New Media Trainee

February 6, 2007

Dan Gillmor’s “We The Media”

Filed under: Uncategorized — tenftpole @ 1:39 am

This is a great read for those who have read blogs and maybe even subscribed to podcasts or real simple syndication, but have yet to think about how these tools have empowered the consumer or are changing the future of news as we know it. Technologies such as the ones above, suggests Gillmor, as well as SMS, mail lists and forums, chat rooms, Wikis, and even camera phones, are changing the way audiences, journalists, newsmakers, and governments communicate and share knowledge, from one to many, to many to many.

For instance, these tools have allowed the audience to now become participants and given consumers the power of personal choice. We no longer have to rely on just Big Media for the news, but can supplement it with these tools. We can read a paper and blogs online, while listening to a radio feed. Gillmore uses the example of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The media covered the story well, but people also learned other information through emails, chat rooms, and blogs. The audience can now play the role of the journalist or editor, writing about the news, or sorting and book marking the news of the day. Of course, I agree with Gillmore that these tools should not be confused as substitutions for the accuracy and thoroughness of journalism.

Others can also benefit: journalists and media organizations can use their own blogs to receive feedback on their stories allowing the audience to become contributors of new facts and context, while businesses can even track consumer reactions to improve upon their strategies and development of products. Gillmor uses the example of Jane’s Intelligence Review posting an article on Slashdot and allowing members of that online community, who knew the topic, to react to it. The article was then rewritten based on the edits and comments.

Governments can take advantage of the tools as well, by creating a feedback loop to allow their constituents to participate like never before. Even better, citizens can use these tools to put those who govern them in check. In Chapter 5, Gillmor uses the example of a million citizens in the Philippines using text messaging to arrange a meeting place for overthrowing a corrupt government. It’s just one example of how powerful these tools are.

Gillmor also discusses a potential dark side of the available technologies. Governments in countries such as China, want to limit the flow of or censor information and the entertainment industry wants to protect their bottom line and copyrights by preventing peer to peer file sharing. These are issues that, as consumers of the web, we should all pay attention to in order to protect our first amendment rights. Gillmor also discusses the potential for anarchy and unreliable information being spread on the web. Gillmor argues that the web is self-correcting. There is no better example of this than what occurred on the National Institue of Drug Abuse’s Wikipedia entry. Apparently, someone with an IP address originating at NIDA edited and erased a large part of the NIDA wiki entry and replaced it with a press release. However, Wikipedia determined it to be vandalism and changed the entry back to the original. See, I’m sure NIDA had the best intentions, but it also supports Gillmor’s argument that the web community can act as a truth squad and this is a beautiful thing in my opinion. Thankfully, I was reading the book at the same time I saw this story and it put a lot of this into perspective for me. Dan Gillmor should be awarded for tackling a complex and timely subject, but for also making his book available for free online.

The only thing I disagree with Gillmor on is that he states more than once that press releases are obsolete and that pr people are manipulative. Yes, journalists receive a million of them each year, but with a mountain of information to sift through, I believe that a release from a trusted source is still valuable to a journalist. Perhaps the key is that it has to be from a trusted source. I’m obviously a pr person and I agree that pr has a bad rap, but my own experiences, both through education and mentoring, have led me to practice pr in an open and truthful way. I hope Gillmor can learn to appreciate the role of the pr professional in the news process too.

Geoff Spencer


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