JournoList Shuts Down

Ezra Klein is shuttering JournoList.

Matt Yglesias reports that Ezra Klein is shuttering JournoList, the controversial listserv for liberal journalistic elites he founded and ran.   Given that both Joe Klein and Dave Weigel have been burned for trusting in the list’s members to abide by rules that are supposedly at the core of  their professional ethic, it’s a smart move.

UPDATE: Moments after my posting this, Ezra Klein tweeted a link to a longish, thoughtful post explaining.

I began Journolist in February of 2007. It was an idea born from disagreement. Weeks, or maybe months, earlier, I had criticized Time’s Joe Klein over some comments he made about the Iraq War. He e-mailed a long and searching reply, and the subsequent conversation was educational for us both. Taking the conversation out of the public eye made us less defensive, less interested in scoring points. I learned about his position, and why he held it, in ways that I wouldn’t have if our argument had remained in front of an audience.

This is the first I’ve seen of the origins.  Actually ironic given that Klein himself was the first harmed by “leaks” from the listserv that grew out of this.

But over the years, Journolist grew, and as it grew, its relative exclusivity became more infamous, and its conversations became porous. The leaks never bothered me, though. What I didn’t expect was that a member of the list, or someone given access by a member of the list, would trawl through the archives to assemble a dossier of quotes from one particular member and then release them to an interested media outlet to embarrass him. But that’s what happened to David Weigel. Private e-mails were twisted into a public story.

This was, frankly, utterly predictable if despicable.  Information wants to be free, after all.

There’s a lot of faux-intimacy on the Web. Readers like that intimacy, or at least some of them do. But it’s dangerous. A newspaper column is public, and writers treat it as such. So too is a blog. But Twitter? It’s public, but it feels, somehow, looser, safer. Facebook is less public than Twitter, and feels even more intimate. A private e-mail list is not public, but it is electronically archived text, and it is protected only by a password field and the good will of the members. It’s easy to talk as if it’s private without considering the possibility, unlikely as it is, that it will one day become public.

I agree with every word of that except the middle of the last sentence, which should read “. . . the probability, outrageous as it may be, that . . . .”

Journolist is done now. I’ll delete the group soon after this post goes live. That’s not because Journolist was a bad idea, or anyone on it did anything wrong. It was a wonderful, chaotic, educational discussion. I’m proud of having started it, grateful to have participated in it, and I have no doubt that someone else will reform it, with many of the same members, and keep it going. Hopefully, it will lose some of its mystique in the process, and be understood more for what it is: One of many e-mail lists where people talk about things they’re interested in. But insofar as the current version of Journolist has seen its archives become a weapon, and insofar as people’s careers are now at stake, it has to die.

I’m afraid this is right.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    I would be interested to know how many people were in the group. The Kleins had an intimate private conversation that was rewarding, but it’s a different dog when you have dozens of people in that conversation. I seriously doubt that Ezra could have thought that intimacy was retained, nor the expectation of privacy at exponential levels.

  2. tgs says:

    you really buy that the list is dead? it will just move or be reincarnated by another journo.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    A quick google says 300 on the JournoList. Sounds like the group went from intimate conversation outside the spotlight to one of scoring points among peers about 295 members ago.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Most of the reports I’m seeing have the list at 400ish members. Yes, waaaay too big to keep secrets.

    Do I think Ezra has deleted the list? I do. One, I take him at his word. Two, his rationale — that the archives themselves are a huge problem — is demonstrably true. Three, he’s decidedly not an idiot and, quite obviously, members of the list can’t keep a secret and would rat him out.

    Do I think someone will immediate reconstitute a similar list, trying to keep it smaller? Yes. Do I object to that? Nope. But caveat emptor.

  5. Aw, how will they keep their talking points straight now?

  6. An Interested Party says:

    “Aw, how will they keep their talking points straight now?”

    True…it’s so much easier for those on the other side of the political aisle to watch Fox News to serve that function…