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We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People for the People is a book written by Dan Gillmor, published in 2004 by O'Reilly (ISBN 0-596-00733-7). It is also available for free online, under a Creative Commons license.

The book is about how the proliferation of grassroots internet journalists (bloggers) has changed the way news is handled. One of the book's main points is that a few big media corporations cannot control the news we get any longer, now that news is being published in real-time, available to everybody, via the Internet. The book received widespread praise from the demographic it covered, and mixed reviews elsewhere.


The citizen journalistEdit

A central concept in We the Media is that of citizen journalists – those members of the “former audience” who can now play an active role in news production. This section describes Gillmor's views of citizenship and of journalism in the networked public sphere by comparing them to those of Yochai Benkler in "The Wealth of Networks".

What kind of citizen?Edit

The post-war notion of a passive and private citizenship has come under attack since the 1990s on two fronts: the need for a shared identity in increasingly diverse societies, and the existence of citizenship responsibilities and virtues like political participation (Kymlicka and Norman 1994). In We the Media Gillmor is concerned primarily with the latter; he focuses, like Benkler, on participatory citizenship.

This leaves the first set of questions about shared experience, identity and social cohesion unaddressed. Who are the citizen journalists represented in the networked public sphere? What are they citizens of, and who do they report for? For instance, Benkler claims that the Internet allows individuals “possessing completely different endowments of material, intellectual, social, and formal ties and capabilities [to] be citizens of the same democratic polity,” as in “the idealized Athenian agora or New England town hall” (181). But in our non-ideal world several groups are marginalized, and while the new media platform includes some by erasing prejudice (e.g. women, ethnic minorities) and distance (Aboriginal peoples), it leaves disadvantaged ones on the other side of the digital divide. Similarly, because citizen journalists can identify and blog with virtually anyone from their neighbors to foreigners, the meaning of membership changes. Participation can still be linked to a polity, but it is no longer limited to a single one.

Leaving aside these issues, We the Media and The Wealth of Networks argue that decentralizing information and power through Internet media has the potential to make the public sphere more democratic. The challenge, then, is to explain why the mere ability of an informed, connected citizenry to participate results in responsible participation, in conversations that are public-spirited rather than self-interested.

Gillmor's answer appears to be based on a kind of civic republicanism according to which participation is a good in itself. Whether they are political or not, citizen-produced news have intrinsic value. Expressing oneself in public, even about private issues, teaches people responsibility and “gives them the skills to address more complex issues,” as Gillmor once explained in a seminar at Harvard. In contrast, Benkler adopts a more liberal view of participatory citizenship, arguing that people can engage in public discourse online in order to question the authority of elected representatives. He is concerned with the political responsibility to debate public good and to hold governments accountable. As citizen journalists realize that it is one thing to speak up online and another to be heard, they will become more willing to seriously consider a wide “range of opinions and views about what ought to occupy the public, and what solutions are available” (203).

What kind of journalism?Edit

The citizen journalist, whether liberal or republican, is an answer to the consumer model promoted by markets. As such, she is meant to redefine the role of journalism in the emerging public sphere. Gillmor thinks this role is to produce a better-informed citizenry by expanding the information pool and distributing production. He gives the example of Groklaw, a blog written by paralegal Pamela Jones who can “recognize what matters” because of her training and produce content important to people (139). Add to this the “many-eyeballs power” of open source journalism and things like the Center for Public Integrity's "blookBuying of the President 2004 become possible: “hundreds of interviews, 53 researchers and editors” - something that “no traditional news organization would ever do,” according to the Center's founder (147). This last point is debatable (Benkler believes Big Media retain a resource advantage in investigative journalism), but the point is that in the aggregate, citizen-produced news democratize by sparking “a renaissance of the notion, now threatened, of a truly informed citizenry." "Self-government demands no less," Gillmor writes, "and we'll all benefit if we do it right” (xviii).

Benkler agrees mostly, but for him self-government demands more, and networks can do more than increase information and participation. Blogs, mailing lists, wikis, and so on also constitute a platform for citizens who are already engaged to produce public opinion (rather than merely information), set the political agenda, deliberate, and cooperate to serve as a societal watchdog (177). “Engagement is not easily purchased, nor is it captured by the concept of a well-educated public” (259). The aim is to create a conversation that citizens “have a genuine stake in and that is linked to a larger, society-wide debate" rooted in people's lives and observations (259).

These two emphases, on information or conversation, and the notions of citizenship that underlie them have different implications in terms of filtering and synthesis. They can determine, for instance, whether the number of Wikipedia articles finished under the "benevolent dictatorship" of Jimmy Wales (Gillmor, 149) is more important than the way users converse about their content and relevance.

ReferencesEdit

  • Kymlicka, W. and W. Norman. "Return of the Citizen: A Survey of Recent Work on Citizenship Theory." Ethics, vol. 104, No. 2 (January 1994), pp. 352-381.
  • Taylor, Alan. We, the Media: Pedagogic Intrusions into US Mainstream Film and Television News Broadcasting Rhetorics, Peter Lang 2005, pp. 418, ISBN 978-3-631-51852 (http://wethemedia.edublogs.org)

External linksEdit

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