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

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

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

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

Read: Q & As

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

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

Audio: Have a Listen

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

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

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

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

Video: Have A Look

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

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

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

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

Recommended by PressThink:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Group Blogs

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

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

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

Digests & Round-ups:

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

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

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

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

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

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

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September 7, 2006

Sunlight Gives $10K to NewAssignment.Net

I'm announcing today that NewAssignment.Net has received $10,000 in underwriting support from the Sunlight Foundation, matching the gift by Craig Newmark that got us started. Like Newmark, Sunlight is underwriting the test project we plan to undertake in 2006.

Meanwhile, we’ll be raising other money and building the site in stages, hoping for an early 2007 launch. I have been consulting with my advisers about how to go about the test project for which we now have $20,000. There’s nothing to announce yet, but I hope to have news on that soon.

I asked Ellen Miller, Executive Director of Sunlight, to explain how NewAssignment.Net fit into the Foundation’s agenda. She said:

When the idea of creating Sunlight Foundation was initially discussed – almost a year ago — the question on the table was how to create more solid investigative reporting on Congress, how to change the relationship between citizens and their representatives by improving access to vital information, and how to put more information into the hands of both citizens and journalists that would inform and educate and activate them.

As we came to understand the open source journalism world we began to see how its practice might likely achieve those goals more effectively than the traditional media. Citizens as journalists? What could be a better way to involve them in the practice of democracy? Citizens as funders of journalism? They’ll get what they want, when they want and need it.

Miller also said that other work Sunlight is funding and initiating will “provide fuel and ideas for the kind of work envisioned by NewAssignment.Net.” That was certainly the case with the Exposing Earmarks project, which involved Sunlight, Porkbusters and other partners. It was a kind of demo for reporting that relies on citizen volunteers. (Volunteers like Mrs Panstreppon, a good example of a citizen reporter, whom I wrote about in my last post.)

One of Sunlight’s first grants was $234,713 to OMB Watch to create a searchable database of government grants and contracts and put it online. (Congress has proposed doing the same thing, and says it would cost $9 million to get going.) That could figure in future New Assignment projects.

Miller says things on Capital Hill might change with “thousands of citizen journalists suggesting story ideas, providing research, analysis, reporting and muckraking.” An “all too cozy relationship” between lawmakers and the traditional press could be disrupted from outside. “Look at what bloggers – and their readers — have unearthed to date: unmasking anonymous holds on legislation; engaging citizens in uncovering earmarks; making lawmakers and candidates for office explain where they stand on issues like Social Security.”

Yes. And look at what the Sacramento Bee wrote about it Tuesday. “A week or so ago, we were grumbling about the arcane practice that allows a single member of the U.S. Senate to sidetrack legislation he or she doesn’t like,” said the Bee’s editorial page. “At the time, there was a mystery about who was holding up a bill to make government more transparent. Now it has been solved, courtesy of the blogosphere.”

I like the division of labor. The Bee was grumbling about it; bloggers and their readers were the ones who found out.

Is this going to change business-as-usual in Washington? According to Gail Russell Chaddock of the Christian Science Monitor, something is already happening. “House and Senate leaders say they will change the rules of both bodies to require disclosure of all member projects and their sponsors,” she reported today. If they are true to their word that means no more secret earmarks slipped in without debate.

“One way or another, we will address this issue,” House majority leader John Boehner said as Congress went back to work Tuesday. Of course it wasn’t an issue until Congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham was found to be trading earmarks for big bribes (partly through the investigative journalism of Copley Newspapers, we should note.) It wasn’t an issue until the current campaigns for more openness began.

Databases available online and searchable by anyone mean that lots more people can practice database journalism. You don’t need tens of thousands; hundreds can make a difference. (See the one percent rule and Jarvis on it: “The definition of critical mass has shrunk.”) Less-than legitimate practices that lived on only because the public couldn’t find out about them or do anything to stop them may fall, but only if members of the public actually do the finding out, and bring the facts to light.

It’s important to realize that when Senators Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd were found to be the ones who put a secret hold on a transparency bill both claimed to have good reasons. But Stevens and Byrd promptly removed their holds after admitting that they were the ones responsible. If their reasons were good why would they have done that? (Ahem… It looks like the holds are back. UPDATE: The transparency bill passed the Senate.)

Micah Sifry, who has been consulting on technology for Sunlight and is also advising me on NewAssignment.Net, explained the connection between the two this way:

NADN and Sunlight are born out of a common sensibility, which for the sake of brevity I’ll summarize thus: The old system is broken; commercial and political pressures have turned the Fourth Estate away from its vital mission of informing the public and holding power accountable.

But the rise of what Yochai Benkler calls the “networked public sphere” offers hope of repairing our democracy; emergent social practices made possible and efficacious by the Internet may help foster a “Fifth Estate” where the public acts as its own watchdog.

I think the old system is broken. But I wouldn’t say the press has turned away from its mission. It simply hasn’t found a way to innovate and keep the news engines turning.

Can the public really be its own watchdog? It’s not impossible. Nor is the idea I mentioned in PressThink a year ago: a blog-organized, red-blue, 50-state coalition of citizen volunteers who would read and decipher (for purposes of public understanding) every word of every bill Congress votes on and passes in a given year. That in itself is not a story, but think of the stories that could come out of such a project.

Zephyr Teachout, Sunlight’s National Director, was Director of Online Organizing for the Howard Dean campaign in 2003-4. She says:

In the 1920s, 5 percent of all Americans were Presidents of some local voluntary association, since then, we’ve seen a gradual decrease in the number of opportunities for creative, imaginative societal engagement and leadership, but the decline in those opportunities doesn’t mean the human urge to be creative, engaged, and contribute to society with our own particular talents has decreased.

The internet, and the platforms it provides, has revealed a much richer, more imaginative, eccentric, and curious populace than popular culture portrays. Some people like collecting Santa Clause dolls from Ebay, some people like political gossip, some people like mashing music together, some people like writing code. And some of the millions of people who one might have thought just liked to watch CSI want to engage in their own investigations, from a mix of social commitment, curiousity, and the delight of the adventure in collectively uncovering untold stories.

The delight is not just in uncovering who put the secret hold on the transparency bill. It’s also in telling the world.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

In a good article on the expansion of government oversight made possible by networked journalism on the Net, Richard Wolf of USA Today found out who Mrs. Panstreppon is (Sep. 11):

The amateur investigators are people such as Jamie Peppard, an accountant from Long Island, N.Y., and serial blogger who writes under the name “Mrs. Panstreppon.” She researched groups such as the Congressional Glaucoma Caucus Foundation, which stands to receive nearly $1.2 million to screen patients in New York, Texas and the Virgin Islands. She unearthed tax forms showing the foundation pays several six-figure salaries.

“I’m an ordinary citizen who does not have to answer to shareholders or anyone else,” Peppard told Wolf. “I also have the luxury of spending as much time on a particular project as I want to.”

See Mark Tapscott on what ought to come next.

Ellen Miller at her blog on the Sunlight site: “I feel like Jay’s project is on the cusp of making some very big waves.”

Sunlight announced another grant today to Dan Gillmor’s Center for Citizen Media for an election year project that overlaps with NewAssignment.Net:

$25,000 to the Center for Citizen Media to develop an Election Year Demonstration Project for citizen journalism in one Congressional district. CCM will oversee the creation of a website that will seek to cover everything that can possibly be reported on a Congressional election, with an emphasis on drawing on the talents and ideas of local citizen reporters. The site will include in-depth biographical and political information on candidates, audio and video archives, campaign finance profiles, first-person reports, links to articles, etc. This project is designed to serve as a model for possible nationwide implementation in hundreds of districts in 2008.

Emphasis added. A second post gives more details on what Gillmor is calling a Political Transparency Project. (He’s also an adviser to New Assignment.)

The working title of this initiative is “Political transparency by the people, for the people,” and the goals are several-fold.

First: In a competitive congressional district — namely California’s 11th district — we hope to create an online repository of every scrap of information about the candidates, issues and campaign.

Second: We will pick an element of this data collection — the advertising — and add value through further reporting and analysis.

Third, and most important: We will use what we learn to create a template for the 2008 election and beyond.

Also key is this part:

The site will be designed, built and initially maintained by the students in an online journalism class (J298) this fall at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley. Assisting the students will be co-instructors Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, and Bill Gannon, editorial director at Yahoo!, as well as Scot Hacker, webmaster at the journalism school.

Bob Garfield of NPR’s On the Media interviews me about New Assignment. Listen here. It turned out pretty well.

Developments with New Assignment, Aug. 20-Sep. 9, a new post at the New Assignment blog, including a brief sketch of Your Local Temple of Democracy: A Polling Places Project. Outline of one possible initiative in 2007.

Jeff Jarvis offers a definition of networked news. Part of it says:

Journalism will become collaborative not only on this pro-am level but also pro-to-pro (we need not and cannot afford to send our own reporters to some stories just for the sake of byline ego but we can link to and bring our readers — and help support — the best reporting from other outlets).

Andrew Kantor in a column for USA Today: Technology empowers amateur journalism — for better or worse.

Bloggers and other amateur journalists have some of the same problems any amateurs do: They make up the rules as they go, and they run the risk of screwing up and hurting someone. But because blogging isn’t their day job, they have little risk — they aren’t going to be fired

Professionals are constrained; they can’t just do as they please. If I want to upgrade the electrical service in my house, I can do it myself or call a pro. If I do it myself, I can do what I like and hope it’s good enough. If a pro comes, though, he has to follow detailed building codes — he’s constrained, but the end result is likely better.

Lowes and Home Depot have given amateurs the ability to do work that was once the province of pros, and inexpensive digital technology has given amateurs the ability ‘do’ journalism. But just as amateur with a set of power tools can do great work or build a deathtrap, amateur journalists can do the same.

Having the tools and using them wisely are two different things.

Mark Glaser at Media Shift asked his readers what they would like to see investigated by projects like NewAssignment.Net:

Whether it’s the Iraq War, the events of 9/11 or the Department of Homeland Security, government conduct (or misconduct) is what you’d like to see investigated most. I asked a very open-ended question to you last week, “What investigative report would you like to see done?” Your answers included many bread-and-butter issues such as health care, education and real estate. But the overriding issue was government conduct…

Amy Gahran at Poynter’s E-media blog: Senate Leader Credits Citizen Journalists for Law’s Passage.

Ryan Sholin—Net-savvy young journalist who is a PressThink reader—has just about graduated from J-School, and so has his blog, which used to be called Ryan Sholin’s J-School Blog. Now it’s called Invisible Inkling and it’s worth reading. The news business needs a lot more people like him.

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 7, 2006 1:33 AM   Print


One thing we-the-people still need is a database (and user-friendly web front end) that shows the questions put to our legislators that they haven't answered - e.g. I still haven't gotten answers to questions I emailed last Friday to my congressman's field rep.
(and this was my 3rd try - after using the online "contact your rep" web form (at the direction of his office staff), and after faxing the qs to his spokeswoman (also at direction of office staff))

Stonewalling needs to be become unacceptable.

Posted by: Anna at September 7, 2006 12:35 PM | Permalink

Congressional responsiveness is definitely a possible area of investigation. Thanks, Anna.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 7, 2006 1:11 PM | Permalink


I completely agree. The structure of senators offices are not set up for responsiveness on issue and bill questions, something I've experienced repeatedly, even where there isn't deliberate stonewalling. I think the idea is really interesting , but the goal is essential - changing the culture of representation.

Congrats, Jay, we're thrilled to be supporting you!


Posted by: Zephyr at September 7, 2006 2:13 PM | Permalink

Thanks very much, Z. One thing such a project could get into is: what would be a state-of-the-art, 21st century system for responsiveness-to-constituents in Congress? What are reasonable expectations and response times, available systems, comparable challenges in other organizations, which technologies are coming online, etc?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 7, 2006 2:18 PM | Permalink

> The structure of senators offices are not set up for responsiveness...but the goal is essential - changing the culture of representation.

One idea - could the Sunlight Foundation partner with local newspapers, with local citizens as intermediaries and questioners, to do this?

As in, Sunlight provides the "template" and wider publicity; local citizens approach the paper and request that it join this partnership; local citizens ask the questions, and report Qs and answers (or not) to local paper; local paper keeps/prints a record of the info, formatted so that Sunlight can automatically pull the papers' local data in for a national (or global) report.

"Proud partner of the Sunlight Foundation" sounds pretty good...

Posted by: Anna at September 7, 2006 2:39 PM | Permalink

Not directly on-topic, but it looks like Brad Delong wants some help.

(and lo, a commenter suggests "Go read Jay Rosen's blog...")

Posted by: Anna at September 11, 2006 4:10 PM | Permalink

If you are taking suggestions for a "first project", I'd like to suggest something that reports on the origins and development of Disney's "Path to 9-11" that also details the factual innaccuracies and distortions of that "docudrama".

There is a huge upside to using this subject for a "test project" --- it combines a subject that is best handled by an "investigative journalist" (i.e. the origins and development of the show) with an opportunity for co-operative research from the blogosphere on the "accuracy" question. (Plus, it is the kind of project that is likely to jump start the efforts to create a widespread "donor base".)

Downside -- it is likely to be perceived by ideological conservatives (or "wingnuts" as they are commonly known) as just one more example of the "liberal media" at work. Of course, since the writers, directors, producers and corporate parents of the show claim that there was no bias, they should have nothing to fear, right? :)

Posted by: plukasiak at September 12, 2006 11:29 AM | Permalink


I think that's a fabulous idea. The lead writer was interviewed last week and referred to "eight or nine times" Clinton declined to pull the trigger. He said you can't run a sequence like that in a drama, so you have to concentrate or distill them into one incident.

So the investigation would show the eight or nine times--the writer said his primary document was the SSCI report--Clinton declined to pull the trigger and demonstrate whether or not the distillation was reasonably representative.

I suppose the same could be true for other controversial incidents.

Then, if there were any money left over, you could start on Michael Moore.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at September 12, 2006 9:40 PM | Permalink

Jay we would be honored if you would consider contributing:

I would like to extend an invitation to you to join in on a collective blogging section of our upcoming winter issue of Reconstruction

Here is the original call:

Theories/Practices of Blogging

Our intent in this section of the issue will be to collect a wide range of bloggers and link up to their statements in regards to why they blog (something many of us are asked) and any statement they have on the theories/practices of blogging.

If you already have a post on this you can feel free to use it, or, if you are interested, you can submit a new one.

We will link to each statement from the issue at our site, with the intent of creating a hyperlinked list of statements on blogging that can serve as an introduction to blogging (or an expansion of knowledge for those already blogging).

If you are interested please contact me at mdbento @

Posted by: michael benton at September 12, 2006 11:55 PM | Permalink

To anna's comment, It takes lots of attempts to get replies from congressman's field rep. They put off and put off I have delt with that before.

and to jay contributing would be awsome man.

Posted by: Kris at September 13, 2006 12:51 AM | Permalink

From the Intro