I’m declaring victory. I’m moving on, into a new project to help persuade passive consumers of media to become active users.

And, once again, I hope you’ll help.

A few years ago I wrote a book called We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, suggesting that we were on the verge of an evolutionary leap. Amid the democratization of media tools and access, I said, the lecture mode of journalism was giving way to conversation; and that stemmed, in part, from the simple fact that the audience always knows more than the person telling the story.

This evolutionary shift is still in its relatively early days. We are in a period of immense disruption, especially notable in the demolition of the business model that has paid for most traditional journalism for the past half-century or so.

Like everyone else, journalists have always been publicly preoccupied with their own situation. Unlike almost everyone else, they’ve owned a higher podium and a louder megaphone.

So we’ve been bombarded with angst, recriminations and, lately, panic emanating from an industry in jeopardy — a business that can no longer rely on the monopoly and oligopoly profits that spun off some occasionally brilliant journalism during the industry’s fattest era.

But look around. The messy process of reinvention is well under way.

Not a week goes by without a new announcement of an experiment in journalism. Today’s news regards a project, featuring finance writer Jane Bryant Quinn and her husband, aimed at helping local news reporting find a business model. Good luck to them — and the thousands of other folks who are working on these problems.

Last week’s news was from an Aspen Institute conference where a high-powered group of folks publicly agonized about the future of journalism. From a distance, the highlight looked to me to be the New Business Models for News project from Jeff Jarvis and company at City University of New York.

More recently it was GrowthSpur, a consultancy created by digital media pioneer Mark Potts and some colleagues, and aiming to “provide tools, training, services and ad networks that will help local sites grow and become successful businesses.”

And True/Slant; Huffington Post; Journalism Online LLC; Spot.US; EveryBlock (sold to MSNBC); and countless others (including our terrific media-entrepreneurship students at Arizona State University) who are proving out Clay Shirky’s observation: “Nothing will work, but everything might. Now’s the time for lots and lots of experiments.”

So I’m declaring victory, albeit early, on the supply side of the equation. Democratized media are giving voice to everyone who has something to add to the emergent global conversation, and the same tools are enabling smart people to experiment with sustainability models for tomorrow’s news and information. We will have plenty of quality news and information — though sorting the good stuff from the sludge will be just one of the huge issues we’ll have to deal with as we move forward into this new era. And, of course, we’ll need to help people creating that supply do a better job at all levels.

But that doesn’t solve what may be a bigger issue: crappy demand.

We have raised several generations of passive consumers of news and information. That’s not good enough anymore.

The media of today and tomorrow require us to become active users. And that’s a prime focus of this new project, Mediactive, the title of this website and an upcoming book. (Here’s the early chapter outline.)

My publisher, as with We the Media, is O’Reilly Media, the only company of its kind that truly gets this stuff. We’re going to be experimenting, in part, with the very nature of what a book is in a Digital Age.

Indeed, this entire project is about experimentation. Some of what we try will not work. Some of it will. But in the end, I hope to have created a solid user’s guide to news and information, for people who realize that they have to take some responsibility for knowing what they’re talking about.

Being active users of media is not an “eat your spinach because it’s good for you” exercise. It’s definitely good for us, but it’s also interesting and/or fun — and in the end truly satisfying.

As with We the Media, I’m not working in a vacuum. Lots of other people are thinking about these questions and trying to come up with answers, too. As always, we’re in this together.


14 Responses to “Moving Along: Mediactive”
  1. Dave Martin says:

    Bravos, Dan. The outline looks great, congrats on the new venture/web place. All the best,

  2. Dan Gillmor says:

    Dave, thanks –

  3. [...] Moving Along: Mediactive Mediactive | August 24, 2009 Dan Gillmor declares victory: “Democratized media are giving voice to everyone who has something to add to the emergent global conversation, and the same tools are enabling smart people to experiment with sustainability models for tomorrow’s news and information. We will have plenty of quality news and information — though sorting the good stuff from the sludge will be just one of the huge issues we’ll have to deal with as we move forward into this new era. And, of course, we’ll need to help people creating that supply do a better job at all levels.” [...]

  4. Digidave says:

    Major kudos!!
    You continue to provide great insights Dan.

  5. bowerbird says:

    i think you overestimate the extent to which
    o’reilly publications ” truly get this stuff”,
    but i wish you the best of luck…

    -bowerbird

  6. Dan Kennedy says:

    Very exciting, Dan. A lot of people, including me, will be watching closely. And I can’t wait to read the book.

  7. [...] the demand for quality news, which he believes is running well behind the burgeoning supply. He writes: We have raised several generations of passive consumers of news and information. That’s not good [...]

  8. Delia says:

    Dan,
    re: “help persuade passive consumers of media to become active users”
    The main problem I see with your approach is that most people don’t have much time to spend on this nor would it be wise for them to spend the amount of time it would take to become sophisticated users on a volunteer basis (Seth can expand on this in great detail and I believe he is right).
    I would not call the demand “crappy’.  That’s like a business calling the customers lousy because they are not interested in spending a great deal of their own time making the product work.  I fault the business, not the customers — they are just acting rationally.
    I wish we could fast forward to the end of this period in journalism and see clearly just how odd it all is — how many of the fundamental assumptions are just outlandish!   To some extent, I’d like to be awakened what it’s all over: when the importance of striving for objectivity  is rediscovered and  those who profit from news actually deliver balanced news that you can use.
    Delia

  9. @Delia
    “Seth can expand on this in great detail and I believe he is right”
    Thank you. I knew I had written in great detail on this, and here’s the <a href=”http://citmedia.org/blog/2008/10/03/cnns-small-mistake-apple-shareholders-big-one/ “>most extensive thread</a>
    Read it and weep :-(
    I’m not inclined to write more, since as an A-lister, Dan always has the option of personal attack from “on high” while I can’t effectively reply, and it’s just not worth it :-( :-(.
    (there’s a lesson in there which sort of refutes the whole project)

    • Dan Gillmor says:

      Seth, I haven’t been on your so-called A-list for some time now. Your critiques (to which you honorably sign your name) are always worth reading even when I don’t agree, which is not always.

  10. Stefan says:

    Great ideas. Particularly drawn in by this take: “Being active users of media is not an “eat your spinach because it’s good for you” exercise. It’s definitely good for us, but it’s also interesting and/or fun — and in the end truly satisfying.” Too much of the current debate seems to be focused on “don’t these youngsters know how important good news is!” plus general hand-wringing about a new blase generation that only cares about LOOK AT ME! content online. Thanks.

  11. Delia says:

    Seth: you are welcome!

    Dan:

    re: ‘Seth, [...] Your critiques (to which you *honorably sign your name*)’ [my emphasis]

    I was hoping you had, by now, given up on the absurd notion that giving someone’s full name online is the ‘honorable’ thing to do — it contradicts your whole idea of a democratized media: it shouldn’t matter *who* is saying it!

    And pushing people to give up their privacy is NOT the honorable thing to do as far as I’m concerned. D.

  12. CJ Cornell says:

    Great post, Dan.
    So, you’ve declared victory and are moving on — but wait — pulling out merely leaves chaos and destruction.  What of the refugees?   No reconstruction?   What fertile ground this is for the carpetbaggers.  Too late;  they’re already here.  But instead of promising 40 acres and a mule, they are promising new revenue opportunities (and renewed stature and credibility) online -  if you just post your content on this or that new platform.   Sure, declare victory and then leave without a real exit strategy.  Oh, the irony ; )
     

  13. [...] In a slightly more constructive piece, Dan Gillmor, one of the authors of We the Media, announced that he is launching Mediactive, a site dedicated to getting the audience more involved in the news, but transforming them into “active users” rather than “passive consumers.”  The announcement piece is here http://mediactive.com/2009/08/24/moving-along-mediactive/ [...]

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