We the media

In a very readable journey through politics, public relations, technology, blogs, journalism, and abuse of copyright, journalist Dan Gillmor weighs in on how the promise of the Internet is being compromised.

Its potential for enabling civic discourse is being threatened by moneyed interests and corporate lust for controlling content. “As the first many-to-many medium, the Internet was going to liberate us from the tyranny of centralized media . . . . We were going to turn the world of ‘take it or leave it’ into an informed global conversation. Consumers would become true customers. The governed would become ‘we, the people’ participants in the political process. But the clampdown as begin,” he says. “Everywhere we look the forces of centralization and authority are finding ways to slow – and perhaps halt altogether – the advances we’ve made.”

We can’t afford to treat the news solely as a commodity, largely controlled by big institutions, he says. “We can’t afford, as a society, to limit our choices. We can’t even afford it financially, because Wall Street’s demands on Big Media are dumbing down the product itself.”

What excites him about blogging is the growing number of blogs “written by people who want to talk intelligently about an area of expertise. . . . To date, weblogs are the closest we’ve come to realizing the original, read/write promise of the Web.”

The technologies of news making are available to citizen and politician alike and may well be the vehicle for saving something we could otherwise lose, he says: a system in which the consent of the governed means more than the simple casting of votes.

Public relations practitioners will find much of what he says directly applicable to their work. “If I were doing PR or marketing, given the tools now available,” he says, “I’d offer to my boss or client the following rules for using tomorrow’s media:

 

  • Listen hard, because people outside your organization may know things you don’t. Keep an eye on chat rooms, discussion boards, email, blogs, and everything else from the edge, both outside and inside the operation.
  • Talk openly about what you’re doing, and why. Start a weblog, or 10 weblogs, from inside the company. Explain, in plan English (or whatever your local language), what’s going on inside the place. Get the CEO to post, too. Created internal blogs and Wikis behind the firewall. . . .
  • Syndicate your information to the widest audience in the most efficient way. Create RSS feeds for everything useful to journalists and the rest of us, including press releases, speeches, blog postings, and other material. . . .
  • Experiment constantly, because risk is a part of growth. This is a new medium we’re all learning.

He encourages authors to license their content under a “Creative Commons” license, which lets the author reserve some rights while giving people more freedom to use the material in ways that honor traditions. In fact, Gillmor published this book under a Creative Commons license that permits people to download it freely from the Internet, but not to sell it.

The book’s companion web site is here: http://wethemedia.oreilly.com/

We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people, for the people. Dan Gillmor. O’Reilly, 2004, 2006.

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