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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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July 8, 2008

Big Daddy Newspaper Has Gone and Left Journalism

Tree House Media Project Debuts. Self-reliance for angry journalists, preached by a former member of the tribe. Plus: "Last gasp of the curmudgeon class." NEWSROOM ID EXPLODES LIKE FIREWORKS OVER INTERN'S UPBEAT BLOG POST. Newspaper revanchism 'splained.

Now this is interesting. Kind of an anti-curmudgeon site. The opposite of bitching about the bosses. Or unloading your frustrations on newspaper interns. I give you Tree House Media Project and its blog, which appears on a tab called “Fuck Google.” (Just an expression, wastes zero time on that.)

The first entry—Free or Subscription?—is informative and unhysterical. It highlights some of the “niche” news sites that have proven sustainable on the Web, each created by a person, not a firm.

The tone is self help for angry journalists. Empower ex-newsroom people with tools to learn with. Enough with the ignorant griping, the site says: figure out the self-publishing puzzle and you can take matters into your own hands. It’s like a band with a new sound. “No amount of bitching will prevent Yahoo from poaching our readers.” Suck it up, news tribe.

First, we should give thanks, for we are far luckier than the textile and steel workers who have found themselves on the wrong side of globalization or technological change before us. As knowledge workers, we can benefit from the technologies that are threatening newspapers’ survival: No longer does one need a printing press to publish, only a personal computer, an Internet connection and an idea.

Or as Chris Nolan put it at PressThink in 2005, The Stand Alone Journalist is Here (“And the newsroom has left the building.”) The founder of Tree House is Rich Heidorn, Jr., formerly an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer during the Gene Roberts era. “We won 18 Pulitzers in the 17 years.” Who’s going to tell him he doesn’t know the newsroom? He certainly knows about its dependents:

No IT department to fix our PCs. No advertising sales or circulation staff to generate revenue. But by banding together, we can reduce our learning curve. We can generate economies of scale (share costs) in marketing and information technology.

Recognize that sound? It’s an old American creed, self-reliance—and voluntary association—preached back to newsroom folk. Your news organization sucks? Start your own. Be self-reliant!

Laid off? Bought out? Pissed off? Or just overworked because you’re one of the “lucky” ones still working for the walking corpse that is the daily newspaper? Join us, the diaspora of a generation of once-proud working journalists, as we try to recapture the joy, the passion and the creativity of our noble profession.

I don’t know the founder, Rich Heidorn, or his earlier work. (But here’s his Linked In profile.) I know some people who worked with him at the Inquirer; seems solid. His project doesn’t sound like what I’ve heard before. Big Daddy Newspaper is gone, he’s explicitly saying. There’s just us.

Heidorn’s idea—equipping journalists with the skills they need to be self-publishers—stands in helpful contrast to (this is my name for it) the last gasp of the curmudgeon class, an awesome display I observed over the Fourth of July weekend. I urge you to get the full effect. It has anthropological value.

The show unfolded at intern Jessica DaSilva’s blog after she wrote about a staff meeting where Tampa Tribune editor Janet Coats announced more layoffs and talked about what was to be done, including a more dramatic re-organization involving the Tribune staff, and WFLA, the NBC affiliate, all owned by the same company. (Here’s the Coats memo describing it.)

Coats had said a few things you don’t normally hear. For example, the newspaper should be seen as an adjunct of the web site, not the other way around. Jessica DaSilva cheered those things in her post, and her new media self called Coats “my hero.” But Coats had just laid people off. The grim reaper had come, and DaSilva wasn’t being grim. Coates also said things you always hear, like local, local, local. Toward these DaSilva did not perform the necessary eye rolls. “People might be angry or frightened by what Janet is saying, but she’s right, and they need to start recognizing that,” she wrote. She also made a few spelling mistakes that copy editors would easily catch.

I thought it was an interesting piece of writing because she was rooting for her editor to figure it out without expecting her editor to know.

But the tonal miscues seem to some set off something in the tribes people and they began unloading on her in the comment thread. One of these—anonymous, of course—even said he or she was an editor at a midsized newspaper and would call friends to make sure DaSilva never gets a job. They told her she would make enemies in the newsroom. They told her (repeatedly) that she was young and naive and should learn to spell. Others came to her defense and sent some of the ridicule back over the fence.

Jeff Jarvis wrote about her post at Buzzmachine. Romenesko put her on the left rail for July 3rd. I Twittered about it. The argument soon spread to other sites. See Ryan Sholin’s blog and John Zhu’s. Then go to John McQuaid (ex-Times-Picayune, Pulitzer winner) remarking on the futility of the exchanges, and Web thinker Stowe Boyd taking that theme even further.

Former Tampa Tribune staff—as if alerted by a grapevine—dropped in to express animus, extend sympathy. Current Tribune staffer Elaine Silvestrini gave Jessica some advice: “If you do celebrate the person swinging the ax, those who are cut and those who are ducking won’t like it. We are already in pain and looking for a place to direct our anger. You really shouldn’t volunteer to be a target.” Reporter Daniel Victor, closer to Jessica’s generation, said that everyone should be ashamed of how vitriolic the thread became.

We’re in pain and looking for a place to direct our anger. Silvestrini’s words are accurate. Some chose to beam that rage at the young woman who identifies with the female boss. She’s not one of us, not really “of” the newsroom. She’s cheering one of them: the executives who screwed up our thing. Them: the know-nothing, misspelling bloggers. Them: our unpaid or lowly paid replacements. Them: generaton whoop-dee-Net. She’s one of them. Her post proves it!

This is boundary policing, in which deviant behavior is denounced and community bonds are renewed in a casting out motion. Which is why it was appropriate for people like Howard Owens and Erik Wemple—also part of the news tribe—to appear in support of DaSilva’s post: “No, she’s one of us.” And here I direct you to Chris Nolan, writing about the same incident: Thugs in the Newsroom. (“…how the mostly male news establishment goes about silencing enthusiasm and optimism.”)

You can hear worse than casting out in comments like this. It’s almost newspaper revanchism, an irrational demand to restore the Kingdom of Print, and the suggestion of a monstrous, industry-wide lie preventing that restoration. (See Mindy McAdams, The survival of journalism: 10 simple facts.) By an exploding newsroom id I mean stuff like this…

What’s occurring now is that newspaper managers and media company chiefs are being sold a bill of goods about how the Internet is the only way to survive, and so they’re all jumping on the cyber bandwagon, throwing aside talented, dedicated people in favor of techno geeks and cheap labor who can sustain a Web page but who can’t write a compelling article or edit a story with care and sound news judgment.

Post it now, fix it later.

Get it out on the Web site now. Who cares if it’s well crafted or well edited.
The prevailing mindset – always spoken as a fact and foregone conclusion — that nearly everybody in America is constantly on the Internet and gets his or her news from that source is an outright lie.

Plus: “TBO is an adequate Web site, but it doesn’t replace what a real, quality print edition can offer.” Notice the charming phrase, “Techno geeks.” I wrote about this trope in Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class from ‘06. It reveals an uncomprehending bitterness about news aggregation. Robots are stealing our news stories and branding our work as Google News and Yahoo News. “Techno geeks” are the people who program the robots. Fear and loathing are properly directed there. And at bloggers! And at youth! The last stand is indiscriminate. All targets deserve it.

In my previous post, Migration Point for the Press Tribe, I said that pros in the mainstream press “have come to a reluctant point of realization.” 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.” A new platform means, as Stowe Boyd put it, “the end of mass.”

People simply do not hold with mass identity now that they are free to find human-scale identity, and once they find it, they will not go back. Newspapers and other mass media is falling first and fastest because we are rejecting the erstatz, mass belonging that they offered.

Or as the sociologist of media forms, Raymond Williams, put it before Stowe: “There are no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.” But we should understand two things. 1.) Those ways of seeing sunk deeply into some people, the media pros of the one-to-many era. No platform shift will pull them out. 2.) The decision to migrate—which has been made, more or less—can still be contested (“doesn’t replace what a real, quality print edition can offer…”) By screaming at Jessica DaSilva, some of the participants were protesting the tribe’s decision to give up on the land, known by its mythological name: Print.

“People need to stop looking at as an add on to The Tampa Tribune,” Janet Coats said through Jessica DaSilva’s blog post. “The truth is that The Tampa Tribune is an add on to TBO.” It’s that moment right there the curmudgeons were contesting. Both women they wanted to shout down.

Bob Sipchen, who worked in the opinion section of the Los Angeles Times, once gave a striking image of the metropolitan newspaper as it appeared to those who ran it when it was good. He said he “always thought of the Times as a heavy battleship under steam, regarding its critics as no more important than swimmers in the water throwing dead fish at it.”

It’s a hard come down from a commanding feeling like that; and the curmudgeon class is angry about it. But there is progress through the generations. Inspiration runs two ways. Journalists Jessica’s age probably find the battleship image grotesque. And journalists Rich Heridon’s age (armed with MBA, start-up experience, and geek son) are offering open-your-own-shop guidance, re-directing newsroom smarts to the artisanal level for news. (See this post on the curmudegeon v. new media divide.)

Meanwhile, newspaper editor Steve Smith in Spokane was showing us there are alternatives to curmudegeons screaming at interns: Let born-on-the-web people try to figure out better work flows. This is from Colin Mulvanys, the multimedia editor, writing about Smith’s plan:

A few days before the newsroom meeting, editor Smith quietly invited eight of our newest, young journalists into his office. He asked each of them, who basically have no stake in the processes of the past, to suggest ways to streamline the newsroom operation. He wants them to find a way to make it more efficient, thus letting people spend more time on developing quality journalism instead of just shoveling content.

The “Great Eight” as I call them, are meeting daily to share ideas and work up a plan. What they come up with is anybody’s guess. They have been given boundaries with which to operate. No suggestions to stop publishing the print newspaper, no downsizing or upsizing the present newsroom staff. Whatever they come up with, the challenge is for management and older co-workers to really listen to what they have to say. They are the future of our business. If we don’t change fast, they won’t stick around for the sinking of the ship.

There is nobody I respect more in the news tribe than Steve Smith; this project shows why. (UPDATE: the report from the eight young journalists was completed.)

When I flashed word of Tree House Media over my Twitter feed, it was Jessica DaSilva—we follow each other—who picked up on it. And she replied. “I am LOVING this guy. thanks for the link!”

My pleasure, Jessica. Thanks for the lesson.

Posted by Jay Rosen at July 8, 2008 1:24 PM   Print



Thank you so much for your support. I admit I'm young, but I like to think of myself as optimistic and hopeful about journalism. And I attribute that to having an open mind in describing the role of journalist; it's not just paper anymore.

Another problem I (and my peers) have encountered in internships is an eagerness to turn us away from journalism or jade us in some way. We all wonder why. I mean, if we all followed the popular mantra of "go to law school and make your mother proud," then what would be the future of journalism?

I'm sure people will jump all over me for saying that, but I have tough skin. I've gotten much worse reporting on the student government.


Posted by: Jessica DaSilva at July 8, 2008 2:38 PM | Permalink

Jay, thank you for the link and for offering your analysis of this. A couple thoughts on your piece:

-- "This is boundary policing, in which deviant behavior is denounced and community bonds are renewed in a casting out motion."

I would point out that many of the comments from the other camp would qualify as "boundary policing" as well, as in "how dare someone attack one of our own". Not that two wrongs make a right, but I felt it's necessary to point this out to illustrate that such problems afflict all camps in journalism, not only the "curmudgeons".

-- "Notice the charming phrase, “Techno geeks.”"

The term "Techno geeks" strikes me as no more or less uncomprehending as the term "curmudgeon". In any case, the use of either of those labels doesn't contribute anything to productive discussions or help bring the two camps closer together in the newsroom. Frankly, I'm a bit disappointed to detect such a tone from someone who is considered a thought leader in this field and whose writings obviously have a big impact on many of the next generation of journalists. Just from visiting various blogs discussing Jessica's post in the past few days, I have witnessed the proliferation of the term "curmudgeon" and some of the intransigence that accompanies the use of that term.

-- Regarding the comment you held up as example of exploding newsroom id: As much rage and bitterness as there seems to be in that remark, there is also some truth in the litany of complaints it raises, as there have been real experiences where newspapers' rush to get stories online trumped concerns about accuracy and editing. Since I think we can all agree that accuracy and good editing should still be legitimate concerns for journalism, regardless of the medium, then in order for the migration to online to turn out well for journalism, it IS important to note that some of those values have indeed been compromised in some places due to poor policy/practices and address them rather than dismissing them as just bitter rants from curmudgeons. It's all part of working out the kinks.

-- It's interesting how different parties have seized upon different parts of Jessica's original entry. Some commenters decided to pick on her spelling to call her an idiot, some on her hero worship, some on the timing of the entry, some on the hyperlocal aspect of Coats' plan, etc. You looked at the post and the comments and saw Coats' remark about taking precedence over the paper and framed the complaints as more evidence of curmudgeons fighting the move to online, whereas to me, that was a minor part of the story as I saw mostly veterans being angered because of the seeming insensitivity of the post toward colleagues who lost their jobs. I guess in a way we each take the part of the story that suits our needs and focuses on it, and one has to piece together all those different focuses to get a semblance of a true picture.


Jessica, I'm certainly not going to jump on you for your optimism about the business or try to talk someone passionate about journalism out of giving it a whirl. My only advice would be to remember that journalism is a craft as well as a business. You can separate the two in philosophical discussions, but you live and work in both.

As for veterans telling young journalists to stay away, I just think of it kind of as an old lab mouse telling a young lab mouse not to touch that piece of cheese or you'll get an electric shock. Often times it's just done half-jokingly, since they know full well they aren't going to talk you out of your career aspirations. When you encounter that, gleam whatever real-life wisdom you can from their experiences, leave the rest, and go into journalism with eyes wide open.

Posted by: John Zhu at July 8, 2008 4:43 PM | Permalink

As a matter of routine, I look at the origins of the articles in my local paper, Rochester's and Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle. Some days are better than others. I can state that the D&C uses the reporting of others frequently and on some days for the majority of their column inches.

I have never worked in a newspaper. I have no idea what the work load of a reporter is. I know that it is technologically feasible to send copy, photos and video in real time to your editor. I know that news does not wait for an "on trees" deadline but arrives 24/7. I know that some of the stories in this morning's paper are already outdated or just plain wrong.

So, the question I ask myself, sitting in my pajamas, blogging news from around the world, is why should I even read that morning paper? OK, for the funnies. But, beside that...

If you are not putting news, which by definition is "new", into your media, then just what are you doing? If your paper consists of work by AP, Reuters, GNS, etc., then just what are you doing?

Posted by: Chuck Simmins at July 8, 2008 5:35 PM | Permalink

Jay, great post.

Another thought I had reading this -- you know what is really galling to the curmudgeon crowd, though they can't even admit it to themselves -- they know less about the modern news business than an INTERN.

Here is an intern at a newspaper who is more savvy about modern journalism than many people 20,30 and 40 years her senior.

And they soiled all over themselves seeing who could be most creatively mean in exposing their own ignorance.

But let's also point out -- this isn't an age thing. Not everybody Jessica's age gets it as well as she does, and I can name several gray-haired (white hair, really) editors who are pretty much digital natives at this point, or at least have sufficient enthusiasm and willingness to learn so that the differences are mere nuance.

This isn't an age thing. And the fact that so many veteran journalists can get it -- not everybody defending Jessica is a newbie -- then it pretty much boolsters the idea that these curmudgeons are in fact curmudgeons. Yes, to a point by John, labels and name calling can be counter productive to reaching consensus, but this isn't a point where consensus will help the industry. Either you get on board or you're dead weight.

Experience means nothing if it isn't correctly channeled.

However, so ... just how much misogyny do you think is going on here? I've been pretty viciously attacked in the past (of course, I'm pretty hard-headed in my own writing) by the curmudgeon crowd, but the misogyny suggestion has come up a few times in regard to the attacks on Janet and Jessica.

One caveat I should ad: While Jessica was right on point within the context of the post, I would caution all about blogging about work; but, that brings up another interesting point: To all of the reporters who were appalled that Jessica revealed the substance of an internal meeting -- how many times have you sought out sources in other businesses to get exactly that level of source cooperation? Would you report with glee to your editor, "Hey, I found a source who will talk on the record about the layoffs and what was said at that meeting?" And now you want to complain because the information got out. Isn't that being hypocritical? I can't remember journalists ever being particularly sympathetic to workers who have lost their jobs in other industries. I've in fact heard CEOs complain about how the elimination of jobs in their companies have been sensationalized and the nuances of the actual restructuring taking place be ignored. Yet, we think that honestly talking about a layoff situation and a newspaper is somehow disrespectful. I don't get that.

Posted by: Howard Owens at July 8, 2008 8:06 PM | Permalink


Good discussion about the Tampa situation. Just wanted to bring a factual error to your attention. Steve and Janet did not work together in Wichita. Janet went there as managing editor after Steve had been gone for sometime. I know because I worked for both of them there.

Gary Graham

Posted by: Gary Graham at July 8, 2008 8:20 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Gary. That was something I should have checked; I relied on memory and memory was faulty.

I'm sorry, John, but I'm not a buying what you are selling: The attempt to step between quarreling camps and play the cool minded adult, the breezy "he said, she said" tone you're taking, the "can't we all get along" whine, the unexamined and puffed-up priority you place on consensus, the tsk tsk-ing you are giving to just about everyone, the Rashamon thing at the end. None of it do I buy.

Instead of playing ref or trying to be some school yard monitor, make an argument yourself, John. Mix it up. This attempt to separate the parties and get them to shake hands reveals nothing, solves nothing and advances nothing.

Please try to understand: in my view, the curmudgeons are not a camp with beliefs and interests that must be respected, or a union that you either join or remain outside of. The curmudgeon is a personality type, which people may or may not inhabit, and to a greater or lesser degree. And it is a common type or tendency in newsroom people, as anyone who's familiar with the environment can tell you.

In my view, this type ought to be seen less and less in newspapers, which cannot afford its excesses any longer. In my view, journalism would be better off if this tendency could be identified, named and discredited, just as the conservative movement would be better off if its tendency toward natavism got discredited.

The romance the newsroom has had with the curmudgeon type had been a disaster for journalism, and the sooner it's over, the better for everyone.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2008 12:27 AM | Permalink

The curmudgeon is defined in his/her relationship with the world he/she is assigned to cover. The progressive is defined in his/her relationship with the world he/she is determined to shape.

The curmudgeon is the traditional newsroom journalist and the progressive is the new/social media communicator.

Posted by: Mike Plugh at July 9, 2008 1:27 AM | Permalink

Hi Jay,

Interesting stuff.

Two points I'd like to make:

1)Is it essentially true that gravitation towards the net means all mass media is doomed? On the other side of the Pond, the example of the BBC's online service would say not. Although, admittedly, they don't have to bother about pesky things like ad revenues and have taxpayers money to pump into the best technology has to offer.

2)Are you not being a little harsh to the "curmudgeons"? Many journalists put up with poor pay and long hours because they are dedicated to what they do. When they are told that thing they were dedicated to is about to change forever is it not understandable that some of them are upset about it? Especially when others are celebrating that change.

It's funny that when journalists have written about the changes in other industries in the past they have treated the people who went by the wayside with compassion and respect. I can't recall reading many articles about the demise of my home-town steel industry in which workers were told: "suck it up, chump, new technology is brilliant."

Personally, I hope to be one of the journalists who is not left behind, but that does not mean I don't feel sorry for those that are.

Posted by: Jon at July 9, 2008 3:51 AM | Permalink


Thanks for summarizing this all together (was following your tweets).

Now, this is related I hope. I've been thinking and writing a bit about the relationship between the reinvention of journalism with the bigger structural change coming down the path of low-carbon living. The local will dominate if energy supplies mean we can't get around as much as we are used to.

Local digital media has the jump on national old media in this. The biggest disjunct in climate change so far has been the scale of the problem (huge) with the promoted response (small actions; do your bit). Big media has done very little to drive change. Now local, small media is doing it better, with communal address, pragmatic, geographically-specific actions, and building a sense of community around campaigns (nothing new here, but it's working). So, another reason to say goodbye to big newspapers.

I don't think this is a bad thing. I've been writing about a renewal of regional/local media as community media franchises, and the opportunities that putting green living at the heart of media (new, digital, community) could have for something new and positive in the world of journalism. I'm writing from the UK, so it's a different market, but would be very much interested to get your feedback on this.

I also put this in a reply to Cristine Russell, writing about climate change reporting at the CJR. Same thing. A renewal of big daddy newspapers as hyperlocal and advocates for low-carbon lifestyles.

Alex Lockwood, Lecturer in Journalism

Posted by: alexlockwood at July 9, 2008 5:57 AM | Permalink

How you feel about journalism today probably boils down to whether you still have enough optimism left to believe that massive periods of change are an opportunity to prosper.

My wife and I are both J-school graduates who entered the profession in the late '80s. She stuck with newspapers and I escaped into the web, because I was financially unable to sustain myself in the business long before the web came along. (Ahead of my time, I guess.)

I see the position we're in today and marvel at the ability to reach a global audience with my work without having to work for a media organization. I run a self-published, one-man news site that draws more traffic than my local newspaper.

The need for newspapers may be on the decline, but the need for information is growing. Journalists whose papers don't value them any more should tackle the web as aggressively as they tackled the news. There are opportunities out here for news-gathering entrepreneurs.

Posted by: Rogers Cadenhead at July 9, 2008 8:11 AM | Permalink


Congrats on joining the clueless crowd!

John Zhu explains it for you, but you choose not to listen. You and the other members of the Hats In Reverse bunch are framing this debate into "curmudgeons" vs. the New Wave, but you're flat wrong.

Some of us have heard these calls for change time and time again. Often they're led by the same confused, lost newspaper execs who got the paper into the woods to start with.

Next time, get some facts before you start rambling. You might spare yourself some embarrassment.

Posted by: Wenalway at July 9, 2008 10:32 AM | Permalink

"Instead of playing ref or trying to be some school yard monitor, make an argument yourself, John. Mix it up. This attempt to separate the parties and get them to shake hands reveals nothing, solves nothing and advances nothing."

Right, and fiery rhetorics are so much more effective. If I'm "playing the cool-minded adult", as you said, then what are you playing? An immature, name-calling child trying to instigate a playground brawl?

Did that just make some people's blood simmer? See what fiery rhetorics are good for?

Sorry Jay, we'll just have to disagree here. My calling for an attempt at cordiality and understanding between the two camps has nothing to do with playing school-yard monitor and everything to do with helping save journalism. It's not about separating the parties and shaking hands, it's reaching out to the other party and pulling the two closer together.

My biggest problem with the whole "curmudgeon" idea is that it oversimplifies the situation and ignores the human element.

-- The oversimplification: The label tries to reduce people who protest against certain changes to a faceless mob, possessing only one attribute -- the aversion to change. It defines them only by the fact that they oppose the set of changes you're pushing and ignores all other aspects, all other things they might have to contribute, thus painting them as useless and not worthy of respect, time or effort. In that light, it makes it so easy to vilify them and say there is no point in trying to work with them or understand them, that they are irredeemable. It says they don't want to be engaged, yet never makes the attempt to engage them.

-- Ignoring the human component: This "curmudgeon" idea also ignores these people's humanity: their pride about their work, their passion for journalism (no less than your own or that of anybody championing changes), their fear about losing their livelihood, their hurt over losing colleagues, etc. These are the things that influence the way they think and act. You can strain out and deny that humanity in a philosophical discussion, and you can dismiss it all here simply with "tough sh*t", but not in a real-life situation where you have to work with that humanity. These are people in the newsroom that you're working with, and rather than trying to understand and identify the things that have made them averse to changes and trying to overcome those barriers, the curmudgeons idea seems content to call them names and leave it at that.

In reading one of your posts about curmudgeons, I noticed that you linked to a discussion on to illustrate your point about how curmudgeons can still do a lot of damage in a newsroom. Unfortunately, you didn't see/neglected/overlooked/ignored a reply on that thread in which Charles Apple shared a personal experience about how he won over one such change-averse individual and the benefits that brought, and I've had similar experiences of my own. Yes, it takes effort and time, and no, not everyone will be receptive, but considering the following two points, I think it's worth at least making the effort:

1). One doesn't have to be an old geezer to be averse to changing. There are journalists in their 30s or 40s who are skeptical about some of the changes that they see being put forth or ignorant about technology. They have enough time left in their careers that you can't simply wait for them to retire. So you can either vilify and alienate them for the next 20-30 years, or you can try to engage them and gain their cooperation on at least part of, if not all of, what you're doing. To me, partial cooperation is better than zero cooperation, especially since it opens the door to more cooperation in the future.

2). You said in your reply above that you believe curmudgeons to be a personality type or a tendency (though in reading some of the things you've written I got the impression you were talking about them as people, not tendency), and that the less of it one sees in a newsroom, the better. I completely agree, but do you really think that vilification and alienation are the best route to go about reducing that tendency? Are people really more open to changing their ways when they are thrown on the defensive? Do you want to metaphorically march them through the streets and have people hurl rotten fruits and produce at them? In fact, given the camaraderie that exists among people in the newsroom, such dismissive treatment of a few of their colleagues, especially if they are respected veterans, could even rally more people to their support, hurting your cause. You can call that journalists' romantic delusions about the newsroom if you want, but it is human, and it is there in the newsroom you're trying to change, and you have to anticipate and deal with it if you want your plan for change to be successful. Saying we should get rid of curmudgeonly tendencies is fine, having a realistic plan for doing so that might actually be effective is better.

Whether it was your original intent or not, from what I've seen, this "curmudgeons" idea has taken on a militant persona, and that's what I am protesting against because while I believe its aim is good, I don't believe the way it goes about trying to achieve that end benefits journalism or journalists young and old. Strong statements are fine until the rhetoric makes it impossible for the two sides to work with each other even though they share the same ultimate goal. You can claim "they have nothing to offer" or "we don't need them", but the truth of the matter is that they DO have something to offer, and you DO need them. You asked me to make my own argument? THAT is my argument.

Posted by: John Zhu at July 9, 2008 10:52 AM | Permalink


Thanks for the wise and forward-looking post. I have a question for you and your readers.

The Knight Foundation has issued a $24 million challenge to community foundations "to find creative uses of media and technology to help keep communities informed and their citizens engaged."

It seems like a perfect opportunity to get self publishers started with some funding. What's the best way to identify potential grant ideas and encourage this in places like Wichita, that aren't hotbeds of digital startups?

I'm now retired from the newspaper business, teaching at Wichita State, and helping the Wichita Community Foundation with this project.

Posted by: Lou Heldman at July 9, 2008 11:03 AM | Permalink

Jay -

Saw your question on Twitter re whether to be a "uniter rather than a divider" on the curmudgeon issue. My take: fer crissake, don't stop now. You're just getting started.

The contempt & hatred that boiled out of the comments to DaSilva is, unfortunately, way too prevalent in the industry right now. It's that same ethos that comes across in papers as contempt for the audience, and contempt & hatred for the owners of newspapers.

The unspoken message in many of the posts by the curmudgeons is that the public are a bunch of morons who need the more intelligent, well-read, professional journalists to protect them. The professional journalist has magic knowledge of First Amendment law and the Brown Act, and stands on the ramparts, tirelessly defending the helpless sheeple against the Big Bad Guys.

What a crock. News flash: the sheeple aren't too fond of being treated like dimwit children, only interested in "LiLo dancing on a table." Journalists who assume this about their audience reveal much of what's wrong with the profession, and why polls reveal that the public feels, in their contacts with the press, that they're being treated with condescension and contempt. Thus their disinterest in continuing to plunk down hard-earned cash to be insulted. Instead, they're banding together to do it for themselves - viz Firedoglake, Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post.

The curmudgeons rightly view this as a threat, and attempt at all turns to minimize, marginalize and piss all over the New Media upstarts.

Somewhere along the line, it became the norm for journalists to pass beyond cynicism and on into nihilism. I think that one of the big problems holding newsrooms back is that they are infested with people who cling to that "too cool for school" pose" out of fear, anger or whatever other misplaced mental/emotional dysfunction. These people have a vested interest in the failure of anything new. If something were to actually work out, that would mean that life was not futile, and they'd actually have to get off their asses and, you know, engage with the real world in a constructive manner.

They will not be missed.

Posted by: David LaFontaine [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 9, 2008 12:01 PM | Permalink

On the Spokane Eight: Another gimmick. Organizational change is very hard, very long, very fact-based work requiring sweat from all, from the most experienced hands to fresh eyes. Good organizations recognize the value of experience and nurture good ideas from any source. Pitting generations against each other (notice this is only occurring at the rank-and-file level) is adding one more ton to the anchor dragging us to the bottom.

Posted by: Karl McKnight at July 9, 2008 1:13 PM | Permalink

You asked me to make my own argument? THAT is my argument. -- John Zhu.

Excellent. Much better than "You're all to blame for the quarreling and, no, I don't care who started it. I just want it to stop..." I don't learn much from that attitude, so if any of it did creep into what you were saying, please edit it out.

I don't think you're understanding me yet, but that's not a big deal. Normal blogging conditions for me. Some scattered replies:

* I intend to keep writing about curmudgeons as a newsroom type and perhaps other incidents where this type is in evidence. It is part of my job as a critic (with a blog in the category, "press criticism") to do exactly that.

* I do of course refine what I am saying--figure out what I mean, how I want to use a term like curmudgeons--as I continue to write with it. This is normal too.

* I have faith that my readers understand me over time, not necessarily immediately.

* As I have said, the curmudgeon is a newsroom type or tendency that newsroom people show. Some show it more than others, of course.

* It is a human tendency. To talk about it is to talk about human beings. But when we try to understand a social type or workplace character trait, we are also aware that it stands slightly to the side of real people.

* In talking about the curmudgeons I am describing what people do when they breathe to life (in a comment thread, for example) the curmudgeon type. When they perform it. I think we are entitled to judge these performances.

* People choose to do the curmudgeon thing or not to; they go with the flow of it, or they don't. Any young person reading PresThink can talk about picking up on curmudgeonly cues and trying it out. This is critical to understanding what a curmudgeon "is." I said it's a tendency, but this means a tendency in people. It is also "in" the culture that teaches them to be newsroom people, and go with the flow.

* Judging the situation as a critic--a writer making sense of things I see happening--I've said the American newsroom had a romance with this type. It went badly. The quicker the news tribe can recover from this failed experience, the better.

* One of your questions, if I understand correctly, is what were the events that caused or sustained this tendency in so many newsrooms? And isn't some sympathy required, once you realize what a long record of screw ups there is to make people cynical?

* Yes. And I agree these are excellent questions. They involve the entire panorama in Migration Point for the Press Tribe ("Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them.")

* I once had some sympathy for the people who were, let's say, "playing to curmudgeon type." No more. I think the influence has become destructive.

* I have experience with this puzzle going back to the mid-1990s and the 40 to 50 newsrooms I visited as part of the narrative in my book, What Are Journalists For? My observations are informed by seeing the curmudgeonly impulse first hand, and also talking about it with many working journalists and news execs I knew. (Lou Heldman is one.) In fact I have been studying newspaper curmudgeons for a long time, since before the Web. I may be wrong but it's not because I am new to the debates.

* Because I am trying to treat "the curmudgeons" as a character type I believe I do not actually call anyone a curmudgeon in this post. I talk about what participants said, and what "the curmudgeons" do, but I do not say, "Willard Norton, who is one of the curmudgeons, said..."

* I am not making blanket statements about an identifiable group of people. I am trying to create critical distance between inhabitants of the newsroom and this wrong turn social type, the curmudgeon.

* But let's be clear: I want to end their romance with it. I am trying to downgrade the prestige of the curmudgeon character. So that veterans of the newsroom will perform it less, while newcomers see less in it.

* If you are opposed to my agenda or think it misguided, that's fine. Normal blogging conditions apply.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2008 1:50 PM | Permalink

Discovery Channel had a show on the other night. A dead whale was being devoured by a thousand creatures from the sea and air. This decaying carcus supported a microsystem of parasites that fed off the rotting flesh.

Looked just like this.

Posted by: T. Von Pagel at July 9, 2008 2:58 PM | Permalink

Jay. I think it's great that you write about curmudgeonly tendencies, and no, don't stop. The industry needs some constant prodding to keep re-examining itself and its actions.

And thank you for the follow-up post. Your stance on what meanings you attach to the term "curmudgeon" is much clearer in that post than in other curmudgeon-related posts I had read. Thank you for the clarification.

That said, however, it doesn't change my feeling that whatever your original intent and meaning for the term may be, "curmudgeon", as I've seen it used in discussions that have stemmed from Jessica's post, has been used mostly to refer to groups of people rather than a human tendency. A human tendency is something that can afflict anyone in the newsroom at any given time on any given issue, whereas the application of the label to certain groups of people clearly draws a delineation between "them" and "us", creating a division that I find disconcerting. You don't even have to name names to do this; you just have to say "if you don't subscribe to X, then you're a curmudgeon, one of 'them'." It's hard to point a finger at someone and say "You're a tendency", but it is so easy to point and say "You're one of them." That may not be your original intent, but that seems to be how many have interpreted it. You talk of discarding a tendency, but others talk more in terms of discarding people. That's a big difference in meaning and likely produces a big difference in the way it's received. It's the difference between killing the disease and killing the diseased. You can't control how others interpret your words, but as you say, normal blogging conditions.

To clarify one of my other points: I push for understanding the causes of curmudgeonly tendencies in individuals not for the goal of eliciting sympathy for them, but so that you can understand the root cause of the intransigence so that it can be effectively dealt with.

Quick example off the top of my head: A sports writer might be averse to upper management handing down changes to the way he covers his particular beat, but why? Is he just fundamentally opposed to changing, or is he skeptical mainly because he doesn't think much of the head honcho? If it's the latter, and you had identified that reason, then you can anticipate it and have someone else, someone the writer holds in higher regard (say, the sports editor), first present that change to him, removing the appearance that this is something that originated from a top exec whom the writer regards as an idiot. Or it could be something as simple as the tone in which the changes are presented. The point is, understanding the root cause of the intransigence can help you defeat that intransigence and reduce the curmudgeonly tendency.

Thank you for the discussion.

Posted by: John Zhu at July 9, 2008 3:29 PM | Permalink


That's the elephant in the room.

Much, though not all, of the invective and anger thrown at Jessica, and at the deluge of changes being forced on the business, stems from fear.

But it's not fear of change so much as fear for oneself. What am I going to do? What will happen to my life? If I am in mid or late career, what about my family, my children, etc.

It's the terror behind the smile of the laid-off autoworker, or the sweat in the hand of the salesman. But it's new to our business.

Then there's the suggested solution: the journalist-entrepreneur. If there is such a thing as a curmudgeon, there are also such things as "entrepreneurs" and "employees."

20th Century journalism, especially after World War II, was employee journalism. We'll go out and get the story, fearlessly, as straight as we can get it. Just give us a paycheck, and (until recently) benefits and a pension.

Entrepreneurial journalism is a much older form. Ben Franklin was the epitome. I.F Stone was another. Freelance writers are entrepreneurs. But most 18th and 19th century journalists had other gigs to pay the bills. I submit that most journalists until recently were employees.

I certainly am, and after 32 years at Newsday and more at papers in New England, I am very glad to be out of that part of the business. But it did not make me a lesser journalist.

Today, veteran, superb, established writers---theater critics, war correspondents---are writing 300-word advances on parks concerts, or covering small-time court verdicts. It is not "curmudgeonly" to be both furious and afraid.

Jay, you may be supremely entrepreneurial and thriving in this new world. But you are also a full-time, tenured professor. You benefit from the professionalization Joseph Pulitzer began when he founded his journalism school. You are observing this from a safe place. How do you think you would respond if, while you were a reporter or editor there, the No. 3 guy in your company reported enthusiastically his discovery that his newspapers actually had REPORTERS IN IRAQ! That his newspapers had BUREAUS AROUND THE COUNTRY! Doesn't take a curmudgeon to be appalled and scared s----.

(Disclosure: I'm also now officially a prof, if not yet tenured. My blood pressure is therefore somewhat under control.)

Peter Goodman

Posted by: Peter Goodman at July 9, 2008 4:00 PM | Permalink

I experienced a bit of serendipity yesterday with my blog reading software. Jay's post and this one, by Nick Malik, showed up at the exact same time.

I subscribe to Nick's blog because he and I are in the same profession. He's an enterprise architect in Microsoft's internal IT department. That's not really important, except that he and I share a tribal membership in the "techno-geeks" that goes so deep that we have trouble explaining to non-geeks exactly what we do for a living.

In the post, Nick wonders how we should react to content presented without collaborative features. When Nick says "we", he's talking to techno-geeks. Nobody else reads his blog. And even though he refers to 'content', he's talking mostly about news. He's frustrated by content sites that don't offer a way to comment on the content, to be part of the community.

Nick's a nice guy. He even suggests that "we offer up add-on technologies and encourage them to adopt". But, ultimately, he's abandoning journalists who don't offer a way for him to participate in the story. He doesn't want your print edition if there's not an associated web site. In response to a comment (see, he practices what he preaches), he says:

I do want quality, but there are a LOT of journalists in the world, in print and in broadcast. We do vote with our participation.

But Web 2.0 capabilities should become standard on online journalism sites.

Posted by: William Ockham at July 9, 2008 4:15 PM | Permalink

Do read Nancy Nall (of at Jessica DaSilva's blog (link)

Here’s what happened with my blog: I started it in January 2001, before most people had ever heard of blogs. My editors were wary, but supportive. (I was a columnist at the time, so the usual concerns about conflicts/bias didn’t apply.) Then there was a management change, and the new regime started bitching about it. Then there was another management change, and those folks tried to drive a stake through its heart; suddenly there was a policy that required my personal blog content to be governed by the same uptight rules for the newspaper (no-no words included “hell,” “damn” and “butt”), not to mention giving blanket shutdown authority to the editor in chief, who openly despised me.

There's more...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2008 5:07 PM | Permalink

Now this is interesting. Kind of an anti-curmudgeon site. The opposite of bitching about the bosses. Or unloading your frustrations on newspaper interns. I give you Tree House Media Project and its blog, which appears on a tab called “Fuck Google.” (Just an expression, wastes zero time on that.)

interesting piece... and an interesting discussion.

But as an aside.

I liked your old style better. When your blog entries were comprised of full sentences. Not sentence fragments. (and cryptic parentheticals).

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 9, 2008 7:52 PM | Permalink

Here's a thought. The curmudgeon as a personality type is not unique to the newsroom. I worked in a video production outfit for quite some time and there was a sub-group of curmudgeons who found fault with everything management did or proposed. Sometimes they were right, but the problem was that the attitude becomes pervasive. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The things that morph an otherwise able and dedicated human being into a curmudgeon might even fall away, but the curmudgeon remains.

In my mid-20s I felt myself becoming one of those chronic complainers with a chip on my shoulder about the stupidity of management, the failure of administration to show any vision, and the lot in life that "we underlings" had to accept. Sociologically, it reminds me of Charles Tilly's relational framework for political identity. We define ourselves in our relationship to power, for example, and as such make claims based on the opposing relationship that defines us as a community of professionals.

In this case, the curmudgeons define themselves collectively as the champions of journalistic integrity in their juxtaposition with management who is seeking to cut corners. An alternate identity within the curmudgeon class has emerged with respect to the contrast between traditional media and new media. Traditional media and the technics (to borrow from Mumford) that accompany that craft hold symbolic value to the traditional journalist, while the properties of new media hold symbolic value for the newer crowd. Each sets up in symbolic opposition to the other and we have the basis for a contentious political paradigm. Bingo, the curmudgeon vs. whippersnapper debate.

Posted by: Mike Plugh at July 9, 2008 8:13 PM | Permalink

There will be news. There will be reporters. There will be people who watch. read or listen to that news.

And there will be advertisers willing to pay for ads online.

Heck, I myself recently placed an online classified ad -- at -- and got far better results than from several rounds of free Craigslist postings.

And there will always be curmudgeons, too. Heck, in an Internet sense I suppose I am one, muttering in my beard about all that "Web 2.0" nonsense. What's wrong with Web 1.0? And how could we have gone to Web 2.0 without hitting the "golden ratio" of Web 1.618?

Personally, I'm moving straight to Web 3.1416 (grumble, grumble, kids these days...)

Yeah, well maybe the news won't be delivered by the same companies that do it now. Whatever. Linotype machines are nothing but memories. Ditto handset type and sheet-fed newspaper presses, and then they went and messed up radio by putting picture on it and calling it television, and you can't find Schick Injector blades at the drug store any more.

And all that time I spent learning to tune twin cards.... fuel injection made that skill obsolete.

All these changes!

The world's GOT to slow down so we can catch up, and the Washington Post should make their online comics BIGGER 'cause not all of us is young with good eyes, y'know.


Posted by: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller at July 9, 2008 9:59 PM | Permalink

This is an old newsroom tune. Blame the customer. Blame the boss. Blame the broker.

Extra, extra, read all about it - or, sadly, not (w/ comments!)

Simply put, the traditional model of the broadsheet newspaper makes less and less sense. And newspapers know it.

Posted by: Tim at July 9, 2008 10:27 PM | Permalink

Reading Jay's comments above made me recall a conversation I had 17 years ago with David Laventhol, who was then publisher of the Times and President of Times Mirror. At the time, I was the manager of training and organizational development for the newspaper. He and I were talking over lunch about the culture of the paper, and I used the biblical story of Exodus to illustrate my point about how organizations change.

Moses had an important job to do – liberating his people from Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land. It sounds simple but it wasn’t easy. For, as you’ll recall, the Isrealites didn’t go straight from Egypt to the Promised Land – they wandered in the desert for 40 years before arriving at their destination. And what Moses didn’t discover until well into his journey was that he actually had TWO jobs: to get the people out of Egypt, and to get Egypt out of the people – which was actually the harder of the two jobs. His people’s traditional habits, old ways of thinking, assumptions, values, and culture all had to be transformed before they could establish a new culture in The Promised Land. An old generation literally had to die off in the desert while a new generation was born.

The newspaper business is wandering in the wilderness. Newspaper people are going through the predictable stages of organizational change while experiencing the normal feelings that accompany such change. There are five stages to the process: (1) denial, (2) upset, anger, betrayal, frustration, attempts to hold onto old, familiar ways, (3) acceptance, hitting bottom, giving up the old, (4) exploration and experimentation, tentatively moving forward into the unknown, and finally, (5) new commitment, fully embracing a new reality, participating with creativity, vigor, and enthusiasm.
The newspaper business is going through the predictable stages of organizational change.

Those in the newspaper tribe are behaving much like the Israelites in the desert – complaining, criticizing their leaders, taking potshots at technology because it’s a convenient target, creating false idols, and floundering around in confusion, anger, and resentment at the predicament in which they find themselves, while wishing they could go back to good ole days in Egypt because at least it was predictable, safe, and familiar (even if you did have to worship Pharaoh).

Pundits who scold newspaper people, urging them to “snap out of it,” don’t understand human nature and the process of grieving. People who are living through the changes their paper -- their entire industry -- are undergoing can’t anymore “snap out of it” than can someone who is watching his home being destroyed by fire, his city being decimated by rioting, or his neighborhood leveled by an earthquake. Individuals don’t just “get over” a cataclysmic change and neither do businesses, or entire industries.

My first suggestion for dealing with such enormous changes is to understand the process – once you know the stages, it’s at least a little bit reassuring to know that there is a beginning, middle, and an end to the process. My second suggestion is to understand that your emotional reactions, and those of your colleagues, are normal. You would be weird if you didn’t feel sadness, loss, grief, anger, confusion, and betrayal. The third suggestion is to extend compassion, patience, and understanding to those who are handling the change badly. Different people have varying capacities for going through the stages of change – some move through the stages quickly with minimal pain, but many more suffer enormously. Some people get stuck at one stage or another and never make it to the fourth and fifth stages of change.

Newspaper leaders – Sam Zell, Rupert Murdoch, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, and others -- you bear a special responsibility to shepherd your people through the wilderness with skill, courage, vision, and all the leadership energy you can muster. Each of you is the Moses of your company – your job is to free your people from the old newspaper paradigm and lead them to a Promised Land that no one can yet describe, much less point out on a map. Gird your loins, for your journey in the wilderness (which began probably 20 years ago) may very well last 40 years. And above all, be compassionate. Your people are in pain and they will criticize you, question you, berate you, and perhaps even revile you. Forgive them. Love them and care for them – they need good care and feeding on the journey. And remember, Moses was the change leader – he didn’t make it to the Promised Land himself. His job was just to get them there. So is yours.

Posted by: BJ Gallagher at July 9, 2008 11:36 PM | Permalink

It can be played up or played out.

From my micro-blogging (that's one term in use) at come these additional bullet points:

* John Zhu scolds me for use of "curmudgeon." He thinks it divisive. Precisely so. It's meant to divide people from a type or tendency they have.

* Quicky Q & A with John Geraci, who asked me: "What social role does the curmudgeon play within the tribe? ... Braking mechanism?" A: Crap detection, irony police, tribal memory, humor to fend off hype, boss doubt.

* I agree with all the people who keep reminding me that curmudgeons are not an age group. I said a type. It can be played up or played out.

* One reason I write about curmudgeons is simply that everyone who knows newsrooms knows this type, or tendency. They can verify as they read.

* Well, not everyone. John McQuaid, formerly on the Times-Picayune, said the term seems overly broad. "Are curmudgeons anti-blog editors, reporters lamenting layoffs, David Broder?"

* Amy Gahran (of Poynter's E-media blog) asked if the curmudgeon is a personality type, or a personality disorder? "I mean that seriously," she said. "I'm appalled at how many suffer from depression, addiction. I've even known some suicides."

* The curmudgeon as a personality disorder in newsroom culture: "I am crap detection, perfected."

* And for summing up purposes, to vivify the curmudgeon type, try: "I remember the paperless office. That didn't happen either."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 10, 2008 12:05 AM | Permalink

&tEveryone seems to be missing the point. Newspapers are in crises because of revenue, not readership. No mere newsroom reinvention will solve the problem.

Instead, the entire print newspaper - editorial and advertising - needs to be reinvented as part of a larger, multi-platform media company.

Enough with "hyper-local" as the solution. I offer truly radical new rules for newspapers here:

I described the current crisis in 1998 here:

I analyzed the recent, misdirected re-invention in Orlando here:

Posted by: Alan Jacobson at July 10, 2008 12:54 PM | Permalink

Newspapers are in crisis because of decades of declining readership, which continues. The fear and panic is economic based.

I agree there is still economic readership opportunity. I do think we're starting to witness the generational end of journalism based on the Watergate Myth and the beginning of the 21st century journalist.

Posted by: Tim at July 10, 2008 4:29 PM | Permalink

On the apparently less popular topic but far more important effort mentioned in this article--i.e. Tree House Media...

take a look at the google SERP for "tree house media project"--it does not appear, but this page does.

take a look at the code for treehouse's webpages--no meta tags

take a look at the limited resource pages -- blogs? blogs are a journalistic resource? what about hefty open source content management software and other big apps?

if treehouse's "fuck google" ethic = not knowing anything about SEO, website design, robust (and free) web apps, these are the last people to be teaching old journalist dogs new web tricks.

You can't do journalism 2.0 if you never figured out web 1.0.

Posted by: Dan Knauss at July 11, 2008 10:45 PM | Permalink

Excellent points, Dan. I hadn't checked those things. And you're right. This post starts and ends with alternatives to the curmudgeon's outlook, but what most animates people is the "last stand" quality of the response to a newspaper intern. That and the "you'll never work in this town again" buffoonery.

I thought it was interesting that Tree House was trying to find a "bridge language" between the culture of griping and the language of self-help and entrepreneurship, but as you point out you have to walk the Twenty First Century walk, too.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 12, 2008 11:17 AM | Permalink

I think the Tree House Project goals are superb. Unfortunately the group seems typical of professional journalists who conceptually "get" the technological and cultural situation but have not yet acquired sufficient hands-on, under-the-hood experience with the new tools of the trade. They need to know more of what the "geeks" know, but also what designers know, and community building is another set of skills and knowledge.

As a freelance open source web developer and part-time "citizen" journalist married to a "professional" journalist, frustration with lack of bridges and the crazed, myopic insularity in both worlds is easy to come by.

While journalists tear each other up over the question of the web and its freeconomic benefits to them, their employers fire them and pay for million dollar junkware, and open source web publishing software continues to be developed without critically helpful journalistic insights from the people who should be most interested in it.

Meanwhile in the open source community, some content management system users and developers invent their own irrational battles over whether it's OK for anyone to make money in any way from code that is open source, arguably "derivative" of open source code, or connected to open source code through an API. The consequences of this are a smaller market, less money being made, and fewer consumer options--and very few enterprise-suitable options--for professional journalism (and other things) built on "free as in beer" open source software.

Fortunately this is changing, and journalists ought to be forming the leading edge of demand for that change. Look at Magento, a new open source enterprise-class eCommerce system. Imagine if it was a CMS. How much did your company pay for yours?

Posted by: Dan Knauss at July 12, 2008 5:02 PM | Permalink

("Big Daddy Newspaper" grew from what I was writing and following on Twitter, the micro-blogging platform I have been exploring lately. You can find my Twittering here. Anyway, the bulleted list below pertains to a Twitter thread that started here. It's pointing toward the next post.)


Lots of people have noted how effective the program was. Adam Davidson told NPR's ombudsman, "By a very long margin, this is the most positive response I've ever seen to any story I've worked on." I knew there would be fans of this episode listening, so I asked the people in my Twitter feed what made it different and "explainey" to them.

* Mike Plugh: Compression of time and space, like in a classic movie, "a broad network of characters into a few representative types."

* Liza Sabater "Because when Richard finds out the bank lied about his monthly income, it sums up how the loans were just a scam."

* Denise Covert: "Because it used small words. Because it still used big words for those of us who could grasp them."

* Scott Karp: No demonizing. Instead, "why it seemed like a good idea at the time... What were they thinking when they were doing all this? And why did they think it would work?"

* Howard Sherman: It met the ultimate explanatory test. "I could actually explain the mortgage debacle to someone else." He calls it viral: you can pass the explanatory gains on. "It also made me really angry. Their incredulity was contagious."

* "You can almost lust, with the characters, after the money that the idiots have left available." Oh, sorry... that was me, talking on Twitter.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 13, 2008 1:36 AM | Permalink

I've raised this issue and Obama raised this issue, and American bloggers ignore this issue: American culture is the responsible for cultural hegemony largely because it forces--through economic, political, and social means--citizens of other countries to learn English. Never mind if a powerless individual from any of the underdeveloped countries has something important to say--something that transcends or transgresses the American perspective. If he/she cann't articulate his ideas in English, he/she is virtually banned from entering the ongoing conversation of information media--citizen or otherwise. When one says 'Citizen Journalist,' the implicit meaning is 'English-speaking' Journalist, and so-called independent-minded bloggers who purport to seek social transformation of some kind perpetuate it by insisting that other citizens adopt English. Where was the consent 'or even mention' of Obama's call for second-language learning in America among citizen journalists? No a peep. And for the same reason important statements by others are ignored by the mainstream media.

By being complicit in the English-only media, they know they are part of the problem. They know they are hypocrites, and if you fall within that category, you should be ashamed of yourself(ves). Creating your own little virtual space to voice your own virtual opinions is easy. Learning a foreign language is hard.

Will someone be willing to help write a position paper demanding that American 'citizen-journalists'- study a foreign language to acquire at least a moderate level of proficiency in their language of choice? Obama is correct. It is embarrassing that someone would deign to call himself/herself educated without such proficiency. Why should anyone listen to the uneducated? To graduate from a university in Jefferson's time, one had to translate Latin into Greek, and vice-versa. Anyone care to sign up?

Posted by: Alan John Gerstle at July 24, 2008 12:42 AM | Permalink

From the Intro