Dan Gillmor: We are learning more from each other

By March 05, 2007

After two decades in the newspaper business, Dan Gillmor left the San Jose Mercury News to promote citizen media first with Bayosphere and now as the director of the Center for Citizen Media. Affiliated with Harvard University’s B

erkman Center for Internet & Society and Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, this project strives to “enable and encourage grassroots media, especially citizen journalism, at every level”. What is your definition of citizen media and citizen journalism? Citizen media is anything that anyone produces in the way of media using modern tools. It can be a blog, a posting on Flickr and YouTube or a posting on a discussion board. The definition is very broad. Citizen journalism is also difficult to define. There are some well-known examples though they don’t define the universe of everything that is out there. There are blogs that cover a niche in such great depth that they become the place people go. There are photos taken with a mobile phone, like the ones of the underground attacks in London, which we will remember even though the photographer was not a journalist and will never be one again. There are email lists covering happenings in a neighborhood that would never make it in the newspaper or sites about places where there is no media coverage.   What are the benefits of this phenomenon? It is a good thing when people create media of any sort and when they participate instead of just being consumers. People should write, not just read. The value to the rest of us is that we are learning more from each other. Our capacity to collaborate has expanded. When we bring knowledge from a community, we find that we can have better information. Of course, it creates a “signal to noise ratio” problem where there is lots of noise and it is difficult to get the signal. But it is a problem we should be happy to have.   What has been the reaction of the traditional media organizations? It has been slow, but they finally started to react. Blogs are a good sign, but few organizations have invited the audience into journalism besides making comments. This week, the Center for Citizen Media is releasing a report titled “Frontiers of Innovation in Community Engagement: News Organizations Forge New Relationships with Communities”. One of the most exciting news is that Gannett is about to change the nature of its newsrooms to include citizens. We will see how it goes.   [In the 99-page report, co-authors Lisa Williams, Jane MacKay and Gillmor write that “Perhaps the best business reason for creating these sites is the hardest to quantify in the short run. The media organization that becomes the key hub of community conversation, helping the community to have the conversation with itself that all communities need to have, stands to be a survivor in the new digital world.” Among the dozen examples analyzed in the report are Nashvilleistalking.com and WickedLocal.com in Plymouth, Mass.] Can you reflect on Bayosphere and why did it not survive in its original form? When you launched it in 2005, you wrote: “Let’s build a space where people can find news and opinion they can trust, and information that helps us in our daily lives. I don’t know everything that’s going on the Bay Area. And I don’t know everything about citizen journalism. But you and I, together, know a lot.”) I wrote long letters about the topic. Let that stand.   [About a year ago, Backfence, a pioneer in the field of citizen media from the Washington, D.C. area, moved into the San Francisco Bay Area and took the Bayosphere operations “under their wing” as Gillmor put it, relieving him of the financial burden of running the site. Gillmor is one the most active bloggers on the site which also features community events and a crime log.]   Isabelle Boucq for Atelier

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