|We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People|
|reviewer||The Importance Of|
|summary||The revolution in media and what it means for journalism.|
The main focus of We the Media is the ongoing revolution in journalism, but it is much broader than that. It is about media and communication in general. It is a report in mid-2004 on many of the predictions that Marshall McLuhan made in the 1960s and 70s about how technology will change the way we communicate for good and ill.
It's actually somewhat difficult to write, precisely, what the book is about. Gillmor has taken a diverse range of subjects from technology, to politics, and law, from blogging to broadcast and spread spectrum, and combined them into a compelling and provocative narrative. The ideas come fast and furious, but Gillmor's writing talent keeps the reader on track. In fact, there are so many concepts discussed that there really is not enough room to summarize them all in this review.
Instead, it is probably easier to talk about who the book is for. Gillmor sets it out in his introduction: journalists, newsmakers and the people formerly known as "the audience."
Very simply, We the Media should be required reading in journalism schools for students and professors. I'm serious. If you're a publisher, editor, or an actual breathing reporter, and you want to get up to speed on what is happening to your profession, you need to read this book.
Revolutionary shifts don't usually happen overnight, and the one in journalism that Gillmor describes didn't either. He briefly sketches a progression of changes from revolutionary era newspapers and pamphleteers to the increasing centralization of corporate media behemoths in the 20th century. However, there is a day he can point to when the latest shift became pretty obvious. That day was Sept 11, 2001. That was the day that personal media, through email lists and websites, became an important way for the story to get out.
Personally, I was at a public television conference in Wisconsin. Many of the attendees were journalists for local PBS affiliates. Connected to the net in the conference room, I was getting news through Slashdot because most of the major media websites were down, and the broadcast news was simply playing video of the attacks over and over. Soon, many of the other attendees were also checking Slashdot for links to and mirrors of the news gathered by Slashdot's readers. That may not seem like a big deal, but as Gillmor relates, similar things were taking place in many other net forums. The importance of these alternate news sites has continued (you're reading this aren't you?).
Because the whole book is about journalism, it is a bit hard to pick out more highlights, but Gillmor does begin his chapter on "Professional Journalists Joining the Conversation" with a Slashdot anecdote concerning Jane's Intelligence Review thanking the Slashdot community for pointing out the flaws in a proposed article on cyberterrorism back in 1999. Actually, much of what Gillmor is talking about is basically how journalists can be more like Jane's - working with and taking advantage of the fact that the audience knows more than the publication.
If you are a politician, CEO or advisor to similar, you should probably read this book as well. In many ways, journalists are middlemen, connecting those making news with those who want to learn the news. One of the things technology is enabling is the ability of newsmakers to connect directly with their audience in many ways. Of course, as Gillmor documents, many businessmen and politicians don't really understand how to communicate through this new medium properly. Nevertheless, there are lessons that can be learned from the mistakes as well as some positive examples of those who've used new technologies successfully.
The People Formerly Known as "The Audience"
Basically, everybody who comments down below this review is participating in it. You're not simply an audience; you're co-authors of this review. What I'm writing here is only a starting point for the conversation. If you're interested in becoming a more active participant, in learning more about the role the once-passive, now-proactive audience is playing in creating, editing and filtering media, then you probably want to read this book too. We're all journalists now.
Free As in Speech (and Beer)
The book has an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Creative Commons license. The digital text isn't available on the web yet, but should be very soon. Expect a profusion of formats, audio versions, translations, and wikis to follow. One thought of mine is that classes of journalism students should be regularly given an assignment to keep the book up-to-date.
We the Media also has a weblog, which will be a good place to keep track of the book as it develops. Just because a book has been published doesn't mean it has finished changing.
You can purchase We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews. To see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.