Sunday, April 17, 2005

Review: We the Media, about Blogging and the brave new world

We the MediaDan Gillmor is a longtime professional journalist whose beat for a long time was Silicon Valley. This beat gave him a ground-level view of the .COM explosion and burst, and every other doing in Silicon Valley for many years. However he recently left his comfy job with the San Jose Mercury News, heading off to launch a startup aimed to assist citizen journalists.

He released this book several months before announcing his new venture. Clearly you can see in the book the thinking process he's been in while defining what this new venture would be.

Regardless of his new venture (which, by the way, nothing solid is known yet) this book offers a tantalizing glimpse and vision of a brave new world of newsmaking.

Are you tired, like me, about the old way news is made? Namely, for some event to happen, and the ensuing press conference open only to "accredited journalists", and it is those accredited journalists who put the official story before us.

With the increasing level of corporate ownership of the official media, this means even with the vast quantity of channels (TV, Cable, radio, satellite radio) to listen to, the general tone is going to all be in the same direction because all the channels are owned by the same people.

But what those megalopolies cannot own is the right and ability for an individual to launch their own web site. And they cannot own the right of groups of individuals to band together to create joint news outlets. The software and hosting costs to do this are now cheap, and the price is falling rapidly.

This is what Dan Gillmor talks about in his book.

He starts with an overview, starting with the Founding Fathers and opining that if they were writing their papers today they might be using Blogs. Maybe. Anyway he also talks about the difference between a Read-Only web, to a Read-Write one. The early designers of the Web (Ted Nelson, Tim Berners-Lee, etc) had intended for it to be a read-write place, but in the rush to make it implementatable the web became read-only.

But there are several software systems now that makes the web read-write, at least in some corners. These are content-management-systems that allow the visitors to comment upon articles. These are blogs, where the blog postings are written through a web browser, and where the public can comment upon the blog postings, or make traback links to postings from their own blog, etc. And, these are wiki systems that allow a group to collaboratively build web sites.

As a journalist, Dan Gillmor's focus is on journalism, and what journalists must do to embrace the Web. He keeps returning to describing "us" as the Former Audience. We are no longer the passive audience, but we are participants in creating and defining what is news.

For example during last years election cycle (2004 presidential elections) the "bloggers" ganged up to create several major events. One, the CBS News fiasco, led to Dan Rather's downfall and loss of his position as the Anchor of their Evening News. This is major.

In summary, this is an exciting book full of vision.