Talk of the town

I’m sorely disappointed in Columbia Journalism School Dean Nicholas Lemann’s piece in The New Yorker about “journalism without journalists.”

I would have hoped for something more expansive, imaginative, open, creative, generous, constructive, strategic, and hopeful from the head of one of America’s leading journalism schools — from, indeed, the man hired to bring that school into the future — and from a leading light of American reporting.

Instead, Lemann pits professional journalist v. blogger — as if any more ink need be spilled on that putative battleground — and sets up his easy strawmen to tear them down.

His strawman king: that bloggers believe they will replace journalists. I don’t know a single blogger who says that with a straight face. But that is what professional journalists — fewer and fewer of them, actually — think they hear bloggers say and so they snipe back with very straight and sometimes red faces: ‘Yeah, you and who else?’

His next strawman is that some blogging is not journalism or is bad journalism and thus all blogging is not journalism because it is not performed by journalists. He points to some quaint examples of human speech in blogs — more on those in a moment — and dismisses it because it is not institutional and profound. Well, I can point to lots of allegedly professional journalism — somebody paid for it — in lots of newspapers — like the wee daily near me — and on lots of TV and radio stations in this country that is folksy, chatty, uninformative, badly written, and often utter crap. Does that mean that all professional journalism is crap? Of course not. It’s a lazy argument. And while I’m at it, dare I say that I can dig out lots of Talk of the Town pieces and letters from correspondents over the years in The New Yorker that did little or nothing to inform the nation and were written in a once-anonymous, faux folksiness that tried to simulate the humanity and real life you hear in the excerpts Lemann mocks.

The strawman he presents at the start of his essay is that bloggers think they are all inventing something new and that they are really just descendants of the pamphleteers who spread their words with opinion and agenda at the time of America’s founding, long before modern institutional journalism was invented. Stipulated. Says Lemann:

They were the bloggers and citizen journalists of their day, and their influence was far greater (though their audiences were far smaller) than what anybody on the Internet has yet achieved.

I don’t know a blogger who does not agree with that — at least writer-by-writer, if not regarding the medium as a whole. Bloggers proudly point to the pamphleteers as parents. They don’t say they are new against the history of conversation and publication, information and advocacy. Bloggers say they are new when set against the current conceit of institutional journalism that it is objective and dispassionate and is the steward of truth and trust — a kind of journalism that Lemann himself concedes is relatively new. Says Lemann:

In fact, what the prophets of Internet journalism believe themselves to be fighting against–journalism in the hands of an enthroned few, who speak in a voice of phony, unearned authority to the passive masses–is, as a historical phenomenon, mainly a straw man.

But he is a strawman of your making.

The next strawman is me: I am held up as an example of unrestrained blog snarkiness and for that he found quite the juicy tossed tomato, a snitfit I had in 2003 when The New York Times’ John Markoff trotted out his own strawman (one I’d thought to be extinct by now) about blogs being the next CB radio. Markoff also said that he didn’t need a blog because The Times is a blog. I fisked that interview with Markoff and looking back — this came out two weeks after the first Bloggercon — I have to say I still enjoy it. Lemann didn’t even quote my nastiest line: “You know, institutions worry about letting reporters blog without editing but they don’t worry about letting a jackass like this out without a leash.” Opinionated, blunt voices scare big-J Journalists. But we don’t always yell. Only when provoked.

And finally, if there’s any hay left, there’s Lemann’s belief that journalism’s standards were set by the professionals. I’d say they are still being set by the public who have always decided every day whom to believe and whom to trust — only now, we get to hear their decision process.

So Lemann continues to paint this as a fight: bloggers v. journalists. He continues to try to define journalists as the professionals, to define the act by the person who performs it (and, implicitly, the training he has) rather than by the act itself. He continues to try to limit journalism to journalists, wanting in his last line for reporters (note, he didn’t say reporting) to move to citizens’ journalism.

I so wish I had seen him instead imagine the possibilities for news when journalists and bloggers join to work together in a network made possible by the internet. I wish he had seen journalism expanded way past the walls of newsrooms and j-schools to gather and share more information for an informed society. I wish he had used his lofty perch to see beyond the horizon to a new future for journalism and the students he — and I — are teaching now.

But no. Pity.


* * *

: Now to address some of the specifics of Lemann’s piece, in order:

The quality of Internet journalism is bound to improve over time, especially if more of the virtues of traditional journalism migrate to the Internet.

That’s from his lede. And that’s a fair statement. But it’s half a thought. The other half: The quality of professional/traditional journalism is bound to improve over time as its practitioners recognize the value of the questions, contributions, and criticism they can now hear from the public they want to serve.

: Speaking of 17th century Britain’s pamphleteers, Lemann says:

Then as now, the new media in their fresh youth produced a distinctive, hot-tempered rhetorical style. . . . Each side in what Knights understands, properly, as the media front in a merciless political struggle between Whigs and Tories soon began accusing the other of trafficking in lies, distortions, conspiracy theories, and special pleading, and presenting itself as the avatar of the public interest, civil discourse, and epistemologically derived truth. Knights sees this genteeler style of expression as just another political tactic, but it nonetheless drove print publication toward a more reasoned, less inflamed rhetorical stance, which went along with a partial settling down of British politics from hot war between the parties to cold. . . . At least in part, Internet journalism will surely repeat the cycle, and will begin to differentiate itself tonally, by trying to sound responsible and trustworthy in the hope of building a larger, possibly paying audience.

He fails to hear the many voices of internet journalism and discussion, a variety of tones and attitudes as broad and varied as the moods of all the citizens who make it up. Lemann does acknowledge last week’s small Pew survey that revealed most bloggers do not think of what they do as journalism; they think of it as life. So if journalists want to report on and understand and serve the public, then they should realize that they have never had such a golden opportunity to listen to their public.

: Regarding his strawman king, again, Lemann writes:

The more ambitious blogs, taken together, function as a form of fast-moving, densely cross-referential pamphleteering–an open forum for every conceivable opinion that can’t make its way into the big media, or, in the case of the millions of purely personal blogs, simply an individual’s take on life. The Internet is also a venue for press criticism (“We can fact-check your ass!” is one of the familiar rallying cries of the blogosphere) and a major research library of bloopers, outtakes, pranks, jokes, and embarrassing performances by big shots. But none of that yet rises to the level of a journalistic culture rich enough to compete in a serious way with the old media–to function as a replacement rather than an addendum.

Show me the millions of Technorati links claiming that we will fill your newsrooms. And to say that “none of it rises” is a strong and all-too-broad dismissal. None? Not one bit? But if those pamphleteers you cite so admirably were the forefathers of the journalism you also admire today, then isn’t it awfully soon in the lives of the next generation of pamphleteers to judge their value? Isn’t it rather shortsighted to dismiss them?

: After giving Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net a nice plug, Lemann continues:

Even before the advent of NewAssignment.Net, and even for people who don’t blog, there is a lot more opportunity to talk back to news organizations than there used to be. In their Internet versions, most traditional news organizations make their reporters available to answer readers’ questions and, often, permit readers to post their own material. Being able to see this as the advent of true democracy in what had been a media oligarchy makes it much easier to argue that Internet journalism has already achieved great things.

So newspapers allowing readers to email reporters and post comments is the greatest achievement of the internet in news? Faint praise, indeed. He continues:

Still: Is the Internet a mere safety valve, a salon des refusés, or does it actually produce original information beyond the realm of opinion and comment? It ought to raise suspicion that we so often hear the same menu of examples in support of its achievements: bloggers took down the 2004 “60 Minutes” report on President Bush’s National Guard service and, with it, Dan Rather’s career; bloggers put Trent Lott’s remarks in apparent praise of the Jim Crow era front and center, and thereby deposed him as Senate majority leader.

Fair enough. But who is to say that intenret journalism should be judged on the big scoop or the big takedown? Journalism has many markets with many needs. See in today’s Pew study how much people really care about politics versus the rest of their lives. I learn more about any consumerist topic online than I do in any magazine. Do bloggers waste their time covering the White House press room? Why bother? It’s already overcovered and nothing happens there anyway.

But once again, I smell hay. The implication is that until bloggers do what the professional journalists do, then they are not doing journalism, not pulling their weight.

This is the heart of the tragedy of Lemann’s piece. Once again: This is not about replacing the professionals. This is about complementing them, improving their work with additional questions and facts, doing the things they can’t do because there are not enough of them. I would hope that Lemann would see the opportunities for journalism schools and journalism to spread what they know so that journalism can be practiced more widely. (But then, I suppose I should be glad for the lack of competition.)

Finally, it seems that Lemann starts to see the light:

Eyewitness accounts and information-sharing during sudden disasters are welcome, even if they don’t provide a complete report of what is going on in a particular situation. And that is what citizen journalism is supposed to do: keep up with public affairs, especially locally, year in and year out, even when there’s no disaster. Citizen journalists bear a heavy theoretical load. They ought to be fanning out like a great army, covering not just what professional journalists cover, as well or better, but also much that they ignore. Great citizen journalism is like the imagined Northwest Passage–it has to exist in order to prove that citizens can learn about public life without the mediation of professionals. But when one reads it, after having been exposed to the buildup, it is nearly impossible not to think, This is what all the fuss is about?

So then he sets up an expectation so that he can knock it down. Cheap trick. Old, traditional journalistic trick. He goes on to mock a sampling of citizens’ journalism, to say that it does not reach those standards, does not do that job, disappoints him. He picks on an OhMyNews lede and I will say that the English version of OhMy (I can’t speak for the Korean) is often clumsy in its reporting and writing. Fine. But there are a million more citizen journalists where they came from. He quotes from Northwest Voices and Backfence. But most foolishly, he quotes from Debbie Galant’s Baristanet post about her vacation, possibly not realizing that Debbie is a former New York Times journalist Journalist. He doesn’t point to the valued local reporting she and her neighbors do. He says that she is “one of the most esteemed ‘hyperlocal bloggers’ in the country” but it appears he does not esteem her. His loss.

He concludes his tour of citizens’ journalism:

In other words, the content of most citizen journalism will be familiar to anybody who has ever read a church or community newsletter–it’s heartwarming and it probably adds to the store of good things in the world, but it does not mount the collective challenge to power which the traditional media are supposedly too timid to take up. Often the most journalistically impressive material on one of the “hyperlocal” citizen-journalism sites has links to professional journalism, as in the Northwest Voice, or Chi-Town Daily News, where much of the material is written by students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, who are in training to take up full-time jobs in news organizations.

Right. The citizens see this as a partnership. So should the journalists, then.

At the highest level of journalistic achievement, the reporting that revealed the civil-liberties encroachments of the war on terror, which has upset the Bush Administration, has come from old-fashioned big-city newspapers and television networks, not Internet journalists; day by day, most independent accounts of world events have come from the same traditional sources.

And no one would say that those reporters should be fired and their work stopped. (Well, except in the cast of the NSA and banking stories, some might disagree….)

Even at its best and most ambitious, citizen journalism reads like a decent Op-Ed page, and not one that offers daring, brilliant, forbidden opinions that would otherwise be unavailable.

Like, oh, Maureen Dowd?

Most citizen journalism reaches very small and specialized audiences and is proudly minor in its concerns.

Exactly. This never was a one-size-fits all world, it only seemed that way when this was all the news that fit.

Lemann ends here:

Journalism is not in a period of maximal self-confidence right now, and the Internet’s cheerleaders are practically laboratory specimens of maximal self-confidence. They have got the rhetorical upper hand; traditional journalists answering their challenges often sound either clueless or cowed and apologetic. As of now, though, there is not much relation between claims for the possibilities inherent in journalist-free journalism and what the people engaged in that pursuit are actually producing. As journalism moves to the Internet, the main project ought to be moving reporters there, not stripping them away.

But that, I say, should have been the beginning of his piece: Just how, Dean Lemann, do you propose to do that?

* * *

Note: I’m rushing off from the Panera to pick up my son and so I haven’t combed over this. Like a sloppy blogger, I’m putting it up anyway because I value the conversation that I hope will ensue. So I may tweak later but here it is. (And, yes, I’ll make “strawman” two words then.)

: LATER: See Jay Rosen’s response to another strawman the other day:

Grrrr. I too find it entertaining that there are so many people in the traditional media who claim that large numbers of bloggers think they can replace journalists (but it’s not likely to happen.) The belief is almost entirely the invention of the people who wish to debunk it. Weird, right?

: LATER: More discussion from Len Witt, Mitch Ratcliffe, Social Media, Azeem Azhar, Ed Cone.

: I should respond to the challenge I give to Dean Lemann at the end of the post. I’ll write a post later.

: LATER STILL: Steven Johnson says it eloquently and briefly and correctly.

: AND MORE LINKS: Tosh on tosh. Robin Hamann with a wrapup of more droning on the topic.

  • http://donsurber.blogspot.com don surber

    strawman one word. That’s the concept. Fireman. Policeman. Snowman. Strawman.
    Dictionary.com agrees with me.
    Oh, the actual post. Good one. “Journalism is not in a period of maximal self-confidence right now>”
    BS
    That’s the problem. Too many cats out there who dare mock readers and bloggers
    Later

  • http://www.newyorker.com/ A.J. Liebling

    Actually, Lemann’s first idea was to draw a dog at a computer with the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re not a journalism professor.” And then Remnick said, if you’re going to fire away at West 40th street, load the damned cannon.

  • jowfair

    Don,

    Go check out dictionary.com again (not that it’s an authoritative source exactly). “Straw man” [is also] two words. It’s perfectly valid – and IIRC the original form of the phrase.

    Reading only Jeff’s review of the article,
    Mr. Lemann apparently uses rhetorical effects and logical sleights-of-hand to attack blogism for faults easily detectable in dead-tree journalism. Are those misleading effects what he is complaining of missing? and did he really leave out the Monica Lewinsky story (drudgereport.com) that brought about impeachment hearings against a President of the United States?

    What are people’s thoughts? is he more annoyed at prospective fisking? declining subscription numbers? or the idea that citizen journalists make his school somewhat superfluous?

  • http://donsurber.blogspot.com don surber

    I prefer compound nouns. Firetruck. Racetrack. Baseball. Must be the German in me.

  • http://blog.johnathonwilliams.com/archives.html Johnathon Williams

    Jeff,

    I think this is indicative of the most persistent problem among traditional journalists when it comes to the Web — that so many of the best and brightest simply don’t get it. They don’t get it because there has never been anything like the immediate, collaborative, and global personal publshing offered by blogs. Comparisons to pamphleteers or anything else are moot. What’s worse, they don’t get it because they’re not doing it. The nature of the blogosphere is best revealed by participation, because particiation is its nature.

    Someone should set Mr. Leeman up with a blog. He’s too smart to be this wrong.

  • http://blogspotting.net steve baker

    I think there’s too much defining going on. People now have the tools to publish their findings and ideas. Some will make a difference for two people, some for two million. They’ll earn or lose the trust of their public by the quality of their work. It won’t matter who, if anyone, employs them.

  • http://blog.johnathonwilliams.com/archives.html Johnathon Williams

    Apologies for misspelling Mr. Lemann’s name. A copy editor would have caught that. :)

  • http://spap-oop.blogspot.com tish grier

    Well, once again someone from MSM is commenting on a genre without talking to (not just reading about) a single soul who participates in that genre. Lazy, lazy, lazy! Lemann’s article reads like a wonderful piece of history writing–a fabulous 5 page paper for class– but it’s all just alot of book learnin’.

    Would have been nice if Lemann did some actualy investigating for his piece–but I guess that would have been too much for someone so busy…

    And if journalists don’t make the transition to the realm of the Internet, they’ve got no one to blame but the corporate structure that’s hamstringing journalists daily.

    It remains amazingly tiring to read another esteemed personage beat up on a genre that’s still in its infancy. Lemann would be serving his profession far better if he were doing some talking about the problems within the profession and not finger-pointing to the world outside.

  • http://my-ambatchdotcom-seocontest.blogspot.com/ ambatchdotcom secontest

    I am doing this post only to tell u if you can pls make shorter posts, cause I like reading your blog, but this post was really long, and couldnn’t finish reading it

  • anonymous

    “He continues to try to define journalists as the professionals, to define the act by the person who performs it (and, implicitly, the training he has) rather than by the act itself.”

    Here’s where I disagree with him, and maybe with many others. I think the biggest problem is that professionals in most fields are not defined by the act, or by the training. They are defined by KNOWLEDGE. Specialized, often measurable, knowledge of practice that is not able to be picked up casually but requires specialized training and study to acquire. The training leads to the knowledge, not to the definition of a professional. And the act certainly doesn’t define a professional.

    The fact that so many citizens can practice journalism makes me think it is not a profession. And that journalists do not have proprietary or specialized knowledge. All they have is a press pass and printing press.

    If Lemann wants to prove there’s a difference between journalists and others who pretend to be journalists, he should show me what journalists know that can’t be learned easily by non-journalists.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    ambatch: the fairest of criticism. that’s why i wrote the primary post above the three asterisks; that’s what i had to say. then continued to rebut specific points but that fisking, as we call it, is for extra credit. at least mine is shorter than lemann’s.

  • Sebastian

    The biggest strawman here is the one you create by reducing Lemann’s article to ‘journalist v. blogger’. Ratcliffe has it right.

    You’re getting predictable rather than insightful Jeff, much like the big dumb old media you critique.

  • Andy Freeman

    The more I hear “we’re irreplaceable/essential” from professional journalists and their supporters/advocates, the more likely I think it is that they will disappear. Why? Because their explanations and reasons are typically wrong.

    There may be something that will keep professional journalists around, but the PJs don’t seem to know what it is.

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  • C Bennett

    Re Sebastian: it isn’t repetitiveness that is bothersome so much as being right; I’ve had a hundred discussions with my son wherein I take the position that learning algebra is important. He calls me repetitive and predictable in these arguments. I say I’m right and I’ll move on to new positions when (if?) he changes.

    And speaking of my son, this post should be linked to the earlier one on the Woody Allen movie — that is the audience Lemann is (primarily) addressing. His arguments are irrelevant to my son because he never wonders whether his web sources are professional journalists with academic training and editors. Like anyone used to using networks, he trusts the network to be the gyroscope that keeps the whole contraption fairly aligned with what’s accurate. He doesn’t even know there IS a J-school that claims to exclusively BE that gyroscope. This orientation toward information gathering at his age will have long-term influences as he reaches adulthood.

    Two and a half years ago a former head of journalism at Columbia made an insightful comment (I thought): one of the web breakthroughs that would most influence traditional MSM was Craigslist. It’s impact was already seen then in the auction price for the northen California paper, the last “big sale price” independent-paper sale in this generation, he guessed.

    While the J-school deans are arguing about professional standards in front of Woody Allen’s audience, the kids entering J school this year are using Craigslist to find their apartment and used journalism textbooks; and they’re IMing each other in class that the prof is boring.

    Like every other industry, the managers/deans need to get out of their offices and circulate among the customers and, as Peter Drucker insisted, the non-customers, too, to listen to the conversations and watch the behavior. It’s a reminder that customers play a big role in determining the quality of products.

    Thanks, Jeff, for providing a forum for conversation around these periodic lectures from big media. If I think of a class (I’m at a university) where one person delivers a lecture and leaves the room and a second person enters and facilitates the discussion, which person will eventually have the most influence on the thinking of those who regularly attend? By missing this point, the lecturers have given up a lot of their advantage in shaping the key arguments and influencing those they wish to influence.

  • Sebastian

    Sorry C Bennett, but this debate has many more nuances and legitimate debate points than ‘algebra is important’. Many smart minds posit that Jeff is part of a Web 2.0 orthodoxy that cannot interpret things like Lemann’s article without sounding like an outraged televangelist.

    Maybe we’ll see an ‘Exploding Televangelism’ category on this blog soon!

  • http://makemarketinghistory.blogspot.com/ John Dodds

    “His arguments are irrelevant to my son because he never wonders whether his web sources are professional journalists with academic training and editors”

    That may be true, but it’s a recipe for a very ill-informed future.

  • http://greenteth.blog.co.uk/main Ian Thorpe

    I would have thought a more appropriate response to the article would have been no response at all. Who cares what some pompous New Yorker journo thinks about bloggers. What is a blogger? How can anyone write difinitively about something that defies definition?

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Jeff,

    I completely disagree with what you said above.

    Complaining about the length of blog posts is asinine. Either don’t read them, learn to skim, better manage your time, or go back and read the archive sometime between now and your demise.

  • http://submandave.blogspot.com submandave

    Odd coincidence that this become a buzz about the same time I finally got around to writing some long stewing thoughts on almost the same topic. I agree with the essence that professional (in the “working-for-money” sense) reporters will not simply go away, but think I did a better job in recognizing that this is due to the nature of citizen-reporters and not an endemic flaw in them. Oh, and I was also honest enough to acknowledge the straw man nature of the claim that blogger think they will replace the MSM.

  • http://www.billingsnews.com David Crisp

    “at least mine is shorter than lemann’s.”

    On the other hand, his is thoughtul, gracefully written and a pleasure to read. Yours? Well, I haven’t managed to get through it yet.

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  • Esteban

    I am a traditional and occasionally paid journalist who is a traditional professor who traditionally scorned the non-traditional world of blogs.

    Until I read them.

    And I mean read them so recently that my embarrassment requires me to use a pseudonym.

    But when media are the object of your study and teaching, you are simply incompetent if you don’t attend to any new media channel or technology that gains traction. So I plowed in, ready — as I would have said a month ago — for all the self-absorbed naval gazers who would be writing about what they planted in their garden or how they blanched tomatoes. Or for blogs publishing Pan Am Flight 800 documents that only Pierre Salinger — God rest his soul — would have believed.

    And, of course, I began my foray almost genetically encoded with the standard question: Who edits this crap?

    Long story short: Everything is there. The naval gazers. The Flight 800 conspiracy theorists. Crap. Lies. Hate. Crackling prose. Provocative ideas. Meticulously documented traditional journalism. Brilliance. Stupidity. Sloppily documented quasi-journalism. Semi-quasi whatever. Everything.

    And then the most obvious revelation struck my traditional head: I am the editor! By God, it’s me who decides if something is crap. I decide if the sourcing was adequate. I send something back for editing or rewrite. I fact check. I send darts. I send arrows. I am riveted. I am bored. I log. I log off. I use a pseudonym. I use my real name. I embrace it. I tell it to take a long walk off a short pier. I am master of my own blogosphere.

    And that’s what Lemann misses.

    Look, I love first-rate traditional New York Times journalism. And I think the paper as currently constituted provides an enormous amount of it. OK, I love the Times. Go ahead, laugh at me. To tell you the truth, I even admire Nicholas Lemann’s prose.

    But anyone who takes a good two weeks and immerses themselves in the blogosphere will find a world so dramatically different from Lemann’s “church or community newsletter” that I find it impossible not to consider his observation both a cheap shot and out and out wrong.

    Look, I can’t deny that I found a load of insufferably self-absorbed, self-important “I Was a Teenage Pundit” pundits whose sense of their place in the cosmos is embarrassingly inflated. If Marcos and the Kos is an acquired taste, I gagged rather than tasted. If Marcos is my future leader, show me the way to Denmark. So? I went elsewhere.

    So where did I end up? I never would have imagined. Complete surprise.

    Not knowing that there is a rich feminist blogging community (and not even knowing how much I cared about feminism) I happened upon a blog by an anonymous woman named Violet Socks where almost every issue I care about was debated and discussed and written about with style and wit and focused anger. Violet, whoever she is, (and she refuses to tell anyone) talks like a longshoreman (a woman longshoreman, of course), head-butts like Zidane, and writes superbly (often brilliantly). And she is constantly mining the junkosphere for nuggets that illustrate her arguments about male privilege.

    I won’t detail how my brief affair (no sex in this story, sorry, not even cyber) with Violet played out. But I will say that Nick Lemann and anyone else who can’t do without editing, sourcing, and proofreading have an abundamce of first-rate places to go. I certainly know. I teach that stuff. I even love it.

    But if you are willing to be part of a process and not simply a consumer of product, and if you love experiencing a range of emotions and level of provocation that has previously been played out privately everywhere from bars to bedrooms, for God’s sakes, don’t listen to Nicholas Lemann.

  • cooper

    Beg your pardon for what might look like self-promotion…but check my book, Watching the Watchdog. (Get it through interlibrary loan, if you don’t want to buy a copy.) There’s no doubt in my mind that bloggers are beginning to demand that MSM journos actually live up to their professional ethics (as in the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code). The accuracy tenet is a big deal–and bloggers have frequently called MSM journos on it.

    Jarvis has it right; Lemann doesn’t understand this new development in the media system.

  • Guy Love

    Hmmm, not only is the horse we call blogging out of the barn, it is over the hill and into the next county. I can’t help but wonder how the esteemed head of the Columbia Journalism School has showed up late in the day to complain the barn door is open and somehow can’t seem to realize the horse is long gone.

    The established media refuses to embrace the future and are rapidly being left behind to complain to themselves. Decentralized high-speed high-volume information flow is here to stay and not going away. They need to get on with the process of adapting. Why is that so hard to figure out?

  • C Bennett

    Re Sebastian: True — your point was a little more complex than mine and I may have missed its essence. But within the broader and more nuanced discussion there is a core that keeps getting questioned — stationarity on that topic isn’t necessarily a problem.

    Re Dodds: I’m not endorsing that kind of foraging as necessarily a good thing, but there is a natural reflex in the next generation to find their information in ways that frustrate the current gatekeepers — trying to defend the current structure because it is “right” may be an interesting discussion, but technology is making it anachronistic. In many ways, there are real losses, but managing the change is more realistic than arguing that the structure isn’t changing, which won’t ultimately be helpful to anyone.

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  • steven

    As a current graduate student in journalism (and not at either Columbia or CUNY for that matter… and I really try not to capitalize it), I have to say I’m disheartened–though not shocked–by Lemann’s comments. Most of those who come from the realm of the old print model have a lot of trouble appreciating what his been accomplished in software due to open-source.

    Thus, these people tend to fall back on the stark “bloggers want to replace journalists” argument–and completely miss how much can be done through cooperation and group work/feedback/crowdsourcing, etc. Incidentally, it is not a coincidence that these are the people who also criticize Wikipedia for what it gets wrong, without considering that a) it is a work in progress, and b) the wisdom of the crowd–under the right circumstances–really is better than the wisdom or work of a few.

    Bloggers simply want their voice to be heard and those who ARE blogging about the MSM and politics (and not about their cats or what they ate for dinner) are trying to add whatever they can to the discussion and the process. Frankly, as a journalist, I’m all for getting as much assistance and help as possible. And besides, even if open sourcing journalism does seem somewhat techno-utopian, it’s goal–no matter how naive it may sound–is simply to IMPROVE upon things. To turn away what is essentially a free and passionate labor force seems both illogical and stubborn.

  • http://www.video-link.tv Lars

    Esteban.. I couldn’t agree more, the diamonds are out out there even if noise to signal ratio can be somewhat deafening. I just wanted to pass along a line from (imho a great book) Communities Dominate Brands by Alan Moore and Tomi Ahonen: “Nobody is as smart as everybody”.. 8-)

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  • http://www.newsfight.com RHMF

    Bloggers vs. Journalists? Sure, whatever…what’s needed is an arena where all people who care about a free press can come and fight for a new one. You can listen to a lot of “ivory tower” navel gazing about what’s wrong with the media, or you can do something about it. It’s time to fight for a new free press, it’s time for NewsFight.

    Join the fight.

    http://www.newsfight.com

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  • TL

    I find it disturbing that Nick and many others believe that Web journalism equals text–and maybe the occasional static photograph or graphic. That indicates a rather astounding lack of understanding about the Web’s–and the Internet’s–capabilities. For example, in this brave new world, a searchable database or spread sheet can be part of a “news” story. And journalists of all stripes have such tools at their disposal to expand, illuminate, and flesh out a story. Stranger still, a lot of people–Nick included–don’t have much of anything to say about hyperlinks and what do for readers who’d like to learn more about a topic, issue or event discussed in a trad news piece. Are “sources” really suppose to be that closely held?

    Talk about not getting it.

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  • http://newsmanbook.com Dick McMichael

    Whether or not bloggers are citizen journalists or not, or whether they will replace mainstream Journalists, bloggers can feel good about their role in keeping mainstream media honest. Ignoring a story by the Journalists does not mean it won’t be known anymore. When the public realizes that the Journalists didn’t report something of significance, Big J’s credibility armor gets another chink.

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  • http://www.newsovercoffee.com NewsOverCoffee

    Thanks for allowing comments since the New Yorker article did not.

    At the end of the day the economics of the “professional” media will not allow publications to provide coverage on the most local of levels, particularly in non-metropolitan areas.

    Where the business of the professional media results in gaps in coverage it seems to me that the simple sharing of information from one community member to another via the internet, be it a publishing mechanism such as a blog, wiki or otherwise, is preferable to nothing.

    As media organizations attempt to appeal to a larger and larger audience to boost declining revenue, they will open the door further for small, independent organizations, not to mention individuals, who will serve all the noble purposes Lemann holds dear, with or without, the $100,000 or so education he can provide.

    It is not about competition. It is about sharing information.

  • Abraham Fuchs

    President George W. Bush:

    Please stop the sissy war you are waging!

    Cordon off the suspected areas of insurgency and QUARANTINE that population!

    Keep them under quarantine until you have vetted who is not the enemy!

    There are good citizens there and bad guys. Why can’t you separate them???

    If Franklin Roosevelt could do it with Japanese Americans you can do it with the Iraqis!

    Stop sending our boys out there to be cannon fodder!

    Would General Patton be as impotent as your military under your leadership, seems to be?

    President Bush fight a real war in Iraq or get out and let them fight it out the way we did in our Civil War!

    If the bad guys win the civil war then we can come in THEN and bomb the hell out of them!

    The bad guys are winning now as it is! Don’t you see that??? You’re presiding over a DUCK SHOOT!

    Last but not least. Get rid of that arrogant fool – Rumsfeld!

    Concerned citizen,

    Abraham Fuchs

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  • http://kizgiydirme.com kiz giydirme

    “His next strawman is that some blogging is not journalism or is bad journalism and thus all blogging is not journalism because it is not performed by journalists.” he point out an important issue but I believe that this is wrong. Most important think is to think like a journalist

  • http://www.clarkspizza.com Michael

    Journalists …..
    is a profession to be proud of, with education, dedication, toughness in the search for news, about the war, business, entertainments, technology, animal lovers</a.
    In the Internet era, we are introduced to the blog. With the blog we can express ourselves without being limiting, can become
    entrepreneurs, businessmen, etc.. So if there is the question of whether bloggers can replace journalists? then I say NO, because the motivation is different between bloggers and journalists.
    Journalists and Blogger, is the two professions go hand in hand.

  • http://www.clarkspizza.com Michael

    Journalists …..
    is a profession to be proud of, with education, dedication, toughness in the search for news, about the war, business, entertainments, technology, animal lovers.
    In the Internet era, we are introduced to the blog. With the blog we can express ourselves without being limiting, can become entrepreneurs, businessmen, etc.. So if there is the question of whether bloggers can replace journalists? then I say NO, because the motivation is different between bloggers and journalists.
    Journalists and Blogger, is the two professions go hand in hand.

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