As is my habit, I’m blogging from the stage of NetSquared, taking notes on talks by Dan Gillmor and Euntaek Hong. The “immoderator” is Michael Rogers, former technology columnist for Newsweek and futurist for MSNBC. He points out that there’s a conference roughly every month these days on Web2.0 tools, but that these tools are too important to trust to the journalists, hence the importance of making this stuff accessible to citizen journalists.
Dan leads off with a talk titled “We the Media – The Rise of Grassroots, Open-Source Journalism”. Dan tells us he’s proud of his history as a mainstream journalist, but points out that some of the best journalism being done in the world is being done by the “noted journalism organization”, the American Civil Liberties Union, as they research our secret prisons in Guantanamo.
The tools to create digital media are pretty much in the hands of everyone, at least in the developed world. Distribution is more democratized, though the phones and cable companies are trying to take that away. The core of this transformation is the “read-write” web – it’s very different from the web that we encountered in the late 1990s, where it was easy to read and hard to write.
Anyone can do this stuff… including the Pentagon. They’re producing podcasts… which may indicate that that medium is over… The movement is from old media to new media to we media. This empowers not just “the former audience”, but also the newsmakers as well. Journalism used to be a lecture – now it’s more like a conversation. According to the Cluetrain Manifesto, markets are conversations – Dan says that journalism is a conversation as well. Journalists need to learn to listen to the former audience.
Secrets are getting harder to keep – as photos at Abu Graib demonstrated. This isn’t always a good thing. And we need better tools to help us determine what’s true and accurate. But there are some great experiments underway – OhMyNews, which is the most successful experiment thus far in citizen’s media.
Journalists can start asking their readers to help. BBC is starting to ask their readers to participate in newsmaking, to post photos and share stories. People will do this whether or not you ask them – the canonical London Bombing image was taken with a mobile phone camera by a person who was not a journalist.
The idea of the “citizen witness” is not new – think of the photos in Dealy Plaza at JFKs assasination. Think about what would happen now – we’d triangulate from our photos and have a three-D image of what actually went on.
We see some cool new tools – satellite uplink in a suitcase, for a mere $100,000. Self-assembling newsrooms – people who don’t even know each other – building newsrooms (like Global Voices). Projects like Wikipedia that use mutual point of view to allow widespread collaboration. Mashups, that visualize crime data on Google Maps… or have George Bush and Tony Blair singing love songs to each other. Nanopublishing lets people make a living publishing ads on their sites… and it’s not so nano, at least for the company that made it possible. Brattleboro.com is an example of a community blog that sometimes does a better job of covering a town than the local paper.
One of the problems we’re facing is the trouble of too much information – we need help navigating the conversations, via sites like Memeorandum and Technorati. We need to move beyond the Daily Me – a newspaper assembled just for you – to the Daily We, a newspaper developed by your community. Voting isn’t enough, but sites like Digg are pretty exciting – community ratings on comments can also be a big help in adding richness to conversations.
There’s a great opportunity for journalism organizations: they can help people in their commmunities – either of geography or interest – become activists. BBC is actively developing activists… one of the campaigns that grew out was one to take away public funding from the BBC.
Dan finishes by pointing to the new Center for Citizen Media based at Berkeley and Berkman.