JournoList vs. GetReligion

046500176901lzzzzzzzAll week, I had people asking what I thought about THAT story, you know, the Politico piece about the top-secret online congregation of liberal journalists that has been helping keep the left on message for the past two years. You mean, you haven't been reading about "JournoList: Inside the echo chamber" all week? By all means, here's the top of the story from Michael Calderone:

For the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList.

Proof of a vast liberal media conspiracy? Not at all, says Ezra Klein, the 24-year-old American Prospect blogging wunderkind who formed JournoList in February 2007. "Basically," he says, "it's just a list where journalists and policy wonks can discuss issues freely." ...

Last April, criticism of ABC's handling of a Democratic presidential debate took shape on JList before morphing into an open letter to the network, signed by more than 40 journalists and academics -- many of whom are JList members. But beyond these specific examples, it's hard to trace JList's influence in the media, because so few JListers are willing to talk on the record about it.

POLITICO contacted nearly three dozen current JList members for this story. The majority either declined to comment or didn't respond to interview requests -- and then returned to JList to post items on why they wouldn't be talking to POLITICO about what goes on there.

Now there are many things that could be said. As far as I'm concerned, it reallly doesn't matter that a bunch of folks on the partisan left get together in this fashion to talk shop. The only interesting angle, of course, is whether there are mainstream journalists secretly taking part, which would mean that they are helping to shape the talking points and events that they would then be covering for their own newsrooms. That would be bad.

This does raise a related question: If a journalist from, say, The New Republic was a member of this advocacy list, should she or he disclose this when covering a political event or even a piece of legislation that could be traced back to JournoList work? Do scribes at openly partisan publications get to be, well, covertly partisan?

Another question: Does "liberal" automatically mean "Democrat"? Do these liberals conspire against conservative Democrats? Are there culturally liberal Republicans in the JournoList, helping coordinate work on causes that they share in common -- same-sex marriage, perhaps -- with liberal Democrats?

So what does this have to do with GetReligion?

Several years ago, I was invited to a Washington Times luncheon for bloggers inside the Beltway. I'm interested in all things digital and newsy, so I was happy to take part. This was not a secret meeting, by the way, because the Times actually posted the transcript. I cannot find the link, which may mean the post was lost in the creation of the newspaper's new website.

I hope the link is still out there, because the moderator asked an interesting question: How do you know that it's been a "good day" at your weblog? That's kind of like asking, "What is the true purpose of your blog"?

When it came my turn, I said that a really good day at GetReligion.org was when we published a post that led to a correction in the New York Times.

That's right, a correction in the Times. Like this one.

liberal-biasIt was an honest answer and it drew a good laugh. The bloggers laughed at me and at GetReligion. You see, everyone else at the table, other than a Times editor or two, considered themselves, first and foremost, GOP activists. A good day at their blogs was when they did something that helped the GOP. So they laughed at GetReligion and our journalistic goals.

My response? I told them that there seemed to have been a misunderstanding. I thought I have been invited to a lunch to discuss blogging and online media. Clearly, there weren't many ordinary journalists -- let alone conservative Democrats -- in the room. Two strikes against me.

So, in a way, you now know my take on the JournoList firestorm. What, precisely, is the purpose of that list? Is it a cyber-room for journalists or Democrats? Is it's purpose in any way journalistic, or is it nakedly partisan and political?

One more thing. Last year, when we both lectured at Princeton University, Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer told me that the secret to GetReligion was that we have really interesting liberal readers. Amen. Quite a few are still hanging around and more power to them (when they try to stick to journalism issues).

The liberals who read this here blog and comment have to put up with the fact that this is a journalism blog, yet one featuring a small pack of journalists who are basically religious and/or cultural conservatives of one kind or another. We don't hide our worldviews, around here, but our core goals are journalistic. And our goals are right out there in the open for all to see.

Here's hoping that the JournoList folks open up and clear the air. Who are they? What do they want?

How do the JournoList people know when it's been a good day on the JournoList?

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