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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

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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

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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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November 22, 2006

This Just In: John Harris and Jim VandeHei to Pull Back the Curtain on Official Washington

"What VandeHei and Harris are saying is: game is up, guys. Those deals are news; we know how it works. And we don't have the 'institutional bias' that permits the Post and the Times and the Journal to tolerate the gentleman's agreements, which after all are agreements to bury the story..."

There’s one thing I don’t understand about this week’s shock-a-roo in big league journalism: the Washington Post’s political editor, John Harris, and one of its top correspondents, Jim VandeHei, are leaving to start a new political news operation for Allbritton Communications, owners of WJLA-TV—the ABC affiliate in DC—and a 24-hour news channel. (Allbritton also owned the deceased Washington Star; apparently the dream of toppling the Post was never abandoned.)

The new venture will be web-based and multi-stream; delivering political news on any device people want to use. Platform agnosticism: I get that.

It will correspond to a new Washington newspaper, the Capitol Leader, which will publish three days a week and only when Congress is in session. This is the further unbundling of the metropolitan newspaper; I get that.

This new political news organization has struck a deal with an old one— CBS News. The press release boasts of a “unique partnership will include carriage of stories, interviews and regular features on Face the Nation and CBS This Morning as well as CBS Radio.” Harris and VandeHei, who are losing visibility by leaving the Post, will get it back through a deal with CBS News, which puts them on the air as analysts and prognosticators and gives their reporting a broader audience at critical times of the day.

I hope reporters on the media beat will find out more about this “carriage of…” part, because if the contract calls for guaranteed carriage of stories that’s an important detail. How guaranteed is it? If editorial control for segments lies with Harris and VandeHei, and they have time slots that are pretty much theirs, this is very different from contributing stuff to a broadcast produced by others who like your work and buy some of it. Are Harris and VandeHei suppliers of material or producers of politics on television?

I would need to know more but I get it: access to a network audience means sources have to deal with you. It means stories you break using the Internet won’t be confined to the Internet. It means you can lure top people with promises of being on TV. (Though not everyone is swooning.)

Harris is 43, VandeHei, 35. Their new employer’s announcement spoke in openly generational terms about the departure from news norms. This is from the press release:

Tying these traditional media together, the new platform will be anchored on the web, pushing the next generation of political journalism: more conversational, more interactive and more transparent in taking the audience behind the scenes of how news happens and how it gets reported. “We believe many of the old ways of journalism do not fit the new demands of modern media,” said Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., President of Allbritton Communications.

Now we’re getting to the part I don’t get. I get that by starting from scratch on the Web you can correct for all the legacy thinking built into a newspaper organization, despite the best efforts of people who clearly see that their future is online. By pouring a new foundation you can design a better house. In Katharine Seelye’s story for the New York Times—bizarrely, the Washington Post decided not to cover the announcement—Ryan said the future was in a multiplatform approach to news, “without the baggage of a long-term print institution.”

If I were an investor in this deal, I would want to know way more about the baggage Ryan has in mind, and why being free of it matters to the new site. The part I don’t get is the “next generation” talk. Political news that is “more conversational, more interactive, more transparent.” Okay, but how? The big idea seems to be “taking the audience behind the scenes of how news happens and how it gets reported.”

Harris and VandeHei note that their move is tied to a new vision of political reporting. It uses every medium on the web — text, video, and interactivity — to pull back the curtain on political stories and narrow the gap between reporters and their audience.

Hold on, there’s been a curtain around politics? And the big new idea in political journalism is (are we ready for this…) to pull it back?

Correct me if I’m wrong: does this not try to frame a very old, in fact cliched image in media criticism—of Toto the dog pulling back the curtain on the Wizard and revealing the secrets of the spectacle—as something generationally, block-bustingly new? I say it does. That tells me they have a very specific idea but have chosen some very lame and general language to advertise it with. Pulling back the curtain on political news, and narrowing the gap between what people know about and what political reporters talk about? Does anyone at Allbritton Communications watch the Daily Show?

While other traditional news organizations are cutting back on resources and their commitment to political journalism, Allbritton is planning to invest heavily in the next generation of journalism.

Multi-platform: we get that. Born on the Web: we get that. Harris is 43, VandeHei 35 and we get that. VandeHei: “We will put together the best political reporting team in country today and deliver the news the way people want it: fast, fair and first.”

Again that sounds extremely traditional, not next-ish but the very game we have now. And as Patrick Gavin at Fishbowl DC said in his announcer post, “Their venture seeks to be a new, more conversational, more provocative and more interactive way of delivering political news that is truly down the middle of the political spectrum (i.e. without inherent institutional biases).”

It can’t be that two journalists as intelligent and clued-in as John Harris and Jim VandeHei think that “truly down the middle” political news is next generational, a leap in thinking that allows their new site to compete with the Times and the Post. Can it? It’s not possible that the former Posties believe a new vision of political reporting results from hiring Adam Nagourney (or his equivalents) to be fast, fair and first in a multi-platform way.

That can’t be the vision because that is too lame. I think the next generation, new vision talk rests (so far) on a single idea, which comes out in the Wall Street Journal’s coverage: (via Fishbowl DC)

“They were intrigued by our idea of using the Web and the notion of covering politics in a nontraditional way,” said Mr. Harris, who is also the author of a biography of Bill Clinton.

Mr. VandeHei, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, said he hoped that the venture would knock down some of traditional journalism’s “state secrets,” such as how stories get leaked and whose motives are served by certain political stories.

“Journalism’s state secrets.” Now what could those be? It’s a kind of insiders’ code. VandeHei and Harris are serving notice that they won’t be bound by certain gentleman’s agreements that have settled over political reporting in the big leagues, the most important of which is: you don’t name your sources, and you don’t try to name the other fellow’s either. There are deals cut all the time: exclusive information in exchange for reporting only part of that information. All players are dirty.

What VandeHei and Harris are saying is: game is up, guys. Those deals are news, we know how it works, and we don’t have the “institutional bias” that permits the Post and the Times and the Journal to tolerate the gentleman’s agreements, which after all are agreements to bury the story of who leaked what and why, to what effect. This, I believe, is where they think they can blow the lid off the political reporting game and generate some shock and awe for their new venture.

It is an idea only an insider can love. But since this is partly a play for the insiders in Washington it’s easy to see how it became the selling proposition, the “edge” generator, alongside duller and awesomely conventional ideas like: multi-media… “pull back the curtain on…” truly down the middle… fast, fair and first… dream team of political reporters… no institutional biases. I would call some of these notions baggage.

Of course they also said: “more interactive.” Several times, in fact. But I could not find a single detail about it in the small flurry of coverage this week. If the strategy is to be “more interactive,” John and Jim are keeping the strategy a state secret for now.

On their dream team of political interpreters would John Harris and Jim VandeHei ever put Digby? Of course they wouldn’t. Because their dream is the same dream every generation of mainstream political reporters has had: to pull back the curtain and show how things really work in this town.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

From Economic Principles, a blog by a journalist:

Their paper will compete with two well-established political dailies, Roll Call and The Hill. But the heart of the new enterprise will be an as-yet unnamed Website, similar, perhaps, to The Hotline (owned by National Journal), The Note (owned by ABC) and other online portals that in recent years have modernized political coverage by agglomerating and commenting on it. Some new businesses can grow quite large. The all-time champion entrant in new media is Michael Bloomberg, now mayor of New York and potential presidential aspirant, who, starting in the 1980s, turned a database of bond prices into a media juggernaut to rival Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. With 1600 editors and reporters in 94 bureaus around the world, Bloomberg says it is the third largest news organization in the world, after the Associated Press and Reuters.

Fishbowl DC (Nov. 28):

Marty Tolchin, who has served as Capitol Leader’s editor-in-chief from the beginning, sent the following email to staffers yesterday:
With the advent of John Harris and Jim VandeHei, the first phase of my consultancy draws to a close. John and Jim are superb journalists, uniquely qualified to lead the Capitol Leader and create multi-media siblings that will greatly enhance our influence. I wooed Jim at lunches beginning in September, and I’m delighted that he agreed to come on board. John and Jim have exciting ideas about how to make this newspaper the gold standard in Capitol Hill coverage, and I’ll give them all the help I can. I’m especially proud of each and every member of the staff, handpicked from more than 150 applicants. Last week’s dry run was impressive, and every single staffer made a significant contribution. Now we’ve been given the gift of time, to do in-depth stories and develop sources. We’ll discuss some ideas at tomorrow’s meeting. Go get ‘em. marty

Now, does this specifically saying he’s leaving? No. But Tolchin only signed on for about a year anyway (and Harris will become editor-in-chief and VandeHei will become executive managing editor) and sources within Capitol Leader’s Rosslyn building tell us that, yes, he’s basically easing himself out.

Chris Nolan, founder of Spot On: “For me, Harris and Vanderhei’s move is triggering a long over-due recognition that the way in which we in the news business deliver information has nothing to do with the quality of that information.”

Scott Rosenberg, who lit out for the Web in 1995 (from the San Francisco Examiner). “Journalists aren’t abandoning newspapers for the Web; rather, newspapers are abandoning journalism to the Web. Not all newspapers at the same pace, of course, and not all at once, and not without lots of fights. But the process is real, it has been underway for over a decade, and though it will take decades more to unfold it shows no sign of being reversible.”

“Loss of Harris, VandeHei, and Von Drehle puts Post at a strong disadvantage,” writes Harry Jaffe at Washingtonian. “One of the great rivalries in Washington political journalism is over—at least for now: Victory to Brand X, as the Washington Post refers to the New York Times.”

Rem Rieder, editor of American Journalism Review: “There’s little question we’re in the midst of a period of profound change, and the moves by Harris and VandeHei are a fascinating reminder of that fact.”

From the New York Observer’s coverage by Michael Calderone:

“We’ll only attract people who are at a point in their career where they want to start something new,” Mr. Harris said. “There’s a lot of people who are like me, coming up on mid-career, who recognized the world as we know it just doesn’t exist any more. The world of journalism that I came into in 1985 is changing.”

“I’m 43,” Mr. Harris said, “so I’m sure there will be a lot of 23-year-olds to help.”

‘I’m hoping that we’ll have the flavor of working for the college newspaper, where everyone pitches in,’ he said.

“Harris also compares the new venture to putting together a college paper.” (Wonkette.) “We cannot fucking wait.”

At Romenesko’s Letters. (Sokolove, a veteran journalist, is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.)

From MICHAEL SOKOLOVE: Memo to Jim VandeHei: In a mere 48 hours you’ve gone from a guy doing an interesting thing to a guy I can’t wait to see fail. Your victory lap before you’ve written a story or cashed a paycheck — your boast that you’ll be better than the New York Times and Washington Post — your revelation that the Post came in with an “unprecedented” offer to induce you to stay but you told them to stick it — and especially your gloating that big-name journalists have come “begging” for jobs (and the ones lucky enough to be hired will be on TV, too!) is really, uh, classless. It’s bad out there if you hadn’t noticed. Count your blessings on this Thanksgiving, and difficult as it may be, try not to enjoy all that groveling too much. (Resume not attached.)

VandeHei replies.

Jane Hamsher: “Tears… tears… oh lordy, it’s just too funny… I can just hear the sales pitch for this future dinosaur (probably the same one they made for Hot Soup): “We’ll tap the great untapped center, the people who are sick of partisan politics. Blogs are written for wacko political extremists, and nobody is speaking for the common man… the little guy in the middle… just ask Joe Lieberman. We’ll own the internet.’”

The Hot Soup comparison is relevant.

Mart Potts, who helped start, thinks didn’t beef up enough in its online political coverage, and that led to the defections: “When your franchise is politics and you don’t do everything you can to build on that on the Web, you leave yourself vulnerable, not only to competiton but to frustrated insiders heading out on their own to do it themselves. That’s what’s happening here.”

Jack Shafer wrote two columns that are pretty skeptical. The Post Exodus and Post Exodus, Part II.

Posted by Jay Rosen at November 22, 2006 4:00 PM   Print


With some skepticism, I wish them luck...

But before they go too far out in Ozland, they better be putting some pressure on the Democrats now in charge of the committees in Congress to formally extend First Amendment rights onto the Web Press.

That was the subject of a policy lecture I delivered last week at the University of Alabama. I know professor Rosen agrees with me on this from past exchanges we've had on the subject, although I don't see much coverage of it in the mainstream, legacy press (some of which are either ambivalent or down right hostile to the idea) or in the blogosphere (a better name for it being the Web Press).


Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 23, 2006 1:33 PM | Permalink

Isn't van der Hie's wife a GOP staffer (or ex-staffer)? Will we be hearing about the Republican side of the curtain? Harris was intersting about 10 yeasr ago, but seems like the cliche of overly cautious middle-of-the-back journalist now. Neither one of these guys shows much savvy about dealing with a web-based public in their WaPo webchats; Dan Froomkin would be a much better candidate for this sort of thing. My guess is that this will be a multi-platform version of Slate, which is to say a big disappointment for anyone who has high hopes of anything but highminded mediocrity.

Posted by: Rich at November 23, 2006 1:43 PM | Permalink

That's an interesting point about "press" privileges for the Web press, Glynn. My guess is it's never crossed their minds.

I don't know VandeHei, Rich, except as a reader of the Post, but I have interviewed Harris, and I would say "not particularly Web savvy" definitely applies. Harris would strongly disagree with me, by the way.

With newspapers journalists and the Web it is definitely a case of a little knowledge being worse than none. For example, Post reporters found they love the online chats with readers (and why not? they're fun and the readers stay in the place you have given them as readers.) There is nothing wrong with that love, but to conclude from it that you've gone interactive, and therefore adapted to the Web quite nicely... well, that's quite a stretch.

But that can be overcome by plunging into the Web, and I can imagine Harris and VandeHei getting a crash course just from the experience of doing their start-up.

Harder to overcome is their conclusion, about which they have no doubts whatsoever, that "political news that is truly down the middle of the political spectrum" (as Patrick Gavin puts it) is the only truth-seeking kind, the only strategy for those who wish to be credible, and the only possible formula, even for the "next generation" of political journalists. This where I find their new venture seriously lacking in perspective.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 23, 2006 9:45 PM | Permalink

Quite frankly I don't recognize either byline, although I saw somewhere that one of them has worked double bylines with Walter Pincus, a name I look for and link to regularly despite his CIA background.

If you are right and it's never crossed their minds, and they are jumping out into a Web venture and talking nonsensically about it, then they could be doomed. Or who knows, maybe they will catch on like a Wonkette or MySpace or Bo Bice or George Bush?

Not much surprises me anymore, except why some stories or trends catch on and others don't. While blogs are hot in blue states, in red states, people are still asking: "What is a blog?"

They don't get it and most likely never will. They don't give a damn about "Interactivity" or "multi-platform" news anymore than they've ever read the Washington Post on paper or the Web, or for that matter, Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men.

As long as the local TV "happy news" networks publish White House press releases as news, and as long as the Jesus story still triumphs over "Darwinism" in the public opinion polls, they will be going out shopping today on Black Friday and "believe" all is right with the world.

Having had this discussion last week in a class of students of a certain former New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner and best selling author who did catch on, I saw the fear and confusion in their faces as we discussed whether they should put up their own Web sites and/or blogs or MySpace pages.

On one hand, venturing out into the under-charted freedom of Web publishing can be incredibly creative and beneficial to a professional career. But in some circles, and if not handled with care, it can also become damning.

This is part of what I said about it "Under The Microscope: Writing, Art and Freedom."

Before anyone else starts another new venture attempting to redefine news online, all I am saying is that we should all go up on Capitol Hill and make sure we have First Amendment rights, and for that matter bona fide copyright rights.

While we are at it, we should spend some time investigating why the BellSouth-AT&T merger should be stopped. For starters, because they are lying about spying on citizens, activists and journalists. If I could find a liberal lawyer with the guts to pursue it in court, I could prove it with a little help from the open-ended deposition process and the power of subpoena.

Did you happen to see the retrospective on the Pentagon Papers case on C-SPAN yesterday? If not, catch it on the re-run and consider blogging about it. We live in a different world today, a world in which the mainstream print press and broadcast media are just not going to challenge the power of money like they did in those days.

If there are those who are willing to split off and do that in an independent way and do it online, I'm all for it. I do it all the time at some personal and professional peril - even without the big time budget of the Times or Allbritton.

They say they plan to hire the "best" people to help them. With some experience working with some of the so-called best people in the business, this is a claim I will be watching to see if it comes true. That will be the first real test of whether they have a chance of succeeding - or not.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 24, 2006 9:19 AM | Permalink

Both these guys are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Posted by: Skeptic at November 24, 2006 9:44 AM | Permalink looks really good, I meant to suggest you look at using a Wikki idea, WikkiNews -- but Citizen Joe editor Inga suggests that, as well as a neutral, objective only idea:
A typical CJ piece is so balanced, someone reading it wouldn’t know the political views of its writer; its “simply the facts ma’am reporting.”

Since you've been quoting Brad DeLong, I doubt that CJ will be showing how Bush's tax cuts have been so successful. Minimal unemployment, (slowly) decreasing deficit, higher growth, higher proportion of income taxes paid by top 20% of taxpayers, new Dow Jones record highs.

The problem will remain the facts are boring, without a story. The story, any and every story, will be biased. Most Bush-bashers aren't so interested in the story: tax-cuts result in more US growth than any other G-7 country over Bush's term.

I truly wish your experiment well, but am surprised you didn't mention Pajamas Media, and OhMy news, two groups who are already doing some of what you're planning to do.

In any case, advertising money will follow eyeballs. My guess is that as some way of successfully using the web gets leveraged into eyeballs & advertising revenue, the public corporations will hire managers who advocate more of that success, whatever it is.

If your investigative reporting produces good copy, which I hope it does, I'm pretty sure there will be a market for it. Since the public corp. folk worship the bottom line profits, and profits clearly follow eyeballs.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 24, 2006 9:55 AM | Permalink

I had to visit your site after reading that you referred to Washington as "this town." Have you moved? One thing I know: the wisest comment I ever heard about Washington was that anyone who refers to it as "this town" was an insider, had forfeited their status as reporter/observer, and shouldn't be trusted. I never heard Cokie Roberts voice again in the same way after hearing that.

That said, should Harris and Vandehei truly start "pulling back the curtain" and revealing the fact that "sources" is just another word for unnamed Congressional and White House aides and/or lobbyists -- all of whose job descriptions include the unofficial title "news spinner," they'll discover soon enough that those people will stop talking to them (because the cost of being identified in the press is their jobs). Then, these ernstwhile MSM reporters will find themselves horribly behind the curve on breaking news (still the coin of the realm in all forms of journalism), and this new website will become nothing more than all the other non-MSM sites -- a commentator without inside information.

Believe me, I've been on both sides of the line and know how it works. -- Merrill

Posted by: Merrill at November 24, 2006 4:09 PM | Permalink

I don't doubt it, Merrill. And you correctly identified why I concluded the post with the words "this town."

As I said, the VandeHarris site (announcing it without having a name? was that smart?) is an idea only an insider could love.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 24, 2006 4:50 PM | Permalink

Having read a VandeHei, my sense is that he (and cohort Harris) believes himself to understand the social milieu of the 'net, yet does not truly understand how things work in here...

If they can withstand the firestorms that get all of us at sometime or another (including Arrington and TechCrunch) they may make it..but the egos that seem present already in the way they are speaking about their venture leads me to think that they may not have the right stuff to learn from their mistakes.

Posted by: tish grier at November 24, 2006 8:32 PM | Permalink

I don't get this whole thing. They think sausage consumers want to tour the factory?

They think people who hear about the congresscritter's $90k in his freezer want to know what the DNC and six well-known reporters think about it? My guess is more people will want to know what the FBI thinks about it.

Which will we get?

By the by, Glyn Wilson's view of those who don't care for the insider news in the Post is interesting, as well.

I am reminded of the dot-com boom where some entrepreneurs, temporarily wealthy on paper, were amazed to find they were suppposed to make and sell stuff. I realize that's an exaggeration--I think--but what do these guys expect to do that will get new eyeballs or eyeballs willing to pay a premium for new stuff?

It is interesting that they think they give people an opportunity to be fair. Because the implication is that, wherever they came/come from, like the WaPo, they couldn't be fair, or weren't for some reason. Did they really want to say that about their previous careers? Were they casting about for the rhythmically-necessary third word beginning with "f"? Or did they pick it on purpose?

Like John Kerry's botched joke, a number of people will say "verrrry interesting" and make references to freudian slips.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 26, 2006 4:19 PM | Permalink

I'm looking at this from a few paces back. What's interesting isn't whether or not this particular venture succeeds or fails (although the insiderliness of VanDeHarris will create an extra helping of schadenfreude if it fails). It's that mid-career celebrities are willing to take the risk on new business models. Will this one succeed? Who knows. Will some eventually? Sure hope so. Indy journalism is waiting for its Ani DiFranco, its poster child for avoiding the establishment and making good.

Posted by: Adina Levin at November 26, 2006 11:31 PM | Permalink

I google
harris vandehei
and infer that either their move is an overdue action to salvage reputations, or it's not promising.

Posted by: Anna at November 27, 2006 4:21 PM | Permalink

"...Step 1 of an overdue action"

Posted by: Anna at November 27, 2006 10:54 PM | Permalink

It is to laugh. If the plan is to blow the usual sources' covers, then they won't have any sources which will allow them to report "first" and "fast."

They also seem to be suffering from this weird delusion that they matter--that it's about them and not about where their bylines run.

As for "interactive," we've already seen how these two handle interactivity during the Froomkin flap, and other interactions with the readership on the Post website.

They so don't get it.

Posted by: JayAckroyd at November 28, 2006 11:09 AM | Permalink

I am hoping to ask John Harris about some of these things in a future venue. Meanwhile, Media Bistro has this...

Marty Tolchin, who has served as Capitol Leader's editor-in-chief from the beginning, sent the following email to staffers yesterday:

With the advent of John Harris and Jim VandeHei, the first phase of my consultancy draws to a close. John and Jim are superb journalists, uniquely qualified to lead the Capitol Leader and create multi-media siblings that will greatly enhance our influence. I wooed Jim at lunches beginning in September, and I'm delighted that he agreed to come on board. John and Jim have exciting ideas about how to make this newspaper the gold standard in Capitol Hill coverage, and I'll give them all the help I can. I'm especially proud of each and every member of the staff, handpicked from more than 150 applicants. Last week's dry run was impressive, and every single staffer made a significant contribution. Now we've been given the gift of time, to do in-depth stories and develop sources. We'll discuss some ideas at tomorrow's meeting. Go get 'em. marty

Now, does this specifically saying he's leaving? No. But Tolchin only signed on for about a year anyway (and Harris will become editor-in-chief and VandeHei will become executive managing editor)and sources within Capitol Leader's Rosslyn building tell us that, yes, he's basically easing himself out.

The newspaper has not launched yet.

Adina: I agree that it's good to see mid-career people strike out and try new business models. One may work. That's a significant event, regardless of how we rate this or that effort.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 28, 2006 12:26 PM | Permalink

re: "There are deals cut all the time: exclusive information in exchange for reporting only part of that information. All players are dirty."


I'm wondering if you see any possible "fix" for the above (assuming you see it as a problem).


Posted by: Delia at November 29, 2006 12:23 AM | Permalink

No, I don't see a fix. It's like asking what's the solution to the Old Boys Network problem.

"Officials say" almost ruined the press during the run-up to the Iraq War in 2002-03. That's a near death experience, but it didn't change much.

If VandeHei and Harris start exposing other people's sources what sources are they going to have?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 29, 2006 9:36 AM | Permalink

re: "If VandeHei and Harris start exposing other people's sources what sources are they going to have?"

yeah... that's the actual problem that would need to be fixed -- I don't know how realistic it would be but I suppose making it required by law to provide such information to the public (especially when such info would be of serious importance to the country) might be a way to fix that... not that it would be easy to pass such a law or implement it...


P.S. aside from (possibly) that, I don't see much hope...

Posted by: Delia at November 29, 2006 10:41 AM | Permalink

re: VandeHei and Harris


They may not have much of a vision but that may not be what they are after... I think there *could* be $$$ in the kind of business they allude to...

It does sound vague it terms of strategy so it's hard to tell what they really have in mind but here's something I think *might* work: treat the exposing of "other peoples'sources" as "news" per se -- focus on that, do a great job of it (using inside knowledge that does not involve turning "other peoples' sources" into your own sources), get peoples' help through the internet (get tips, inside info, actual work, whatever they would be able and willing to provide -- this could be the "interactive" part) and market it to those who would be interested in this "inside tabloid" sort of stuff... not a mass market, for sure...(at least not initially) but it could possibly end-up being a financial success. Sort of a blown-up Valleywag for the "Press Industry." And getting this stuff on TV could expand the existing market much further than anticipated.

Of course, they may end-up doing more damage than good... but again, "doing good" (having a vision) may not be what they are after...


Posted by: Delia at November 29, 2006 7:52 PM | Permalink

It is sort of weird.

I don't know much about Vandehei, but as for Harris, I still can't figure it out. As others have noted above, he has demonstrated acute discomfort with the Web before -- remember his contretemps with Jim Brady re Froomkin? -- and add to that the fact that the lad seems to be stuck in hopelessly outdated definitions -- like, about 1979 -- of just what a journalist's function is ("straight down the middle," a stance in which the hapless journalist allows the borders established by the extremes to define his own increasingly-narrow path.)

I think he's going to be completely out of his element.

Plus, Jay, you are completely right about these guys' opening salvos -- boasting that they will outdo their former colleagues at the Post, plus the political team at the Times? How juvenile is that ? It's never a good idea to go in with bluster. Better to keep your head down and let your work do the work.

Time will tell --- and it won't take very long.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at November 29, 2006 10:15 PM | Permalink


some things may not be so strange... IF they are serious about the interactive online thing...

they may think that would give them a serious edge against outfits such as the Post and the Times (and it *might*...)

although it's hard to see how they could match the knowledge base for a very long time (if they want to be more than the Enquirer turned on the press industry itself) -- they might just mean that the approach they would use would in itself place them on higher grounds in the coming years (although it might take them a while to show results -- they are not saying it would happen right away...)

and the opening salvos (aka. bragging)... again, IF the online interactive thing will be a major part, making *noise* (ANY kind of noise, as long as it attracts attention ... and it certainly has...) may be what's needed at this point...


P.S. but as you say... time will tell (I'm just not so sure it won't take a *long* time...)

Posted by: Delia at November 30, 2006 5:32 PM | Permalink

Delia: "IF they are serious about the interactive online thing..."

Jay Rosen: "If the strategy is to be 'more interactive,' John and Jim are keeping the strategy a state secret for now."

I agree their success will be dependent on their ability to engage and keep the PFKATA/WKM. I also agree that VandeHarris don't strike me as the types that buy into the PFKATA/WKM concept.

Posted by: Tim at December 1, 2006 7:14 AM | Permalink


looks like someone else will be hired for that purpose...


re: Dan Gillmor's blog entry

Posted by: Delia at December 1, 2006 11:21 PM | Permalink


On another but related subject, I am considering writing a lengthy post on exactly what constitutes "success" in the blogosphere.

Just because someone spends a lot of time using technological tricks to get "linked up" everywhere and generating traffic, is that all it means to be successful? Can someone with absolutely no credentials as a journalist, but maybe some time in computer programming school, be considered a credible source just because they generate traffic and maybe comments for their commentary?

Even in the mostly political activist school of blogging, where most of the traffic and resources seem to be going, wouldn't success also be defined in some way by results? Maybe an effect on public policy or swinging an election?

That's how the Pulitzer Prizes define success in the public service category.

Have you given this any thought? Shouldn't someone be giving it some thought from a theoretical, academic point of view?

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at December 4, 2006 3:07 PM | Permalink

From the Intro