“We The Media”

          Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media” attempts to describe broadly how technology is impacting journalism, not only in terms of the journalists themselves but also in terms of the subjects they write about as well as their “former audience,” which he says has now become part audience and part journalist.  His highlights the changes caused by the internet and all of its related aspects and technologies – mail lists, forums, blogs, wikis, SMS, RSS, P2P sharing, etc. – and discusses how the internet has broadened the traditional media communication modes of “many-to-one” and “one-to-one” to include “many-to-many” and “few-to-few.”

            Gillmor feels that the best way for companies to take advantage of the new technologies that some of them view as a threat to their established business model and way of life is to embrace them.  He discusses the effectiveness of companies that scan the blog world for criticisms but then capitalize on those criticisms by addressing them and responding to them, recognizing that they can improve as a company by incorporating the good ideas of their users, supporters, and even detractors.

            Likewise for anyone else in the public eye, not the least of whom are politicians.  He shows how use of the internet in politics, after some initial successes by John McCain in 2000 and various other lower-level politicians, took off with the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, taking a Washington outsider and virtual unknown (at least on a national stage) to what it seemed was going to be his party’s nomination, before some political missteps stopped his momentum.  Gillmor accurately predicted that the internet would play a much more central role in the 2008 election cycle, though even he would probably have been surprised to know just how big it would actually be.

            I must say that I was hoping for a more conclusive “a-ha” kind of takeaway from the book and haven’t really found it, but that is not necessarily a criticism – I think the book simply presents the good and the bad of these technologies and leaves it to the reader to draw their own conclusions.  The author is clearly on the side of technology and the interests of the “former audience” over the interests of a handful of powerful media conglomerates, as, probably, are most people not inside the world of those media giants.

            While I certainly believe that the internet does redefine the nature of journalism and news, I think it is a most definitely a supplement to the contributions of professional journalists and media organizations, not a replacement for them.  It will be difficult for individuals to muster the resources of a major media organization when it comes to covering big investigative stories (like Watergate, Iran Contra, etc.), and reporting of this nature is a full-time occupation (i.e., one that requires a full-time commitment and probably a salary, unless there are a lot of independently wealthy bloggers out there willing to pick up the slack).  I think the key for media company success in this area will be to find the right mix of old-fashioned big media and cutting-edge interactive journalism.  I think it’s too early to tell what this mix will be, however, and most of the efforts so far seem like knee-jerk reactions to incorporate the ramblings of every Tom, Dick, and Harry with cell phone messaging capability or a Twitter account (case in point, http://twitter.com/ricksanchezcnn or http://www.cnn.com/ireport ).  These are just new-technology versions of man-on-the-street interviews, most of which are equally unenlightening.  This is not to say there’s no place for these contributions – they can be great for eyewitness reports of breaking news stories, for example – but to make them a routine and mandatory part of a news broadcast simply for the sake of paying homage to the medium is just excessive.


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