PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
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Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the weblog'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: An extended Q & A

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003.

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

One hour radio program about objectivity in journalism, its history, nature and consequences, from WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio. Host: Gretchen Helfrich. Guests: Jay Rosen and sociologist Michael Schudson.

Here's a radio segment about blogging on Australia's Radio National with author Rebecca Blood, Jay Rosen and Lee Rainie, of Pew's project on Internet and American Life. (April 15, 2004; requires Real Player.)

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, and frequently dead on. A must.

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.

Halley's Comment, written by Halley Suitt. Week to week, among the the most original--and best looking--weblogs out there.

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. He also features a regular guest commentator, Our Girl in Chicago, which is a nifty thing to do. Girl writes well.

Someone said Eric Alterman of the Nation was "born to blog." This may be true. Very popular weblog at MSNBC and for good reason.

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.

Of the many weblogs that comment on the state of journalism today, Tim Porter's First Draft is one of the most thoughtful.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media at UC Berkeley. 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.

The National Debate, written by Robert Cox, once took on the New York Times... and won. Its "where politics, policy and the media meet," he says. Cox breaks stories, and fills his blog with useful information for the heavy news consumer. Center-right perspective.

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.

TV Newser, authored by college student Brian Stelter, is a must-read for those who follow network news and its crew of highly-competitive people. Always has the latest ratings too.

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.

Mickey Kaus's kausfiles appears at Slate, the online opinion magazine. His thing is politics. His style is satirical. His eye for detail is accurate to the inch. He's fun to read and he's one of the original bloggers. LA-based.

Napsterization is a weblog from the Berkeley J-School, edited by Mary Hodder. It's officially about the current and future influence of file-sharing and peer-to-peer networks, but Hodder also comments on the digital media scene.

Siva Vaidhyanathan's Sivacracy. He's on the intellectual property beat, but with the soul of a democract. And he's a journalist with a PhD, well tuned to the Internet. Rare.

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 Nemark'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.

Jarah Euston's Fresno Famous is "dedicated to making Fresno less boring." This is placed-based citizen journalism done in a fast, funny and highly effective way.

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. Link-filled and consistently interesting.

The Jenny of Jenny D. was a journalist for 15 years. Now she�s getting a Ph.D in Education. Her blog records her discoveries. �Education, public policy and politics, middle-aged moms, life in the Midwest, life in the academy." Or just: life.

Former AP reporter Chris Allbritton's experiment in independent war reporting, online and reader-supported. Allbritton is in Iraq now, sending back reports. In 2003-4 he taught digital journalism at NYU.

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.

JD Lassica's New Media Musings keeps the regular visitor informed about the frontiers of web journalism and publishing. He does not like to miss anything in his area. Such people are valuable.

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.

In 2005, CBS News launched Public Eye to help it cope with criticism. The idea is to have a blog that works like an ombudsman. It's a promising venture that bears watching.

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.

Morph, the Media Center's weblog, is about digital media, convergence, and how society informs itself. Rotating pool of informed writers.

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.

The Huffington Post is a high traffic left-leaning group blog with more than 100 contributors, including PressThink's Jay Rosen and a sprinkling of Hollywood celebs. Mostly politics.

Digests & Round-ups:

If you're looking for a way to keep tabs on the best of the blogs, The Daou Report is a snapshot of the latest online news and buzz from across the political spectrum.

On, the social bookmarks site, a useful list of current links about citizen (participatory) media and journalism, by Shayne Bowman.

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.

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October 4, 2006

My Interview with Readers of Slashdot

They did the Q's, I did the A's. "What's open to the wisdom of the crowd is vulnerable to the actions of the mob. Wanting to be helpful, the volunteer may slant reports without realizing it. Through the portals marked 'citizen' the paid operative can easily go. How do you prevent all of that?"

Slashdot is the worlds most famous online gathering place for geeks. The sites reader interviews solicit questions from users; the moderatorRobin Millerrates them all and sends the interviewee the best ones. The original Q and A is here. (Citizen Journalism Expert Jay Rosen Answers Your Questions) Used with Slashdots permission.

1) Where do you see newspapers role in this? by Stick_Fig

First off, my credentials: Im the former employee of an experimental newspaper, Bluffton Today, located in Bluffton, South Carolina. Its an exciting place, let me tell you. The focus has been on reverse publishing but at the same time tempering blogs with traditional journalism. The staff still writes articles; they still edit heavily. They use the web only to the degree where it doesnt dip into libel and slander and builds on its strengths.
My question to you is, do you think Bluffton is on the right track? It felt like, in the 15 months I was there, they definitely were, but Im a biased party. I left thinking, If only newspapers did more of this I know what Im betting the farm on in my career, and it isnt tired, boring, traditional journalism. It isnt the straight and narrow of blogs, either. Rather, I feel that its important to look at both sides and find how they can work together, because God knows theres some 60-year-old editor somewhere who wont look at Bluffton as anything more than a gimmick. Im gonna be that guy in the newsroom fighting the good fight to get more untraditional voices into the the paper in more places than the editorial page.

Jay Rosen: Bluffton Today (Bluffton, SC is near Hilton Head Island) did several things that were important to try in 2005. They said the editorial engine would be the online edition; it would produce the printed paper. This is the opposite of how newspapers did things for the first ten years of their Web lives. They just re-purposed the content from the print edition, and called that an online newspaper.

By reversing whats primary in production you change head sets in the newsroom because a professional newsroom engineers everythingincluding the talents of its employeesaround the production ordeal. The daily miracle it was once called, because making the newspaper required such a fantastic act of just-in-time coordination. Many things had to be routinized for the miracle to occur. (Including ideas about journalism and the users place in it.)

Steve Yelvington of Morris Digital Works, who worked on the Bluffton Today site, called it an inversion because content would flow from the Web to print rather than vice versa. The editorial engine should be the more interactive one, in which more of the community can participate. The goal was a virtuous circle. “Community conversation feeds professional journalism. Journalism feeds conversation. And around, and around.” I think there is something to that idea.

How well it works is for people in Bluffton to address. I like that Bluffton Today tried to go Lessig on the news industry. It ditched the read only platform and re-built on read/write. Yelvington said at the launch: Everyone gets a blog. Not just staffers, but everyone in the community. LeMonde (France) and the Mail and Guardian (South Africa) are doing this, too. Give everyone a blog may be an obvious idea. But its a different track. Everyone gets a photo gallery. Everyone can contribute events to a shared public community calendar. The site was built on Drupal technology. It had free classifieds. It was different.

If the experience of doing Bluffton Today has tempered some of that initial boldness, thats as it should be. Im not surprised that the staff still writes articles; they still edit heavily. A web-to-print, highly-interactive, low barrier to entry, read-write, everyone-contributes newspaper is still a daily production headache. Articles, photos, headlines, ads have to come together. Unedited, the site would have almost no value, although it can have unedited parts with high value.

It isnt tired, boring, traditional journalism. It isnt the straight and narrow of blogs, either. Its important to look at both sides I agree with that, Stick. My new adventure, NewAssignment.Net, is a hybrid site for that reason. (Pros and amateurs collaborate on reporting projects.) In January of 2005 I wrote Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over for the same reason.

Bluffton today was a first wave attempt at innovation. Today initiatives like that face some second wave facts. Bringing capacity online does not itself create activity, so if youre counting on user activity, you better come with more than nifty new capacity. Create more writers and suddenly you may need more editors. The conversation feeds journalism, journalism feeds the conversation is a powerful idea, but we are several steps away from knowing how it works to create a live, intelligent filter in the newsroom.

Theres just a long way to go. But yeah, you were on the right track working for those guys. Deeply so.

2) How to Get More Respect (by NewYorkCountryLawyer.)

I am convinced that online media have made a huge contribution to getting out the truth when the corporate media are seeking to suppress the truth. While there are a growing number of people aware of this phenomenon, reports in the blogosphere just do not get the same respect and currency received by reports in the major or corporate media. What do we, as a community, need to do to enhance the respect internet journalists receive in the world at large?

Jay Rosen: Well, suppressing the truth is not how I see the failures of modern journalism, or of our current press. I think its bigger than that.

Bob Woodward, who is in the news this week, is at the top of the reporting game, an industry unto himself. In two books, Bush at War and Plan of Attack, he failed to tell the truth about the Bush White House because his methods were not up to the obstacle they met: an Administration that had broken through all the reality checks normally placed on a president and his closest aides. One by one these measures came under abnormal stress. The policy-making process used by presidents got subverted. The normal channels for sounding out opinion were just disowned. The intelligence community came under extreme stress when asked to supply facts for a decision already made.

A Congress controlled by the same party was expected to go along, which meant accepting the presidents definition of reality. Oversight got evacuated. The normal tensions with the press were driven deeper: keep them back, keep them out, tell them nothing, tear them down. If someone does break a story from inside you immediately punish and isolate anyone who spoke to the reporter. You make them disown their words. You make them repent.

This is the story Woodward missed because he got inside it, so to speak. Ron Suskind, one of the few in Washington who did not miss that story, called it the retreat from empiricism. To me, its the big narrative yet to come out about the Bush White House. Attack Without a Plan was too crazy to be credible to Woodward. So he wrote Plan of Attack instead. I havent read his new book yet, just the reviews and excerpts. But from early accounts, State of Denial is his attempt to get back the ground he lost, despite having the best access.

Woodward didnt suppress the story. Rather, he couldnt imagine it. Those are the kinds of failures that interest me. Sometimes things are suppressed. Often, the truth eludes professional journalism because no one thought to look for it. I welcome your question, What do we, as a community, need to do to enhance the respect internet journalists receive in the world at large? My first answer is: we have to look for it.

We should major in transparency; the major media will take a minor in that. Diversity of outlook in the reporters ultimately improves the reporting. The blogosphere has advantages there, especially as it does more reporting.

I think we have to accept that Big Media, which isnt going anywhere, is societys default legitimacy-distribution machine. But that doesnt mean it works well. The machine itself can lose legitimacy without exactly falling apart. If youre an upstart publisher of news and you suck at it, Big Media will try to ignore you. If youre an upstart publisher of news and youre really good at it, Big Media will try to ignore you. Then when you assume the shape of a writes-itself storyfirst bloggers to go the political conventions!Big Media will over-cover you, spreading a small bit of understanding over lots and lots of stories. Six months later its time to debunk the trend they missed, then over-hyped and finally misdescribed. Its not personal. Its protective. Its also cheaper than figuring out whats going on.

We can win a lot of points for Net journalism just by being the opposite of that.

3) What about mob-rule journalism? (by Chas)

What sort of safeguards are in place to do fact-checking and prevent false/obviously slanted mob-rule style reports from being propagated as fact?

Jay Rosen: People hear phrases like an experiment in open source reporting and they see it immediately: Whats open to the wisdom of the crowd is vulnerable to the actions of the mob. Wanting to be helpful, the volunteer may slant reports without realizing it. Through the portals marked citizen the paid operative can go. How do you prevent all of that?

To me this is a puzzle with many pieces. It wont have one solution; it will take many overlapping systems working together. I cant tell youyethow were going to build a fact-checking and verification system into NewAssignment.Net. But I can tell you that the site will fail without one, so well have to try to figure it out, with help from a lot of people. To simply pass along unchecked reports received from strangers over the Net would be fantastically dumb. To discount the possibility of people trying to game the system would be dumb, too; the more successful the site is, the more probable the gaming is. Not to mention spam, duplication, all kinds of junk.

What sort of safeguards are in place? Here are my answers so far. You tell me what is missing or cracked in this foundation.

One: The editors are full time on it. Assignments flow through editors several times before they are published by NewAssignment.Net. Thats the pro-am way. Its an editors job not to be gamed, not to publish bum facts. Everything that goes out has the editors name on it. Its not an answer to everythingthis reliance on good editorsbut its a proven system, a simple one, and a start.

Two: Users Self-Police. Im not sure community is the right word for the eventual users of New Assignment. People use that term too loosely, in my opinion. But if NewAssignment.Net develops a base of active, loyal and intelligent users, its not unreasonable that they can help police the site, especially if they understand that verifiying information and preventing fraud are basic to everything were trying to do. And so a second answer, after editors, is a culture among users: catch errors, catch mistakes, catch fraud and manipulation. A mob mentality has to be met by something stronger; if you attract the right kind of users, that can happen. It would be foolish to think it will just because youre counting on it.

Three: Given enough eyeballs, all facts can be checked. I think there is every chance of developing a special subgroup of users who are effective fact checkers of the larger base of contributors, including new and casual contributors. One thing we are definitely going to do is see whether retired journalists and ex-journalists will volunteer to work with other natural born sticklers and operate our fact-checking system, which not only has to work, but eventually be better than industry standard. I dont know yet what that system will look like, or how systematic it will be. One of my advisers is interested in this puzzle and working on some ideas, assisted by a professional fact checker who emailed me offering to help. Thats how we are going to solve this. Social scientists call it muddling through.

Four: The site itself has to make verification easy. I mean in the way it is built and meant to operate. For example, editors have to be able to sort the raw from the initially verified from the double checked. This is one of the challenges for the developers of the New Assignment site, which will be Chapter Three. Its a new partnershipheres an about page for themformed by Zack Rosen, who is my nephew, one of the originators of Dean Space and the co-founder of CivicSpace on the Drupal platform; and Josh Koenig, a co-founder of DeanSpace who started Music for America, a non-profit. They are both Drupal developers active in that community. The third partner is Matt Cheney, who is trained as a librarian and worked as a researcher at National Center for SuperComputing Applications.

Theyre going to build the site with open source tools. Josh Koenig has a post up about the New Assignment project. It promises an Open Practice model: posting tutorials, video screen casts, interviews, and write ups as our own work progresses and as we research others. Verification and fact-checking have to become open practices themselves. The developers understand that.

Five: The one percent rule.. Experience sugggests a small slice of users will do most of the volunteer work. According to the one percent rule in social media, which is more of a tendency than a law, if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will interact with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it. This bears on the verification puzzle because were not talking about checking vast hordes of people. If regular contributors provide most of the contributions, their reputations for reliability can accumulate at the site. In a well-designed system that will happen.

Six: How have others solved the problem? You tell me: has creating a reliable system of volunteer contributors ever been faced before on the Web? Did it prove unsolvable? I would expect NewAssignment.Net to look at prior cases first and find the key lessons.

4) Money (by truthsearch)

Do you believe that as money flows into civic journalism that itll change the equation? Obviously there are some people whos primary goal is to become famous and/or make money through more open journalism. Will the large community of contributors flush out those with less altruistic intentions? I guess Im really asking will civic journalism be self-correcting as it gets bigger? Or is there a way it may become just as corrupted as much of the current mainstream professional journalism?

Jay Rosen: I doubt theres any incorruptible system, just different kinds of pressures, with greater and lesser freedoms for the journalists involved. We can certainly hope for a self-correcting system, but its not likely to happen on its own.

Theres nothing wrong with seeking recognition for great work. People who want to be become famous or make a salary through the more open forms in Net journalism arent the enemy. Not at all. But they are going to have to work with users under conditions that build trust and permit collaboration. Its hard for me to see how the bad actors will succeed at that, but I am not discounting it, either.

Heres a site called Sportingo. It says its a new type of sports media company, which is focused on telling the story from the fans’ perspective. Users can write articles, which will be professionally edited. They can rate and comment on articles written by peers.

Sportingo will own all the content published on the site. There are no plans to pay contributors. The company is for-profit. Tal Rozow, the marketing manager, told me that that Sportingo authors aiming for a professional writing career will be able to benefit from having by-lines appearing on our website. He said hes confident that a strong network of independent sports writers will emerge at the site, and maybe that will happen. But Im not sure its a system designed to build trust among all the players involved.

Everyone I have consulted about open source projects of any kind has stressed one thing over and over: the importance of understanding what would motivate people to contribute to the gift economy of the project. You have to get that right, they say. Ultimately I believe a nonprofit foundation is more secure one. If there are profits and they are extracted by the owners, not distributed to co-creators; thats a problem. If there are profits and they go into doing more and better journalism, thats different.

5) Whats wrong with other extant examples? (by crush)

Im assuming that you evaluated and rejected some of the other high-profile citizen journalism outfits that predate the founding of your own project. Off my head I can think of:
  • The Indymedia network is one of the longest standing examples of an attempt to have a large citizen journalist network.
  • The Pacifica Network (especially the Democracy Now show)
  • The New Standard

What was it that you found lacking in the above and why did you decide to start a new project instead of reforming and adapting one of the above? Do you think that your decision to accept corporate sponsorship (which is rejected by the Pacifica Network) will see your organizations focus inevitably drift toward the anodyne ineffectiveness of e.g. NPR?

(And of course, how could I forget WikiNews?)

Jay Rosen: Theres nothing wrong with these prior examples. I admire them all. I was especially pleased to see that the New Standard met its do-or-die fundraising goal last week. That site is an experiment with reader-supported, totally independent, strenuously-factual reporting. High standards of verification are meant to prevail. I think the New Standard has a lot in common with professional journalism, except it rejects the political economy of commercial news media entirely. Its run as a collective among those who do the work. I am thrilled that it will remain around, because we need to try lots of solutions to how to fund serious reporting. Just as Im thrilled that Independent Media Center and its collectives around the world keep humming. I agree with Chris Anderson that what blogging begatcitizen journalismIndy Media begat too.

I didnt evaluate and reject the New Standard, Indy Media, Pacifica and Wiki News. Nor is it my place to decide they need fixing. They dont. The people who founded those organizations deserve a lot of credit for creating something new and daring and genuinely alternative. They inspired me. So did lots of others. (New West, for example, or NewAssignment.Net is really about a single proposition: that if journalists and networks of users can report stuff together that neither could easily do alone, the public sphere will benefit and the site will build trust. I think theres room for that.

My decision to accept $100,000 from Reuters means well have an editor who can test the possibilities in networked journalism, as Jeff Jarvis calls it. My job is to make sure that Reuters has no influence on that person. The company has said it will have no editorial control, and no claim on the content. I agree: it wont. I think we can persuade users that it works as advertised. But people are free to draw their own conclusions about what the gift means, and Im sure they will.

6) Plagiarism and Ethics? (by goombah99)

Lately theres been a few incidents of Plagiarism in the news, not to mention some wholesale ethical breaches of faked stories (e.g. Blair at the NY times and a million Little pieces). But the thing is, the reason those are news is that they are both exceptional and something that is specifically drummed in to any professional journalist not to do. Indeed, breaking this taboo is probably even more of a sin to the the fellow journalists than to the general public because of this entrenched ethic.

Yet we know that on college campuses, where we can measure the phenomenon, plagiarism is comparatively rampant. So evidently the common man cannot restrain himself.

It seems to me this is a serious issue for any new journalism form with a low barrier to entry and a high degree of anonymity for the author. How does this ethos get enforced in such a realm?

A related question is the ethical division of commentary and news. We know thats become a problem in the media for some outlets where management has a thumb on the content. But the traditional news organs, especially newspapers, still refrain for the most part. Indeed, the NY times just went so far as to remove the typset justification from any article that comtained any sort of analysis or opinion, reserving the justified typsetting for only traditional factual journalism stories so the difference is apparent to the reader from the start. How do we reinforce that ethos in the untrained journalist?

Jay Rosen: When people plagiarize they do it for a particular self-interested reason: to meet a deadline, get an unwanted task out of the way, get their full time salary with limited work. These motivations will probably be rarer in the New Assignment model. Why volunteer for a project only to cheat at it?

The common man cannot restrain himself. Sorry, I dont trust that kind of language. Beyond that making stuff up is not a way to develop a base of users on the Web; people arent that dumb! You speak of a low barrier to entry and a high degree of anonymity for the author. But for most users the higher the anonymity factor for the author, the higher the barrier of trust.

What some people cant seem to get over is that other people can say any damn thing they want on the Internet! How can you trust any of it? is their natural reaction to all open systems. Closed systemsand professional journalism is onedevelop trust in one way. Open systems have to do it a much different way. Expecting one to look like the other is unreasonable.

We arent going to learn much about this puzzle by asking how the common man can be trained to imitate his betters in the news media. I refer you to sociologist Raymond Williams, who once said, There are no masses, there are only ways of seeing people as masses. It is these ways of seeing that are retrograde. But they show up in the most surprising places.

7) Scale

First, Ill admit that I havent read much about citizen jounalism other than Jeff Jarvis [], but as a non-blogger thinking of getting in to it, I was wondering:

Much of the discussion seems to be about getting out from under the control of gatekeepers like publishers and media owners. Yet, while the internet is less concerned with money, it has its own form of currency: popularity, in the form of the link.

Doesnt this just turn the highest-traffic sites into new gatekeepers? Especially as the number of blogs increases, the gap between rich and poor expands?

I suppose what Im really asking is, its hard enough to get noticed today- how will someone just starting out get noticed ten years from now?

Jay Rosen: Ten years from now? Jeez, I have no idea what the world of media access will be like then. But anyone who is just starting out in self-publishing should consult Clay Shirkys Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality, so as not to become prematurely disillusioned by discovering its truths later on.

Certainly there are new gatekeepers. (Slashdot itself is one. But does it work the same way the old system did?) Traffic-wise, theres still rich and poor. (But is this list as static as that one?) Hierarchies have not gone away. (And who said they would?) Inequality has not disappeared. (But did you really think it could?)

You still have to fight to be noticed, good work can still go unnoticed. Life online is not entirely fair, or completely different. Theres a new attention economy to replace the old. The sooner we reconcile ourselves to these common sense conclusions, the easier it will be to see what is actually different today.

Here are some things that stand out for me: Amateurs have joined professionals and they own a part of the press. An audience that was once connected up to Big Media but not across to each other is now connected both ways. The cost for like-minded people to locate each other and collaborate has fallen dramatically. The tools of media production have been widely distributed, and broad distribution of content is no longer impossible for small, upstart producers.

For professionals, theyre not required to affiliate with Big Media in order to operate as a journalist, though most will. They can be stand alones and independents. The people formerly known as the audience (as I call them) are now a producer force to be reckoned with, and Big Media has just started that reckoning. The Net has new ways of distributing attention, which have taken their place alongside the old.

Still, theres a long way to go before we can say that our media system has been made more democratic, responsive and responsible.

8) What impact would this have on national elections? (by StressGuy)

The Electoral process seems to be more of a marketing contest and marketing takes bags and bags of money. Theres commercial time, signs, billboards, radio, etc. Lets face it, a commercial is, at most 90 seconds to tell me why I should vote for you - hardly enough time. So, all we see are glittering generalities or, all to often, dont vote for the other guy spots.

If Citizen Jounalism takes off, do you see this as a way that candidates without the massive financial resources normally required to sustain a traditional campaign could actually compete? Could this make the third party candidates a credible threat? Could this actually serve to level the playing field?

Jay Rosen: We should be cautious here. I think the most we can say is that a system that was almost entirely closed and self-sustainingin which a handful of people raised the money, took the polls, handled the candidates, made the ads, narrated the campaign and talked about the candidates on TVhas been disrupted. The people who ran it are not as confident as they once were in their ability to manage things and get the outcomes they want. Their party has been crashed, but its not over. Nor is it ours.

Its possible that insurgent candidaciesnot backed by current players in the systemwill have an easier time of it in the years ahead, just as insurgent news providers have more of an opening now. Thats as far as I would go on the leveled field.

9) Dilution of Protection (by ObsessiveMathsFreak)

How long before corporations and wealthy individuals start employing goons, lawyers and wiretaps, a la HP, to threaten and intimidate citizen journalists with no real legal recourse? If faced with this, should a citizen journalist just back off and let the guilty win? How can the protections now enjoyed by the fourth estate be extended to citizen journalism without diluting them?

Jay Rosen: As a matter of law and public policy, I think fourth estate protections should focus on significant acts of journalism, not people in pre-fab categories or the kind of organization that surrounds the giver of news. All those who are engaged in the act of informing a broader public of whats going on deserve to be under the First Amendment umbrella that protects the press. The press itself is composed of amateur and professional wings.

But thats no answer to goons with lawyers who threaten to sue. Citizen journalists are definitely vulnerable there, which makes you realize why we have big media organizations in the first place. We have to be more creative. Robert Cox, head of the Media Bloggers Association (I am a founding member of the group) has shown that an orchestrated campaign by bloggers to defend a fellow blogger in what appears to be a frivolous lawsuit can work. Thats encouraging but not a complete answer, either. Legal intimidation will happen, and Im sure there will be times when the bad guys will win.

10) Blogging (by From A Far Away Land)

When asking a primary source for information, I find that telling them Im doing so to create a report on my blog tends to make them clam up, or continue to be unwilling to provide information that ought to be publicly available. What technique or phrases should I use to convince the interviewee that I both have a legitimate use for their information, and the right to obtain it?

Jay Rosen: Sometimes you have a right to obtain information from a primary source. Sometimes its not a matter of your rights but their decision to recognize you and cooperate. If search costs are high for making an informed decision about whether to trust a blogger who shows up with questions, sources will seek to reduce costs by using reputation and even stereotype (bloggers: ugh) as proxies.

I dont think theres a proper technique or a magic phrase that will solve this problem. Theres only one solution I can see. Send the guy the url to the about section of your site. That page ought to persuade potential sources that legitimate use will be made of their information. It should tell them what you are up to, and why. The site itself, the reporting and commentary there, is the best reason any source has to cooperate. Ah, but how do you convince them to take the time and look?

Theres at least one way. Break a story so that the sources world is talking about it and next time around the source will speak to you and go to your About page. I asked Dean Wright of Reuters what the biggest obstacle for NewAssignment.Net will be when it launches. The same one that the more minor players in the mainstream media have: getting your calls returned, he said. Then when you complete a project and publish, you may find that other media outlets are reluctant to pick up your stories. The only answer to that is do some compelling projects that cannot be ignored.

NewAssignment.Net will try to take that advice. It will do stories developed by users into assignments that are given to journalists. It could also do stories developed by journalists and divided into parts for users to assign themselves. (Mechanical Turk meets the Center for Public Integrity.) I hope it will do stories where teams of users and journalists figure out the division of labor together.

Sometimes the network will be the knowledge producer, the journalist the enabler. Other times the journalist will be the producer, and the network the enabler. Pro-am journalism is not inherently better than am-pro. Amateur users could in some cases do it all themselves, with editors watching and giving the green light in stages. Different combinations beg to be tried. Its unwise to say in advance that we know how it will work, or that it cant.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 4, 2006 11:54 AM   Print


That is a most excellent set of questions. Smart group, and effective filtering.

two things -

> "There are no masses, there are only ways of seeing people as masses. It is these ways of seeing that are retrograde. But they show up in the most surprising places."

been called a lot of things before, but never a "surprising place". :-(

in self-defense:
People at different levels of the hierarchy perceive and use "group" words differently; "the masses" are like "the Jews" - in an environment where others treat you as such, you self-identify as such, since group identity becomes most meaningful and solidarity most advantageous.
Think of it as the M-word; if you don't belong, you can't use it.

> "One thing we are definitely going to do is see whether retired journalists and ex-journalists will volunteer..."

please name names.

Posted by: Anna Haynes at October 4, 2006 10:52 PM | Permalink

Have you seen this: "Should Corporations Control Online Communication?"

Jay, you're in the video

Posted by: gary at October 5, 2006 7:28 AM | Permalink


Great News! Been traveling (still am) so I only have time for a quick note at this point -- it's just a comment on whether or not you *need* to have a "community."

re: "I'm not sure "community" is the right word for the eventual users of New Assignment. People use that term too loosely, in my opinion. But if NewAssignment.Net develops a base of active, loyal and intelligent users, it's not unreasonable that they can help police the site, especially if they understand that verifying information and preventing fraud are basic to everything we are trying to do."

I think it would be extremely difficult (if at all possible) to attract AND *keep* people that would be able and willing to police the site without having them feel that they are much more than "users."

If you don't think "community" is the right word for the kind of social glue needed... I guess you can call it anything you like... but I seriously doubt it could work without having *something* that fulfills the function of a "community"...


Posted by: Delia at October 7, 2006 4:41 PM | Permalink


I am the co-founder and CEO of Sportingo and would like to make a few comments on the mention of our company in your posting.

1. We do not own any of the content submitted to us. The writers own it and provide us with a license to use it.
2. We are a for profit company that offers a platform for people that have always wanted to write about sports but did not get the chance to. I believe that for the most part fans know just us much if not more then most experts in the field of sport. But they don�t have the skills or the related resources to publish professional articles.
Sportingo does a lot more then just offer professional editing. We enhance your article by adding legally licensed images, related statistics, schedules etc. All of this content is expensive and has to be licensed from traditional media companies.
I believe that most sport fans that decide to write are not looking for a monitory compensation but rather for recognition and the chance to say what is important to them to a larger audience.
I am not sure that being a for profit company means we can not develop trust with people that write on Sportingo. We are always very respectful of anyone that writes, make sure we respond quickly and if we have comments on the article we try being as constructive as possible so the writer will be able to learn and improve their work in the future. I believe that listening to our audience and striving to create the best platform for them to be part of is the way we can build and retain their trust.

Posted by: Ze'ev Rozov at October 15, 2006 5:38 PM | Permalink

To pay one back in one's own coin. Alveredus.

Posted by: Alveredus at October 27, 2006 11:14 AM | Permalink

To pay one back in one's own coin. Alveredus.

Posted by: Alveredus at October 27, 2006 11:14 AM | Permalink

From the Intro