A Professor and His Blog

Jay Rosen talks about how we first started blogging.
  • Transcript


Question: How did you get started as a blogger?

Jay Rosen: Well, I’ve been interested in writing online for some time. I was an early participant in [Salon’s] Table Talk, which was, there are 4 on the section, in ’96, ‘97 because I just thought it was interesting that the readers could be published in the same space as the writers. That idea was intoxicating to me. And then I spent some time at Howard Rheingold’s site, Mindstorms, because I wanted to check out a different environment for writing online. But I didn’t know anything about blogging because both those sites were produced by people who [cut a new quote]. I didn’t really know about blogging until a student in one of my classes in 2002 told me about it. And he said, ‘Professor Rosen, this is really up your alley,” and he described his blog, which was an opinion blog. He was a conservative undergraduate at NYU, obviously a minority. But he found in his opinion blog a way to make connections and have a voice. Right? And he started telling me sort of how the blogging system worked, and I remember he said if you get a link from a big blog, you can get lots of readers. So I said, “Well, how many?” And he said, “Five, ten thousand,” and I found this staggering, because the leading quarterly journals in my scholarly field, if that, that kind of writer I was, I wanted to be, are, like, 3,000, 4,000 readers, right? And he’s already telling me that his opinion blog can get 5 or 10 overnight. So I didn’t really understand what a blog was, but I was very [interested in what] he was telling me, so he told me to go check out his blog in Instapundit.com. So I was very intrigued about what he had told me, and I started walking back to my office. By the time I got close to my office, I was closer to running, ‘cause I just had this sense that I wanted to know what it was. And I remember logging in and looking at Instapundit. I didn’t understand what it was because I was looking at the surface of the blog without understanding the [blogger’s sphere] behind it, but once I did, everything that I had been kind of wrestling with since Table Talk and Mindstorms, I realized it’s here. This is the thing. Self publishing is here. That’s a long revolution, self publishing. That’s a 300 year event, to the point where the capital required to be a publisher has gone down almost to zero. That’s a 300 year event, you know, like a 500 year flood? So media time, that’s like a thousand year flood. So, I took a year to study blogging, from 2002 to 2003, and the reasons I wanted to do it were about 5. The main one was I wanted to have my own magazine with no editor to help me, what a valid idea about the press and media was. I wanted to completely evade the existing editorial system, because frankly, it had kept me in a very limited state of expression for a long time. There’s only so much that I could say if I wanted to publish at Columbia Journalism a new article, if I wanted to write a op-ed for Los Angeles Times, which I did. And just the frustration with the limited range of terms and the very stunted [imaginary] of the press about itself is the main reason I wanted to have a blog which I conceived of as my own one person magazine, which is still my description of what PressThink is. So I wanted to go around the gate keepers, and I wanted to know what was happening in this field because I was pretty sure as soon as I understood the self publishing is here that was gonna have major consequences for professional journalism. So I wanted to know it. I also wanted to catch up to, as it were, where my students were, all right? And the student was a little bit ahead of the crowd, but he was definitely pointing me toward something that would connect me to my students. And I wanted a platform to address both professional journalists, who I have been talking to for a while in my earlier work, and this new class of potential journalists that I saw rising up. Also, I have a PhD. I did my dissertation on the whole idea of the public as this thing. [I’m] the receiving end of the press. That was what my research was about. So when I said this is a 300 year event, it comes out of that, because what blogging means is that the self publishing public is real. You know, A.J. Liebling said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who owned one.” Well, what I said was, blogging means anyone can own one. That was exciting. That was something I had to be in on, and I knew, by the end of that afternoon, I would have to have a blog.

Recorded on: 08/19/2008