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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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August 15, 2010

The Citizens Agenda in Campaign Coverage

The idea is to learn from voters what those voters want the campaign to be about, and what they need to hear from the candidates to make a smart decision. So you go out and ask them: "what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year's election?"

I’m in Australia this week, where the country is in the midst of an election campaign that seems thoroughly uninspiring to almost everyone I’ve talked to. Several times I’ve been asked how campaign coverage might be improved. (See this television appearance on the ABC program Lateline.) I responded with the following sketch.

The Citizen’s Agenda in Campaign Coverage: Ten Steps to a Better Narrative

1.) Four to six months before the vote start asking the electorate a simple question: not, “who are you going to vote for?” or, “which party do you favor?” but: what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year’s election? The idea is to find out from voters what those voters want the campaign to be about, and what they need to hear from the candidates in order to cast an intelligent vote.

2.) To answer this question, you will need every method known to the modern newsroom. Don’t rely on one or two; instead, use them all. Redirect the polling budget away from horse race questions and put it in the service of the citizen’s agenda. Send reporters out to talk to voters— a lot of voters. Survey the views of community leaders, meaning: people in a position to know what their “crowd” wants the candidates to be talking about. Hold events designed to solicit those answers. Announce that you are putting together a citizen’s agenda to guide your campaign coverage this year, and that you want to hear from everyone, through any portal they care to use. Allow people to fill out a web form, or send an email, or record a phone message, or put it in a blog comment thread, or communicate over Twitter and Facebook. Use direct mail, advertise in the newspaper and on air, set up listening stations in coffee shops and shopping malls.

3.) As you fan out into the community in search of the citizen’s agenda, you will find a few people who are especially enthusiastic about what you are doing or clued into why it’s important. Ask these people if they want to join your advisory network, the sole purpose of which is to aid in the drafting of the citizen’s agenda and make sure that it reflects what’s coming in. Aim for 10 percent of your total sampling, knowing that the yield will be smaller than that.

4.) Based on all the information collected in step 2, compose an initial draft of the citizen’s agenda, in the form of 6 to 10 items ideally framed as questions that consume 50 words or less. An example from the New York State Governor’s race:

Our schools are not performing: New York’s public schools spend more per student than any other state. But New York ranks 40th among the states in the percentage of high-school students that graduate. Why is this and what do we need to do to change it? (46 words)

Once you’re confident that the 6 to 10 items reflect what you heard, use your advisory network (similar to a public insight network pioneered by American Public Media) to give you feedback on whether you have it approximately right. Ask participants to weight the items on the draft list by distributing 100 points among them. Allow them to write in any item that should be on the list but it isn’t. Adjust the draft accordingly.

5.) Three months before the election, publish the ranked list as your Citizens Agenda 1.0, emphasizing that it’s still in motion, that you want to get it right, and that feedback is still being sought through all available portals. Version 2.0 comes out two months before the election, and version 3.0 one month before. In between you can revise it as often as necessary, refining the language, adding items that feedback shows were missing, and adjusting the ranking of items.

6.) Once you have a version of it up and running, the citizens agenda is your working template and master narrative for election coverage. When the candidates speak, map what they said against the citizens agenda. When you have an opportunity to question the candidates, ask them questions that flow from the citizens agenda. Reporters assigned to cover the campaign should dig deep on the items that make up the citizen’s agenda. Background pieces and in-depth reporting should build upon the citizen’s agenda. Decisions to make about where to put your resources? Consult the citizen’s agenda, a set of instructions for the design of campaign coverage in all its forms.

7.) It’s called a citizens agenda because that’s what it is, a list of action items and declared priorities. What campaign coverage should achieve is serious discussion (among candidates, journalists, campaign observers… and the public) of the stuff on the citizen’s agenda. Election year journalism succeeds, in this model, when it raises awareness, clarity, knowledge and the overall quality of discourse around the various items on the citizen’s agenda. It fails when it permits confusion, ignorance, neglect, demagoguery and silence to prevail on those same items. Truth, fairness, accuracy and non-interference in an outcome that should be determined by voters, not the media: these remain bedrock principles. But there is an agenda here. Journalists should not hesitate to take action on it. They should be clear with themselves and up front with voters about what they’re doing. This isn’t the View from Nowhere.

8.) One of the big advantages of deploying a citizens agenda in campaign coverage is that it substitutes for that default agenda we’re all familiar with: horse race journalism, and the inside baseball style of coverage. Instead of that, this. Use the citizens agenda to shrink the horse race narrative down to a saner size. Meaning: it’s fine to keep track of who’s ahead and point out what the candidates are doing to win. That’s part of politics. But it should not be the big lens through which journalists view the campaign because it’s simply not useful enough for voters. (Should we vote for the candidate with the best strategy? How does that work…?) Once it is reduced to a more appropriate size, the horse race can be added color beside the main event. I would specifically call it “the game” and limit it to no more than 15 percent of the whole. Reporters who cannot abide by that ratio do not belong on this beat.

9.) Be prepared for conflict with the candidates and their staffs. Their job is to win the election, to improve their chances and cripple the other guy. If that means supporting confusion, ignorance, neglect, demagoguery or silence on certain issues, they will not hesitate to do that. We know this. Therefore, being serious about the citizens agenda means doing battle with the forces that would undermine it. But that’s why we have a free press….right?

10.) In order for the citizens agenda to work, you have to get it right. You have to be authoritative. The 6 to 10 items on the citizens agenda have to resonate with most voters, and actually reflect what’s on their minds. They have to be able to recognize themselves and their concerns in what you say is “their” agenda. If you are wrong, or overlooking something important, you need feedback loops good enough to correct yourself. The citizens agenda needs constant testing and adjustment until you are confident that you’ve nailed it. Even then, ways for minority concerns to be heard and for items not on voters minds but still important to their future have to be worked in. This is a pragmatic exercise, a sophisticated form of listening, adjusting and feeding back what is heard.

What does the electorate want the candidates to be discussing as they campaign for votes in this year’s election? If you don’t think you can distill a good answer to that, and defend it as the honest outcome of your best reporting, then the citizens agenda is not an approach for you. Go back to the horse race!

Post-script: The citizens agenda is not a new idea. It was tried in 1992 by the Charlotte Observer during the early years of the civic journalism movement, of which I was a part. Others picked it up after that. I wrote about the Observer’s experiment in my 1999 book, What Are Journalists For? You can find the gist of that description in this essay, “Part of Our World: Journalism as Civic Leadership,’ sections 3 and 4. The key anecdote comes from the former editor of the Observer, Richard Oppel:

Voters were intensely interested in the environment…. So our reporters went out to senatorial candidates and said, “here are the voters’ questions.” Terry Sanford, the incumbent senator, called me up from Washington and said, “Rich, I have these questions from your reporter and I’m not going to answer them because we are not going to talk about the environment until after the general election.” This was the primary. I said, “Well, the voters want to know about the environment now, Terry.” He said, “Well, that’s not the way I have my campaign structured.” I said, “Fine, I will run the questions and leave a space under it for you to answer. If you choose not to, we will just say ‘would not respond’ or we will leave it blank.” We ended the conversation. In about ten days he sent the answers down.

Which raises the question of why the citizens agenda didn’t become standard and replace the horse race, that miserable thing. I’ve thought a lot about that. The only answer I have is: political journalists wanted it this way, and their bosses permitted it.

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 15, 2010 10:45 AM   Print


Jay: This is exactly what we're trying to do with Voters get to suggest questions for the candidates for House, Senate and gubernatorial races (in about 45 competitive races in all), they post their questions by video or text, and then everyone gets to vote (one vote per IP address) on each question. The top ten are going to the candidates in late September, with time for them to answer in full. Then in mid October the voters will get to see those responses and vote on whether they think the candidates answered them. We've got media partners (old and new, and looking for more) in every state where 10Questions is up and running.

Speaking of running, I am off on a trip and have to leave it there for the moment.

Micah Sifry

Posted by: Micah Sifry at August 16, 2010 5:12 AM | Permalink

What should be addressed?
1. de-deregulation of corporations
2. tax corporations justly and eliminate their loopholes
3. eliminate military/government imperialism
4. reverse 1st amendment right to corporations
5. disallow lobbyists and corp. donations to candidates
6. stop the war and use $ for:
repairing our infrastructure
providing clean water in worldwide areas having their local
people do the work, not our $$$ corporations
7. reinstate free public broadcasting time for political
8. get National Health Care passed
9. focus on green energy
10. produce affordable electric cars, now
11. restore pre-Bush taxes to the wealthy and even on the rest
of us if that is the only way to get the wealthy to pay their
fair share
12. outlaw biogenetic engineering

Posted by: Leslie Armstrong at August 16, 2010 12:57 PM | Permalink

In regards to the current Australian campaign, this would have been a wonderful tool. The closest thing is 'Q and A' on the ABC and the #ausvotes on Twitter, which offers the community to ask questions and comment, however, as seen last night, the questions are rarely answered in any substantial form. A voting system of whether the questions were actually answered would be fantastic. This would also avoid the current situation where racist and defamatory political slogans such as "we'll stop the boats" become a focus for voters and politicians alike. And not many people seem to notice that this contradicts our international and humanitarian obligations to the UN Treaty we signed in 1973, yet it is broadcast across TV ads, no journalists have raised its seriousness (in relation to racism and our UN agreements) and yet the politicians themselves choose these random non-issues to create fear in our society and distract from the fact they have no real policies in the nation’s interests or credibility to even be running. Perhaps we can get it started for 3 years time, when whatever happens on Saturday, a change will certainly be needed. I love your site and ideas!

Posted by: Clare Peterson at August 17, 2010 1:02 AM | Permalink

Dear Jay: Thank you, this is a great concept, most crucially because it puts the citizens' voice and the needs of citizenship at the center.

May I humbly suggest that voters should have even greater control over choosing the topics? Through on-line, non-anonymous suggestions of issues by citizens themselves, as well as by journalists and experts, on which users can vote.

I know journalists are afraid of "citizens gone wild," but the truth is, thanks to Fox News' elevation of Tea Party protesters into TV commentators, they already have! The public voice now needs to be tamed - by offering greater power, in concert with greater responsibility, to everyone. Include television appearances and you've got that. People are, after all, willing to play any role in order to be on TV. Now we all need to play "Citizen".

Posted by: Evelyn at August 22, 2010 12:31 PM | Permalink

I'm intrigued by your comments here and I saw you speak at a Walkley Event in Melbourne.

With a Citizen's Agenda, how do you maintain objective journalism? People of a similar POV tend to flock together.

Are you also predicting the end of mass media as different citizen's agendas are played out at different organisations?

Posted by: Hamish Jones at August 24, 2010 8:40 AM | Permalink

Thanks for dropping the link to this at Larvatus Prodeo, Jay. The timeline you suggest could not work quite as you suggest in Australia where our elections can take place any time within an eighteen-month period, but some sort of hybrid system working along the 10Questions line per Micah could be made to work.

I wonder whether perhaps having a permanent 10Questions political website - "what question do you want politicians to be answering now" could be used as a permanent background noise to political coverage, ready to ramp up to an all-media outreach whenever an election campaign is announced.

Posted by: tigtog at August 24, 2010 5:10 PM | Permalink

From the Intro