OpenFile – An Argument Analysis


A recent flare up between Jay Rosen and Joshua Errett has provided an interesting opportunity to test some of my ideas on diagramming arguments. Errett’s piece has been covered elsewhere, but I want to look specifically at his comments to Jay over Twitter, and determine whether or not he’s being accurate in defense of his piece.

Key for the Argument outline below:
– All evidence supporting an argument is nested underneath it
– All arguments/conclusions are red
– General facts (that I accept as good) are in black

Joshua’s Argument (taken from his piece)

  • [After his description of Openfile]
  • There’s a lot going against OpenFile
    • Citizen Journalism sites have not been successful
      • [None cited]
    • The participatory journalism model has failed
      • NowPublic is dying
      • Others are so obscure Google was required to find more examples
    • Sites like Youtube/Twitter often hit stories first
      • They sometimes get stories first because everything is posted there
      • It’s difficult to harness them for consistently
    • Dependability is the primary problem of participatory sites
      • No consistent topic
      • No consistent time frame
      • No consistent tone
      • Exe – cited OpenFile piece
    • Recommendations for OpenFile’s success are slim
      • Author has never seen participatory journalism work to any degree of success

Assuming I’ve correctly characterized Joshua’s argument here, we can see he has five main points supporting his argument that OpenFile has a lot going against it. The argument is reasonably well structured, though the last point gets a little recursive, I’ll let it slide this time. Two things to note are the lack of evidence for his first point, and his use of a specific OpenFile article for his fourth point.

I won’t dive into the argument head first today. Instead, I’ll follow the Twitter exchange piece by piece, adding my comments along the way. I’ve kept the comments below as close to their Twitter counterparts as possible while keeping them readable.

Jay – Dude at Toronto Weekly dumps on OpenFile. But check the comments, he got the entire story wrong!

True to headline writing in the Internet sphere, this one is a bit over the top. If we boil down Joshua’s story to “OpenFile has some interesting things going for it, but it has a number of challenges as well,” then Jay’s statement doesn’t really hold up. However, if we go one level deeper, there is some room for critique in both the characterization of OpenFile, and in incorrect points (a majority of which would have to be wrong if the “entire story” is to be proven wrong).

Joshua – course. How did I mess up the story?
I never called the OpenFile site “citizen journalism” so comments aren’t fair to the piece. Maybe read again?

This statement is technically true, but I think very misleading. I think any reasonable person would read this piece’s points against OpenFile’s success and infer that Joshua was placing OpenFile in the category of citizen journalism. He even cites an OpenFile article as a case in point of problems that arise with Citizen Journalism. Straight from the piece:

…Citizen journalism sites are, by nature, all-over-the-place on all these fronts.

For instance, a post currently on OpenFile calls fringe mayor candidate Sonny Yeung “among the most measured and pragmatic” of all the politicians running for the position…

Does he directly call OpenFile a citizen journalism outlet? No, but it’s strongly implied and clearly communicated to anyone reading the piece.

Jay – You show no grasp of what OpenFile is about. You compare it to NowPublic, but its model is wholly different. You’re confused.

While I think Jay is being unnecessarily abrasive, I do believe he has a valid point. The comparison to NowPublic, and the greater point that the participatory journalism model has failed, only hold relevance if OpenFile is a participatory journalism institution.

I haven’t read deeply into OpenFile’s model, but the first comment from the person who works there indicates that they only hire professional journalists for reporting. The audience participation only comes in for topic/piece selection. Most media scholars I know would say by those standards, OpenFile is clearly not a participatory journalism institution, which generally requires a large portion (if not all) of the content on a site to be created directly by users.

Joshua – OpenFile faces the same challenges as NowPublic and anything driven by public. As demonstrated. Not confused, but slightly critical.

Here, it becomes clear that Joshua seems to have overstated his argument. Suggesting that a site that depends on users to write their articles faces the same challenges as one who depends on them for topic selection is a logical chasm he jumps cleanly, while Jay and I do not. A review of his supporting points shows that they are largely focused on equating these two sites, though common sense tells us the challenges they face are likely to be very different.

After all, it’s what thing to ask what a person wants to know, but another to ask them to research and write an article on it. Once scaled to the level of a news organization, there will be vastly different challenges between these two organizations, especially from the audience participation perspective.

Joshua – never wrote the models were the same. Not even inferred. Being critical is being supportive. You’re too defensive.

While I do agree that Jay was being too defensive, the rest of the sentence is untrue. The challenges that Joshua describes require a model equivalence between the two organizations… and while he never comes out and says it, I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know what OpenFile is could read that piece and not equate it to NowPublic in every substantial way.

Jay – Your understanding of OpenFile is incompetent; your story requires a correction. You failed to make clear how the site works.

While I don’t agree that there needs to be a correction (a healthy debate is enough for me at this point), I do agree that the piece was, at best, unclear about how OpenFile works. As to whether or not Joshua’s understanding of it is incompetent… I find myself tentatively voting yes for the context of this article. Every point Joshua makes suggests that the public writes the articles on OpenFile, something which the company specifically avoids. Joshua himself might understand the situation better, but the framing of his piece speaks directly to the contrary.

Johsua – editorial wasn’t about explaining the mechanism of OpenFile. It was predicting whether it could succeed.

A solid point from Joshua, but rather than absolve him from criticism, it only provides the motive behind his error. I’m completely in support of Joshua’s right to write a piece predicting the fate of OpenFile, but if he uses as primary justification for his critique an organization which is fundamentally different, and then harps on those flaws as drawbacks as things for Openfile to worry about, then he’s wide open to criticism about misunderstanding OpenFile.

It would be analogous to talking about the challenges apples face by noting all the problems oranges have been through. One can only say that insofar as an apple acts like an orange, and the forecaster would then be liable for linking those two things in the first place.

Johsua – OpenFile faces challenges. If you don’t think so, you’ve been in academia too long.

This is true, but doesn’t indicate whether Joshua correctly elucidated those challenges in his column, or whether or not he made a bad comparison to a fundamentally different company in doing so.

Joshua – attacking journalist/calling names because you disagree w an editorial is unbecoming of man your stature.

Jay was unnecessarily harsh, so I consider this fair play. Nothing in it provides justification for his position though.


While Joshua makes some fair points talking to Jay, he never really justifies equating OpenFile with companies who depend solely on user generated content. As a result, I have to agree with Jay that the piece is misleadingly written and largely unjustified.

13 Responses to “OpenFile – An Argument Analysis”

  1. Fair critique of both parties. I had similar thoughts after reading the article and the exchange. One addition: I think the discussion really soured when Errett insinuated that Rosen was on the take. He loaded a question and then basically called Rosen a liar.

    Errett: “also, pls clarify your stake in OpenFile – investor, paid staff?”

    After Rosen replied that he had no stake in OpenFile, Errett responded: “I think you have a stake in this that goes beyond inflating your self-worth by bullying me. Come out w it!’

  2. Thanks for this, David. While I disagree with your conclusion, I think overall you were fair, which is more than I can say for Jay Rosen.

    I think comparing the challenges of OpenFile and NowPublic are like comparing Twitter and Facebook – the sites are not based on the same model and are not a lot alike, but they face similar challenges (privacy, data glut, etc).

    I should point out, though, that citizens get photo credits on the OpenFile site – which, in my opinion, is no small part of news journalism. Also, citizens can contribute to the story after it’s published. This on top of the fact that readers basically act as assignment editors, another huge part of news coverage. Citizen journalism? Not 100 per cent, fine. But there are shades of it there, enough that I think it was fine to write what I did.

    And James J. Dobbs, Rosen wrote on his Twitter that he’s partnering with OpenFile for a site he works for in New York. To me, that explains his petulance on the issue – he’s trying to protect his investment. Unethical. And using his NYU position as a bully pulpit is even more unprofessional.

    Further, for a man older than my father and more distinguished than anyone I’ve ever met, the whole thing strikes me as shameful.

    But I like to look at this from a broader perspective. From the time the article was published a week ago to now, it hasn’t really got a lot of play outside a small group of journalism insiders. Even after Rosen called on his followers to protest the article, it only got 2-3 comments. This says that not a lot of readers – the people I write for – actually care.

    Once again, though, thanks for this.

    • 3 David Wynn

      I appreciate your comment Joshua. I think it’s especially important to be fair to those we don’t see eye to eye with. Otherwise nobody listens and nobody learns from each other.

  3. You are so confused, and so inept, and so misinformed about what I do and how I work. I am planning to borrow things I see Civil Beat in Honolulu doing, and things I see doing and things I see OpenFile doing, and things I see Tye Guardian doing, and things I see TechCrunch doing, and things I see Voice of San Diego doing and things I see Minn Post doing because that is how progress is made in web journalism. You look at what smart people are doing and think about how you can adapt it for your own projects.

    As for what you called… “my for-profit site in New York,” you are again misinformed, and lying, pathetically, about the Tweet you seized on. The site in question is The Local: East Village. The url for it will be It’s to be part of the New York Times. I will never make a dime from it because I am not the nytimes and hold no stock in the company. The story of this site and NYU’s role in it is told here:

    Your errors are now multiplying with every line you write.

    • Jay Rosen:
      Let me do a little argument analysis for you:

      I fairly criticized a beta news site in Toronto, to which you took extreme exception.

      You are almost 60-years-old, and quite successful. I am, admittedly, a 20-something alt.weekly nobody from Canada.

      What reason do you have to act like such a maniac toward me? I think you must have some stake in this site I wrote about.

      As it turns out, you are somewhat invested, as you are basing part of your new site – and presumably part of your professional reputation – on it. Not to mention, you’ve worked with its founders before, and remain friends today. So, you there’s your stake in it. That’s where your dementia is coming from.

      Anyway, to repeat what I wrote in my last Tweet, good luck with The Local. Just like OpenFile, I hope it’s very successful. And no hard feelings.

      • 6 Janice Wood

        I think Jay is so vehemently opposed to you in this matter, Joshua, because of a pre-existing commitment to truth and accuracy in reporting, not a commitment to OpenFile.

        I’m curious as to how you will now spin conspiracy theories about Rosen’s seedy, incestuous, secretive stake in “accurate reporting.”

  4. I work at OpenFile and want to make one point clear: there is no partnership between Jay Rosen and OpenFile. We have had no discussions about working together. We have no plans to work together. He’s not an investor or an advisor. We didn’t ask him to weigh in on Joshua’s article.

    The tweet that Joshua is referring to ( was Rosen saying that he planned to try out some strategies that are similar to what we’re trying to do with OpenFile. And he plans to do so with a New York Times-affiliated hyperlocal project that he is running at NYU. It has absolutely nothing to do with us.

    I hate to prolong this issue and debate because I think it’s gone on long enough (and that’s me speaking personally), but any suggestion that Rosen is trying to protect an investment in OpenFile or is in a conflict of interest is wholly incorrect.

    • Hi Craig:
      Haven’t you worked for/with Jay Rosen for years now? If he is looking to use or copy your model, he wouldn’t be in touch with you?

      Incredible, but I take your word for it.

      • At the risk of offering an incredibly mundane accounting in order to satisfy Joshua’s skepticism, here is a summary of my dealings with Jay Rosen:

        Back in early 2007, I was a volunteer for his Assignment Zero project. I didn’t work directly with him — I helped lead a small team of volunteer fact-checkers — though I once met him for coffee when I was in New York doing research for my first book. We spoke for about 30 minutes. So, no, we have not worked together for years. Between early 2007 and now, I think we exchanged one email (probably me asking for his address so I could send him a copy of my first book) and a I’ve retweeted him a few times.

        I did not tell him about OpenFile before our launch. I didn’t send him the link after we went live with the beta. I didn’t ask him to tweet about us, or to read your article. He also isn’t going to “copy our model”; he’s going to try out some similar approaches, though I have no idea which ones he means. The Local, which is run in conjunction with the NYT, has a different model and predates our existence. There have been no discussions with him since our launch, other than me emailing recently to ask if he wanted to grab a coffee when I’m in NY on June 9. There was no mention of partnering, of you, of anything that has to do with this twitfight.

        Honestly, Joshua, there is no conspiracy here.

  5. Hi Joshua,

    Thanks for the update, but I’m still confused by your accusation against Rosen. Is this the tweet you are referring to?

    Rosen: I love the ideas being tested at Toronto’s OpenFile. We’re going to try some of these things with The Local: East Village

    If this isn’t the correct tweet, then my apologies, and I welcome your input on the correct link. But, if this is your evidence, then I think you are misreading “we” and leaping to unsavory conclusions. I think “we” refers to Rosen, NYU and the NY Times (The Local’s collaborators), not Rosen and OpenFile.

  6. 11 Chris Bugbee

    So now will Joshua correct this latest unforced error regarding Rosen’s non-relationship with OpenFile?

  7. “Rosen wrote on his Twitter that he’s partnering with OpenFile for a site he works for in New York.”

    That is a lie. Simple as that: he lies when he says that. And it is wholly in character for Mr. Errett. I have no stake, interest or involvement in OpenFile. Zero. But it says a lot about Mr. Errett that he would make that charge and use it to explain why I criticized his misbegotten article.

    • If you are planning to use the OpenFile model for your for-profit site in New York, you have a vested interest. Simple as that.

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