill the space between the ads and keep their mouths shut.

For example, when blogs were brand new, and one staffer posted a letter to Romenesko about Rick Bragg, the publisher of the Times-Picayune passed down an edict in the form of a memo banning any staffer from "participating in blogs."

As far as I'm concerned, and I've said this for publication before, the sooner the corporate chain papers stop killing the trees the better. Unless they start standing up for science and democracy and holding public officials accountable again, they are useless to the enterprise anyway. In five years they will be hard-pressed to keep making a 20 percent return on investment, because NOBODY is going to be reading them accept a few 80-year-old hard corps religious conservative Republicans.

Many of the chains are just now investing in new printing presses and new buildings, including papers like the Knoxville News-Sentinal, even though the staffers have signs on their desks showing the number of days they have been working without a contract. The days add up to years now.

When I challenged the vice president of the Washington Post company about this very issue about five years ago, he said he was not worried about what would happen in 15 years.

He smiled and said, "I'll be retired by then anyway," and walked off.

On a political note, it is obvious the Bush administration doesn't care about the future. Because of the war, they are gouging us for every penny they can make on gas, knowing they will all be retired and wealthy soon.

Does the press care? They don't seem to show it. They are hunkered down in fear of a church-led circulation and advertising boycott.

Sorry for the length. But those are the facts.

Posted by: GW at August 18, 2005 1:39 PM | Permalink

Tom --
We're on different planets.
In your own words you declare you want PR from the press, not facts. I don't even have to accuse you of it; you accuse yourself of it.
Tell me this -- if the press with knowledge aforethought prints fiction in hopes it will accomplish some government goal or another, at what point do we stop that train ?
Does their come Some Grand Day when a press so prostituted goes straight ?
And if so, does it then inform its readers,
"Okay, mission accomplished, we're no longer an arm of the government; from now on we're out of the fiction game and back to the information game" ?
And how might that mea culpa be received, I wonder ?
The press that you envision is beyond Orwellian; it's straight out of Stalin's book.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 18, 2005 1:42 PM | Permalink

By the way, after some thought, I think that Jay's uncharacteristically intemperate remarks may be an attempt to prove his point by example. Jay feels bias discourse is useless because it quickly degenerates into politicized playground behavior. To demonstrate, it seems that Jay has recently zipped on the coveralls of a liberal hot head, a la

"You're a hardened propagandist. Every twisted, hate-filled thing you say gives me the creeps." - Jay above.

Again, maybe Jay's putting us on; illustrating his position through absurdity.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 18, 2005 1:45 PM | Permalink

A question for Trained Auditor:

It is a free country and Jay continues to allow anonymouse posters, but I am puzzled to know what possible jollies you get participating in these discussions. I know who you are, even though your AOL e-mail address doesn't seem to be working anymore. Did you ever get a job?

Posted by: GW at August 18, 2005 2:03 PM | Permalink

Have you seen his blog, TA? Check into it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2005 2:17 PM | Permalink

GW: You have me confused with someone else. I never used AOL; I am now and have been gainfully employed for the past 13 years. (But I'm curious now, though, who you think I am?) I enjoy discussions with well-spoken (er, written) bloggers, even when I disagree, yourself and Jay included.

Jay, I have been to GW's blog, engaged in an enjoyable discussion with GW. Didn't go back often because, as a consequnece of registering, I recieved periodic e-mails from fast2write promoting GW's posts, which I considered spam.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 18, 2005 2:39 PM | Permalink

"People want to be comforted by the news." I forget who said that.

Anyway, just seemed appropriate.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at August 18, 2005 3:27 PM | Permalink

Oh, and I thought Jay's "uncharacteristic" remarks were priceless. The boy's got a little Elvis in him for sure.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at August 18, 2005 3:31 PM | Permalink

Jeff Hartley, I was in basic training when the Kent State shootings took place. I never once imagined that my life would have been safer if the press had downplayed the huge national uproar that followed that event. And if I had imagined that, I think I would have thought: It's worth it. There's no point in fighting for freedom if you aren't free to bitch about it.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 18, 2005 4:17 PM | Permalink

No, TA. Not that blog. This blog by this guy.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2005 4:30 PM | Permalink

I can see Cindy Sheehan as a hate-filled propagandist, whose uterances creep people out. As for the other guy, I haven't read much of him.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at August 18, 2005 5:25 PM | Permalink

I get it, TA... You haven't read much in the evidence on which I based "hate filled," and yet you think I may be indulging in politicized playground behavior, or putting you on with intentionally absurdist language, or losing my cool and adopting the slash and heave style I typically mock?

If you think I would say to a person at this weblog, "every hate-filled thing you say gives me the creeps," without having a reason for it, then you don't understand a thing about me as a writer, critic, blogger.

I may be wrong, and I may be wrong a lot, but I don't say things like that arbitrarily or casually.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2005 8:10 PM | Permalink

Dear Jay,

I am writing my dissertation proposal, and it is frighteningly parallel to the discussion here. IN education, there's lots of intuition, hyperbole, ideology...but not much knowledge. To be honest, we don't know much about the real work of teaching and learning, and it shows because practitioners and academics throw conclusions around with such value-laden scares me.

I admire the work you do, trying to get all us cats herded into a productive and knowledge producing discussion. Without the silly ideological, bias arguments. They don't help. Knowledge building is much more demanding than tossing around the latest meme, or screed, or hyperbole, or argument for my guy or yours.

Anyway, I used to scoff at academe, and frankly, lots people in the work ought to be scoffed at. But you are engaged in a greater task, and it's not easy but it will produce knowledge for the better of us all. It's slow, it's uneven, and it's not always rewarding.

I'm about to email a nearly finished proposal. I think I've got it. I may be blown out the academic water. But I have a study that links learning, and writing, and achievement, and its effects on the least advantaged kids in our country. And honestly, I feel that this work is much more important and potentially effective than anything I ever did as a journalist. Hey, no sizzle in what I do. It's all steak. As boring and important as that is.

Posted by: JennyD at August 18, 2005 9:23 PM | Permalink

Thanks very much, Jenny.

You have one great advantage as you head into your dissertation work, and hopefully an academic career: the memory (in your mind, your ear, even your fingers) of what it was like to write for the "general public"-- for the town, not the gown. If you don't lose it, but on the contrary use it for your academic work, and meet the standards for a PhD, you will be way, way ahead.

The academic system will try pressure you to write only for it. Tell the authorities anything you need to tell them to get 'em off your back; then keep writing with your "old" newspaper ear. Keep this in mind, too: if they could write like you, they would, but they can't, so you must.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2005 11:10 PM | Permalink

Jenny and Jay - Good stuff. I had a sociology professor who had me write a draft of a paper we were collaborating on for publication who said, I kid you not, "You are a great writer. Much better than me. Now take this and go back and take out all the good stuff. We'll never get it published this way."

See why I'm not longer a research academic?

Posted by: GW at August 19, 2005 12:40 AM | Permalink

From the Intro