The journalism world was originally divided into passive consumers and powerful distributors. But then the internet happened and that world became much more complicated. Clay Shirky argues that with the emergence of technology comes the dissolvement of boundaries separating professional journalists and amateurs, changing the norms associated with journalistic privilege. Dan Gillmor also speaks to the growth of the internet and related technologies, and claims that the audience is no longer the “passive consumer” – they now have the tools to challenge traditional media and create media for themselves. So who can now be a journalist? What are the new limitations or constraints? Which tools are needed?
Dan Gillmor listed the many ways the technology of today has allowed us to be writers via the powerful Internet. We are able to actively participate in discussion of the news through blogs, forums, chat groups, and email. He believes in the capability of people to make news today because current technology has encouraged and welcomed our participation. The internet has become a powerful media tool by facilitating the exchange of information between people.
“For people who simply want to be better informed, the Internet itself is the key. We have access to a broader set of variety of current information than ever before, and we can use it with increasing sophistication. For those who want to join the process, the Web is where we merely start” (Gillmor 25).
We the Media was interesting to me because I had never thought of us, the citizens, as “writers” in Gillmor’s terminology. Technology has encouraged innovation and expression in a way that includes the broad public. All participants are able to express themselves via words thus allowing for an active and informed community which also aids in the promotion of democracy.
Shirky gives interesting examples of how amateurs are changing the notions of “who is a journalist”. He shows how the gatekeeper role of journalists has been undermined by the growth in amateur publishing through the example of Senator Trent Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond and the way the story developed online before it made its way onto the front pages of mainstream media outlets. It’s an example of how traditional publisher’s say in deciding what’s newsworthy is getting weaker. Instead the mass public is increasingly able to make their own determinations about newsworthiness by repeating and editorializing and spreading information around about stories they deem worth reading on their own. I found it interesting, though, that the initial few reports about Lott’s speech that sparked the blogosphere’s initial interest in the story were published by traditional news outlets, not blogs. I assume that these outlets didn’t realize the significance of the Senator’s comments in time and didn’t follow up with further research. This example, according to Shirky, confirms that amateur publishing tends to “rely on corrective argument more than traditional media do” (Shirky 65).
I am personally very intrigued by how newspapers and other organisations will come to deal with this news-dissemination evolution. What’s happening is so significant, so complex and so unfinished that simple three-step plans are neither welcome nor useful. But anyone plotting the future for a media organisation – or any organisation that deals with the media – should definitely start by reading Gillmor’s and Shirky’s works.
Gillmor, Dan. We The Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People. Sebastoppol: O’Reilly, 2004. Print.
Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin Books, 2009. Print.