Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 5 Oct 04 21:46
Dan Gillmor is on board to discuss his latest book, _We the Media_, published by O'Reilly <http://wethemedia.oreilly.com>. The book discusses the emergence of weblogs as grassroots journalism. Dan Gillmor is business and technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley's daily newspaper. He also writes a daily Web-based column for SiliconValley.com, a KnightRidder.com site that is an online affiliate of the Mercury News. His column runs in many other U.S. newspapers, and he appears regularly on radio and television. He has been consistently listed by industry publications as among the most influential journalists in his field. His new book, "We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People," was published in July 2004. Gillmor joined the Mercury News in September 1994 after about six years with the Detroit Free Press. Before that, he was with the Kansas City Times and several newspapers in Vermont. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Vermont, Gillmor received a Herbert Davenport fellowship in 1982 for economics and business reporting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. During the 1986-87 academic year he was a journalism fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied history, political theory and economics. He has won or shared in several regional and national journalism awards. He blogs at <http://www.dangillmor.com/blog> . Gillmor has had a longstanding interest in technology. He studied programming in high school. He bought his first personal computer in the late 1970s and first went online in the early 1980s. Before becoming a journalist he played music professionally for seven years. Christian Crumlish, a prolific blogger himself, leads the discussion. Christian is a writer and consultant who has been involved in developing, and writing about, web technology for the last decade. He is the author The Power of Many (http://thepowerofmany.com/). His previous books include Coffeehouse: Writings from the Web, The Internet for Busy People, and The Internet Dictionary. He is a contributor to GreaterDemocracy.org and a contributing editor for the forthcoming retooled Personal Democracy Forum website (PersonalDemocracy.com). In his copious free time, he is also a literary agent with Waterside Productions, Inc. (http://waterside.com/). He lives in Oakland, California.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 6 Oct 04 08:28
Dan, one obvious place to start is to ask you how you came to write this book. How did the idea of "we the media" take shape? Did it emerge spontaneously from your blog and your column or did something help to snap the premise into focus for you?
Dan Gillmor (dangillmor) Thu 7 Oct 04 11:15
The idea took shape over a fairly long period. I've been online for more than 20 years, and had inklings early on that something new was happening -- the potential of grassroots media formation in ways we'd not seen before. The blog was a big step, it turned out, because it put me in the middle of what was happening with this new kind of journalism. I began in 1999, and immediately understood that it was changing my relationship with readers in a mostly positive way. The conversational mode was becoming more possible, for one thing. Specific inspirations were things like: -- creating my own news report (as a consumer) of the 2000 election coverage, mixing media that were not related via a browser, when I couldn't get U.S. TV coverage and realizing I was getting a terrific report; -- seeing the incredible grassroots efforts in the 9/11 aftermath; -- the Trent Lott episode, when bloggers spurred the mainstream media into seeing that there was a story in Lott's waxing nostalgic for a segregationist past; -- and so on. A couple of years ago, I gave a talk at the O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference on what I was calling "Journalism 3.0" -- the idea that the conversation would be replacing or at least augmenting the lecture mode we'd been using for the past 100 years or so. I looked through the slides and suddenly realized I might have a book in there. But I didn't develop it to an outline for some time after that.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Thu 7 Oct 04 12:07
Interesting. I'd be curious about what some of the earliest inklings were, long before blogs and even the Web as we know it came on the scene. When you first got online was it through BBS's or USENET or UUnet email? That kind of thing? And just to load you up with a few other threads-for-thought: I'd like to get your thoughts on the state and role of participatory journalism in this year's presidential campaign. I've got one more question queued up but let's get through these first.
Dan Gillmor (dangillmor) Fri 8 Oct 04 09:29
Well, it depends what we mean by online. When I was finishing college in the late '70s I bought a terminal and modem (300 baud, acoustic cups) and hooked it up to the mainframe at the university. There was a messaging system that I used to talk with the tech guys when I had problems with the SPSS statistical program or other issues. Then, in the early '80s, I used one of the first Osborne "portable" computers to file freelance stories to the New York Times and Boston Globe from Vermont. I got onto some early bulletin boards, then CompuServe, after that, and being online has been part of my life since then. One inkling of media changes is in the book. In the mid-1980s I was an avid user of XyWrite, the great DOS word processing program. It had an internal programming language that could do everything but boil water for tea. I was puzzled by a small XyWrite programming problem one day and posted a note on a CompuServe forum asking if anyone could help me solve it. I came back a day or so later and found several great replies, including (if memory serves) Australia. That was the first day I truly got how the power at the edges of networks can serve us all. I'll post something on politics a little later this morning.
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Fri 8 Oct 04 13:08
Dan, to what degree do you discuss the emerging power of distributed/grassroots journalism outside of the United States? I'm thinking in particular of OhMyNews, a Korean collaborative news website widely credited with helping to bring down the previous South Korean administration.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 8 Oct 04 13:32
I'm also interested in tangible signs of the traditional media having to face the reality of a sea-change, whether that be the threat to classified revenues represented by craigslist or Dan Rather-as-Gulliver or something more subtle that I'm not yet aware of.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 8 Oct 04 13:46
Note that Dan is travelling this weekend and will be on Europe-time much of next week, so feel free to pile on with questions and Dan will work through the backlog as soon as he can. Non-Well members can submit questions too, by emailing them. Can someone remind me of the correct email address for such questions?
Dan Gillmor (dangillmor) Sat 9 Oct 04 05:48
Jamais, OhmyNews is one of the most important new-media experiments anywhere in the world. It was the right publication at the right time. I do discuss some work outside the U.S., though the book is based more on what's happening here than elsewhere. It turns out that I have a longish section about OhmyNews, as I visited them about 18 months ago while researching the book. I was dazzled by what I saw. OhmyNews was launched in a place that was already well-wired for the Net. The news environment was ideal, in a sense, for a genuine opposition publication -- because three big newspapers had about 80 percent of the market share. Korea was at the cusp of political changes, and the reform-oriented candidate was a great vehicle for OhmyNews, which clearly helped elect him. The vast majority of the articles on the site are written by the readers. But the higher you go on the page, the more likely it is that the article will have been written and edited by OhmyNews staff. The combination of professional and citizen journalists is a remarkable one, and it seems to work.
Dan Gillmor (dangillmor) Sat 9 Oct 04 05:50
I'm about to jump on a series of planes for the next 18 hours or so. I'll check in from the first stop if there's time and will work on responses while on the trip. See you soon...
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Sat 9 Oct 04 12:03
This is great stuff! Like Dan, I started with an accoustic coupler, but from the other side, so to speak. I was at a (mainframe) computer at Michigan State University the Friday after Thanksgiving 1977 and one of the other physics lab aides at Lansing Community College sent me a message saying that he had propped open a door and I could come down. By 1983-1984, my state senator, Bill Sederberg had opened his "Political Forum BBS." Participating in that, I met Larry Kestenbaum, who later set up the "Politcal Graveyard" website (http://politicalgraveyard.com/), and many other interesting people. By 1988, I was writing about online politics for local computer user newspapers and newsletters. StateNet, Hanna Information Systems, and others were using mainframes (DEC VAX, actually, for Hanna) to put the daily paperwork of state legislatures online. Building communities of interest was a conscious goal of Hanna. They realized that their computers would let people meet who otherwise could not. Fastforward to the present and I confess that I do not read many blogs. I run into them, but they generally do not interest me. However, I do read newsgroups. I also come here, and have since 1990. The WELL has always allowed writers, artists, and other creative people the opportunity to share ideas -- and more important than that: to explore them. The YOYOW Policy makes this a safe place to try out new ideas. It one of the many powerful features of electronic communication that you can include links in your posts. This often lets people here bring new _authoritative_ information to the discussion. As for the newsgroups, this brings up a point that I feel is often overlooked. We too easily define "news" as "what the government does." Life is more complicated -- and personal -- than that. The advantage to newsgroups, maillists, and such, is that people can focus on those parts of their lives that are important to them. I am a numismatist. I also fly. Both of those are more important to me than Kerry-Cheney-Edwards-Bush. The Internet allows me to structure my information flows according to my own standards. The local newspaper does not. My homepage is CNN. CNN is also configurable, but I have not given it much effort. I see the national headlines. When I click, I go for Science, Space, Technology, and Business.
Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Sun 10 Oct 04 10:48
Note: Newspaper companies own or have stakes in the biggest and most profitable classified-ad sites. I use and love craigslist, but outside of the Bay Area, it's generally not all that popular. (maybe in NY and one or two other places, I'm not sure). It doesn't have the filtering and sorting tools that the big sites have, nor the depth. This is, of course, because it takes a lot of money to implement and maintain these things, not to mention marketing costs, partnerships with existing media, etc. My question for Dan, which also is ultimately about money: I have not yet read your book, but I saw an interview with you some time back where you acknowledged that mainstream journalism is in no danger of being replaced by blogs. Forgive me if I am misrepresenting your views, but from what I can tell, your thinking runs along the same lines as my own: that blogs have the potential to greatly alter how journalism is practiced, and quite possibly improve it markedly and knock a lot of journalists off the pedastals they have erected, and bring them down here with everybody else, where they belong. But that are not, themselves, journalism. Or at least, they are mostly not what we think of as journalism -- stories reported by people who spend their days and make their money cultivating sources, probing, digging through records, etc. Now, lots of bloggers seem to have this idea that blogs really are an alternative to media, as opposed to an adjunct to media. I think it's a silly idea -- and I actually think that the more this idea is propagated, the worse things will be for the future of blogs. If they try to sell themselves as complete alternatives to existing media, their real purpose, as I see it -- holding the media to account -- will get short shrift, and mainstream America will be less likely to take them seriously. People for years now have been spreading this idea that a lone person with a Web site can somehow outdo reporters with years of experience, access to sources, access to all kinds of expensive resources, massive marketing and distribution systems, and -- perhaps most importantly -- a steady paycheck, which allows them to pursue stories full time. We had debates about this years ago here on the Well, before the word "blog" was even in use. I cited an investigative series (LA Times, I think), about human rights in China. The reporter spent months talking to dozens of people, including victims and their families, expratriates, Chinese officials, prison guards on background, etc. I asked how such a series could possibly be produced by an amateur with a Web site. One person here -- who liked to say that the Web was even then in the process of bringing down established media -- said something like, well, a guy could be in China on vacation with his family, and do the story on the side. I didn't bother continuing the debate. So my question is -- why is it that so many bloggers and blog fans seem to think that what they are doing is somehow the equivalent to what reporters do, as opposed to a *check* on the worst things that reporters do -- and do you think this is a problem for the future of blogs?
Dan Gillmor (dangillmor) Mon 11 Oct 04 00:17
Michael, I used to read newsgroups, but pretty much gave up on them after the spammers and ranters took control. There are a few moderated groups I still occasionally peruse, but not many. Blog comment sections also tend to get abused by some people, but not (so far) to the extent that Usenet has been. I continue to like mail lists, though. Dave Farber's Interesting People list remains a critical source of information for me, in particular. Now that it's on the Web, too, I can point to individual posts when I see an especially great one. But I agree totally with the idea that news is more than what governments (and news companies) say it is. News is often what we tell each other. When I get a call or e-mail from someone telling me something I didn't know, that fits into my definition of news.
Dan Gillmor (dangillmor) Mon 11 Oct 04 00:21
Dan, I'm with you, in part, but not completely.There are two issues, as you note: business and journalism, and they're not the same. The biggest threat the Web poses to the mass media is a financial one. We should have understood long ago that eBay would be the biggest classified advertising site in the world. Now it is. We're a high-margin business (major media in general) and we're under attack from a variety of new competitors who are more agile, well-funded, hungry, willing to live on lower margins -- and who consider journalism to be a distraction. This is a huge threat to the business side of what we do. The journalism side is complicated. A million grassroots journalists are challenging everything we do -- watching us, of course, as Dan Rather found out. They're also challenging us in a variety of niches -- Engadget and Gizmodo are examples of this -- and the fragmentation process is accelerating. That said, not everyone wants to be a journalist or data gatherer. Very few people have the time to be journalists, anyway. So there will be some retreat to quality. But some of the new trusted sources will be non-traditional journalists. I think the business questions are the more serious threat today, but not necessarily the most serious in the long run.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Mon 11 Oct 04 05:10
Thanks so much for joining us here, Dan. Can you tell us a little about your experience as a producer, rather than consumer, in online environments? What kind of pushback do you get on your blog, through comments or e-mail? How has it changed over these five years? Above all, what was it like and what did you learn posting draft material for this book as you were writing it?
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Mon 11 Oct 04 11:05
Christian Crumlish (xian) Mon 11 Oct 04 14:27
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Mon 11 Oct 04 17:22
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 11 Oct 04 18:48
Dan Mitchell questions whether blogs should be called alternatives to media; I wonder if it's worth mentioning in this context that many of us who blogged were trained as journalists and have written professionally? There are many very good writers who who have taken other career paths than writing as a profession, but find that blogs give them a way to continue writing regardless what they're doing otherwise. No single blogger may be an alternative to other media, but to the extent that there's so much that's good and so many ways to track it down, doesn't that potentially challenge big media's claim on mindshare?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 12 Oct 04 12:12
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Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Tue 12 Oct 04 15:38
> doesn't that potentially challenge big media's claim on mindshare? Sure, but then lots of things do. TV far more than blogs. My point is that, for the most part, blogs don't challenge media's claim on reportage.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Tue 12 Oct 04 15:55
Wait, are you distinguishing TV from big media?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 12 Oct 04 19:06
i dont want to touch on questions of quality of major media vs blogs however, i know -so- many folks who now say 'i dont have to read newspapers, i just read x # of blogs every day' 'no one needs to read books any more because there are blogs' this is a mindset issue....
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 12 Oct 04 19:22
Yes. interestingly a lot of those blogs are critiquing/passing along stuff they got from newspaper sites, however.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 12 Oct 04 21:11
this is true, gail. but there is an inherent devaluing of the fact that someone somewhere went the old media route... and in a way, a sort of farenheit 451 effect (digests of digests of digests....)
Dan Gillmor (dangillmor) Wed 13 Oct 04 01:30
I do know some people who believe that blogs have replaced newspapers -- at least for them. But as Gail points out, many bloggers are pointing to "mainstream" media sites for much of their own content. Regarding my own experience as a "producer," it's been a learning experience. I get lots and lots of comments and e-mail about what I say. Some of the comments are distinctly unfriendly, but that's fine. I tend to learn more from people who think I'm wrong than from those who agree (though I learn from both). There are some outright trolls and other nasty types who try to wreck online conversations, and I try to ignore them, not always successfully. Posting the book outline and chapter drafts was a great experience, and I'm certain it helped me write a better book. I talk about this at some length in the book. One of the great contributions was from a newspaper publisher in New York State who really helped me fill in some holes with a rigorous reading of the draft. I would do this again.
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