NOTE -- the original page, http://www.bopnews.com/archives/001045.html, was followed by over 300 spam posts which made this impossible to read. I have cleaned it up to ensure that this historical document lives. Jon Garfunkel, January 14, 2005.
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Jul 19 , 1:35 PM
For Connoisseurs of High Church Condescension, Here’s Alex Jones on Bloggers at the Convention
by Jay Rosen

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Let’s Be Clear, say Alex Jones and the Los Angeles Times, Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak…

Jones, of Harvard’s Kennedy School, a former reporter for the New York Times, and a biographer of newspaper families, writes in the LA Times (July 18, 2004) on what distinguishes blogs at the upcoming convention in Boston:

Political conventions have become festivals of faux harmony and candidate image-building, which makes them marvelous targets for blogging’s candor, intelligence and righteous wrath.

However, bloggers, with few exceptions, don’t add reporting to the personal views they post online, and they see journalism as bound by norms and standards that they reject. That encourages these common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar.

Now here’s Jones on the bloggers “air of conviction” and how this makes them targets of manipulators, and potential dupes:

In these early days, blogging still has the charm of guileless transparency, which in the blogosphere means that everyone — no matter how cranky or hysterical — is presumed to be speaking his or her mind with sincerity. It is this air of conviction that makes bloggers such potent advocates.

However, if history is any indicator, such earnestness will attract those who would exploit it, and they include some canny, inventive people.

It’s all there in the LA Times: Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak: Convention seats do not turn Internet gossips into journalists. I would love to know what others at BOP think.

Alex Jones is someone I know from professional conferences and other discussion settings. I have also been interviewed by him. He’s a fine person, a serious man, with deep knowledge of his craft, willing to stand up and be counted when it comes to protecting professional values. I respect his opinion, and his experience. But that analysis Sunday is beneath his standards and the standards he saw himself as protecting in the Los Angeles Times. I say so for many reasons; I will list three.

* Instead of looking at the actual performance of the actual weblogs actually credentialed to the Boston convention, (a partial list is here) he treated as factual and descriptive for all invited the general reputation blogs have among journalists for inaccuracy, rumor-trading, and “mere” opinion– Matt Drudge-ness. In other words, he didn’t bother doing his homework. Not a single weblog is mentioned in his op-ed, a lack of specificity that would be hard to get away with in the online debates bloggers engage in. Meanwhile, categorical warnings are sounded: “There is already talk of bloggers who would consider publishing items for cash and commercial blogs that tout products.” There’s talk… but does any of it apply to the weblogs credentialed?

* Jones takes as given another common attitude among professional journalists: that the essential difference between mainstream news reporting and bloggers is lower standards among the newcomers. Reporting is absent, opinion freely flies, there’s an open door for gossip, and Big Media is ritually denounced: these are held to be common features among the webloggers– that wacky, impertinent bunch. Other relevant differences (like the way webloggers use the web more effectively than, say, the Los Angeles Times, connecting their users to more and better stuff through the art of linking) go unnoticed because Jones took the recycling route, accepting a hackneyed description of what a weblog is rather than composing his own after thinking about it.

* Jones: “With the status conferred by convention credentials, blogging has arrived as an engaging, important new player in the information carnival. But should blogging displace traditional reporting and journalism, as some in the blogosphere predict it will, then the steak will have been swapped for the sizzle. It’s better to have both.” I agree it is better to have both. But how can weblogs be “an important new player” if they stand as sizzle to the steak provided by the traditional press? What’s important about that? And why is it that “journalists increasingly read blogs,” as Jones himself says? A: “to pick up tips.” Sizzle tips, I guess. Internet gossip– that must be pulling them in. And with 15,000 people from the normally-admitted news media “facing” 30 or so newly-admitted bloggers, how much “displacement” is there really going to be? Why create an IF,THEN statement out of that unlikely–in fact, absurd—premise, and then run with it as a headline?

The weblogs invited to Boston aren’t about to displace or ruin journalism and they are not the triumph of Matt Drudge. Plus, I doubt most of the authors care who’s considered a “real” journalist by the High Church. They’ll do their thing, and I will probably complement what the press corps is doing, not as sizzle is to steak, or gossip is to hard information, but as F sharp is to C Major. Some will tune in to that, most will not. If it were possible, if it were legal, and if it were cheap, I would attach an audio link at this point: Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Seems to capture the mood here.



After Matter: Notes, reactions & links….

Here’s an audio interview with me from today’s Brian Lehrer show on WNYC, the NPR station in New York City. It’s about blogging the convention and horse race journalism and all the other things I’ve been talking about for the past week at PressThink.

Jessie Taylor at pandagon.net has some thoughts on Mister Jones: “I was under the impression that being a journalist turned you into a journalist, not an invite to somewhere to get “behind the scenes”. It sounds tautological, but the point is remarkably true – the person who presents the fact check on an erroneous editorial or article is, honestly, as much a journalist as the person who wrote it.”

Dave Pell also has a reply at Electablog:

Jones assumes that the giving out of media credentials marks a moment of blogging legitimization. While I’ll admit that my mom is pretty impressed by the fact that I got a media pass, I personally think the millions and millions of readers, including many of those in the mainstream press, legitimized blogging more than the Democratic Party’s very smart marketing decision. And second, who says bloggers want to be journalists (assuming we can all even agree on what a journalist is) or that the issuing of credentials turns them into anything other than bloggers who have a ticket to the Fleet Center?

Glenn Reynolds has a tart response (and lots of links): “ALEX JONES writes that press credentials don’t turn bloggers into “journalists.” True enough. Of course, neither does a paycheck from the New York Times or NPR.”

Matt Welch: But Bloggers Aren’t Journalists!!, Take 94:

It takes the issuance of credentials by a friggin’ political party to confer status on people who have built huge audiences from scratch and invigorated the mediasphere by writing for free? What a warped view of journalism.

But should blogging displace traditional reporting and journalism, as some in the blogosphere predict it will, then the steak will have been swapped for the sizzle.

Who in “the blogosphere” has predicted this. Who? No really, who? Has anyone predicted this, let alone “some”?

Jeff Jarvis, The byline makes the man? On “it’s better to have both.”

Well, precisely. And the way to have both is not to dismiss and dis these newfangled weblog thingies, to act self-superior to them, to annoint yourself the priesthood and keep the rabble out of the catherdral. The way to have both is to listen. Join in the conversation, Alex. Read what bloggers are saying about what you said about them.

Take a stance against interested writing… Zephyr Teachout, former director of Internet organizing for Howard Dean, in comments here at BOP:

I would like to see all credentialed bloggers will agree not to write about anyone who is paying them, at least for the duration of the convention.

At a minimum, a credentialed blogger, it seems, should not write about someone who is paying them as a consultant.

Caveats are not sufficient, at least for me, to build trust.

I would offer up to debate whether bloggers should not write about people who are paying them in blogads.

Inasmuch as part of the blogging culture is a response to interested journalism (writing that is either edited or influenced by investment in the subject matter), it seems critical that bloggers take a stance against interested writing.


Permalink
by Jay Rosen
Jul 19 , 1:35 PM  Comments (398) , Trackback (2)

Comments

Jesse Taylor has more that you should read.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at July 19, 2004 02:03 PM

Sir Jay:

Point taken. That said, the last point is worth spending some time on:

“earnestness will attract those who would exploit it, and they include some canny, inventive people.”

The opportunity at this convention for bloggers goes beyond quality and into ethics. Its a chance to establish some trust.

In law, there is a difficult but important line between bias and interest. Bias is political — philosophical – and often allowed. Interest is personal, and forbidden. A judge whose payment depends on the verdict is disqualified.

I would like to see all credentialed bloggers will agree not to write about anyone who is paying them, at least for the duration of the convention.

At a minimum, a credentialed blogger, it seems, should not write about someone who is paying them as a consultant.

Caveats are not sufficient, at least for me, to build trust.

I would offer up to debate whether bloggers should not write about people who are paying them in blogads.

Inasmuch as part of the blogging culture is a response to interested journalism (writing that is either edited or influenced by investment in the subject matter), it seems critical that bloggers take a stance against interested writing.

You’ve probably already written on this (I know you don’t take up bias — but interest?). Forgive me if I’m behind.

Z

Posted by: zephyr at July 19, 2004 02:20 PM

Zephyr,

That seems worthy of a post.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at July 19, 2004 02:24 PM

Zephyr… I’m pretty sure I agree with most of this. I don’t accept any money for anything, so maybe I am uninformed about potential problems.

Two points: Alex Jones was talking about “publishing items for cash and commercial blogs that tout products.” I take it you are addressing other potential problems involving conflict of interest. My question was: are these charges that can fairly be made about any of the credentialed blogs? And what is “there’s talk of…” without any specifics whatsoever, doing in the Los Angeles Times, when weblogs are supposed to be the gossip hounds?

Second: you speak of “credentialed bloggers [who] will agree not to write about anyone who is paying them, at least for the duration of the convention. At a minimum, a credentialed blogger, it seems, should not write about someone who is paying them as a consultant.”

Were you noting that this is good general policy, or were you saying this is an issue for some of the weblogs credentialed by the DNCC?


Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 19, 2004 03:37 PM

Jay, your link to the partial list appears to be broken. Try: http://www.cyberjournalist.net/news/001461.php

Posted by: Ian Welsh at July 19, 2004 03:47 PM

Jay,

I think it would be a good general policy. I just think this moment of public attention is a good time to come together and agree on it. Joe Rospars and I were talking about (on his suggestion) suggesting a rough code of ethics, and using this convention as a time to publicize.

As for examples, I know Kos used to write about people he was consulting (Dean, but I think others), though I hear he’s stopped, which I applaud. Matt Gross, who I worked with, wrote about Erskine Bowles on his blog, and when I asked put a note in a blog post that he was also consulting for Bowles. I applaud the note, but I think its a good time for creating a culture of simply not writing about people you accept money from. These are the only two instances I know of, but I have reason to think there are lots of others, and growing, and while each step is understandable — getting consulting jobs based on political interest and political blogging — you see the problem, and I’m afraid if we don’t publicly talk about norms there won’t be any. In emails the practice is all over the place — I happen to know that so and so is working for such and such campaign, but the emails don’t reveal it. I don’t think people think about it, surprising as that may sound.

Thanks for responding.

Posted by: zephyr at July 19, 2004 03:54 PM

I think a blogger’s policy should be transparent, but there shouldn’t be a general rule.

Posted by: praktike at July 19, 2004 04:20 PM

I think blogging is often personal and thus writing about someone you’re earning money from is probably acceptable as long as that fact is always clearly acknowledged in each and every article written about that person or anywhere else where it might be a conflict.

Posted by: Ian Welsh at July 19, 2004 04:21 PM

Zephyr,

I agree with you – systems of ethics on blogs are very important, and it will be a serious problem if top bloggers are not dealing with conflicts of interest. Their reputation and that of the blogosphere in general will take a big hit.

What about someone like Jesse at Pandagon, who blogs for Jerry Springer?

Just to be clear, Kos was always extremely upfront about his consulting work for Dean. He posted about his relationship fairly frequently, and put a disclaimer on his front page. I know you posted this, I just wanted to make it extra clear.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at July 19, 2004 04:26 PM

Jones’ piece is one of the most hypocritical things I’ve ever read. So obviously so that I’m not sure it’s even worth pointing that out.

“There is already talk of bloggers who would consider publishing items for cash and commercial blogs that tout products.”

Journalists would never do that. Oh, no. If I were a cynic, I’d wonder if Jones is trying to keep his sources of revenue from being diluted.

“Blogging is especially amenable to introducing negative information into the news stream and for circulating rumors as fact.”

Journalists never do that. Oh, no. Especially not in this piece.

“Blogging’s fact-checking apparatus is just the built-in truth squad of those who read the blog and howl loudly if they wish to dispute some assertion.”

Let’s see, a system open to criticism, correction, and vetting by third parties, as opposed to one relying on in-house staff, behind closed doors, all getting paid by the same source…

Enough. I respect professionalism as much as anyone, but Jones is simply projecting the worst qualities of commercial journalism onto bloggers, and doing it via speculation and stereotyping no less. It’s pre-emptive slander.

Jones’ centerpiece dire speculation seems to be that some “canny, inventive people” (a Rupert Murdoch, perhaps? or a Michael Eisner, or the good folks at GE?) might try to exploit the trust engendered by an earnest and sincere messenger. How diabolically original.

Yet amid all this FUD, Jones does not address the only point he could legitimately try to make: that an openly biased source with a conflict of interest is somehow more dangerous than a purportedly objective source with a conflict of interest. (Thank you Zephyr for highlighting the difference).

Matt, surely you can find more legitimate analysis on this topic, something more worthy of discussion.

Posted by: Robert E at July 19, 2004 04:33 PM

Sorry, that last sentence should have been addressed to Jay and Matt, and other contributors as well.

Posted by: Robert E at July 19, 2004 04:37 PM

Robert,

There’s not much to talk about – it was a dumb Op-Ed.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at July 19, 2004 04:53 PM

I should have read Jesse Taylor’s article before venting my spleen, to avoid repetition as well as calm down. I hope my outrage, and the ignorance of Jones and his ilk, doesn’t dissuade anyone from seriously discussing blogging ethics. It’s an important topic for bloggers and blog readers. Journalists have a right to weigh in, but certainly are in no position to assume a patronizing or pedantic attitude.

Posted by: Robert E at July 19, 2004 09:39 PM

“Journalists have a right to weigh in, but certainly are in no position to assume a patronizing or pedantic attitude.”

maybe it’s an _experienced_ attitude – when you know the terrain and its hazards well, and newcomers come onto the field, and you see the mistakes that they’re poised to make, how can you _not_ point them out?

Posted by: Anna at July 19, 2004 09:50 PM

Jones should read yesterday’s Frank Rich column.

My blog on the Jones article here.

Posted by: maha at July 19, 2004 10:51 PM

Anna, such a helpful attitude would not bother me. I saw nothing helpful in the Jones piece. It seemed to me a patronizing dismissal of a diverse group of people based on a negative stereotype. There was a caution buried in there, but I don’t think that was the agenda. I’m not a blogger, and yet I was quite offended. In fact, I have to commend Jay Rosen, Jesse Taylor and other genuine bloggers for responding to Jones’ smears with more civility and dignity than he exhibited in the piece.

Posted by: Robert E at July 20, 2004 12:35 AM

As for examples, I know Kos used to write about people he was consulting (Dean, but I think others), though I hear he’s stopped, which I applaud.

As Matt pointed out, it wasn’t a big secret that I helped out with the Dean campaign. It was only noted on a freakin’ disclaimer on my home page.

If I’m lucky enough to work for a race I care about, then I will write about it. And people will know about my consulting, and be able to filter what I write accordingly. It’s all pretty simple, pretty transparent, and pretty much non-debatable in my book.

I’m not about to censor myself on any issue. If I care about something, I write about it. It’s the essence of blogging.

As for the mainstream media, fuck them. Who cares what some joker journalism professor wrote? Just keep blogging, doing your thing, and the blogosphere will continue to do just fine. We should let our accomplishments speak for themselves, and they will.

Posted by: kos at July 20, 2004 02:44 AM

Kos,

I respectfully disagree. I don’t disagree that you have the right to write what you want, but that we should credential journalists who don’t agree that they shouldn’t write about subject matters they are financially invested in.

Inasmuch as I’m excited about blogging as a way to get better, more accurate and engaging truths about the world, financial interest in the outcome of the stories cuts strongly against that.

I’ve just finished reading Alterman’s “What Liberal Media?” which I strongly recommend. The NY Post is a great example. If I want this fresh new medium to reach heights and readership that we haven’t seen before — which I think I do — I want it to rise without the directly influence press games that Murdoch plays. (NY Post a loss, but a good shill for Fox shows, etc).

FWIW, you’ve been very open about your activism, and that you don’t consider yourself a journalist. I think that’s great. I also think, then, that in THAT role, you are a community leader getting credentials to the convention for your leadership — not an observer. In that sense, you’re using a loophole in the process to get around the arcane DC way people usually get credentials — to be a community leader. Is that fair?

I think where we essentially disagree is that transparency alone is enough. I think its critical, and we should at LEAST encourage that (real transparency, like every post that mentions a client, bloggers mention the nature of their financial interest). But I’d like more than that. You’re more optimistic about human nature and money than I, I guess.

Z

Posted by: zephyr at July 20, 2004 08:35 AM

UPDATE posted at PressThink, July 20: Rebecca Blood in comments here, and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos in comments here, both ask: why bother criticizing Jones? (Blood: “this is just a fluff piece, jay, I’m surprised you even bothered to comment on it.” Kos: “Who cares what some joker journalism professor wrote?” Add Matt Stoller: “There’s not much to talk about – it was a dumb Op-Ed.”)

It’s a fair question. I guess it depends on whether you begin from a position of respect for Alex Jones, for the Los Angeles Times, for the editor of its opinion pages, Michael Kinsley, for Harvard’s Kennedy School where Jones is installed, and for the journalism establishment, in which Jones is a go-to guy for comment on press issues. Institutions matter. Rebellions against the authority, timidity, blindness and arrogance of institutions, or the individuals who head them– those matter too. And when those two things talk to one another, or at least about one another, that also matters.

I’m not a “typical” blogger in the sense of being an outsider or amateur who gained voice for the first time after starting a weblog. I already had a platform of sorts as a J-school professor (and current head of the NYU program.) I had a track record as a press critic and published author before I started PressThink. You might say I am part of the establishment myself; after all, I have a job within it. And my Department at NYU certainly participates in the credentialing and professionalizing of journalism.

Because I participate in both worlds–the press establishment and the self-publishing revolution represented by blogging–I feel I should interpret one to the other. I pay attention to all the points where these worlds connect. And it bothers me when a representative figure like Alex Jones is permitted such a low standard of argument. It bothers me when he plays to the ignorance and prejudice some journalists show toward the upstart bloggers.

The world works through institutions, and institutions are embodied by the individuals who speak for them. If you feel it’s important to argue with the establishment (and some may not), the way that is done is by engaging speakers from it. But there’s a simpler way of putting it. On this subject, I am part of the loyal opposition to Jones and those who think as he does. I am also loyal to the webloggers and what they are trying to do, which is to invigorate the press.

“The people who will invent the next press in America–and who are doing it now online–continue an experiment at least 250 years old,” I wrote in the introduction to PressThink. I want Alex Jones to understand that, and the next time I see him, I will try again.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 20, 2004 10:46 AM

Interesting how this silly op-ed is used to segue into a call for the ethics of the law profession to be enforced on the blogosphere. So, I’ll have to try and remember, if I can enforce it upon myself, to remind the three Kerry staffers that got credentialed as bloggers that they can’t write about Kerry.

No. While I do think their are vested-interest issues to grapple with, standards will come from within the community. Afterall, the political blogosphere is a zero-sum enterprise, totally capitalistic as well. The blog community is keen enough to set the rules we write by without an import of ethics from a bystanding institution.

Also, I would expect that Rosen lives by a different standard than does Gross, as it’s the difference between the journalism/education institution and the political campaign arena.

I don’t think it’s responsible to drag in rightwing disinformation sources as an analogy, even potential. We’ll have some grey areas, but again, if a blogger does wrong, I believe it’s the community, not some hoisted-up code or rule of ethic, that will take care of the matter.

Posted by: Jerome Armstrong at July 20, 2004 11:21 AM

I see Jay’s point — he doesn’t like to see a member in his own professional circle (journalism, academia) write the sort of piece Alex Jones writes. That’s fair enough.

My point was coming from this blogger’s perspective. But yeah, I wouldn’t want Alex Jones be somewhat associated with me 🙂

And Zephyr writes:

FWIW, you’ve been very open about your activism, and that you don’t consider yourself a journalist. I think that’s great. I also think, then, that in THAT role, you are a community leader getting credentials to the convention for your leadership — not an observer. In that sense, you’re using a loophole in the process to get around the arcane DC way people usually get credentials — to be a community leader. Is that fair?

I’m getting creds as a blogger. I’m a blogger. If it’s a loophole, not much loopin’ going on.

Posted by: kos at July 20, 2004 12:38 PM

When this thread began, I thought it was a little silly to be talking ethics around coverage of what is essentially a PR set piece. But I’ve come to believe that this is just the kind of murky grey area–at the confluence of media and government, private and public interests, money and power–where ethics matter most. And I’ve come to believe that the “lack of standards” of the blogosphere is it’s great advantage in this regard.

Thanks in part to blogger involvement, I will pay more attention to this convention than to any so far in my lifetime. From the point of view of an observer, news consumer, and fan of blogs, I hope we see it all from bloggers in terms of ethics, bias and interest: from bloggers exercising higher levels of journalistic integrity and independence than is possible for a paid institutional reporter, to bloggers shamelessly shilling for candidates and agendas and their own egos; from uncredentialled wolves stalking the pavement outside, to campaign staffers and spokespeople, to jokers and loons and mercenaries.

As ever, the lack of “standards and rules” means that all standards and rules are possible. As ever, the blogosphere will sort out who is who, put them in their place, and give them their space. As ever, blog readers like me will enjoy an honest diversity of points of view, of professionalism and amateurism, of passion and jadedness, of purity and corruption, of speechifying and conversation, of education and agitprop. I expect to have access to a depth and breadth of understanding beyond what mainstream journalists can offer, and I will have an unprecedented information-rich context in which to judge and assimilate the traditional reporting.

Posted by: Robert E at July 20, 2004 01:02 PM

On the topic of what’s reportable online is whether it’s necessary or even useful to report everything you hear and learn. I addressed some of these issues in my article The Journalactivist’s Concerns. As an “activist”, you get a bit of trust from a group, often more than you would as an independent observer. Thus you might have to regularly check whether you can, or should, release some information. Your inner journalist may wish to expose the truth, but your inner (outer) activist recognizes the valor in discretion.

What good’s a secret if you can’t keep it? Well I’ll be spilling some of the beans next week; see some of you up here in Boston.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at July 21, 2004 11:13 PM

Jon, thanks for pointing me to this discussion. I would just add that I think a bloggers’ bias, interest, and/or point of view are more visible than a journalist’s, at least in general.

And when I say a journalist, I mean a journalist in the context of that profession. Many of us have written professionally and understand journalistic ethics, though we blog at our own sites now, unpaid and free from editorial intervention.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky at July 22, 2004 08:34 AM

Editor’s note: SPAM CLEANED UP