Sunday, January 30, 2005

If "information is the currency of democracy," as they say, then new media technologies are where the money is, according to Dan Gillmor, whose new book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, For the People is a useful overview of how blogging, RSS, and other tools are transforming mainstream media and democracy.

We all know examples -- e.g. MoveOn and the Dean 2004 campaign's effective use of small donors ("professional journalists, byand large, seemed baffled early on by the edge-to-middle politics Dean was using to his advantage. The top-down hierarchy of modern journalism probably played a role beccause editors probably couldn't relate any better to the notion of a dispersed campaign than to the idea of readers directly assisting in the creation of journalism").

The impacts of the new technologies should not be underestimated. Recall that it was the smart mobs used cell phones w/text messaging to organize the protests that brought down the Phillipine government in 2001). And so long as the military and police are hierarchical and centrally organized, they will continue to play an important part in the emergence of new, asymmetric warfare tactics used by global terrorists.

But they also have the potential to enhance democracy. The use of cybertechnology to provide feedback loops is well known as a potential threat to privacy, but it can also enhance democracy and security.

"For any problem there is a person or persons in a large population of educated people that don't see it as a problem. We need a feedback loop that can filter upknowledge and insight. For example: If You have seen a loophole in airport security and have a solution as to how to correct it, there should be a mechanism for getting that information to the people that can makethe change."

Many blog-readers are familiar with these arguments, but Gilmor's book is still a good overview, esp. for those who feel left behind, and since Gilmor is/was a journalist (he left his position at the News to promote his books and seems to spend most of his time at new technology conferences), his treatment is not the manifesto of some upstart activist with an axe to grind about the media, but an exploration of how journalism will necessarily evolve as a result of these technologies. A cogent argement from one who knows the media business from within and has his eye on technology.

One of the recurrent themes here is that journalists need to get out of their priviledge professional walls and "join the conversation":

"It boils down to something simple: readers (or viewers or listeners) collectively know more than media professionals do. This is true by definition: they are many, and we are often just one. We need to recognize and, in the best sense of the word, use heir knowledge. If we don't, our former audience will bolt when they realize they don't have to settle for half-baked coverage; they can come nto the kitchen themselves." but he's not unaware of the issues that arise concerning information and quality control: "I hope we can survive what's coming because I believe in the mission of journalism and fear that serious investigative reporting will diminish, and perhaps nearly disappear, if big newspapers and other serious outlets wither; what blogger will take on the next Watergate scandal the way The Washington Post did?"

They won't, but then again, that's why we have groups like the Center for Public Integrity, who manage to aggregate teams of professional journalists and the new technologies, regularly publishing cutting-edge in-depth investigations.

For no other reason, the web sites in this book are worth checking out, including Gizmodo (site that reports on high-tech gadgets), Earth911 (like Scorecard, but more expansive porthole to local environmental information), Poynter (key site for professional journalists), and Technorati (a blog monitoring and search service), Coases Penguin (essay by Hochai Benkler, a Yale U. law prof. who makes a stong case that open source organizations work better than the traditional capitalist structre of firms and markets in some circumstances). Kuro5hin (web site on tecnology and culture "from the trenches").If you don't know your online rights -- see Chilling Effects , the Electronic Freedon Foundation and the other sites he list in the appendix.

He has a useful chapter on the problems posed by battles over copyright and fair use (readers of Lawrence Lessig will be familiar with this stuff).

We the Media touches on issues that will not only change the media and our role in creating it, but many of our other favorite institutions, such as publishing and libraries:

"Book publishers have increasingly looked at online distriibution with fear, when they should see it as a practical step beyond antiquated printing and sitribution systems, and an opportunity to win new customers. They are supporting a system that mocks the First Amendment, on which they rely for their very existence; publishing, after all, is build on a foundation of free speech. Lending librariesin particular are in jeopardy if publishers take the same hard line that the music and movie companies have taken, because in a pay-per-view copyright regime, lending becomes impossible." (219)