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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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August 4, 2006

Nick Lemann's Amateur Hour

I’d like to personally welcome Nick to the idea that blogging revives a pattern several centuries deep. I joined up in August 2003 with the Introduction to PressThink, my first post. "The people who will invent the next press in America—and who are doing it now online—continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history."

Nicholas Lemann is a colleague, someone I’ve had lunch with, the Dean of the Columbia J-School, and the Wayward Press press columnist for the New Yorker. I am a fan of his writing, especially his profiles of political figures, and have followed his work since well before he got into teaching journalism or took on the press beat. I also admired his intervention at a critical moment to stablilize Washington Monthly magazine, an important institution in political journalism and today the online home of Kevin Drum.

I thought Lemann was an inspired choice for Dean at Columbia; there is no doubt that he is the key person in the future of that school, which makes him also a leading figure in the press establishment. The column he writes for the New Yorker was inherited from the great A.J. Liebling, a god to most press critics. What Lemann says matters, at least in my world and in PressThink’s. He represents one of the best claims elite journalism has to all around excellence. Plus, it’s his generation in charge during the great upheaval in platforms, and the game-changing Administration of George W. Bush. That’s gotta be tough.

In his recent critique, Amateur Hour, which is subtitled, “Journalism without journalists,” Lemann said a great many things I agreed with. I am quoted in the piece, and New Assignment.Net is described briefly.

About Net journalism: “It ought to raise suspicion that we so often hear the same menu of examples in support of its achievements.” It’s Trent Lott. It’s the big man, Dan Rather. It’s Eason Jordan. I’m suspicious of that menu too. And there’s this: “It sounds obvious, but reporting requires reporters. They don’t have to be priests or gatekeepers or even paid professionals; they just have to go out and do the work.” Exactly. I based New Assignment.Net on that idea.

Lemann, I think, was right to ask: “what has citizen journalism actually brought us?” When he warns, “there is not much relation between claims for the possibilities inherent in journalist-free journalism and what the people engaged in that pursuit are actually producing,” that is an apt warning. And he’s right to wonder: Does any of it compare to what the “old” press, even in its weakened form, does?

Yes, let’s compare, said Debbie Galant of Baristanet, whose site was unfairly trivialized.

My NYU colleague, the Net writer Steven Johnson, said most of what I wanted to say in reply to Lemann’s Amateur Hour. His Five Things All Sane People Agree On About Blogs And Mainstream Journalism puts it more crisply than I did in Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over (Jan. 15, 2005), which he kindly mentions. Let’s stipulate…

1.) Mainstream, top-down, professional journalism will continue to play a vital role in covering news events, and in shaping our interpretation of those events, as it should.

2.) Bloggers will grow increasingly adept at covering certain kinds of news events, but not all. They will play an increasingly important role in the interpretation of all kinds of news.

3.) The majority of bloggers won’t be concerned with traditional news at all.

4.) Professional, edited journalism will have a much higher signal-to-noise ratio than blogging; examples of sloppy, offensive, factually incorrect, or tedious writing will be abundant in the blogosphere. But diamonds in that rough will be abundant as well.

5.) Blogs — like all modes of contemporary media — are not historically unique; they draw upon and resemble a number of past traditions and forms, depending on their focus.

I join fully in Steven’s proposal: “If you’re writing an article or a blog post about this issue, and your argument revolves around one or more of these points — and doesn’t add anything else of substance — stop writing. Pick a new topic. Move on. There’s nothing to see here.”

But I don’t think it will do any good. I made those points in lengthy inteviews with Trevor Butterworth of the Financial Times (“Is blogging really an information revolution? Is it about to drive the mainstream news media into oblivion?”) and Ryan Blitstein of SF Weekly, who wrote about Craigslist (“The much-loved Web site is taking millions from Bay Area newspapers and causing layoffs that adversely affect coverage. And its founder’s well-intentioned support of citizen journalism has a slim chance of fixing the problem.”)

Both were on a mission to debunk the extravagant claims being made for the Net and new media. They interviewed me hoping I would make some of those claims. When I didn’t they just pretended the interview never happened; I don’t appear in either piece. Blitstein, whose article on Craig Newmark ran seven pages, did write to me to tell me my quotes got cut out. Butterworth (who published 4,500 words) told me I had nothing insightful to say and didn’t deserve to be in his article.

About Johnson’s No. 5, “…not historically unique,” I’d like to personally welcome Nick Lemann to the idea that blogging revives a publishing spirit that goes back several centuries. I joined up in August 2003 with the Introduction to PressThink, my very first post. “The people who will invent the next press in America—and who are doing it now online—continue an experiment at least 250 years old,” I wrote, invoking the pamphleteers and Tom Paine.

Invoking the pamphleteers and Tom Paine, Lemann goes back further than I did, another 50 years or so, to Addison, Steele and Daniel Defoe, the Late Stuart period in England when new voices “entered a public conversation that had been narrowly restricted, mainly to holders of official positions in church and state. They were the bloggers and citizen journalists of their day. Then as now, the new media in their fresh youth produced a distinctive, hot-tempered rhetorical style.”

These are important comparisons. They help. “The more ambitious blogs, taken together, function as a form of fast-moving, densely cross-referential pamphleteering—- an open forum for every conceivable opinion that can’t make its way into the big media.”

In this sense it’s blogging that’s “traditional” and professionalized reporting that’s a rupture in pattern. (Which is an excellent point.) Lemann wants to preserve the reporter’s tradition, “by which a member of a distinct occupational category gets to cross the usual bounds of geography and class, to go where important things are happening, to ask powerful people blunt and impertinent questions, and to report back, reliably and in plain language, to a general audience.”

I think that’s worth preserving too. So does ex-CNNer and Global Voices blogger Rebecca MacKinnon. She thinks Lemann may have ignored all the bloggers who agree because he was reacting to his encounters with Hugh Hewitt, who does say about the press establishment things like, “They cannot save themselves from irrelevance.” Though he is the closest thing we have to an avowed blog triumphalist, Hewitt isn’t mentioned at all. His triumpet is heard, however. A lot.

Mitch Ratcliffe thinks Lemann is mostly on the mark. “Yes, it’s easier to publish today,” he points out. “It was also easier at every point in history when a new technology for disseminating information has been introduced.”

The most recent example before the blog was the Web page, and prior to that desktop publishing “revolutionized” communication, giving everyone the power to layout a page without the extraordinary hassle of using wax to hold design elements in place on a board that could be photographed for use in a press. If we acknowledge that all of this is progress instead of declaring every new thing a revolution, we might actually make some solid progress as a species instead of insisting that all the old lessons aren’t of any value anymore.

That’s useful. But I don’t understand why we can’t have a picture with a lot of continuity in it and some genuine moments of rupture. How’s about one degree of complexity in this debate? Why does it have to be the newsroom reactionary’s “there nothing new under the sun…” or the Net revolutionary’s “…there’s never been anything like it?”

I try to stay away from these extremes but journalists don’t seem to want that. They prefer what Lemann terms “the most soaring rhetoric about supplanting traditional news organizations.” It’s the extreme claim that interests them. If they don’t have speakers to quote they just go without.

Look at how Lemann begins, “On the Internet, everyone is a millenarian.” Really? Here’s PressThink on it, October 17, 2003: “The weblog is continuous—not a revolutionary break—with five hundred years of print culture. It is the printed page, modernized, interconnected, made two-way, but still… ‘powered by movable type.’” (See Ten Things Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism.)

Here’s Ratcliffe this week:

I want us to think and debate as a society, and citizen journalism, especially when it learns from the standards of professional journalism, can help us do that. The more voices the better, but let’s set up the expectation that participation must be informed and rigorous in its self-criticism.

Here’s what I wrote March 25, 2004.

My own feeling is that amateur journalists, citizens, webloggers should take seriously the existing standard in the institutional press. They should understand what goes into meeting it, and even emulate professional journalism from time to time…

I was trying to set a high bar in 2004, just as I was stressing continuity with tradition in 2003, and attempting not to overdraw the claims for blogging in 2005. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Lemann’s piece is about journalism without journalists, a dubious development, he thinks. NewAssignment.Net is mentioned, which is good, but somehow he fails to mention that New Assigmment is not about “journalism without journalists” at all. It’s more the opposite: bring full-time reporters into productive alignment with smart mobs of citizens.

“I like Jay Rosen’s idea of, a swarm financing mechanism for citizen journalism,” says Ratcliffe, wrapping up.

But I think it is destined to fail for precisely the reason that it is aiming to do “stories the regular news media doesn’t do, can’t do, wouldn’t do, or already screwed up.” Why will that fail? Because the many people funding reportage are unlikely to agree on what is the “correct version” of facts and, so, are not likely to hang together to support the really hard tedious work of journalists, which has almost no flavor of immediate gratification.

Actually, the more who think it will fail, the better for New Assignment. So thanks, Mitch! Thanks also to Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher, who said about New Assignment, “This is not a solution for creating news on a daily, hourly, minute schedule. This is overly complex, it is news editing by committee, and the funders will likely always have agendas.”

Nick Lemann’s article will help if it lowers expectations for “amateur hour.” For I don’t think we know how to do users-know-more-than-we-do journalism… yet. My favorite moment was when he wrote: “Great citizen journalism is like the imagined Northwest Passage—it has to exist in order to prove that citizens can learn about public life without the mediation of professionals.”

That really made me smile.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Jeff Jarvis: “I’m sorely disappointed…”

I would have hoped for something more expansive, imaginative, open, creative, generous, constructive, strategic, and hopeful from the head of one of America’s leading journalism schools — from, indeed, the man hired to bring that school into the future — and from a leading light of American reporting.

Lemann wrote, “As journalism moves to the Internet, the main project ought to be moving reporters there, not stripping them away.” Jeff says: Okay, how? Then answers his own question in a second post, Bigger, better journalism.

And don’t miss this comment at Buzzmachine: “I am a traditional and occasionally paid journalist who is a traditional professor who traditionally scorned the non-traditional world of blogs. Until I read them. And I mean read them so recently that my embarrassment requires me to use a pseudonym.” There is more truth in it than in fifty articles on bloggersandjournalists.

More reaction to Lemann’s “Amateur Hour.”

  • John Temple, editor of the Rocky Mountain News, writes the best piece yet. “I’m concerned that Lemann inflates what citizen journalists are in order to more effectively knock down the phenomenon.” Precisely. “It’s easy to look down on the promise of new technologies or approaches. I think we’d do better as journalists to explore the potential of the Internet and of citizen involvement in news gathering, if only because we may have no other choice, given the economic trends washing over our industry.”
  • Chris Nolan at Spot-On: “BlogHer and the rise of the ‘citizen journalist’ are examples of the broadening use of the Internet for a variety of purposes and their cumulative effect on the network is to make established authorities less important. Many of those established authorities - be they tech geeks or Columbia professors - are shocked to find out that they do not matter.”
  • Glenn Reynolds: “Despite claims to the contrary, I haven’t argued that blogs will replace traditional journalism.” Indeed, that whole charge is basically fiction. See Reynolds from 2004 battling the same charge.
  • Robert Cox: “What jumps out at me in reading his piece, is that Lemann is in such a great position to be a force for good in the development of citizen journalism and instead uses his bully pulpit to find fault and tear down. It is a testament to the potential for small-mindedness among those entrusted with a great responsibility, serving as Dean for one of the leading journalism schools in the world.”

Nick Lemann’s profile of blogger Hugh Hewitt is not online. But here’s a pdf of it that Hugh posted. Hewitt in the Weekly Standard, The Media’s Ancien Régime. Subtitled, “Columbia Journalism School tries to save the old order.” Then see Chris Nolan, You Can’t Get There From Here on the exchange between Lemann and Hewitt.

Trevor Butterworth, author of the hype-busting article on blogging to top all hype-busting articles on blogging (it’s called Time for the last post and it’s from the Financial Times) takes issue with me over at Romenesko’s Letters. He says I have a persecution complex. I say Butterworth had his story and stuck to it. Enjoy. And here’s another exchange if you’re interested.

Daniel Conover in the comments: “Blogs aren’t changing journalism — they’re changing the context in which journalism occurs.”

Lessig gave the keynote address at the AEJMC convention in San Francisco. He called the changed context “read write culture.” Previously we had “read only” conditions, a very different context in which to be a professional journalist. (Ethan Zuckerman has a summary of Lessig’s talk to Wikimania, which sounds like it was the same talk.)

That’s what this whole thing is about. Journalists act out their anxieties about the change Lessig named by denying that they’re about to be replaced by bloggers or amateurs. No one said they were. But there’s nothing we can do to stop them. Just as there was nothing I could do to dissuade Trevor Butterworth from fulfilling his wish, and calling it reporting.

Lemann: none of what’s called citizen journalism “rises to the level of a journalistic culture rich enough to compete in a serious way with the old media—to function as a replacement rather than an addendum.” Andrew Cline concludes his reply this way:

Is citizen journalism where it wants to be? First you have to ask: Where does it want to be; what is the goal? And that’s premature because we’re all still trying to figure out what’s possible.

I sympathize with Lemann to the extent that some voices in the blogosphere are less than temperate (and less than intelligent) critics of journalism. And, yes, those of us interested in this medium are filled with enthusiasm for its potential (although we don’t really know what that is yet).

Come to think of it, being an addendum sounds pretty good for this early stage. It opens the possibility of partnerships between professionals and amateurs—something that’s already occurring, something that may lead to improvement of both the professional and amateur product.

Confused of Calcutta, a blog new to me, says it’s all about the changing terms of trust.

Trust used to be something that bound small groups together. Over time we tried to scale trust. It didn’t scale. And what happened instead was Big Everything. In an Assembly-Line meets Broadcast world. Big Everything broke trust. Big Media lied. Big Content Producer reduced our choices. Big Pipe and Big Device reduced it further. Big Firm wrongsized away. And Big Government did what it liked.

The anxiety in Big Journalism: Will we still be trusted when the shift to the Web is complete?

Craig Newmark: What I’m doing regarding journalism and why. Craig explains his various projects, including Daylife, “which is the effort by Jeff Jarvis and Upendra Shardanand to figure out new ways to aggregate new and present the better trusted versions of big stories.”

Margaret Simons, who is kind of the Tim Porter of Australia, says that NewAssignment.Net “relies on the insight that journalism and media are not the same thing. Media is the business of delivering eyeballs to advertisers. Journalism is enmeshed with and supported by the media, but has an older and more important purpose.”

When it comes to commissioning in-depth research, what will people want to know about? My guess is that the internal machinations between Howard and Costello won’t attract much funding. Politics as spectator sport won’t get there. Politics as the issues that affect people’s lives may well do so. Another question is whether the market in Australia is big enough to support a local equivalent of Rosen’s idea.

A possible New Assignment story? (From Tom Evslin.)

Karl Martino: Blogging, networked journalism, business models, contrasts.

New Assignment in proto form (from chartreuse):

I’m putting up $1000.00 of my own cash to send 2 people to New Orleans and the Gulf Region for a weekend to find out what’s really going on.

I’m going to supply you with a cool ass video/camera, a place to stay and a rental car.

Look at it as a vacation that matters.

See the follow-up post, which reports on responses. Very interesting.

Two posts (this one and that one) compare what I’m doing to Richard Stallman and his campaign for Free Software, which begat Eric Raymond’s campaign for Open Source software. Here’s an interview with Stallman and one with Raymond by journalist Richard Poynder, who also interviewed me in the same series.

Uh-oh… “The web is of course abuzz with speculation that the future of news is in not-for-profit NewAssignment, and the BBC remains shielded from commercial reality for at least another decade.” (Seamus McCauley at Virtual Economics)

Malcolm Gladwell: “When it comes to politics—and to some extent high culture and business and economics—it is quite right to argue that traditional print media like the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal continue to set the conversational agenda.

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 4, 2006 1:33 AM   Print


I can see the excitement among the supporters of this idea.

Perhaps, though, it's one of those things I don't get.

What would be the difference in result between this type of new journalism and current journalism responding fully to citizen input?

Example: The NYT International ran an article on The Demise of THEL, an anti-missile laser weapon system. It is sitting in a hangar someplace costing a mill a year for maintenance and can't possibly be deployed.
We will presume--against evidence, this being the NYT--that the story is roughly true.

However, would it have been better journalism to note that the follow-on system, SKYGUARD, seems to be pretty good?

Suppose--tough supposin', this being the NYT--that a citizen who knew more than the reporter about this called the paper and explained the situation and the paper immediately expanded the end of the original article to include SKYGUARD?

What would be the effective difference in result) between this kind of activity and the proposal for citizen journalism Jay is pitching?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at August 4, 2006 10:53 AM | Permalink

By dwelling on the Hewitts and the social and political bloggers of the day, we're missing what I believe is the "new" of the blogosphere. I think you have to get to the local level to see what's really taking place -- a community of self publishers redefining what's news.

It's not about the powerful or threats to established power. It's simply everyday people, weary of failed institutions, talking to and with each other in attempts to improve their lives and the lives of people around them. It's as bottom-up as it gets, and I don't think lofty commentaries about journalism will ever understand that.

In Nashville, for example, the online community (and that's what it is) is expanding offline, and the centerpiece is a little barbecue place called Mothership. It's run by a blogger and its clientele is largely bloggers. The loose organization that is the online community is slowly developing as a postmodern "anti-institution," and it is fascinating to observe.

These folks don't give a crap if people like Nicholas Lemann acknowledge them or not. They have long given up and are happy to live within their own definitions of news and information. So and so's dog died. Who spotted who at Mothership? Who has joined the community and who has departed? And who ARE these people anyway?

Along the way, they comment about "the news" and rail against the institutions, but that's what people in a community do. What I fear many observers miss is that this type of news is VERY important to people -- moreso, perhaps, than that over which we obsess. This is the real revolution in journalism that's taking place at the local level. It's growing and, I believe, will change things forever.

And I think we need to be paying attention instead of dwelling on the A-list and all that. While I certainly think the comparison to pamphleteers is valid (up to a point), it misses the mark by assuming that the news mission of the blogosphere is the same as that of institutional journalism. This is where I disagree, and it's why I think we still have a lot more listening to do.

The blogosphere isn't a place of competition for the mainstream; it's a new addition, and one that's constantly broadening the scope of what we call news.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at August 4, 2006 11:43 AM | Permalink

People blind themselves with labels. The problem with a label is that it pretends to be a description, and is, in essence, the end of an understanding. By saying "bloggers," people are forgetting that they are talking about the People, as in "We, the." And the reason that "Bloggers" are being discussed so much in the News is that they are a force. WE are a force. We, the People. As opposed to They, the Entrenched Corporate-Sponsored Semi-News. Had They stuck to their original purpose and agenda—to report to We, the People on Those That Govern Us, and ALL that is fit to print, We the People would still be, primarily, We the Readers.

Let Them talk, let Them minimize, let Them postulate, let Them pontificate, let Them continue to try and hypnotize, mesmerize, and analyze. I'm sure it is fun for them, and something of a habit.

Meanwhile, We will move and think and speak and organize with passion, and unfettered by fear or fiscal agenda. Time will tell where the power lies.

There will always be a crowd submerged deeply in the Party Line, which the traditional outlets seem to be so good at delivering. They need have no fear. For the toothless, there will be Zweibach. Supply and Demand.

It's just that many of lately are feeling the bite of oppression, and we want to bite back.

Posted by: Nezua Limon Xolaquinta-Jonez at August 4, 2006 1:21 PM | Permalink

Good example Aubrey! Good example Heaton!

When we think about it clearly, we realize that mainstream journalism itself has always been the product of combined work by professionals (those paid to produce journalism) and amateurs (those who contribute to the end-product for free).

In the MSM tradition, the amateur contribution has typically been to provide unremunerated information, insight, analysis or perspective to the reporter. The reporter-as-gatekeeper interviews the participant or the eyewitness or the expert in the field to understand the story. The reporter assumes that the source’s reward is non-financial -- personal flattery at having been paid attention to, civic pride at having contributed to a better understanding, or professional or ideological gain at having one’s own point of view supported and authenticated.

(The expectation of such non-financial payment is exemplified in Professor Rosen’s understandable resentment that he freely offered his wisdom to the professional reporter at Financial Times only to find his unpaid labor disdained and discarded)

The journalistic medium of the blog is defined by two additional tools unavailable to traditional mainstream media: links and comments. These two tools allow the rigid gatekeeper relationship between professional and amateur to be loosened and recalibrated.

In Aubrey’s example, a comments section on The New York Times’ missile story would have allowed the knowledgeable amateur to add insight, context and perspective after the fact, so the initial story would no longer constrained by the quality of the reporter’s Rolodex.

In Heaton’s example, the blogoshpere around the Mothership becomes a beat, populated by amateurs, that a professional reporter covers. Whenever the buzz at the Mothership goes beyond the self-referential and impinges on issues of interest to the community at large, that buzz itself becomes a source.

Just as many mainstream media reporters were jolted into discovering the discourse of born-again Christians as a legitimate newsbeat after they supplied the swing vote to win the 2004 elections, so the mainstream media now has to use blogs -- both their content and their form -- as a new way to organize the relationship of professional and amateur.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at August 4, 2006 2:45 PM | Permalink

The most grating passage in Nick Lemman's thoughtfully condescending article is the one in which he describes "the catechism" regarding the joys and wonders of "citizen journalism". As if the Blog had already calcified into an orthodoxy that both Glenn Reynolds and the Rude Pundit follow. I don't get the feeling Lemman has grasped the real nature of this thing yet, despite his skimming, dismissive sampling which allows him to liken the output of all of this energy to something we might read on the back of a church bulletin.

There is a certain confidence in Lemman's citation back to the days of Pamphleteers, as he knows that the press ultimately co-opted,outlasted and silenced them. Lemman's apparent vision is for the MSM to move on the Blog and similarly kill it off, or at least transform it by an infusion of professional journalists to the point where it becomes indistinguishable from and digestible by the MSM. The tendency for certain high-profile bloggers to go all weak-in-the-knees when in the company of members of the MSM would hasten this contemptuous takeover.

And while it is true that his article is about the Blog, not primarily the MSM, it is not possible to accurately assess the Blog without understanding its relation to MSM, in cause and effect terms. And there, Lemman soft-pedals, to the point of missing entirely, the systemic failings of the MSM that propels many people to seek other sources. I'm afraid we're talking about conditions more serious than merely off-putting "pomposity and preening". I wouldn't mind a dose of pomposity and preening (some would describe the sainted ERM himself as having those qualities) if there were less conflict of interest and bias in the MSM, destroying its credibility.

I think perhaps that Lemman reflects a common sort of disdain among the MSM, motivated by their pique at having some gutter-trash trying to crash their cocktail party. Understandable enough, but what Lemman doesn't recognize is the MSM's irritation at the audience, not merely for straying from their proscribed pathways, but also for determining for themselves, what stories are important and deserve more attention The instances of story-lines kept alive and growing in the Blog which have been ignored or scuttled in the MSM, only to be belatedly and reluctantly addressed in the MSM, are by now too numerous to recount. What they continue to overlook is that this dynamic is ultimately audience driven. The caricature of the pajama-clad loser/blogger obscures the fact that such a creature has become known, even to the MSM, most often because it feeds (arguably junk-feeds) a powerful hunger for information. The MSM keeps telling its audience that the Blog is junk food, without appreciating that the MSM is starving off its audience, with its canned and often empty coverage. I suppose it easier to attack the Blog than to put sufficient meet back on the table.

Posted by: Mark J. McPherson at August 4, 2006 3:32 PM | Permalink

Where is Mr. Lemann?
Is he aware that his article is being discussed?
If so, why isn't he here discussing it too?

(Jay, perhaps you could send him an invite?)

Posted by: Anna Haynes at August 4, 2006 4:16 PM | Permalink

An exchange of letters at Romenesko:

From TREVOR BUTTERWORTH: Subject: Jay Rosen's persecution complex. I told Jay Rosen that his quotes were not "compelling" enough to make it into my final article, and not that he "didn't deserve to be" in it. But I suppose that when you're the deep thinker of the blogosphere, it must seem like you ought to be in every story on blogging. I also told Jay that the same went for Nick Lemann, who was also interviewed and went unmentioned, and to a large degree, Glenn Reynolds. A big collective sorry if you're reading guys. I never for one moment thought that you didn't deserve to be in my piece. You're all very talented and interested writers, but it just didn't work out. Maybe it was me. Maybe if I'd interviewed you at a different time things coulda been different. But hey, Jay, you've got your blog and a journalism school, and Nick has his column and a journalism school, and Glenn has a book and a blog and a law school, so look on the bright side. Think about the people who gave great quotage who also didn't make the cut. Ben Widdicombe, for example. Now that was sad, as Ben (along with Horacio Silva) was a pioneer of proto-blogging citizen gossip with, what was it called?.... ah, Chic Happens.

My reply:

From JAY ROSEN. Subject: Trevor Butterworth's BS. I've been left on the cutting room floor countless times after being interviewed by a reporter. Big deal. That's part of journalism. It happened with this article a few weeks ago. What Butterworth did is different. He had his story before he began his reporting and he stuck to it. He came to debunk (because that's entertaining) and by golly that's what he was a-gonna do. He had his ridiculous and prefab extremes... "Is blogging really an information revolution? Is it about to drive the mainstream news media into oblivion?" as against, "Or is it just another crock of virtual gold - a meretricious equivalent of all those noisy internet start-ups that were going to build a brave 'new economy' a few years ago?" And he wanted to make the world fit into those extremes.

The whole FT article played off "the surge of hype about blogging," but the people he interviewed wouldn't give him any of the hype, though plenty wanted to puncture it. I told him that almost no one with good knowledge of the subject thinks that blogging is about to "drive the mainstream news media into oblivion," and to base an article on popping that balloon would be a cheap and misleading thing to do. I said the reason there was excitement about blogging in journalism circles is that bloggers were the ones were who developing the Web platform and figuring out what it could do. Meanwhile, news organizations were stuck on re-purposing their content. But he had his story and he stuck to it. Had someone else in his account made similar arguments, there woud be nothing to object to. Of course these points were just ignored. They didn't fit the prefab.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 4, 2006 4:21 PM | Permalink

Yes, there will always be reporters. No, they will not always be working in an industry structured the way the MSM is today.

Michael Barone tells of his conversation with a major MSM honcho who claimed that a media with 90% liberal journalists is fair and balanced, but a news media dominated by 90% conservatives couldn't be. How damn stupid can you be!

Because of blogs and talk radio, more people every day are realizing that the MSM produces a daily dose of left-wing propaganda. And when Bill Keller proves completely incapable of articulating a coherent explanation for publishing national security secrets, they realize that incompetence is also a huge problem.

What kind of industry convinces itself that an insane moonbat like Cindy Sheehan, stage-managed by an avowedly Stalinist group and regularly prone to mouthing provable falsehoods, has more credibility than hundreds of retired military officers and men who have lived lives of honor and integrity? And after the military men prove the facts behind many of their claims, the industry unanimously labels them liars?

In 50 years when researchers, unburdened by the political orthodoxy which is ruining the MSM today, examine what caused the demise of so many of today's dinosaur news organizations, the inability to exercise simple fairness and balance in reporting will be seen as the prime factor.

I challenge anyone to honestly examine the claims of the SwiftVets and those of Sheehan and conclude that she has more credibility. Then look at the vastly different amounts of coverage afforded each. Simple explanation -- the MSM didn't like what the Swiftvets said and they love what Sheehan says. The coverage obviously reflects it.

Ask Juan Williams who is presently learning what happens to a journalist who strays ever so slightly from the orthodoxy. Total boycott of his book.

And these are just a couple of tiny straws in the mountain which is breaking the camel's back. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Posted by: stan at August 4, 2006 4:38 PM | Permalink

What surprises me about the reaction of professional journalists to what they see as amateurs encroaching on their territory is that so many try to slam the door--rather than opening it further. I thought they were more observant than the Hollywood types who went into such a panic in the 1970s, when the invasion of that horrible 'tapeworm,' the VCR ended up making them more money than they had seen in decades.

Just so, the amateurs aren't a threat to the professionals, but will ultimately improve the health of the profession by strengthening those worn connections to the people that also have the commercial and professional news media in a tither.

"Blogger vs. Journalists" should never have happened--it was a useless dichotomy in the first place. It is about as enlightening as videotape vs. television.

Posted by: Aaron Barlow at August 4, 2006 4:46 PM | Permalink

This is no different than the reaction I saw from "professional typesetters and old-timey designers" to Adobe postscript and Quark (or countless other changes that reduced to barriers to entry in a once fat and happy walled-in industry).

Posted by: laurence haughton at August 4, 2006 5:25 PM | Permalink

A reporter here is doing a story on the rise of our local blogosphere, so local bloggers were writing and commenting about the experience of being interviewed by a reporter. That put me in the position of explaining what reporters do, and talking about how to deal with the press. And it reminded me, among other things, that the approach that works in dealing with savvy, media-manipulating public figures just doesn't go over quite so well with private citizens who've never been interviewed before.

Then yesterday one of our reporters took me to lunch and wanted to know about bloggers, so I found myself once again explaining blogs to a journalist. And it reminded me, once again, that until you can see a thing in its own context -- rather than forcing it into the context you bring to the subject -- it's just awfully hard to figure out why a thing works the way it does.

Pro-jos tend to worry about -- and argue against -- the replacement of Big-J Journalism by blogs and amateurs and people who don't use AP Style, etc. Which entirely misses the point. Blogs aren't changing journalism -- they're changing the context in which journalism occurs.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at August 4, 2006 5:41 PM | Permalink

In case you missed it in After Matter...

New Assignment in proto form (from chartreuse):

The email I got a few days ago (which I posted on this site) really bothered me. I felt an an intense need to do something but I didn’t know what.

How can we find out the truth?

How can we learn what’s really going on?

So here’s what I decided to do.

I’m putting up $1000.00 of my own cash to send 2 people to New Orleans and the Gulf Region for a weekend to find out what’s really going on.

I’m going to supply you with a cool ass video/camera, a place to stay and a rental car.

Look at it as a vacation that matters.

See the follow-up post, which reports on responses. Very interesting.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 5, 2006 4:56 AM | Permalink

As a consumer of the news, my experience with blogs is that they're not trying to replace journalists, they're calling them to account. They — and a lot of ordinary joes like me who read the news — are idealists. We have an idea in our head of what a journalist is. Instead, what we find are big names who act more like courtiers than what we imagine journalists should be.

On the matter of trust, any trust I had in the New York Times was lost when they ran an article saying Arab-Americans supported Bush's stand on the Iraq war — and almost all the names quoted were clearly Iranian. This was such an egregious error, just plain ignorant, stupid, or deliberately deceptive, from the supposed premier newspaper of the most powerful nation on earth. If you want to know why blogs exist, that article is for me proof of why they are badly needed.

Posted by: Bob Ludlow at August 5, 2006 8:47 PM | Permalink

If we had a different kind of journalism, we wouldn't need Jay's new paradigm.

I see why journos hate bloggers, and LGF in particular. Charles Johnson, who busted Dan Rather, has just busted Reuters.

As one commenter noted, if you want to get a cold sweat, think of where we'd be with no blogging.

Anyway, if every paper which ran Reuters' doctored photo followed it up with a detailed story of how it happened, how readers can spot it next time, how they missed it, and the details of their lawsuit against Reuters, we wouldn't, as I say, need citizen journalists.

Just a few sharp-eyed readers and responsive publications/networks.

Oh, yeah. Qana may be turning into Jenin. The real Jenin, not the one the journos talked about.

Or, it could be even worse.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at August 6, 2006 11:50 AM | Permalink

I've been in a cold sweat for quite a while now, but trust me: the investigative team at LGF isn't the cause.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at August 7, 2006 12:39 PM | Permalink

I think it isn't a problem of one end; as an old saying, "shadow comes after sunshine," both major and amateur jounalists should be responded for this situation.
We can hardly see any objective- as an criterion of journalism, at least, being taught in the school- journalism on the mass media, neither with partial bias nor with commercial patronage. What fix the concept "objective journalism" has no longer exits, the displacement is market directed principle.
In this context, since mass media can't bring us news with credibility, we have to create one by our own.
On the other hand, bloggers without professional training might sometimes convey rumors as "truth" cause they are lack of systematic knowledge and also the back-up of the verifing network of mass media.
Perphas the outcome is not satisfying enough, come hell or high water, we have a platform to pursuit our ideals, why should people feud?

Posted by: Fiona Chou at August 7, 2006 4:27 PM | Permalink

The MSM conveys rumors as Truth right now Fiona.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at August 7, 2006 5:10 PM | Permalink

Daniel. Was I unclear or are you being deliberately obtuse?

The cold sweat is not caused by bloggers catching journalists screwing the pooch. It's caused by contemplating where we'd be if bloggers hadn't caught journalists screwing the pooch.

Resentment is natural, of course.

Posted by: RIchard Aubrey at August 8, 2006 10:29 AM | Permalink

From the Intro