We the Media by Dan Gillmor

Last week I reviewed Hugh Hewitt’s Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World. I was disappointed by the rather thin argument and choppy nature of the book. I felt like the book was rushed and disjointed; like it read like a blog instead of a book. But I confess my disappointment could have largely stemmed from my having an insiders knowledge of blogging and the center-right political blogosphere Hugh focuses on. There was very little new information in Blog and not much insightful thinking in my mind, while perhaps a reader with little or no knowledge of the subject might find it educational and interesting.

Trying to get a different perspective on this subject I turned to Dan Gillmor’s We the Media. Gillmor has a background in mainstream journalism:

From 1994-2004, Dan was a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper, and wrote a weblog for SiliconValley.com. He joined the Mercury News after six years with the Detroit Free Press. Before that, he was with the Kansas City Times and several newspapers in Vermont.

Gillmor has a unique perspective as a journalist yet early adopter of blogging and other personal communication tools. His job as a reporter, as well as his personal interest, kept him on the front lines of technology and the personal communication revolution. We the Media is both an argument about how we should move forward and a first cut at the history of this fascinating development. While Hewitt’s work was aimed directly at blogs, We the Media is more about the general phenomena of open source journalism or the intersection of personal communication online and the public interest.


Just as I did with Blog, I thought it might be helpful to list the positives and negatives of We the Media.

Positives:
– Gillmor’s introduction to blogging and other forms of online communication is broad and informative. He covers both the technical/technological and the cultural side of their development.

– He situates the discussion of blogs as journalism in terms one can understand: old media tended toward journalism as lecture while new media focuses on journalism as conversation.

– He outlines the history of innovations that led to and interacted with blogs: email lists and forums, Wiki, SMS, digital cameras, RSS, etc.

– He covers the business and techie side of development. While he covers the political/cultural blogs and webspaces he also outlines how the “open web” developed, responded to, and is impacting business and technology in a myriad of ways.

– Gillmor has a strong focus on the interaction between journalists and their former audience now participants/colleagues. His perspective and experience allows him to sympathise and understand both sides of this relationship.

– He sketches some of the pros and cons of this new media landscape with particular attention to miscommunication and attempts to stifle open communication. He doesn’t overlook or under-estimate the potential pitfalls or the challenges ahead.

Negatives:

– If you don’t share his passion on some subjects it might get a little dry in spots. Example: The legal issues involved in peer to peer file sharing, etc.

– While not quite as strong as Hewitt, Gillmor has a political perspective that comes through. This is not a negative in and of itself, but his largely progressive viewpoint sets the tone for the book. If you don’t share his mostly progressive viewpoint (with a touch of civil libertarianism), it might color your opinion of his writing. Example: when he calls for a public program to bring broadband to every house in America.

– Gillmor has few insights into what the media landscape might look like in the future. He wants a more open and interactive future but isn’t sure whether we are headed that way or not.

Overall, I must say I found We the Media and excellent introduction to the new world of interactive communication and citizen journalism. It wasn’t ground breaking or mind altering, but it was informative, well organized, and thorough. Where Hewitt seemed focused on being thought provoking and entertaining, Gillmor focuses on careful analysis and balanced history. While some of the subjects can get technical and are often complex, Gillmor does a good job of making it accessible and clear. The prose doesn’t exactly jump of the page, but the content is the focus not style.

I would think We the Media would be required reading for anyone whose job involves public communication, advertising, or journalism. But anyone with an interest in the impact of technology on the media and the public interest would enjoy it.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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