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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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June 26, 2008

Migration Point for the Press Tribe

"Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable."

(This is a revised version of the talk I gave to the Personal Democracy Forum, June 23, 2008. Originally published at TechPresident, same day. I have been using the “migration” image for a while, but felt it needed fuller expression. Hence…)

We are early in the rise of semi-pro journalism, but well into the decline of an older way of life within the tribe of professional journalists. I call them a tribe because they share a culture and a sense of destiny, and because they think they own the press— that it’s theirs somehow because they dominate the practice.

The First Amendment says to all Americans: you have a right to publish what you know, to say what you think. That right used to be abstractly held. Now it is concretely held because the power to publish has been distributed to the population at large. Projects that cause people to exercise their right to a free press strengthen the press, whether or not these projects strengthen the professional journalist’s “hold” on the press.

The professional news tribe is in the midst of a great survival drama. It has over the last few years begun to realize that it cannot live any more on the ground it settled so successfully as the industrial purveyors of one-to-many, consensus-is-ours news. The land that newsroom people have been living on—also called their business model—no long supports their best work. So they have come to a reluctant point of realization: that to continue on, to keep the professional press going, the news tribe will have to migrate across the digital divide and re-settle itself on terra nova, new ground. Or as we sometimes call it, a new platform.

Migration-which is easily sentimentalized by Americans—is a community trauma. Pulling up stakes and leaving a familiar place is hard. Within the news tribe some people don’t want to go. These are the newsroom curmudgeons, a reactionary group. Others are in denial still, or they are quietly drifting away from journalism. Many are being shed as the tribe contracts and its economy convulses. A few are admitting that it’s time to panic.

And like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them, when to leave, where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life, and which parts were well adapted to the old world but may be unnecessary or a handicap in the new. They have to ask if what they know is portable. What life will be like across the digital sea is of course an unknown to the migrant. This creates an immediate crisis for the elders of the tribe, who have always known how to live.

That’s hard enough. But even more difficult—and more challenging to the political wisdom of the tribe—is that on the terrain where the press has to be re-built, there are people already there, like Jane Hamsher, Roger L. Simon, Arianna Huffington and Glenn Reynolds. And they’re busy, building a kind of alternative civilization to professionalized news and commentary, which nonetheless makes use of the old press and its industry.

One of the most perplexing questions journalists today face is what to make of these determined settlers and their ways, how to stand toward them.

Across the digital divide the conditions for doing journalism are quite different. I’ll give you the highlights. Communication is two way, and many-to-many. Horizontal sharing is as important as top-down messaging. Readers have become writers and the people formerly know as the audience are flourishing as content producers, expert sharers and self-guided consumers.

This is something the news tribe did not understand went it first went online around 1996. It saw the Web as a good way to re-purpose its content from the old platform; and while the Web can do that, the idea of re-purposing news content had a huge intellectual cost. It did not help the tribe understand the ground on which it had to rebuild. It permitted the press to delay the date of migration.

Today, the press is shared territory. It has pro and amateur zones. This is appropriate because press freedom is itself shared territory. It belongs equally to the amateur and the pro. Online the two zones connect, and flow together. (Go to Memeorandum to see how.) It still works vertically: press to public. It also works horizontally: peer to peer. Part of it is a closed system—and closed systems are good at enforcing editorial controls—the other part is an open system.

Open systems are good at participation, community formation, and locating intelligence anywhere in the network. They are good at sharing, and getting good at surfacing the good stuff. The two editorial systems don’t work the same way. One does not replace the other. They are not enemies, either. We need to understand a lot better how they can work together.

And that is where the idea of pro-am journalism comes from. I think the hybrid forms will be the strongest—openness with some controls, amateurs with some pros—but that means we have to figure out how these hybrid forms work. Arianna Huffington, Amanda Michel, Mayhill Fowler, Marc Cooper and myself, along with 3,000 signed-up members are in the midst of one attempt, OffTheBus.

Arianna and I wanted to join forces for the election, but we didn’t have a clear idea for how to do that until we had the name, OffTheBus. We felt the on-the-bus press had failed to innovate and wasn’t going to open itself very far. We wanted to extend the powers of the campaign press to those outside the professional club, people without credentials but with convictions and a participant’s pride in politics. What Huffington Post did to column writing by signing up thousands of bloggers we wanted to do to campaign journalism by signing up thousands of helpers.

Our idea: you can report on politics from wherever you are within it. You do not have to be located in the “press” zone to be part of the campaign press. We would filter their best stuff to the front page. From there we could inject it into the national conversation via Huff Post. We would try a distributed reporting model for campaign coverage.

Toward the horse race narrative, we would “begin anew,” as Zephyr Teachout said to open this event, something “off” the usual path. As Clay Shirky told us, “Group action just got easier.” We wanted to put that insight into practice, for somewhere in there is a new press.

Finally, I think it’s time we expanded the press, don’t you? This means we have to expand our ideas about it. And that’s what conferences like this one are for.

* * *

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

This post was translated into French. Thanks, Jean-Marie Le Ray. It is also in Italian.

C-Span taped the Personal Democracy Forum events. You can watch it here.

Scott Rosenberg thinks that this analysis is “accurate as far as it goes, and offers a useful metaphor, but that it lets the ‘tribe’ off too easily.”

A must read and possibly the best bloggers vs. journalists column yet written: Roy Greenslade: Why journalists must learn the values of the blogging revolution. (Before they migrate, I might add.)

Posted by Jay Rosen at June 26, 2008 1:40 AM   Print


This is a great metaphor. It perfectly reverses the dominant press view which is 'barbarians at the gate'. In the 'barbarians at the gate' scenario, any compromise with the 'others' is treasonous and defeatist. In a 'migration' scenario, you can hold on to core values will adapting to the new situation and borrowing good ideas from your new neighbors.

Posted by: William Ockham [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2008 9:02 AM | Permalink

Jay, I like that metaphor - I made the migration pretty early - in '95 - because of opportunity, not because of forced change. I saw that I, a lowly journalist but nonetheless a proud one for the clan membership you reference - decided I could own my own printing press. So I departed the clan, half-way at least (freelancing helped me pay to run my particular online press). Fast-forward to the current panic.

Funny thing is, I had a long conversation with Mayhill Fowler at PDF and she was every bit as serious about her work as the leaders of my old clan. Could it be that the curmudgeons and hold-outs will soon find themselves part of a much larger - but no less self-organized and self-regulated - clan of semi-professionals?

Posted by: Tom W. at June 26, 2008 10:02 AM | Permalink

I'm not too sure of either metaphor, migration or holding the fort. The press has gone through a series of collapses and has ceased to serve its customers. It was the 1950s and 1960s that killed off hundreds of newspapers, and by the 1980s, there was only one political view on sale in the typical urban area. The press consolidated and every year served fewer people. Radio and television went through a similar transformation, though with different mechanics. Stations were not closed outright, but were standardized and hollowed out. Local news coverage weakened. International and nation news coverage vanished.

By the mid-1990s, the U.S. press was a lot like the press in the U.S.S.R. There was one standard set of opinions, one viewpoint, lousy coverage of real issues and an incredible fluff to news ratio. Americans marveled as the Soviet press played down or ignored Chernobyl, but our modern press would not do much better.

In the 1960s an alternate press developed to provide for the anti-war viewpoint. Later, it was co-opted by the more traditional press. We have a similar situation today, except the alternative press can do one better than the traditional press. They don't need to try and copy the old formats: newspapers, magazines or radio shows. They can provide information and opinion to millions of unserved customers using web sites, blogs and newsgroups.

The traditional press looks at the new media and tries to follow, but they have their old baggage with them. Jerry Della Femina put it nicely. Watching an old line ad agency adopt to the 1960s was like watching some [male] executive's fifty year old wife getting a face lift and squeezing into a mini-skirt. It wasn't really the effect she had in mind.

Posted by: Kaleberg at June 28, 2008 3:31 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen:

If a single perspective were to prevail at OffTheBus that would definitely suck. It would be bad service.

... and ...

Do we want to say that people representing a portion of the political community cannot produce news and information for the entire political community? I wouldn't want to say that in advance, although I might conclude it after the experiment.
I thought these statements set up an interesting contrast for measuring the success of OffTheBus. I think a single perspective at OffTheBus did succeed in covering the Republican primary and candidates, and therefore sucked. I don't think anyone was (is or will be) surprised by that coverage.

I was surprised at the disaffection expressed by others about a single perspective. Ferdy's is representative:

By making OTB such a close subsidiary of the highly partisan HuffPost, OTB has de facto delegitimated its experiment, as Steven Rose implied in his letter (which I agree with only partially, but certainly in his assessment of HuffPost).

You should have set OTB up as a completely separate blog designed to do citizen journalism. As it is, HuffPost has tainted this interesting and important experiment. I mourn that.

Posted by: Tim at June 29, 2008 2:29 PM | Permalink

Jay, everything you are saying makes sense. There's just one thing you didn't mention, and that is: Mayhill Fowler and her OfftheBus colleagues are not getting PAID. They are covering the campaign on their own dime--or at least that's what has been reported in my own local newspaper of record, the Washington Post. I'm all for the concept of pro-am journalism; I welcome the "amateurs" to the party (since in many cases they are better than the pros). But I still want somebody to tell me: how do the pros get paid?

Posted by: Tracy Thompson at June 29, 2008 5:09 PM | Permalink

And what if I cannot tell you that? Am I supposed to make up an answer?

Tim: see the history of Hot Soup.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 30, 2008 1:18 AM | Permalink

Sure! Why not?...But seriously: does Arianna Huffington ever wonder how long she can keep getting all this content for absolutely free? Or how long it's going to take before some Norma Rae of the blogging world stands on a table with a sign that says "UNION"?

Posted by: Tracy Thompson at June 30, 2008 9:46 AM | Permalink

I still want somebody to tell me: how do the pros get paid?

You want somebody to tell you? Or what, Tracy...? You're going to hold your breath until you turn blue in the face?

Try informing yourself instead of demanding magical answers that at the moment don't exist. Then maybe you can be part of the solution. Why don't you study up and tell us how the economic crisis in your ex-business is going to be solved? Here's Mark Potts on how newspapers got into the mess they're in. Good place to start.

Does Arianna Huffington ever wonder how long she can keep getting all this content for absolutely free?

Here's a journalist--Rachel Sklar--who works for the Huffington Post, writes a column and gets paid. Here's another, Sam Stein. Here's a third: Tom Edsall. A fourth: Nico Pitney.

So you tell me: does Arianna think everything at her expanding site can be done for free?

From my post, Where's the Business Model, People?

It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods, the future production of which is in doubt, are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?” Recently I heard one such person say, “Society should be worried about this!”

At many a conference I have attended on new media and journalism, some old pro whose subsidy is fast disappearing will (mentally) place hands on hips and say about the Internet as a whole, “Well, that’s all very nice, very Web 2.0, but where’s the business model, people?” As if that were some kind of contribution. I can’t tell you how disconcerting–and weird–I find some of these performances.

You want somebody to tell you how the pros get paid. That's exactly the problem.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 30, 2008 10:47 AM | Permalink

In, "Where's the Business Model for News, People?" I explained why I find this a frustrating question. One shouldn't lose patience with a question, but in this case I have.

The reason is we are all currently in a situation where, no matter where you are on the editorial compass, there is at the moment no grand or obvious solution to the problem of... the next business model for public service news.

Lots of people want to find it it. Lots of people smarter than us in this thread are looking for it. All manner of experiments are alive, which is good.

Just to be clear, Tracy, I am one of those who believes that a paid professional press is completely essential to a modern democracy and since it cannot be the work of even the most wholesome government, making it sustainable is a job for civil society as a whole.

I would love to know how people who do it very well will, as the new platform develops, get paid to report on public life, because they are likely to become more valuable to us that way. (See my post on Walter Pincus for more.)

But whether you are an investor, a technologist, a publisher, an editor, a reporter, a sports writer, a stand alone news & opinion blogger, an Internet newspaper, an upstart local news provider or a team leader for the investigative projects that are the lifeblood of public service journalism, there just isn't a stable solution right now for an Internet-age economy of news. Moreover, this has been the situation for at least 4 to 5 years.

All we can do is try to peer at ambiguous and often sudden developments and try to discern some sustainable shapes. Maybe one of them is a ship.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 30, 2008 2:53 PM | Permalink

Jay, I do not know who spit in your bean curd this morning, but I hope you get over it soon. I did not pose that question as if I were making a profound statement; I was looking to elicit some thoughts from the community which reads your blog that might enlighten me. I'd already read your post on "Where's the Business Model, People?"--so I knew YOU didn't know.

I'm not exactly going to be evicted anytime soon, but I am a freelance writer who has one check coming in the mail and after that...nothing. I get invited to write about this or that all the time, but nobody seems to want to pay me anymore. The last thing I wrote was an essay for a book, which turned out great, and I'm pleased to be in the anthology, but I got paid a whopping $150 for it. I could spend 40 hours a week writing for people who want me to write--online. For free. Yeah, I'm sure Arianna pays those guys you mentioned, but for every one of them there's 50 at least who are working for nothing. I've never met a rich person who didn't know how to exploit labor, so I guess this is not surprising, but I still find it kind of mind-boggling that nobody on the labor side of the equation seems to find this at all objectionable. In fact, they seem downright honored. If this business model were applied to the sex industry, the world's oldest profession would go out of business in a week. Why buy the cow....?

So, yeah, I get it that we're all groping in the dark here. My own career has gone from mainstream big-corporation journalism, to "retail" (i.e. freelance magazine writing). It's looking to me like the next step is "micro-retail"--or, as the bloggers say, "monetizing" my blog, which means beating the bushes for advertisers--a weird thought for an old-timer like me, but what is life without a challenge? I'm curious what others in my position have to say.

Posted by: Tracy Thompson at June 30, 2008 3:52 PM | Permalink

I still find it kind of mind-boggling that nobody on the labor side of the equation seems to find this at all objectionable. In fact, they seem downright honored.

Do you have any theories as to why the several thousand bloggers at the Huffington Post don't find it objectionable to speak their minds and comment on the election without hope of being paid for it? What do you think their reasoning is?

It's looking to me like the next step is "micro-retail"--or, as the bloggers say, "monetizing" my blog, which means beating the bushes for advertisers.

What I think we have learned is there's a flaw in that micro-retail system: for most bloggers and would-be advertisers, the search costs are too high for the bloggers to find the right advertisers and the advertisers to find bloggers that they are comfortable advertising with.

Most people who have studied it think that stand alones will have to join networks and advertising deals will be made to all blogs in a network, so that advertisers can lower their transaction costs. But again, we are not there yet.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 30, 2008 5:03 PM | Permalink

Do you have any theories as to why the several thousand bloggers at the Huffington Post don't find it objectionable to speak their minds and comment on the election without hope of being paid for it? What do you think their reasoning is?

If I had to guess, I would say that a) they have day jobs topay the mortgage and b) they are thrilled to have a platform. And do I blame them? I do not. When I worked at the Washington Post I was thrilled to have a platform, too.

I take your point about blog networks.

Posted by: Tracy Thompson at June 30, 2008 7:01 PM | Permalink

That's right. They have jobs. They do not intend to make a career of journalism or punditry. They are thrilled to have a platform.

Possibly they also know that the Washington Post wasn't about to give them that platform.

You said you find it "kind of mind-boggling that nobody on the labor side of the equation seems to find this at all objectionable," but is your mind really boggled by the mystery of it all?

There have always been people who wrote for free. There have always been people who wrote for money. There has never been a constant way of making that happen, however.

At least some of the people who want to write for money today--as reporters--should in my opinion learn how to work with large and small groups of amateur watchers and diggers and other people of fact who will only "work for free" if you offer them an opportunity to contribute something of value on a story that really matters.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 1, 2008 1:02 PM | Permalink

"Thrilled to have a platform" doesn't do it justice. People are desperate to have a voice. We've been ignored or taken for granted by our various civic systems for so long, it's amazingly cathartic to say something in a public forum and have somebody, anybody notice.

Voting by itself doesn't really cut it. Especially in a society where the vote is a commodity to be pushed around like poker chips by the mass media and monied interests. People want to have a nuanced say. People want to participate in their democracy. As Jay says, many people have always been willing to forego the paycheck to get that, and some will even pay to have their say. The internet has lowered the price tag substantially, and the country has lost its way, so yeah, people are talking. Whether they get paid or not.

The traditional media think they've been run over by a technology bus, but the crisis in journalism is self-inflicted. The traditional media have alternated between lulling us to sleep and scaring us into hiding in the basement. Either way, they haven't been interested in actually serving the public interest. Surprise! The public still has an interest. The patient has a pulse.

Posted by: jayrayspicer at July 3, 2008 12:51 PM | Permalink

Jay --

Your longstanding and noble insistence on using the term “press” rather than “media” to refer to the institution that journalists work in has in this case, I feel, prevented you from rendering an wellrounded portrayal of the players in the pro-am field.

Yes, there are professional journalists, now forced as a tribe to migrate.

Yes, there are amateurs, formerly known as the audience, who are eager to be “watchers and diggers,” who are “thrilled to have a platform.”

You do not mention a third group of professionals -- media professionals -- non-journalists, whose trade it is to exploit journalistic content to advance their agenda. I refer to the public relations industry, corporate flacks and interest group lobbyists, entertainment promoters and political spinmeisters.

To the journalist these people act as “amateurs” in that they are not paid by press institutions. For no fee, they contribute a soundbite or a statistic or a press release lead or a story idea or an interview guest. In this sense even the most traditional form of MainStreamMedia journalism is a “pro-am” exercise, with the paid correspondent obtaining he-said-she-said quotes gratis from sources in the Golden Rolodex.

As far as the “press” is concerned those quotes may be free -- or amateur. In the “media” world, inserting them into journalistic content is the work of professionals.

These media professionals are parasites on the good name and credibility of the traditional press. Their status is enhanced by their ability to find themselves included in content that appears to be evenhanded, authoritative, fair-minded, proportionate -- all the attributes long claimed by the tribe of professional journalists, that tribe that is now migrating.

These media parasites, I suspect, have even more to lose from the collapse of the press as a trusted mainstream institution than journalists do. If the press continues to fragment and its civil status continues to erode, flacks will lose the imprimatur that journalistic institutions can impart, giving plausibility to their spin.

How, then, will a publisher place an author on a book tour? How will a baseball team seem indispensable to a local market without highlights at 11pm? How will a politician seem to be advancing the common good without Meeting the Press? How will Hollywood sell its latest star vehicle without respect accorded to the clout of celebrity? How will interest groups and lobbyists frame themselves as representing an honorable point of view in an evenhanded debate rather than merely promoting self interest?

Speaking optimistically, forcing media parasites to invent their own forms of authentic communication -- unable to rely on professional journalists to whitewash their flackery -- may even liberate the journalists themselves to become reporters of news rather than recyclers of publicity.

The press may seem smaller after this migration but it may turn out to be right-sized, having successfully divorced itself from the media.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at July 3, 2008 1:44 PM | Permalink

Interesting take on this, Andrew Tyndall. Maybe, just maybe, the shouting heads on CNN (nonjournalists, all) will simply disappear if people stop paying attention to them because they're too busy reading or writing blogs. I don't want to get my hopes up too much, but it certainly seems as though a large and growing chunk of the electorate is tuning out the irrelevancies of the MSM. I gave up watching TV news quite some time ago. Somehow, I don't feel any less informed. Even my houseplants seem perkier, less despondent.

Posted by: jayrayspicer at July 3, 2008 9:22 PM | Permalink

Hi Jay,

Brilliant post! Would you authorize me to translate it and publish it on my blog (linking back to you, of course), where I'd like to share it with french spoken people.


Posted by: Jean-Marie Le Ray at July 4, 2008 9:30 AM | Permalink

Yes, of course, Jean-Marie. Just let me know when it has a url.

Andrew: I like your addition. Here's a link that illustrates it in action. The flacks want the old order to continue.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 4, 2008 11:58 AM | Permalink


Here is the link, thanks again.


Posted by: Jean-Marie Le Ray at July 5, 2008 7:32 AM | Permalink

Andrew Tyndall,

I thought you might be interested in Journalism and Morality from The Atlantic in 1926:

The establishment of a formula in composition makes [the reporter] lazy. The lack of competition makes him flabby. He loses initiative, gets so he takes things for granted, ceases to inquire closely. He lacks that effective skepticism which goes to the root of things. He accepts listlessly the statements handed out to him by lawyers, well-meaning propagandists, and publicity agents.

Posted by: Tim at July 8, 2008 11:08 AM | Permalink

From the Intro