Rosen: News elites endangered as information sources expand

Jay Rosen, like Clay Shirky in an earlier Future of Journalism interview, says people will be better informed in the future because: “We don’t have to depend on a single elite for our information,” and he adds, “I’m not optimistic about the survival of this cloistered elite that once monopolized the news system.”

The whole video interview and transcript are below.

Watch for more Leonard Witt Future of Journalism interviews with Michael Schudson, Penelope Abernathy, Robert Picard, Jeff Jarvis and others. Or sign up on the Center for Sustainable Journalism home page, if you want alerts as we post the other Future of Journalism videos.


Hi I’m Len Witt, I’m here with Jay Rosen. He’s a professor at NYU, and he has somewhere above now 30,000 people following him on Twitter, and I’ve always respected  his work for a really long time  and so Jay here’s the big question – What do you think the future of journalism is going to be?

Jay Rosen: You ask large questions

Witt:  Sorry

Rosen:  I think it’s going to be much more fluid and complicated than it is now with many more players, many more participants, obviously with many more sources of news. The news system itself will extend to more  and more people as we see with Twitter, there will be a variety of funding models,  and there will be players that come in and out, there will be more tumult,  more revolutions,  there will be continuous disruptions by new technologies, and there will be some things that remain the same like importance of accuracy, truth, and trust, and verifiability and the questioning of surveillance of power. those things will all remain very important but it will be a much more confusing complex and fluid picture than it is now.

Witt:  So do you think the people will be better informed than they are now? The public and the public’s fear,  or less informed or you just don’t have a clue?

Rosen: I think it’s going to be better.

Witt: Why is that?

Rosen: Because we don’t have to depend on  a single elite for our information.

Witt: So do you think that’s already happening? Or do you think….

Rosen: Yeah it is already happening.

Whitt: So what role then does professional journalism play in this, if any?

Rosen: Well they’re still very important and I think they can be a partner with the public in successfully reporting  the environment .   I think they can listen to what users need and provide that.  And I still think that there is an important job to be done in digging under the surface and telling us things that powerful people don’t want us to know. I think that will remain important and difficult for others to do well.

Witt: Yeah, it’s hard work. You know I was a journalist, and it’s hard work.  And so how are they going to be paid for this, that’s the big question that keeps floating around.

Rosen: Don’t know.

Witt: Don’t know.  So you don’t know. So does that make you an optimist, a pessimist in all of this? Or…

Rosen: I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on.  I’m optimistic in one particular sense that is that the young people who are coming into the system today and who are interested in journalism today, they’re not worried. They feel like they are going to be able to figure it out.  And they embrace the web. They embrace the openness of the web and the new tools that are emerging to do journalism with, and I get a lot of joy and optimistic spirit from them. So since I have a lot of confidence in them in that sense I’m optimistic. I’m not optimistic about the survival of this cloistered elite that once monopolized the news system.

Witt: Okay, so I just saw the other day, or yesterday even, that 60% of students who come out of journalism have gotten jobs which means 40% have not gotten jobs and that’s 10% fewer than last year.  So why would someone want to be a journalist under those circumstances?

Rosen:  Well that’s up for debate and that’s up to individual students. We have 500 majors at NYU. If we have 400 or 300 we’ll survive.  But I think a reason to go into journalism school today would be to help solve these problems and help invent the next news system because the people who are running it now certainly don’t know how.

Witt: So you have two children?

Rosen: Yes.

Witt:  Would you advise them to go to a journalism school?

Rosen: Well, I don’t know….yeah,  if they wanted to contribute to the thing that journalism does well, which is inform and equip people that participate in their democracy, if that is something that drove them, if they felt it from within, then I would certainly encourage them to go to journalism school. Yeah.

Witt:  Excellent!  Thank you very much Jay, Bye Bye

Rosen:  Bye

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8 Responses to Rosen: News elites endangered as information sources expand
  1. Michael
    December 9, 2009 | 3:55 pm

    Rosen hasn’t had anything new to say about media in years. All he changes are the disparaging nicknames for journalists. Now its “cloistered elites.” But that’s how it goes in academia. We working journalists feel neither.

    At least he responds to one question that, well, yes, digging beneath the surface and taking on powerful interests on behalf of the public is “important.” That kind of First Amendment journalism will never come out of the blogosphere or “public partners.” The former don’t know how, that latter don’t have time.

    Had he worked as a journalist for any amount of time, faced threats, stonewalls, intimidation, jiggered records, lies, or, from time to time, the sense of having done something meaningful that benefited people, I wonder how his sunny landscape of web information would feel. Thin, maybe? The landscape described by one of his teachers, Neil Postman: “…a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions’. ”

    Referencing the other interview in this series, with Clay Shirkey, a comment along the same lines from that post.

    Posted December 3, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    While I agree with Shirky’s comments about the great uncertainty of what’s to come in terms of accountability journalism, I scoff at his claim that “infovores” like himself are going to be better off. I don’t care how much of an infovore he is, he would not found out about the U.S. black jails, the secret surveillance program, the Tiger Force murder rampage in Vietnam, Bush’s signing statement policy, etc. etc. etc. without the existence of skilled, dedicated, well-funded full-time news reporters and organizations. He’s fooling (and flattering) himself. The disappearance of full-time accountability journalism organizations is going to seriously affect him and everyone else.

  2. Wm. F. Hirschman
    December 9, 2009 | 5:30 pm

    Harris and Michael: You go, girls.
    For the 20-plus years I’ve watched him, Jay Rosen has struck me as a sincere and thoughtful ivory tower theorist who celebrates his cluelessness about the actual production of vetted information. He has done more damage than anyone to this profession other than Jeff Jarvis, Sam Zell and Tony Ridder. There is a need for insightful philosophizing and blue skying, but this self-perpetuating, self-rationalizing crud isn’t it.

  3. Leonard Witt
    December 10, 2009 | 5:46 pm

    William Hirschman:

    I have known and watched Jay Rosen’s work from the mid1990′s. I do believe if working journalists had paid more attention to the ivory tower thinkers, they might not be in quite the mess they are today. For example, in 2004, Rosen said: “The age of the mass media is just that an age. It doesn’t have to last forever.”

    What were you saying in 2004?

  4. griftdrift
    December 10, 2009 | 6:19 pm

    Interesting. So you believe it isn’t possible for vetted information to be produced by a non-professional? I disagree with that but I do agree that at this point it is probably unlikely for a non-professional to produce a pentagon papers moment but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. So is it really more fruitful to take an all-in position of save us or else instead of seeking a way forward that utilizes the strengths of both worlds?

  5. David Holmberg
    December 11, 2009 | 12:08 am

    Right on, William Hirshman. Even critics of Rosen rarely confront the issue of the cumulative damage he’s done to the industry. He may not measure up to Zell in that department, but his foolishly theoretical sniping has certainly been detrimental. And what I find especially disturbing is that his misguided, voice-of-inexperience crusade clearly began as a career move when his promotion of so-called “public journalism” never took off. Then, he was correctly marginalized. Now, sadly, he and his followers are dominant.

    David Holmberg

  6. Leonard Witt
    December 11, 2009 | 9:37 am

    So David:

    You write: Now, sadly, he and his followers are dominant.

    Have you tried to reason through why Jay Rosen and his followers are dominant? If you have, how do think that dominance occurred?

  7. Tim Cavanaugh
    December 13, 2009 | 11:05 pm

    Had he worked as a journalist for any amount of time, faced threats, stonewalls, intimidation, jiggered records, lies, or, from time to time, the sense of having done something meaningful that benefited people…

    … then he would know what self-dramatizing blowhards working journalists are. How do you get time to post blog comments when you’re this busy saving all humanity?

  8. Maurice Cardinal
    December 31, 2009 | 6:50 pm

    Michael, you live in a fantasy world if you think journalism is representing. Where was your voice when Bush hyped claims of WMD? Show me how you challenged him and I’ll take you seriously.

    Journalists have to let go of their huge egos.

    I do journalistic work part time as an amateur and have achieved more than 90% of the pros on the beat. It’s time for your biased, advertorial house of cards to fall.

    Journalism isn’t the first industry to be impacted by the digital age.

    Robots put autoworkers out of work, digital cameras did the same to photographers, MP3 decimated the music industry, and now journalists are taking a hit.

    Follow the music industry and you’ll get a good idea of how journalism will play out.

    It’s not that complicated unless you’re stubborn and refuse to change.

    As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

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