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PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
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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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March 14, 2007

Assignment Zero: Trend Reporting Gone Pro-Am

NewAssignment.Net just launched its first reporting project, a partnership with and Newsvine. It's called Assignment Zero. Here's the deal, and the links. Let me know what you think.

PressThink readers, I give you Assignment Zero. In it are a lot of the ideas I have been writing about over the years.

Besides the site itself, the main text is my essay for readers: Citizen Journalism Wants You!

We’re trying to figure something out here. Can large groups of widely scattered people, working together voluntarily on the net, report on something happening in their world right now, and by dividing the work wisely tell the story more completely, while hitting high standards in truth, accuracy and free expression?

If they can, this would matter.

The slightly geeky story we’re going to tackle using pro-am methods, open source principles and lots of volunteers:

We’ve chosen to look at a growing trend in use of the Internet, the sort of thing Wired magazine and cover. NewAssignment.Net is actually a part of it, but the story extends well beyond possible uses in journalism. We’re going to report on the spread of what’s called crowdsourcing and the larger practice it’s part of: peer production on the new information commons, in all of its forms.

Collaboration online — and why it works when it does — is an expansive and nuanced story with lots of locations. It lends itself to swarm treatment.

More from my Wired essay:

A professional newsroom can’t easily do reporting in the many-to-many style. It’s a closed system. Because only the employees operate in it, there can be reliable controls. That’s the strength of the system. The weakness is the newsroom only knows what its own people know or dig up. Which wasn’t much of a weakness before the internet made it possible for the people formerly known as the audience to realize some of their informational strengths. explains its participation: Wired Meets Assignment Zero.

Our hope is that a team of professionals, working with scores of citizen journalists, is capable of completing an investigative project of far greater scope than a team of two or three professionals ever could.

Will it all work? We don’t know any more than you do.

A critical fact to keep in mind. The deep background to why they’re doing it:

Wired News has been shifting resources to blogs since September 2005; our plan is to treat process as content by reporting what we know as soon as we know it. As in Assignment Zero, we want our readers and our sources to be one and the same. We think it will make for better journalism.

Since late last year, Wired magazine Editor in Chief Chris Anderson has been exploring what radical transparency would mean for the publication.

Here’s the press release.

The best way to keep up with Assignment Zero: editor Lauren Sandler’s blog, The Scoop.

Interested in contributing? Amanda Michel is the director of participation (DP). Read her welcome. (Professional journalist interested in contributing? See my March 19 post, Help Wanted Section .)

From my essay: “It takes both an editor (Sandler) and a DP (Michel) to complete the assignment when it’s open platform journalism.”

The rest of the team that built the site.

Wondering what these funny terms—crowdsourcing, pro-am, peer production—mean? Go see our glossary and get some clarity. It’s free.

Is it working? Well, it’s only been one day. But I can show you a part that’s working. Newsvine explained to its members why it’s a part of Assignment Zero. (“Newsvine is calling its contributors to join together in the first pro-am journalism project on the web…”) My idea was:

In an agreement with Newsvine staff, we are going to ship to them a “box” of assignments for their users to complete. It will then be up to the Newsvine community to figure out how to get those pieces done.

It happened in the comments to that post. By the end of the day they had a new user group formed, they had identified leaders, and they were thanking the Newsvine founders for the catalytic effects of the announcement.

I founded NewAssignment.Net to spark innovation in the “open” styles of reporting. The site we built is made for that purpose, but the innovation doesn’t have to take place at our site.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 14, 2007 11:48 PM   Print


Congratulations Jay! This is tremendously exciting.

Posted by: Rebecca MacKinnon at March 15, 2007 2:44 AM | Permalink


You know, the self-validating notion of those in vertically integrated media that they can take the world back to the future when newspaper ink covered one's hands like coal dust, newsreaders were tops, and reporters interpreted a world of action and data not readily available to the paying public are gone. I liked that world! It was easy!

It seems to me that projects like these are a wonderful exercise in casting a net for those who want their work to be validated by scores of happily married universities and media combines. That's ok! Who would deny groups losing their voice to recoup. But we all must adapt.

I think what ya'll are missing is the fact that there is so much vetted raw data in reports/xls from the US government, so much vetted data from think tanks all over the world, so many better reporters from Asia and Europe that roam the nasty places on the planet, so many blogs on the planet where one can ask hundreds to copy edit, proof, counter one's opinions, etc.

In a world like this, open to all, brutally critical of each other's work, who needs a group pushing the old-school world. I'd argue that the blogs--open source journalism (a term lifted from the intel source intel)--are just fine. The blog community doesn't need a center of gravity as ya'll suggest. It's greatest strength-- and it's contribution all over the world via the Net--is that its participants, no matter the viewpoints, are the most critically astute editors, fact checkers, proofreaders, the world has ever known in journalism.

Posted by: JJS at March 15, 2007 6:11 PM | Permalink

Who said the blog community needed a center of gravity? You lost me. Anyway, I don't think it does.

Assignment Zero isn't an improvement on blogging. Blogging does not need improvement. Blogging is doing just fine as it is, and anyway, anyone who would try to direct it would be laughed out of court. This isn't blogging.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 15, 2007 10:01 PM | Permalink

I like the navigability and L&F of Assignment Zero. I don't like that when you enter a topic in The Exchange you lose the secondary (green) toolbar showing where you are.

I like the "life" already being demonstrated in The Exchange section. Lauren Sandler is proving an outstanding editor in her "interactiveness" - rewarding, encouraging, cajoling and frontpaging the conversation.

Posted by: Tim at March 16, 2007 9:30 PM | Permalink

It's fascinating. I've signed up.

Posted by: Debbie Galant at March 17, 2007 12:52 AM | Permalink

Tim: We are aware of the problem and it's on our list of fixes. Thanks for your comments.

I second your observation on Lauren.

Debbie: I hope you can contribute, that would be sooooo great.

Rebecca: thanks! Global Voices was innovation. This is attempting to be innovation.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 17, 2007 2:08 AM | Permalink


as I already told you, I wish you best of luck with your project

doesn't mean I don't have doubts about it

the way I see it, you are starting with some serious handicaps:

#1 your project is NOT bottom-up (if it was bottom up you wouldn't need anybody to make it sound cool -- it would already be as cool as it gets!)

#2 your project is NOT on the ground (you are NOT building a geographic network of people that can meet in person and do things together that way); given this, I actually think you made the right choice for your first project (it's more of a theoretical pursuit, not exactly "hands-on")

#3 distributive reporting... well, anything that has "distributive" as the operating term sounds like an advanced project to me (not a bad goal to have for when you've already got your network together... but to *start* with it? I just don't see how it can be done -- your network is not going to...just spring into being ... it will take time and work and figuring out...)

but, of course, I'm looking forward to being proven wrong! (I hope you succeed in spite of my doubts)


Posted by: Delia at March 17, 2007 10:56 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Delia.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 17, 2007 4:13 PM | Permalink

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