February 23, 2004

Digital Democracy: Gillmor, Rosen and Jarvis

For those of us who weren't at the Digital Democracy Teach-In earlier this month in San Diego (part of O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference), we missed a terrific discussion on the changing nature of journalism led by Dan Gillmor, Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis.

Fortunately, a transcript (and streams) of the session -- Gatekeepers No More? The Grassroots Challenges the Journalist Priesthood - are online and well worth reading by editors and reporters who want to understand better how their roles and those of their readers are merging and forcing a redefinition of news, one that more resembles an ongoing, 360-degree conversation than the traditional us-to-them model of journalism.

Here are some highlights:

 Rosen: "Journalists think we need to give people information so they can participate. But it is more likely that if people participate they will seek information. Activity comes first, and journalists in this country made a big mistake long time ago when without realizing it they began not to care if people got engaged with the information, they cared only if they received the information.

This is a key concept that must be understood by newspapers, and especially by newspaper editors, if they are to retain their community relevance and authority. Interest is directly relational to involvement. Journalists need to follow more than lead. Truly listen to your community, and the content that will engage them will be clear.

 Jarvis echoes this while commenting on blogs: "As I look at this election, I think we have come through some very important and big changes. The first is that the audience has a voice. When I lecture people in my business about blogs the first obligation we have I tell them is not to go writing blogs. We already do write. We already have a printing press. Now that people have a voice, the first obligation is to listen. The first obligation is to go read those blogs and see what the people are saying and what they care about, which may be very different from what we say they care about on our front pages."

 Rosen on amateur journalists (bloggers) vs.professionals: "Professionals may love their work, but they are doing if for a living. They can get paid. They can devote themselves for full time. The bloggers are at a disadvantage it many ways because they are not necessarily able to do that, but they have an advantage, which is they are doing it for love. Love of writing, love of participation, love of their community, and love of getting reactions from the 50 people who read their blog. That is a very powerful thing and very practical thing and amateurs in that sense are a threat (to traditional journalists) not because they are going to take over a franchise, but because they have such different motivations for what they are doing and the root of amateur, the word, of course, is lover. People do it for love. That is a huge thing."

 Gillmor on the economic threat: "Amateur participatory grassroots journalism is not the threat from my perspective to big media that is the most serious one. It is eBbay, which is the world's largest classified advertising site. We're being picked apart, nibbled away at by people who want all of the discrete revenue streams of the big media and who do not really need the margins that the current big media enjoy, and that may be the bigger threat."

 Rosen on journalism and authority: "Journalists in their minds have always represented us, the big public, with the insiders in trying to get them to speak the truth. But for a long time people in the public have seen journalists as themselves insiders and this has worn away at their authority. And so for journalists, the problem is ... not they are mistrusted in some global way, but their authority to monopolize the news is eroding. So, that is the challenge for the press right now, is to find a form of authority that is more interactive, more transparent, and more open."

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Tim Porter at February 23, 2004 07:51 PM