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« Attention in the 'Syndisphere' | Main | Citizen Videos Counter Official Accounts »

April 10, 2005


Claiborne Booker

Mr Gillmor --

You may be interested in Edward Tufte's comment on this, referencing the same article:

"A new use for salmon coloring: to test if wild salmon is actually wild. As Marian Burros devastatingly reports in the New York Times, 6 of 8 samples of salmon recently sold in New York at up to $28.99 per pound as 'wild' were in fact farmed salmon, as revealed by testing for additive carotenoids. This is why so much 'wild salmon' was available off- season, from November to March.

How about blind taste-testing that compares farmed and wild salmon to see if renowned chefs can detect any difference? Blind wine-tasting indicates that sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between red and white wine (as reported in witty essay by Calvin Trillin).

This news story uses a good diversity of evidence in doing detective work. "

As you know, Tufte's beat is information design, and he has a lively discourse on the salmon "color wheel" at his Website that may be of interest.

Jon Garfunkel

Let's switch sides on this, since you're playing the big media booster this time. I do think that what the citizen-readers should be doing here is asking and prioritizing questions. That was the reasoning behind the Question Scoreboard, an example of which I called Stump the President.


Robert Leonard

Big Journalism is still today big journalism.

Today, we see citizen journalism as reactionary (mostly). With the tools and the understanding as well as a media that continues to create more vacuums, don't you see the evolution accelerating? We see this from both Public Information officers and ‘just people’ as they come to understand – they control the content.

Credibility comes with time, readership and feedback from that readership.



The point here is not whether "big journalism" or grassroots journalists are more willing to ask tough questions -- or conceive of them in the first place -- it's the resources you need once you've decided you're going to try to crack a tough nut. Not that the nut here is the toughest to crack -- it was a matter of having the imagination and logistical support to observe what was happening in the market in the first place, gather samples, and then get them tested. That cost some money and time, and surely the journalists involved were allowed to stay on the trail because they didn't have to worry about whether their blogging would generate enough AdSense dollars to support the project and their next mortgage/car/tuition/medical insurance payment. But compare the time and effort involved here with something that would really take a bite out of your wallet -- for instance, Tony Horwitz's project on working conditions poultry plants for the Wall Street Journal (1994?) -- or something like taking on the Pentagon about anything, and you can see the value of deep pockets.

Of course, as we see every day, deep pockets aren't a guarantee that resources will be used for tough, daring reporting. And they're not an absolute pre-requisite for that kind of journalism, either. Take a look at George Seldes's In Fact, which scooped the surgeon general on tobacco's links to lung cancer and other health problems by two or three decades, and you see someone who'd be right at home in the push for grassroots journalism. But even Seldes got his start in the world of big journalism.


I'd hate to see big media slide away -- with the caveat that this is only so if they do their job. All too often they don't, and that extra money just goes into some exec's pockets or to boost the bottom line for the upcoming quarter.

It's not what you are, it's what you do. Remember, if the web was a few decades older, I.F. Stone would've been a blogger.


Not as pointless as this study:
"People who drink malt liquor are more likely to be homeless, jobless and receive public assistance."


I suppose this is an example of something big journalism did that was good. But even still, getting your news from an organization that makes its money from advertisements is like getting laid through a glory hole: you're just asking to get screwed by another guy.



I'd like to take this a step further and suggest we can no longer trust American Big Journalism to give us credible and hard-hitting stories about serious issues and that more and more people are turning to non-American news sources to get serious pieces on issues that American Big Journalism won't touch anymore. I'll give you an example -- the Globe and Mail's great piece on Saturday on science reporting by Carolyn Abraham under the headline "No Faith in Science." This piece is better than anything I've seen in the mainstream American media about the topic and why I find myself going to places like the BBC web site more and more to get the whole story on big issues.

Alex Rowland

I don't think there was ever the question that big media would go away. I think the question is what is considered big media. Plenty of citizen's journalism outfits will slowly grow in size and credibility until they can support similar efforts. There will always be some big fish in the pool, it's just that those big fish will come and go more rapidly. This is a cyclical phenomenon, not a one way street. We're just speeding up the cycles and dropping the cost of admission.


I think Alex is correct; the cost of printing presses has dropped. It's like the start of computer typesetting, when small ads funded papers started coming out of the woodwork. Most were just ads, some had news. Most of the ones with news stayed small, some got bigger. And so it goes.


How could "citizen journalists" do it?

By publishing leaks from inside the organizations responsible, of course.

In fact, aren't solid reporting based on inside sources superior? After all, are we so sure the NYT is above "junk science", since they regularly give credence to the fetish-of-the-week of environmentalists, UN-sponsored "expert committees", and the trial bar?


I tend to agree with "theobvious". They didn't just spend the money in a vacuum. Someone gave them a tip. Another thing is how bad did they "have" to find a problem. What came first, the money to find the problem or the problem. It would be interesting to know the real genesis of the story - I doubt we'll ever find out.

Robert Leonard


It may be regretful in your mind, but it is the advertising that permits the media to be ongoing. Journalists need to eat too. It is that advertising that makes for credible, consistently delivered and well written news (99.9%).

On a similar but different subject, I am amazed at how diametrically opposed people are on this and other hyper-related subjects to journalism today. This last weekend, I had the choice of attending an online journalism conference in Austin or the Grassroots Media Conference in NYC. I chose the grassroots conference because I believed I would learn more from the people rather than the academic / business type this time. What I saw and am most amazed at is that everybody seems to be saying the same thing with the same objectives. Political change occurs when opposing factions have and believe the same thing – and sometimes it is not good.

Ok – off my political soap box….


Derek Willis

Dan's right about this, although it's not always a big paper or magazine that does costly investigations. My former employer, the Center for Public Integrity, routinely does the kind of work that most papers won't pay for - namely, lengthy and costly investigations involving thousands of documents, legal wrangling and lots of computer work. The cost of these isn't in printing them - CPI has no print product save a newsletter - it's in the cost of paying people for their time and paying for equipment and support that allows them to do their jobs. For example, the Baltimore Sun this week is publishing a series on Maryland group homes that involved, according to the paper, looking at "the regulation of care, spending and staffing at 25 companies that ran 120 homes for children. Reporters studied 15,000 pages of inspection reports, case files and other records obtained under the state's Public Information Act and conducted more than 150 interviews." How many individual bloggers or even groups of bloggers can or will do the same thing?


Dan, you may want to take a poll of what your visitors read. I suspect many don't bother reading newspapers or general news magazines.

Since I asked, we get three newspapers and I read maybe five per week - my wife reads more. We don't subscribe to Time, Newsweek or US News. I do subscribe to some business and technical magazines and I look at the following websites for news:,, FOXNEWS.COM, and the

I think many of us agree that strong reporting is very important for a democracy, but if people aren't reading, then what's the use?

I was reading something last week and the article pointed out the fact-based nature of journalism came about from the Civil War. People demanded facts: who, what, where, etc. This mentality carried on for many years. It seems like the news today has too much opinion and the facts are buried in the story - even some important facts aren't mentioned until the end.

I'm not sure where this leads, but maybe because the country is so much more wealthy (as compared to 30+ years ago) that more people are able to isolate themselves from the world's problems. In other words, they don't care. Now add in the psychological tools used in presenting the news (the same tools that are used to alter buying behaviors) and maybe people are just numb?!?!

Just some observations/thoughts....

Mark A. York

I agree Dan. I spent most of my life working to protect wild salmon, I don't need fake ones imposed in their stead in any venue. This is good reporting: uncovering dishonesty wherever it is found by whomever

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