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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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August 3, 2007

The Press Lives "Off" Politics, The Kossacks Live For It

Notes and comment from day one of YearlyKos

Chicago, Aug. 2: My favorite part of Yearly Kos last year was the instant and spontaneous standing ovation (with full throated yells) that went to Gina Cooper, who organized the whole event, sweating all the details that go onto bringing 1,000 people together for a weekend of Net politics.

She got another O this year, perhaps less spontaneous but just as heartfelt, for bringing to Chicago 1,500 attendees, 200 experts and speakers (of which I am one) 120 volunteers, and the top five Democratic candidates: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Richardson and Dodd, who will all appear at a candidates’ forum Saturday. Plus a sold out press gallery.

While it may seem that Yearly Kos is a tribute to Markos Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos, and a celebration of his rise to power broker status, the crowd knows that it is Cooper and her volunteers who have the vision and do the work. And I don’t mean for a second that Kos is the CEO with the ideas and Cooper the efficient aide who carries out those ideas. Cooper is CEO of this event; Markos helps her out. The cool thing about it is the Markos knows this.

Forces of resistance

Howard Dean addressed the crowd last night, and he said something that showed why the top five candidates, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader came to Yearly Kos. He was talking about the importance of HR 881, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, which would require a paper trail for every voting machine. (It’s still being negotiated and may come to a floor vote this summer.) Dean told the Kossacks that we need all of you, “meaning yourself and every person who pays attention to you on the Net…” to make noise about the bill.

And there you have it. Bloggers aggregate attention to politics. Therefore they get attention from politicians. The press lives off politics, these Kossacks live for it. And it’s this logic—not paying their respects to Boss Kos—that brought the candidates and Dean to Chicago.

I found Dean’s appearance dense with cross-references, for he would never have become chairman of the Democratic Party if the beyond-the-beltway forces known as the Netroots had not demanded that the party choose someone who thinks differently— Kos included. This was apparent when Dean slyly said to the crowd that while the Internet was forcing politics to become more two-way, “there are forces of resistance even inside the Democratic party.”

True. But those forces are a lot stronger within the Republican party, a story the national press is just waking up to. (Though Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post has been keen on it: Online, GOP Is Playing Catch-Up; see also Zack Exley at OffTheBus and Vargas today on YearlyKos.) To me this is the vital subtext of the Chicago convention for watchers of the 08 campaign.

Putting your ideas at risk

As I was walking around the conference Thursday, ducking into panels and training sessions that started even before the official opening, I kept thinking about a famous passage from Christopher Lasch, the great social critic and historian who died in 1994— before the rise of the Web. In the Revolt of the Elites, he said we learn more from argument than from information, not because opinions are weighter than facts, but because to argue for your ideas (in public) puts those ideas at risk. And that is how we learn.

Gina Cooper at her diary on Daily Kos: “While I support sending the same bill back to the President, I’m not a foreign policy expert and, so, I accept that I could be wrong.”

Lasch in his book:

If we insist on argument as the essence of education, we will defend democracy not as the most efficient but as the most educational form of government, one that extends the circle of debate as widely as possible and thus forces all citizens to articulate their views, to put their views at risk, and to cultivate the virtues of eloquence, clarity of thought and expression, and sound judgment… small communities are the classic locus of democracy— not because they are “self-contained,” however, but simply because they allow everyone to take part in public debates. Instead of dismissing direct democracy as irrelevant to modern conditions, we need to re-create it on a large scale.

And then he wrote, “From this point of view the press serves as the equivalent of the town meeting.” But that was pre-Web, and too simple.

Today we can see that it is not the press that “extends the circle of debate as widely as possible,” but its great disrupter, the read-write Web, along with read-write communities like Daily Kos, Open Left and It is not the press (or the parties) but the open Web that allows every active user to take part in public debates.

Information’s predicate

Professional journalists think of argument as a derivative good made from news; information—new and accurate—is the thing of value, they say. Lasch thought they were wrong, and the Daily Kos community shows why he was right. For it is their passionate involvement with the arguments in national politics that causes the Kos people to seek out information, chew it over, or piece the story together themselves when the news media won’t do the job.

Participation is information’s predicate. During the age of big media our journalists lost sight of that fact. It took the Web to make them face it again. The open platform approach of OffTheBus—I’m co-publisher with Arianna Huffington—says to contributors: participate in democratic politics by covering the campaign, and you can make the front page of Huffington Post. (Curious? Come to our meet-up at Yearly Kos: Friday, 2:30 in 106B of McCormick Place.)

“I know you think we failed you.”

Matt Bai, who writes about politics for the New York Times Magazine, is going to co-moderate the big candidates’ forum Saturday with Joan McCarter, a Daily Kos contributor known on the site as mcjoan. This pairing is itself unprecedented— a journalist from the one-way press and a diarist from the read-write Web quizzing the candidates with questions supplied by the Kos community. I was on a panel with Bai at last year’s convention, and there was a moment in it that I will never forget because it has not been repeated since.

Bai, the only representative of the traditional press on the panel, was taking a bit of heat for the performance of his colleagues under Bush. (Almost all panels with bloggers and journalists on them become bloggers vs. journalists panels, even though we know that conflict is over.) At one point Bai, who was sitting at the far end of the table that sat six, turned to us and said, “Look, I know you think we failed you.” There was no “but.”

Almost every political journalist will by now concede that the press failed in its duty during the run-up to the Iraq war. But what Bai said was different. We the press failed you, the people whom Bush actively misled. We failed by not stopping him. I have felt for some time that the press corps is making a gigantic error that will paid for in future fuck-ups by not apologizing more completely and searching its soul more carefully for the reasons why it collapsed under Bush— and thus failed the American people. They have let outside critics do the job.

Matt Bai, who is younger than most of his colleagues at the Times, is not a part of that mistake. This, I think, is what landed him on the stage for Saturday’s forum. (Along with articles like like The Inside Agitator, about Dean at the DNC.) The seeds of that invitation were sown at last year’s panel. It also helps that he has a book coming out this month titled, ” Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics.”

Actually that’s the subtitle. The title is… The Argument

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 3, 2007 1:39 AM   Print


It's not up to the press to start or stop anything.
It's up to the press to present information.

The only issue regarding Iraq in which the press could claim to be culpable is wrt WMD. Which, as all know but few mention, was only one of a number of reasons to go to war in Iraq.
However, as Saddaam's senior officers thought he had WMD, the press shouldn't beat itself up too badly.

I do think, though, that if you beat yourself up sufficiently and publicly, you may think you have the public convinced it's the only error you have made or will make.

Won't work

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at August 3, 2007 11:54 PM | Permalink

Richard is right, though not complete. Political journalism has collapsed in Bush's presidency precisely because the journalists thought it was their duty to stop Bush, instead of telling the truth. Matt Bai's apologizing to the Kossacks for not stopping Bush shows that he hasn't seen the real cause of the problem. The NYT is not a branch of the federal government, even if the staff think it is; its only claim on the public trust is its honesty and truthfulness. If the NYT abandons its honesty to bend US policy -- to stop Bush, for example -- it abandons the source of its authority, and soon ceases to be an authority.

On another note, if the Kossacks do manage to pass a bill requiring an audit trail on paper for every federal election, they'll have accomplished one real service to the republic. Since the bill won't help Democrats get elected, it'll even count as an unselfish and public-spirited act ...

Posted by: Michael Brazier at August 4, 2007 2:30 AM | Permalink

Jay, I tried to capture your thoughts at the YearlyKos here, hopefully accurately: "News media like DailyKos were in our past. And, they will be our future." (Steve Boriss, The Future of News)

Posted by: Steve Boriss at August 4, 2007 9:18 AM | Permalink

"I have felt for some time that the press corps is making a gigantic error that will paid for in future fuck-ups by not apologizing more completely and searching its soul more carefully for the reasons why it collapsed under Bush— and thus failed the American people. They have let outside critics do the job."

Amen, brother. The collapse was all but complete.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at August 4, 2007 11:27 AM | Permalink

"Almost every political journalist will by now concede that the press failed in its duty during the run-up to the Iraq war...."

This is why Lippman, as a realist, got it right and Dewey, as an idealist, got it wrong. The Lippman-Dewey debate, which began 85 years ago, was exactly about the "duty" of the press in our society. Lippman was correct in identifying the incentives for the quality and flow of information among the governed. I wish it would be more Deweyan, but I find little evidence for it.

To argue that a system has collapsed from a point that never existed seems sentimentally naive.

It's too bad there isn't more Carey in PressThink:

We create, express, and convey our knowledge of and attitudes toward reality through the construction of a variety of symbol systems: art, science, journalism, religion, common sense, mythology. How do we do this? What are the differences between these forms? What are the historical and comparative variations in them? How do changes in communication technology influence what we can concretely create and apprehend? How do groups in society struggle over the definition of what is real? These are some of the questions, rather too simply put, that communication studies must answer.

Posted by: Tim at August 4, 2007 12:13 PM | Permalink

re: argument

The State of the News Media 2007: Major Trends

The Argument Culture is giving way to something new, the Answer Culture. Critics used to bemoan what author Michael Crichton once called the “Crossfire Syndrome,” the tendency of journalists to stage mock debates about issues on TV and in print. Such debates, critics lamented, tended to polarize, oversimplify and flatten issues to the point that Americans in the middle of the spectrum felt left out. That era of argument —R.W. Apple Jr. the gifted New York Times Reporter who died in 2006, called it “pie throwing” — appears to be evolving. The program “Crossfire” has been canceled. A growing pattern has news outlets, programs and journalists offering up solutions, crusades, certainty and the impression of putting all the blur of information in clear order for people. The tone may be just as extreme as before, but now the other side is not given equal play. In a sense, the debate in many venues is settled — at least for the host. This is something that was once more confined to talk radio, but it is spreading as it draws an audience elsewhere and in more nuanced ways. The most popular show in cable has shifted from the questions of Larry King to the answers of Bill O’Reilly. On CNN his rival Anderson Cooper becomes personally involved in stories. Lou Dobbs, also on CNN, rails against job exportation. Dateline goes after child predators. Even less controversial figures have causes: ABC weatherman Sam Campion champions green consumerism. The Answer Culture in journalism, which is part of the new branding, represents an appeal more idiosyncratic and less ideological than pure partisan journalism.

Posted by: Tim at August 5, 2007 10:44 PM | Permalink

I predict that the extremist tones will eventually cool off. People get tired of things pretty quickly these days. I see a lot of bloggers and commenters turning off to the ranters just as they are starting to do to the radio and television screed-mongers.

As to whether journalists failed the American people, I have to say that they flat-out did. It was not just that they did not report the truth--or seem to dig for it--but they participated in the jingoism that prepped the public for war. I recall watching "The Today Show". They had already prepared a sexy intro to their show full of militaristic, patriotic music, and portentous graphics. Their first guest was a doubter (how'd that happen?) who called them on how they presented the case for war with this intro. He was never heard from again. They also agreed to the "imbedded" nonsense. Even the military's PR guy (see Control Room) wonders about the releases he's putting out that don't jibe with what he's seeing.

Posted by: Ferdy at August 6, 2007 11:24 AM | Permalink

Ferdy. The embed program was greeted tentatively by some in the legacy media. The problem was thought to be that the reporters might become too sympathetic to the US soldiers.
That was apparently more of a concern than the possibility that the embeds would be in a position to get it right, by being on top of, in the middle of, or under the action.
I can see the point. Michael Yon, Bill Roggio, Michael Totten, and others who are embedding now are giving pictures which flesh out the reality, and contradict much of what the legacy media is saying.
So I can see why the bigs were concerned.
Embeds threaten their control of the story.
And, in the future, there may be more folks with actual experience of the US military to contradict morons like Eason Jordan and Linda Foley. That would be a serious problem.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at August 8, 2007 9:51 PM | Permalink


Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 10, 2007 3:30 PM | Permalink

The Internet's Potential in the World of Ideas: Some links.

PressThink: better than a CV.

"After Matter" section tracks the discussion that happens after posting.

Current example: Time magazine's Washington bureau chief, Jay Carney, was criticized in my post:

It’s our responsibility not to be labeled left or right is a case of a political journalist blurting out a deep truth about his profession. Carney and Tumulty really do define their responsibility this way: to avoid what would get them labeled

Jay Carney replied to my post. "...I do think Rosen is twisting a simple comment into a pretzel in order to make it fit with an all-purpose critique of the MSM."

Idea diffusion:

The People Formerly Known as the Audience.

The People Formerly Known as the Audience: Technorati search.

Authority in blogging:

Technorati authority ranking for PressThink

Technorati authority: a comparison. USA Today's politics blog. And its Technorati ranking.

Ubiquity in Google and Google ranking:

NYU Journalism Department home page.

Google search: links to NYU Department home page. (334 pages linking to department home page.)

Google search: PressThink. (17,700 pages link to PressThink.)

Embedding ideas into search:

PressThink: Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News.

Google search: Bill O'Reilly paranoid style.

Reference point for breaking news

Eason Jordon resigns as president of CNN.

Google search Eason Jordan.

Getting journalists to examine their practices:

Kurtz column, Interviews, Going the Way of the Linotype?

Howard Kurtz Sez: "The humble interview, the linchpin of journalism for centuries, is under assault."

Arguing with journalists:

An Exchange with Neil Lewis of the New York Times.

Huffington Post version: "Something Quite Breathtaking"

Widening the Circle of Journalism:


Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 10, 2007 4:36 PM | Permalink

Without a doubt, one of the best blogzines on the web, Jay.

Well done.

Posted by: Tim at August 10, 2007 11:43 PM | Permalink

The subprime market collapse is just another step towards the inevitable collapse of the US dollar which many believe will be the trigger to create the Amero and North American Union. These are important matters that people should be aware of as it may change a lot of things as we see them today. is a knowledge and resource web site for you to read, vote and discuss these important matters.

Posted by: John at August 13, 2007 4:13 PM | Permalink

From the Intro