We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People
It’s terribly easy to feel pessimistic about the mainstream media right now. Newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have had to explain their less-than-vigorous coverage of the run-up to war in Iraq. Dan Rather got snookered by dubious paperwork on George W. Bush’s decades-old National Guard service. Last year, serial fabricator Jayson Blair was exposed at the Times, as was Jack Kelley at USA Today.
Yet Dan Gillmor, in his new book We the Media, holds up a lamp to help look past all that misty gloom. Gillmor takes stock of journalism’s emerging tools of the trade—the Internet, Web logs, digital cameras and recorders—and finds cause for hope and even excitement. Technology is blurring the lines between journalists, newsmakers, and the audience, making information exchange more honest and robust, according to Gillmor, a nationally known technology columnist for the San Jose, Calif., Mercury News. And if news organizations are brave enough to embrace change instead of rebuffing it, we could all be the better for it.
“Tomorrow’s news reporting and production will be more of a conversation, or a seminar,” Gillmor writes. “The communication network itself will be a medium for everyone’s voice, not just the few who can afford to buy multimillion-dollar printing presses, launch satellites, or win the government’s permission to squat on the public airwaves.” As evidence, Gillmor examines new technologies like blogs (the ubiquitous online diaries), RSS feeds (Web content sent to your computer screen as soon as it’s posted), and Wiki (a program that allows literally everyone to contribute to the creation of a Web page). In other words, in the future we’ll all be journalists.
It’s an intriguing peek into the future of the free press. But one of the few disappointments of We the Media is that it fails to imagine an innovative business model where all these newly minted audience-journalists will get paid for their work. This remains one of the thorniest problems for new media, as Gillmor readily concedes. After all, pop-up ads alone can’t pay the bills for aggressive, investigative journalism.
But neither does Gillmor evade the business side of Web publishing. In the latter part of the book, he scrutinizes traditional copyright law and suggests ways it might be adapted (but not junked) to better suit an interactive world. As a way of walking the walk, Gillmor has posted his book to the Web site http://wethemedia.oreilly.com, where anyone can read it for free. He’s banking on the fact that you’ll want to buy a copy for that bastion of old media—your bookshelf.