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Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

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

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

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

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

Read: Q & As

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

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

Audio: Have a Listen

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

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

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

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

Video: Have A Look

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

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

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

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

Recommended by PressThink:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Group Blogs

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

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

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

Digests & Round-ups:

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

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

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

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

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

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

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April 4, 2006

No End to Any Argument: Keller on Transparency

"To me it's entirely plausible that the editor of the New York Times could read Romenesko without getting lost for hours and hours in it, and I would hope that tuning out the daily conversation in his profession would not sound to him like a solution to anything."

(Originally published as The never-ending argument at the Guardian’s Comment is free… There are some slight changes in the PressThink version.)

New York Times watchers, a group to which I belong, recently learned something about executive editor Bill Keller, the boss. He doesn’t read Romenesko.

That’s the online gathering place for journalism professionals in the U.S., where news and views are exchanged daily, while trends get picked apart by an army of interpreters - including me. PressThink gets steady traffic from links at Romenesko, which is published by the non-profit Poynter Institute. It’s not a huge site in commercial terms, but well read among Keller’s peers and competitors, and feared by newsroom bosses because their leaked memos may wind up there.

It’s the closest thing to a living public square within the American news biz; Keller, of course, knows that.

By way of explaining that Bill Keller really, truly believes in greater transparency for the New York Times, Rachel Smolkin of American Journalism Review (April/May 2006) said he had become “a little more choosy about transparency” after experiencing life in the hot seat:

On the advice of managing editor, Jill Abramson, he’s mostly stopped reading the media blogs, including Romenesko’s influential one on the Poynter Institute Web site (he still finds Gawker hard to resist). “There’s nothing wrong with them, and I don’t object to their existence,” Keller says. “It’s just that they can lead to a tremendous and to a somewhat disorienting degree of self-absorption.”
My pal and fellow press blogger, Jeff Jarvis, who consults for the Times and writes a column for the Guardian, didn’t think much of Keller’s decision to end self-absorption by avoiding Romenesko and other media blogs. “I’d say that Keller thus forfeits the right to complain about or mock people - starting with the president - who say they don’t read newspapers, especially his,” Jarvis wrote on his blog, Buzzmachine:

What a foolish thing for a journalist to say. But I suppose it’s transparency of a sort, telling us what you don’t know, confessing your deafness and your prejudices. Or perhaps it’s just a game of snark-for-snark: the resident of what used to be seen as journalism’s throne looks out upon the masses, the bloggers, and sniffs, “I don’t object to their existence.” Let them blog cake.

I had a slightly different reaction. Keller’s term “self-absorption” - as the evil to be avoided - was an image I had seen several times in my Times-watching. Ken Auletta in the December 19 2005 New Yorker told how …

At a newsroom meeting at the end of November, Bill Keller, in a reference to the Miller case and attacks on the Times from bloggers, said that he was concerned about “orgies of self-absorption that distract us from our more important work”, but most of the questions directed at him did not deal with Miller.

That would be Judith Miller, the out-of-control reporter who had to resign in November. Most of the questions dealt with business prospects and Web strategy at the Times, about which the newsroom staff was anxious.

Last month Keller gave a speech in New York to College Media Advisers, a group for kids on college newspapers and the teachers who look over their shoulders. (See their blog.) In describing the intense scrutiny and round-the-clock bashing the Times gets, Keller told the group that “the relentless attention sometimes draws us into orgies of self-absorption that distract us from our more important work”.

Not just self-absorption but “orgies” of it. (Keller once told another group of students that some blogs are a “one man circle jerk.”)

In fact, ending self-absorption was high on the agenda when Keller’s regime was created. He took over three years ago from Joseph Lelyveld, an interim editor brought back from retirement after Howell Raines crashed. This is from the AP Account (July 14 2003):

Keller told the AP that a sense of stability had begun returning to the newsroom under Lelyveld’s interim leadership.

“The place has calmed down a lot,” he said. “It feels like a newsroom again. People aren’t so self-absorbed as they were, and they’re getting on with their work.”

Keller said he hoped his appointment “will accelerate that process”.

That would be the process of ending self-absorption at the Times. There were people in the building who agreed with that agenda, the AP reported. “This is the end of the self-absorption over Jayson Blair,” said Walt Baranger, assistant to the editor in the news technology department. “Bill will be a very steadying force.”

It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. The Jayson Blair embarrassment was followed by far greater controversies over faulty coverage of the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq and then the Miller trauma.

What Keller means by self-absorption is related to another idea: that it is futile to respond to most of the criticism that gets flung at the press, and specifically at the Times. You can hear it in the speech to college media advisers:

In the past few years the business I work in, and the paper I work for, have been written about more copiously than many of the celebrities whose crimes and indiscretions pass for news in America. We’ve had it from all directions - right and left, high and low - especially right, and especially low. We’ve had it from the bottom-feeding gossip columns of our hometown tabloids and from the high-minded authors of books no one reads. We get it from the bloggers and the shouting heads on cable TV, we get it from a whole new claque of media vigilantes, and we get a fair amount of it from the best informed and most demanding critics of all, namely the readers of the New York Times …

Keller acknowledged that criticism helps keep the Times honest. But saying “we get it from everywhere” is not an attempt to understand what you are getting. Nor does self-examination have to end in self-absorption. There are other stops on that train. To me it’s entirely plausible that the editor of the New York Times could read Romenesko without getting lost for hours and hours in it, and I would hope that tuning out the daily conversation in his profession would not sound to him like a solution to anything.

Still, I can see what he’s driving at. Keller’s point is, it’s easy to say things like …

  • we must become more transparent, and show our work;
  • we should be out there defending our reporting;
  • “if you don’t explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you” (Keller to Smolkin);
  • Bill, you should have a blog, and be able to answer back

… but what you may not realize is that by committing yourself to the dialogue you rapidly lose control of your time, as each answer brings six new charges and four new questions, plus three new misunderstandings about the Times it would be proper to correct. It’s endless, and the errrors are endless. Keller complained specifically about this to Jeff Jarvis in an extended exchange of letters (March 3 2005):

My study of the blog culture is, I readily admit, very cursory and incomplete, but it’s striking that there seems to be no end to any argument in your world. Every grievance is recycled endlessly, not necessarily spiraling up to a higher level of enlightenment but starting over and over from scratch. It’s Groundhog Day.

“There seems to be no end to any argument in your world” is quite a complaint for a newspaper editor to make. Do arguments on the opinion pages normally “end?” How about arguments about higher taxes, racism, war or globalization as found in the Times news columns? Do they end? For Keller this also means there’s no end of Arguments About Keller in which he might feel the urge to participate. And he does want to participate in “live” discussion online. Or at least he feels the pull. As he told Jarvis:

The thing that struck me during my week or so of very elementary and intermittent bloggery is that it is very seductive. (It also helps overcome byline withdrawal.) It would be easy to shirk my job and swap thoughts with you and yours, and the time flies by and at the end we’ve generated an exchange that will be skimmed in haste by some number of people, to what end?

From Keller’s perspective the demand to “explain” decision-making at the Times may commit you to a fool’s dialogue with well-informed nutcases who will not be satisfied with any explanation. You may be writing for grazing netheads who skim in haste and click on. It’s easy to say “engage your critics”, but there’s things you cannot tell them because of confidentiality, which is like fighting with one hand bound. The full facts are never on the table. That’s one of Keller’s complaints about the web (“this particular, wonderful, but sometimes infuriating, medium.”)

It is massively inclusive but everyone brings to it an individual appetite and a sense of entitlement, regardless of whether they have done the homework. You can join the discussion from a position of raw, opinionated ignorance. Sometimes the result is less a conversation than a clamor.

True, but what is the difference between that clamor and the great clamor of democracy itself? Keller talked of his frustration at seeing “thrice-removed versions of something I said” spread across the net for purposes of Keller-denunciation, which “bore no relation to anything I had actually said or thought.” (An entirely plausible description.)

Your solution, if I get your drift, was that I should go blog-to-blog, dropping in and conversing, winning friends and setting the record straight. Easy for you to say, since you seem to live without sleep.

Actually the suggestion Jarvis had was a good deal more sophisticated than that. Don’t go blog to blog, dropping in and conversing. Not practical. Read what they’re saying at Romenesko and Memeorandum. When you have a reply, say it once, your way, at your blog, at your length. Lots of bloggers, including opponents, will link to it; they’ll spread the word for you. Your post is going to come up higher on Google; that way you influence future discussion. When reporters from the mainstream press call for comments often you can refer them to the blog. By only posting when you have something important to say, you make what you post there more important. Without obsessing you can be effective.

That is what Jarvis was telling him. Here is what Keller heard:

By the same standard, I could probably win friends for the Times by going door to door in Queens, extolling and explaining the paper to prospective readers, but is that the best use of my time?

Against that absurdism, I would place the Editors’ blog at Comment is Free. It has an author, Murray Armstrong, and it’s about editorial judgment at the Guardian. When other editors have something to say they can guest post. No one seems too self-absorbed. At there’s Public Eye, which examines decision-making at CBS News.

The Times could easily create a similar blog, and the structure to keep it from consuming Keller’s time. Then he could return to the public conversation about journalism, in which the editor of the Times has a rightful and important place.

Finally, I think Keller’s alarm about self-absorption is actually about something else that worries him: the authority of the New York Times is changing form. It’s not that people don’t respect the newspaper or trust it; thanks to the internet the Times has more readers than ever. It remains a powerful - I would say indispensible - institution in American life.

But the New York Times no longer has the kind of power that permitted it to remain aloof and non-communicative about itself. Keller is a complicated man, and I don’t pretend to understand him. But I do know this: though he might like to go back to the stoicism of an earlier era, he understands it’s over. If you don’t explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you.

What bothers him is the “no end to any argument” part. And in this respect we must say to him: welcome to our world.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Gawker comments: “Bill Keller is overly absorbed with questions of self-absorption, says Jay Rosen.”

Jeff Jarvis keeps the argument going—and responds to this post—with The one-sided conversation. He begins with an observation: “No single group sends me more email marked ‘not for blogging’ than reporters and editors at The New York Times.” I have had the same experience: Times-people will only speak off-the-record. (One exception.) It’s consistent and after a while seems bizarre. These are, after all, journalists.

“I always end up lecturing them about why we should have these conversations in public, how those will be better conversations for it, and why others should hear what they have to say,” says Jeff. “A one-way conversation is no conversation at all.”

I really don’t know what the root cause of this institutional false modesty and faux shyness is. I don’t think it’s as simple a diagnosis as fear. It’s something more complex and cultural than that.

Jarvis links to this portion of the Times Company ethics manual on blogging. (“B5. Web Pages and Web Logs.”) He says “it talks about what blogging journalists should not do… the blogging policy does not say what they should do when blogging. Nor does it say they should blog.” Asked by a German journalist why journalists should blog, Jarvis does not hesitate:

…to bring back the humanity of journalism; to restore the credibility we thought we protected but in fact lost when we insisted that we could and should be objective; to break down the wall we built separating ourselves as journalists from the members of the public we serve; and to join the conversation that is happening without us.

Read the rest.

Scott Rosenberg of Salon, responding to this post: Welcome back, my friends, to the argument that never ends. About “self-absorption” as code he writes:

This term is closely related to navel-gazing, and somewhat more distantly, to “inside baseball.” These are all terms journalists use when they fear that shop-talk and meta-conversations about their profession will bore the readership. (Sometimes they also fear that such “self-absorption” might lead to embarrassment, loss of authority or a little too much light shed on the profession of light-shedding.)

True. Accurate to what I have heard. Then he shifts into gear…

I think Rosen has missed one central element of the “no end to any argument” argument, and that has to do with the matter of who gets to say when an argument is over.

Because, until quite recently, for most of the career of the editor of the Times, or any other leading journalist today, it was the newspaper’s editors who nearly always got to say, “This argument is at an end.”

Exactly. And it’s hard to believe that such a perogative can disappear on you. “When such an editor surveys the blogosphere, he hears a multitude of voices who do not operate in such a zero-sum world— and who stubbornly refuse to give up talking about this issue or that story even if the cycle has rolled on. For the old-school editorial mind, engaging with such voices isn’t just an exercise in futility — it’s an act of self-torture.”

Read the rest because Scott has it nailed.

Steve Lovelady, the boss at CJR Daily, recounts a story in the comments: He wanted to send a reporter to sit in on the daily meeting at the New York Times where section editors pitch stories for page one. Fly-on-the-wall style. Getting an answer takes three weeks and a new Times committee, and the answer is “NO.”

I e-mailed John Carroll, then the editor of the Los Angeles Times, and made the same request. In about 13 minutes, John responded, “Sure, come on out.” We did and it made an enlightening post for CJR Daily — an examination of how a great metropolitan newspaper made its news decisions on one day in particular.
Which management would you say is more “self-absorbed” — the NY Times, which apparently can’t decide to go to the restroom without forming a committee to worry the decision to death, or the LA Times, which invited us into the inner sanctum without a second thought?

Good question.

Tim Porter summarizes what he’s been saying for years in If Newspapers Are to Rise Again. “Reinvent or die. It’s that simple.”

Steve Rhodes (ex-Chicago Tribune) at The Beachwood Reporter asks, “Why didn’t newspaper companies invent Google?”

And why didn’t blogging come from newspapers? They employed thousands of writers!

And yet, newsrooms today still fear and dismiss the Internet, ceding the territory internally to their marketing departments and externally to tech companies and the “amateurs” whose energy is just what is missing in today’s papers.

“We are not going to settle our arguments,” says David Weinberger. “There’s enough room on the Web to permit that.”

From Too Transparent? by Rachel Smolkin in American Journalism Review.

“There can be too much soul-baring,” says [Geneva} Overholser, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism’s Washington bureau and former editor of the Des Moines Register. “We need to be careful about covering ourselves just as we’re careful about covering other people.” Transparency is “not endless self-examination; it’s not navel-gazing; it’s not gossiping about ourselves. I think it’s essential, and I very much welcome transparency, but I think we need to recognize that we’re still getting our sea legs.”

Is there no longer an alternative to media transparency? Is there any place in this climate for a news outlet to ignore demands for answers, to assert, simply, “Our work speaks for itself”?

Probably not.

You can find PressThink’s version of the same discussion at two posts: “I’m Not Going to Talk About the Back Story” and Steve Smith: Fortress Journalism Failed. The Transparent Newsroom Works.

Neither was cited by Smolkin, whose mission is to be skeptical about transparency. Probably for the same reason that the writer of this piece on Craig Newmark, whose mission was to be skeptical about citizen journalism, interviewed me for an hour but his editor cut out all my quotes, and the writer of this piece, skeptical about blogging, interviewed me for 45 minutes and cut out all my quotes. If you don’t advocate what they think you advocate, they edit you out.

Back Seat Drivers, a press blog from Ireland, present some fascinating numbers in this post. First, circulation figures for the major UK papers:

Telegraph: 917,043
Times: 685,081
Financial Times: 441,840
Guardian: 394,913

Then, the most recent figures for page views at each paper’s website:

Guardian: 125,319,150 (Feb 06)
Times: 59,450,999 (Jan 06)
Telegraph: 46,626,144 (Nov 05)
Financial Times: 41,337,365 (Sept 05)

They comment: “In other words, on the web, the Guardian is punching well above its weight. And while most publishers will tell you they find it hard to make money online, the Guardian site made a £1 million profit last year. They’ve got to be doing something right.”

The Guardian’s readers’ rep reflects on the success of Comment is Free so far.

Hey, has a new design and look. Here’s Len Apcar’s letter to readers about it (April 2.) Bill Doskoch did a solid review of new features and functions. CJR Daily covered bloggers’ reactions.

And here’s a detailed interview with me by Richard Poynder that was supposed to be part of a book of interviews with Net thinkers. It covers a lot of ground. The book got cancelled when O’Reilly, the tech publisher, decided it couldn’t make money. That story is here. Poynder is publishing them himself, on the Web, and asking for donations. My favorite moment:

Newspaper companies, says Rosen, find themselves standing over a kind of canyon today. “Right now they have got to the lip of this canyon, and they are all looking at it, and saying: ‘I can’t get across that. Can you get across that?’ But what are they going to do: go back?”

Here’s another from the same book, an interview with Eric Raymond, the co-founder of the Open Source Initiative.

Rejoice, city mouse and country mouse, for there’s now a Jay Rosen entry in Wikipedia. Check it out.

Posted by Jay Rosen at April 4, 2006 5:12 PM   Print


This reminds me of an incident in 2004, when CJR Daily -- then called Campaign Desk -- tried to do a "day in the life of the NY Times" story.
I called managing editor John Geddes, an acquaintance, and asked if we could post a reporter at the Times as a fly-on-the-wall for one day. I especially wanted to report on the Times' 5 p.m. news meeting, where section editors gather to pitch stories for page one to the powers that be.
Geddes said he'd have to make the rounds of colleagues and test out the idea. Three weeks later he emailed the answer. The Times, he informed me, had even established a committee to ponder my request, and after much debate, the answer was, "No." Editors, he said, feared that my reporter's presence would result in a page one meeting where participants felt under scrutiny and would, therefore, not be their true selves.
Next, I e-mailed John Carroll, then the editor of the Los Angeles Times, and made the same request. In about 13 minutes, John responded, "Sure, come on out." We did and it made an enlightening post for CJR Daily -- an examination of how a great metropolitan newspaper made its news decisions on one day in particular.
Which management would you say is more "self-absorbed" -- the NY Times, which apparently can't decide to go to the restroom without forming a committee to worry the decision to death, or the LA Times, which invited us into the inner sanctum without a second thought ?

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 4, 2006 6:23 PM | Permalink

Does anybody consider that Bill Keller may just simply mean what he says -- namely, that focusing on the work the newspaper does is more important than constantly fretting about what others say about it?

I remember some wise advice from the dim past about the perils of "watching the scoreboard instead of the rim." Putting the ball in the hoop consistently (something many of Keller's critics have rarely, if ever, done) is the only way to win the game.

Posted by: HCW at April 4, 2006 6:26 PM | Permalink

Uh, yeah. I considered it. As I was writing this, I considered it a lot, actually, HCW. And what I kept asking myself is: why does it have to be "constant fretting" about what others say, a black hole of self-worry that expands unto the horizon? Why does Keller speak in extremes about the matter, using the language of obsession? You may not find anything significant there. But it's the kind of string I like to pull on. You never know what unravels.

To me "constant fretting" is not a reasonable standard. Undoubtedly, the right thing to do is put out great journalism, and not worry too much when some people scream. The reasonable standard it seems to me is:

* know what the critics are saying
* do what you think is right
* come clean when you realize you were wrong
* occasionally speak to the moment

But Keller describes this kind of moderate, common sense approach as impossible. One would get sucked in, he seems to be saying. It's like Steve Lovelady observed: the Times is making the big deal out of things.

Can we observe your meeting?

Are you nuts? No! Go away, and don't ask again.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 4, 2006 6:34 PM | Permalink

I think one of the things your, otherwise trenchant, analysis misses is a material dimension. Ironically, I think Keller does as well. What you do is to abstract critical thinking, reflection, opinionating and blogging from their physical manifestations.

Keller is still in the thrall of the idea that he has to produce a finite object every day. I guess in the good old days his job was to fill the newspaper: all you had to think about was getting in the most relevant news, opinions and ads into a finite number of pages. Now there is a 24 hour news cycle; the blogging universe, which provides siginificant competition for the traditional OpEd writer (e.g Andrew Sullivan); the political reporter (e.g. Josh Marshall); the rabid partisan (e.g. Michelle Malkin); the platonic journalist (e.g. Dan Froomkin); etc. etc...

If you are Keller and you raise your head above the parapet you see in the web an infinite (and therefore senseless) image of your newspaper. What is the point of eating yourself up over the fact that your paper cannot replicate the web? There is material out there for the sophisticated nethead to get more than he could ever hope to get from the NYT, but Bill Keller has plenty of subscribers to the paper who probably never go online.

There is an ad for the NYT on Bloomberg radio (and I forget the exact words)which says something like "the NYT reader is secure because he knows he can get all his news from one place" - the ad is positioning the NYT as a kind of portal - an AOL on paper! This is what the NYT was, is, and will be (for fewer and fewer people???)..

The way I get my "news" is from a set of links I have set up on "My Yahoo". At the moment these include (in alphabetical order):

BBC News
Brad Delong
Josh Marshall
Michelle Malkin
NYTimes (including Times Select for Brooks and Krugman)
National Review
Washington Post

and I visit each site numerous times each day. I am my own Bill Keller, but there are plenty of people out there for whom Bill Keller is their Bill Keller. In other words, I think your criticisms of Keller neglect the distinction between netheads and newspaper readers and, in so doing, you make your position appear philosophically different from Keller's, when really all you are doing is thinking about different ways of imagining news delivery.

Anyway, as altrios recently said of digby, I say to Jay Rosen: you bad blogger - you naughty blogger - you do not update your posts often enough. On the other hand, it is always a buzz when there is something new - keep up the good work that Keller hasn't the time, space, paper or vision to do!

Posted by: Richard Hooker at April 4, 2006 9:49 PM | Permalink

"the never-ending argument"

This was Carl Schmitt's complaint about liberal democracy. It's all talk at the expense of all action. Schmitt's conclusion was that parliamentary politics was therefore a luxury Germany could not afford.

Schmitt was right that 18th century notions of political process as a rational debate of competing visions of the public interest now look like a cruel joke. He wasn't so good on the solutions side.

You hit the nail on the head with Keller. Strong paraphrase #1: "No time to consider or reconsider the role of the Times in a rapidly changing world. We're too busy doing that timeless thing we do at the Times."

Why does he imagine the Times' only alternatives are unthinking tunnel vision or pathological self-absorption? Either he lacks the listening comprehension skills necessary to understand Jeff Jarvis' quite plain-spoken, constructive suggestion or he is in a serious state of denial in relation to something else.

What your post reminds me about self-absorption and the press is the seemingly infinite, tedious hours of press "self-examination" I've seen by reporters on PBS programs where they endlessly recycle conventional journalistic wisdom AS IF IT WERE GENUINE SELF-EXAMINATION! The act of measuring themselves by the same old code whose breakdown brought them to where they are is their idea of self-reflection! That seems to be the far, far limit of self-examination most journalists can conceive. Your post points toward a form of well-intentioned self-deception that is at the heart of the problem.

Strong paraphrase of Keller #2: "Ignorance of self is bliss. Don't mess with our self-deception mojo or we'll have a breakdown."

Does that sound like the credo of a fourth estate that realizes it has itself been refashioned into both stage and straw-man target in the culture war, has been decertified from its role as essential to the effective function of the democratic process of our republic, but is slowly beginning to realize the situation it finds itself in and take appropriate counter-measures? Hardly.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at April 4, 2006 9:54 PM | Permalink

I went and looked at the Guardian editor's blog. Is it usually a lot better than this? Are you holding this up as some kind of prototype for what Keller (or any editor) should do?

Honestly, it looks worse than worthless today. What am I missing here?

Posted by: hcw at April 4, 2006 10:53 PM | Permalink

Whereas I see -- from your description; I haven't read the NYT for a long time, and I don't know Bill Keller -- is a man with an enormous amount of power who sees it slipping away, and is having trouble defending himself from that loss because he has never acknowledged that what he has is power.

"All the news that's fit to print." Do they still have that in the masthead? It's possible to read that as an advertisement for service -- we cull the dross out for you -- but it's also possible to see it as arrogant assertion of power: We decide what's worth paying attention to. It's very closely related to why Socialist autarchs are generally styled "Secretary". The secretary controls the agenda, keeps the minutes, and records the decisions. If the busy committe members don't pay attention, alterations of the agenda or records are easy.

The New York Times decides what, out of all the Universe of possible matters, should be admitted to the national debate -- and Bill Keller decides what the New York Times will bring forward. Other matters, regardless of their importance in the absolute sense, are relegated to the twilight with a sneering "not newsworthy". That's power.

But it isn't generally recognized as power, and much of the Press's supposed "objectivity" depends on denying that it is power. It's hard to defend something you pretend not to have. Probably the only practical means is mulish stubbornness, total refusal to change course in any way, coupled with great care to avoid revealing what you're up to when at all possible. Which is what I think you're describing here. Military jargon for it is "hunkering down", which has a strong flavor of impending doom if something else doesn't change.

I think, or rather strongly hope, that the defense will not succeed. For one thing, it distorts the debate, which results in bad decisions. For another, other voices are creeping out from the woodwork. Bad decisions weaken the social fabric upon which the Press is built in the first place, and undermine its support. The other voices gnaw at the walls, each trivial in itself -- but then a particular termite doesn't eat much.

I wish Bill Keller, as a person, a good life, as I would anyone. As an editor, I want him selling pencils on the street. So this is good news. If he's hunkering down, a few more howitzer rounds should do it.


Posted by: Ric Locke at April 4, 2006 11:06 PM | Permalink

Exquisite idea, Lovelady, implanting a reporter in the editors' meetings (assuming the resulting story presents a warts-and-all picture); but it might prove more illuminating if it was done surreptitiously) - - It'd be nice for our editor friends in Big News to get a taste of their own medicine...

Posted by: Trained Auditor at April 4, 2006 11:50 PM | Permalink

Richard: Thanks. You're right that the material conditions for producing the news have sunk so deeply into mainstream journalists that they sometimes equate journalism itself with their production routines.

Ric: Scott Rosenberg at Salon has a somewhat similar take to yours. You should check it out.

But I think Rosen has missed one central element of the "no end to any argument" argument, and that has to do with the matter of who gets to say when an argument is over.

Because, until quite recently, for most of the career of the editor of the Times, or any other leading journalist today, it was the newspaper's editors who nearly always got to say, "This argument is at an end."...

Add up those choices taking place in newsrooms around the country and you have "the news cycle" -- that arc of coverage from "breaking story" to "analysis" to "follow-ups" and so on that governs the media today. The news cycle is finite; stories lose steam and are replaced by other stories with their own cycles. This is often because a story has run its natural course. But it is also because editors, forced to choose between expending resources on continuing to cover yesterday's news or jumping on today's, will almost always choose to start a new cycle. After all, they became editors because they're excited by news.

The blogosphere presents an entirely different structure... No one is going to tell you that there's no column-inches (or air-time) left for your beat, and besides, didn't we already run a big take-out on that topic last week? None of those constraints apply. Keller is right: Here, there is no end to the argument.

In the end, that, I think, is what is so unnerving about the blogosphere conversation to him and his coevals. Gone are the familiar newsroom rhythms -- in which last week's chatter about Andy Card's resignation is replaced by this week's chatter about Tom DeLay's resignation, which will be replaced by next week's chatter about next week's resignation.

...The difference is between a closed system, one of limits, and an open system, with no boundaries... The blogger who's got a case against the local school board, or who thinks that Dan Rather (or the New York Times) is biased, is never going to stop. The whole point of a blog is that no one can make you shut up.

So I think, when we hear an editor complain that "There seems to be no end to any argument in your world," we are hearing the reflexes of a professional who has spent a lifetime deciding, "It's time to move from this story to that story." It's the voice of someone whose whole expertise lies in assessing when one news cycle is ending and another is starting.

When such an editor surveys the blogosphere, he hears a multitude of voices who do not operate in such a zero-sum world -- and who stubbornly refuse to give up talking about this issue or that story even if the cycle has rolled on...

Very interesting elaboration on my post.

HCW: it's not that the Guardian editor's blog is blazing a brilliant trail. I referenced it in order to show how simple it would be to create a forum for Keller to occasionally engage in online debate.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 5, 2006 2:25 AM | Permalink

Jay, I think you hit on something when you talked about Keller's possible desire to pretend that the NY Times is still existing in a 1950s media world. I recall a news article, actually maybe it was an editor's column, back in the Swift Boats days (please no debate, its just an example) where someone commented that the news media had "put that story to rest" with big hits by the LA Times, NY Times and Wash Post. The article writer was frankly dumquizzled that this story was still alive. You could practically hear the frustration. "But, but we did this story already!"

Is there some ancedotes about a Times Editor and that JFK said to him that if they had published the Bay of Pigs story before it happened it would have stopped the fiasco? I definately get that sense from Keller he wants to return to that era of ancedote where a Times story stops the nation. Frankly there isn't any story that seems to stop the nation anymore.

Posted by: catrina at April 5, 2006 9:33 AM | Permalink

The press, as exemplified by the Times, has always had an enormously difficult time acknowledging that it is not just reporting on players, it is a player, and thus is worthy of the scrutiny of others.

Add to that Keller's own personality -- he's a reticent guy by nature and something of a stoic -- and you get this kind of tortured logic. Would you people just leave me alone so I can get some work done ??

Well, no, Bill, we won't -- anymore than you would leave George Bush or Bill Clinton alone to pursue their agenda unobserved upon.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 5, 2006 10:22 AM | Permalink

David Westphal is the Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers, which just bought Knight-Ridder. He wrote this in the comments at a McClatchy journalist's blog that had remarked on my post and the Jarvis reply:

I think everyone is right. Early in his tenure at The Times, you could almost picture Bill Keller sitting at his computer hitting the refresh buttons on journalism sites. Maybe he had to respond to everything at a time when The Times was under heavy fire. But I also bet he had to pull back just to keep his nose above water.

You can't really check out of this ubiquitous debate, of course, because the debate is about survival. Not to mention it's endlessly fascinating. But how to take it in, with discipline and not obsessiveness, how to tune out when it's just bluster or rehash, how to tune in when something really important is said (and perhaps swing immediately into action)... I find it pretty hard to find to find true north here. (Maybe Google's geniuses need to beta test a BS filter. On second thought, forget it. This probably wouldn't make the cut.)

Okay, but is true north "I won't even read Romenesko..."?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 5, 2006 11:41 AM | Permalink

Keller's not the only big-time to have said he won't read Romenesko, I can guarantee it.

Is this a selection problem? Think about who goes into journalism anyway. People who want to watch other things happen and write about it. People who want to criticize things that don't work. People who want to help, but don't necessarily want to have to join some club to do so.

I always had a sense when I was in a newsroom that we were a collection outsiders, who enjoyed being outsiders. We were different. We didn't join groups. Yet we were untouchable because our mission was moral, maybe holy. We never considered for a minute that someone would criticize our methods. Maybe our stories, but never our right to print them, or the way we got them, or how we made decisions about what to print and what not to print.

Keller reminds me of several of my old newsroom colleagues, except he's the boss.

A question: how much are top editors asked to engage with people by giving speeches, or attending events? Is doing that part of an editor's job? Or is the job of being top editor mostly huddling in the newsroom, giving orders and overseeing the daily report? Just curious.

Posted by: Jenny D at April 5, 2006 12:20 PM | Permalink

I know and have known a lot of newspaper editors, but they were local. I cannot imagine them overlooking that they are the public representative of the newsroom, the president of the news tellers society and thus called on to be in dialogue with the community and leadership, power structure, etc. Part of the job is giving speeches, but also convincing people the newspaper is being open, equitable and fair.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 5, 2006 12:34 PM | Permalink

What disturbs me far more than Keller not reading Romanesko is his refusal to answer questions posed by the Time ombudsman. I have a lot of sympathy for Keller's "I can edit the paper, or I can respond to its critics, but I don't have time to do both" position. But that is where the role of "ombudsman" should come into play -- as the filter that allows Keller to address the important/critical questions about the Times coverage.

I get the impression that what Keller is really avoiding is actually dealing with the implications of his own failures and errors. That's why he talks about "self-absorption"; if he started really thinking about the Times Iraq coverage/Miller fiasco, he'd have to spend a couple of months in therapy working out how and why he screwed things up so badly.

But he's got a paper to edit.


stupid question. How come the process of "absorbing" something is spelled "absorption" and not "absorbtion"?

Posted by: plukasiak at April 5, 2006 12:45 PM | Permalink

This thread makes me remember a cartoon I saw about 25 years ago. The cartoon was a medieval king with his knights in all of their armor. Behind him was a serf with a cannon salesman.

The King relies, "I don't have time for a salesman I have a war to fight".

Keller is so busy putting out a newspaper he is not delivering news.

Posted by: Tim at April 5, 2006 12:59 PM | Permalink

A question: how much are top editors asked to engage with people by giving speeches, or attending events? Is doing that part of an editor's job? Or is the job of being top editor mostly huddling in the newsroom, giving orders and overseeing the daily report? Just curious.
Posted by: Jenny D

That differs newspaper by newspaper, Jenny. Keller seems to have delegated much of the public role to Jill Abramson, one of his two managing editors, who seems to flit from one event to another, from one speech to another, from one panel to another, while Keller stays indoors and puts out the paper.

That allows him to play Mr. Inside to her Ms. Outside. I've seen the opposite at other papers, where the top honcho is the diplomat to the world and the # 2 is the Mr or Ms Inside.

I sympathize with the dilemma. At a really big organization, it's almost impossible to fill both roles, unless you're ready for 20-hour workdays.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 5, 2006 4:59 PM | Permalink

when i was a reporter, i had little time for anything else or to read anything else. it took a lot of energy just to read my paper daily to know what's in the paper, so i wouldn't sound like a fool when a source mentions a story that's not in my beat.

i can't imagine the work load is lighter up the chain. reading blogs is time consuming and addictive. unless, you are familiar with blogs and what's been written by those blogs, it can be a daunting task.

and if you were the executive editor and were to blog, you would need time to think about what you are blogging or reacting to romenesko. you wouldn't just want to spout off from the top of your head.

Steve, the executive editor and managing editors also have management duties, bean counting (or battling with bean counters) that is not news related? they're not just giving orders and overseeing daily news meetings/reports?

Posted by: bush's jaw at April 5, 2006 5:29 PM | Permalink

re Steve's
> We did [a "day in the life of the LATimes" story] and it made an enlightening post for CJR Daily

Steve, a URL for this please?

re Paul's
> What disturbs me far more than Keller not reading Romanesko is his refusal to answer questions posed by the Time ombudsman.

I won't ask the question I want to ask here; it's too wondrous/strange to see a PressThink comments thread still on topic...

re Jay's
> I know and have known a lot of [local] newspaper editors... cannot imagine them overlooking that they are the public representative of the newsroom... in dialogue with the community and leadership, power structure, etc. Part of the job is giving speeches, but also convincing people the newspaper is being open, equitable and fair.

Jay, you're speaking from knowledge of city newspapers and not small town newspapers, right?

Given that small town papers are typically(?) businesses first and journalism-purveyors second, how can a small town paper engage in any meaningful degree of transparency? The endeavor would seem doomed, unless their priorities change.

Posted by: Anna Haynes at April 5, 2006 10:21 PM | Permalink

> David Westphal... the comments at a McClatchy journalist's blog

...called Etaoin Shrdlu, which (in this post) contained a piece that's too good not to share:
When I was editorial page editor in Sacramento, [G.P.] asked me what I thought our mission was. I told him I wanted the pages to be "an operating manual for civic life."

"So," he summarized, "we build citizens."

Posted by: Anna Haynes at April 5, 2006 10:45 PM | Permalink

Here's the CJR Daily piece on the LA Times decision-making, which Steve referred to above... I don't think the institution collapsed because of it, because if it had I would have seen it on Romenesko.

Mostly, Anna, they would be editors at chain-held newspapers, and smaller family companies with 3-4 papers. Places like Norfolk, Spokane, Akron, Madison, Tampa, Austin, Portland, Twin Cities, plus suburban papers like the Bergen County Record, NJ.

I agree with Steve that there's usually an "outside" person--who represents the paper--and an inside person who runs the paper.

Jaw: I don't think anyone disputes what you are saying. Editors have too much to do, way too much. They have to keep many balls in their air; and their scarcest resource is their own time.

But look what else we know. Keller's reticence for communicating led to his curious decision never to say a word to Times readers during the entire Judy Miller disaster-- not one editors note. He communicated by leaked memo. Does that sound normal to you? Wise? As a reader, does it build confidence?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 6, 2006 12:57 AM | Permalink

Re: the outside editor. I suspect that previously the job of actually meet readers and others was not particularly prestigious. Like, the person had a good title (assistant me, or something) but in fact, all the editors devalued that work. The real work was inside, insulated from the comments and conversation of readers.

I wonder if that will change.

Posted by: Jenny D at April 6, 2006 9:54 AM | Permalink

i agree that no editor's note on Miller is likely a tactical decision, not about time.

i just wonder if it's possible for executive editors of major metros to blog even part time. would Gene Roberts blog today? or Ben Bradlee during the Watergate scandal if the technology were there? i agree with you and Jeff Jarvis have the winning argument.

i get Keller's reluctance. if he were to blog then he would have to elaborate more about why the paper held off on the NSA story for year?

what you think about Cramer's suggestion for the Times to go all digital now? Keller (and everybody) just needs Cramer's energy, booya!

It is a bold, gutsy, and, some would say, foolish way, at least initially: The Times—here’s the irony—should go all-digital. That’s right. It should abandon newsprint and force everyone to the Web. It should make a stand against Google, using its division—something with real growth, and which is actually working out despite the $410 million in debt taken down to buy the thing—to lead the way. Maybe it should even take the revolutionary step of blocking Google from accessing its content, something no one else is willing to do. Or maybe it should at least say, “This is the deal: You want our stuff, you must share much more with us than you are willing to share with others.” It is worth it to preserve value for the future, to make it so our kids don’t think, Let me go to Google for all the news that’s fit to print. Heck, in another couple of years they won’t even know that the New York Times exists as anything but private-label news source for an Internet portal.

Posted by: bush's jaw at April 6, 2006 9:57 AM | Permalink

i don't know if editors devalue the meet and greet. most people don't go into journalism to be politicians. they're not suited to be mr. or mrs. outside.

Posted by: bush's jaw at April 6, 2006 10:02 AM | Permalink

"I get Keller's reluctance. If he were to blog then he would have to elaborate more about why the paper held off on the NSA story for year..."

Keller's fear of self-absorption, which is openly discussed, is also about self-examination in public. Fear of that is not openly discussed, most of the time. When you get more scrutiny, what about the decisions that don't stand up to scrutiny?

There's the hectoring critic who won't be satisfied with any explanation. He exists. There's also the hectoring explanation that doesn't satisfy any critic. That exists too.

Anyone who's watched carefully over the years knows that the Times wavers between explosive openness (the mea culpa on Jayson Blair) and treating itself as the Vatican of News, where you watch for the smoke signals. Or: "Your answer will be in the paper," as I pointed out here.

Keller himself appointed committees who recommended a more moderate course, but he ignored most of what they suggested. They wanted to end the waver. Maybe he didn't have the time to think it through.

I think some of the current problems at the paper result from Times people not knowing whether to recover their mystique, but adapt it to the Web... or actually rebuild their authority for a more interactive world. It hasn't made a decision, but it can't go on with both.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 6, 2006 11:41 AM | Permalink

"i don't know if editors devalue the meet and greet. most people don't go into journalism to be politicians. they're not suited to be mr. or mrs. outside."

But they got into journalism for the same reason that politicians go into politics, to "make a difference".

Posted by: Tim at April 6, 2006 11:45 AM | Permalink

i don't know if everyone goes into journalism to make a difference. (i can only speak for myself - i wanted to write and be paid for writing. my motivation was not to speak truth to power. and maybe that is why i'm a former journo.)
making a difference doesn't necessarily mean being mr. outside. if you have the drive and skills to be mr. outside, then you may not have chosen the path of journalism.

Posted by: bush's jaw at April 6, 2006 12:52 PM | Permalink

"People who want to watch other things happen and write about it."

Jenny D, there are folks like that but the ideal character make-up would be "People who want to find out what's going on and tell others about it." Might want to annoy them, change their mind or merely impress them with one's cleverness in figuring things out. But "find out and tell" is the motivation for quite a few folks.

There was another post regarding small-town papers being businesses first and journalism second. That may seem plausible, but it isn't a function of size. All media have always been "businesses first," in the sense that without economic success there will be no entity. And "business success at the expense of journalistic quality" really doesn't seem to depend on the size of the venue, either.

It may merely be the case that those who work at little papers are far more familiar with the business side, because it is happening in the same small room where they work rather than on a different floor in a big building.

I was merely uncomfortable with the assumption that bigger venues automatically have integrity that smaller papers lack.

Posted by: Bill Watson at April 6, 2006 3:50 PM | Permalink

i just wonder if it's possible for executive editors of major metros to blog even part time. would Gene Roberts blog today? or Ben Bradlee during the Watergate scandal if the technology were there?
--bush's jaw

Roberts ? Never. He was a consummate editor, but also the ultimate Mr. Inside. Indeed, he used to grumble, "How the hell did so many people get to know who the editor is?" We who worked for him had to explain it to him gently: "Ummm, Gene, there's this thing called the masthead that we print every day."
I'm pretty sure that to this day Roberts has never taken part in the world of the Internet -- or, for that matter, in the world of e-mail.

Bradlee ? Probably. He was the opposite of Roberts, such a hotdog that he couldn't have resisted the lure of commandeering another platform (i.e., a blog).
Bradlee was the only editor of a major publication I ever saw who happily operated as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, and did both well.
Well, maybe Howell Raines, too, but, unlike Bradlee, Raines botched both jobs.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 6, 2006 4:06 PM | Permalink

Steve, I've heard that Roberts was somewhat of an absent-minded professor, brilliant but might forget lunch. was that true?

Bradlee wanted to be a newspaper editor, while Raines a novelist.

a Wiki congrats Jay.

Posted by: bush's jaw at April 6, 2006 5:14 PM | Permalink

Yeah, Roberts had a laser-like focus on whatever the problem or project of the moment was ... but the flip side of that was, he really would forget everything else, such as, if he had had lunch, or what his daughters' names were, or whether he was wearing one brown sock and one blue sock.
Once a month or so he would wander out of his lair to distractedly ask his secretary the lunch question.
Usually at about 4 pm.
The answer was always, "No, you haven't."

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 6, 2006 6:54 PM | Permalink

All I can say is that I'm glad I've been dead for 42 years and don't have to explain my profession to anyone. My goodness, what it takes to be a newspaper critic these days. Not what's in the newspaper, or what's not in the newspaper, but rather, the discussions of very few people about what's in the head of the newspaper's editor.

Posted by: A.J. Liebling at April 6, 2006 11:40 PM | Permalink

re Bill Watson's
> And "business success at the expense of journalistic quality" really doesn't seem to depend on the size of the venue, either.
How could someone measure that? Is there a way to get data?
(curious, not challenging)

> ... uncomfortable with the assumption that bigger venues automatically have integrity that smaller papers lack.
Absolutely - for ex. the Point Reyes Light.

Posted by: Anna Haynes at April 7, 2006 1:28 AM | Permalink

Re Rosenberg's Salon column: The conflict seems to me, as a non-journalist, to be a manifestation of "the ancient battle between poetry and philosophy." Newspapers tell stories. Stories have ends. Blogs (the serious ones, anyway), deal with issues, and issues are ongoing and rarely end. Many issues are well-nigh eternal, because they are rooted in the human condition.

I'd be interested in Jay Rosen's take on this conflict between informing the public and telling them stories.

Posted by: Bob at April 7, 2006 2:05 AM | Permalink

"... and the moral of the story is...uh, sorry, we're not allowed to tell you... you see we don't take sides."

Journalists say they tell stories; they use the term "story" incessantly as a synonym for "piece" or "article." They think of themselves as story-tellers for sure. And yet most of their professional codes and routines prevent them from giving stories the very features we go to stories for-- meaning, moral, resolution, poetry, dramatic fit. A typical news story is a mess as a narrative.

But yes, there is a difference between story-telling and issue-airing.

Re: A.J.'s, "Not what's in the newspaper, or what's not in the newspaper, but rather, the discussions of very few people about what's in the head of the newspaper's editor." You might enjoy Jack Shafer's Slate column where he ridicules me for not being the next A.J. Liebling. (Because, you see, Jack wanted someone to call him the "new" Liebling and no ever has, so he took it out on me.) You perhaps think I jest? I do not.

About Bill's "I was merely uncomfortable with the assumption that bigger venues automatically have integrity that smaller papers lack..." Yeah, me too.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 7, 2006 9:01 AM | Permalink

And "business success at the expense of journalistic quality" really doesn't seem to depend on the size of the venue, either.
How could someone measure that? Is there a way to get data?
(curious, not challenging)

--------------I'm speaking unscientifically. At what point does one decide that an operation is such a whore that it will say and do anything to placate advertisers, avoid offending subscribers? Is there a tipping point for that? I've just noticed, over the years, that obsessive concern over profit margins can occur anywhere. (As opposed to what I'll characterize as normal, healthy concern over solvency.) I've seen IBITA envy lots of places. It SEEMS to go with acquiring shareholders, but it might be that I simply was too young and stupid to realize, back when most papers were owned by families, that greed was triumphant then as it is now. Although reflecting on my salary back in the 70s, that would be a good bet.....

Posted by: Bill Watson at April 7, 2006 11:59 AM | Permalink

Jack is good; and that piece is worth reading for anyone who wants to kneel the Church of Liebling, or, better yet, throw stones at its stained windows. And let's not forget he was reporting about Judy Miller over a year before it became politically fashionable to do so. His recent piece on the Times makeover was wry, crisp, and to the point-- more so than many of my writings.

As for the "goo-goo intentions of Jay Rosen" I remember them well from 1999... when you brought us along to the forgotten outposts of American journalism-- Wichita, Akron, Norfolk. Today instead PressThink takes on nonstop on the Metroliner from Times Square to the District, or rather, Arlington, VA, home of, the separate corporate entity. Instead of a two-newspaper towns, we might now have a two-newspaper country.

As for that English project, if Comment is Free, than what value is it? Yes, of course, we always knew it was an illusion when the newspapers jumbled together a bunch of stories and pictures and expected us willing fools to pay attention to it. But the illusion worked, and we knew its tricks. In this new age, we're merely asking the newspapers to roll out more illusions.

Posted by: A.J. Liebling at April 7, 2006 6:49 PM | Permalink

Oh, I get your point about the Metroliner. I pay a lot of attention what happens in New York and Washington, and especially the Times and Post. These events interest me. They have a lot of press think in them.

But in the last year and a half PressThink also... brings Greensboro to the attention of bloggers and the press as a place to look for ideas and inspiration; helps put on the map of innovation; gives Steve Smith of Spokane the floor to tell Bill Keller about transparency; crowns Houston--not New York or Washington or LA--the newspaper blogging leader; conducts an inventory of blogging efforts, not at a handful of top newspaper sites, but at the top 100 sites, and adds to that portrait a close up on blogging at smaller newspapers and Canadian newspapers.

Most recently it was Twelve Newspapers in a State of Nature, a post specifically addressed to the journalists and residents of St. Paul and Duluth, MN.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Aberdeen, S.D.; Akron, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Contra Costa, San Jose and Monterey, Calif.; Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; and Philadelphia.

So we're aware of the need to look around--beyond New York, beyond DC--for inspiration, press news and better ideas. I'm also aware that PressThink could do more to combat the Metroliner Blues, and I'm hoping to do more, probably by adding contributors on the Blue Plate Special side of the site.

Something else I'm aware of is that this post on how Keller talks about transparency is written close to the limits of people's "meta" tolerance. (Which of course varies from reader to reader.)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 8, 2006 1:30 AM | Permalink

if not this, then what's a "meta" for?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at April 8, 2006 1:43 PM | Permalink

isn't a discussion about what's in the head of the newspaper's editor a discussion of what's in the newspaper, or what's not in the newspaper?

we are a two-newspaper country or a multi-newspaper country since not only comment, but content, is free, for now

Posted by: bush's jaw at April 8, 2006 2:30 PM | Permalink

Yes, the Spokane S-R has had a good effort, especially in rightfully defending its role in the Mayor West scandal, and you did excellent work bringing them to attention of us on the East Coast. The BP blog rankings could use a more rigorous review, though. But it would be far more instructive to focus on the hazards as well as the successes.

Have a look at Cincinatti, where this week's lesson is that having a slew of blogs doesn't necessarily usher in a culture of transparency.

The Cincinatti Enquirer added blog to its shared stable last September entitled "Grandma in Iraq", by a local civilian public affairs officer for the Army, who was on her way to Iraq. There is a healthy portion of the press-watching public that would question this arrangement, but not until six months later when TPM Muckraker aired it this past Monday. The first reaction of the editors was not to respond, but to follow the illustrious example of and open up the blog to anonymous comments as well. To their credit, they did (silently) change the description at the top to accurately explain her role.

E&P picked it up and pressed the editors, with no response. By Thursday, the Cincinatti Beacon website (an "independent media project" trying to break the blog confines) penned an open letter. Editor Tom Callinan finally responded, offering some amount of mea culpa, but this only opened the door to the blogger's husband and son to publicly condemn the editors for allowing the anonymous comments and not standing up for the freelance blogger enough.

Callinan also got back to Joe Strupp at E&P for his followup, and by Friday Callinan finally posted a his own view... but hasn't yet explained the allowing of anonymous comments which mostly served to attack.

Well, with such standards and expectations up for grabs, it is a good time to be alive... and to be a press critic.

Posted by: A.J. Liebling at April 8, 2006 4:27 PM | Permalink

Mr. Liebling, last I looked becoming a journalist required no specialized training or technical knowledge. The profession didn't have a test (a la, the bar exam or medical boards) to pass in order to be licensed. The rules of what is journalism seem pretty loose--two sources who say the same thing, and one of them only has to hang up a telephone in silence to do it.

Given the low barrier to entry to being a member of the press, I see no reason that press critics need to be somehow trained and vetted before they can do their work.

Posted by: Jenny D at April 8, 2006 7:37 PM | Permalink

You've set up a false dichotomy. There's no relationship between Keller's bad calls and his lack of engagement with you and yours.

Keller doesn't make the wrong decisions because he doesn't peruse all you great thinkers with your words of wisdom. He doesn't err because he ignores the blogosphere. I suspect he makes the decisions he does because he can get away with it.

Cite me a single *measurable* negative he's experienced as a result of the decisions you disapprove of. Can you prove that the Times' readership has declined because of these decisions? Are Times reporters getting less access, fewer Pulitzers, and so on, because of he didn't fire Miller sooner, stonewall the public editor, ignore all the cries for transparency, and so on? Is the Times less profitable because he's failed to utilize online energies with the same enthusiasm as the Post has with And if you don't know the answers to those questions, how can you link the two issues at all?

Bill Keller can ignore the "public debate about journalism", as the media experts on the web define it, with impunity, or enter it as he wishes. His stewardship of the Times appears unaffected by his choice to engage in this conversation. His subscribers and the public at large do not seem to be served any better or worse by his decision to read or ignore journalism experts and their opinions of his decisions.

Perhaps there is hard data to the contrary. But I've not seen anything other than assertions.

The only people who are demonstrably affected by Keller's decision to ignore the debate are the people who insist that he enter it. It'd be nice if they acknowledged this conflict of interest more often.

I know I tend only to comment when I feel the need to scoff at the blogosphere's delusions of grandeur, but I do quite enjoy your blog and almost always agree with you. But I just can't for the life of me see why you think Bill Keller should have to share my enthusiasm.

Posted by: Cal Lanier at April 8, 2006 10:01 PM | Permalink

This was not a column about ignoring the blogosphere. This was a column about ignoring Romenesko. So you ridiculed the wrong premise. But if you had the right premise, I doubt that anyone could show that the Times is losing readers or profits or talent because of that.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 9, 2006 2:04 AM | Permalink

Thread closed. New post...Murray Waas is Woodward Now.

"By Woodward Now I mean the reporter who is actually doing what Woodward has a reputation for doing: finding, tracking, breaking into reportable parts--and then publishing--the biggest story in town: what really went down as the Bush team drove deceptively to war."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 9, 2006 2:46 AM | Permalink

From the Intro