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The power of many: we the Webdiary

G'day, Jozef Imrich is a Webdiary columnist, the author of Cold River: a survivor's story and the producer of Media Dragon where he "has his finger on the pulse of any irony of interest and shares his findings to keep you in-the-know with the savviest trend setters and infomaniacs."

The Power of Many: We the Webdiary

by Jozef Imrich

The whole history of progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle there is no progress.

As columnist with the San Jose Mercury News, veteran Silicon Valley reporter Dan Gillmor had covered the bubble, boom, bust and continuing evolution of the tech industry for over a decade. Along the way, he had become an increasingly influential voice in exploring how technology changes media -- and how it changes us in the process. In 2004 Dan quit his job at the San Jose Mercury News to practice what he preached and started a citizen-journalism project.  Giving up a technology column and blog at a daily paper, with all the perks and advantages, was quite a gutsy move.

In his timely book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People (Deep Blog with Association with the Amazon, $15.72 ), Dan describes how blogs and other Internet technologies are changing the very nature of journalism.

Tomorrow's news reporting and production will be more of a conversation, or a seminar. The lines will blur between producers and consumers, changing the role of both," Gillmor writes. "The communication network itself will be a medium for everyone's voice, not just the few who can afford to buy multimillion-dollar printing presses, launch satellites, or win the government's permission to squat on the public's airwaves.

First draft of history and beyond

As Dan Gillmor rightly pointed out "We used to call mainstream journalism the 'first draft of history'. Now, I'd argue, much of that first draft is being written by citizen journalists. And what they're telling us is powerful indeed."

Within the three hundred twenty pages, hardback, Dan chronicles the social and economic impact of weblogs, wikis, mobile technology and other networked phenomena on the business of news. Are bloggers journalists? Will phonecams kill the video star? Do more voices add up to more truth in media? Can you really trust everything you read on an RSS feed?

In We the Media, Dan provides history of the press and its importance to society, explains some of the important underlying architecture and principles of the Internet, and how in the last few years the news media and the Internet have collided.  The underlying theme of We the Media is that the net has begun to turn traditional journalism on its head. That it allows the average person to not be just simple consumers of news, but also active participants in creating and communicating news. Using these as examples he helps connect the dots of change that are turning into a wave impacting the news media, our politics, and our society.

At its core, We the Media, is a book about people. Dan Gillmore shows us some concrete examples of where someone being on-line at a conference blogging have changed the news. That is, a single-person effort prevented a story from being buried by mainstream media or inconsistencies being ignored. People like Glenn Reynolds, a law professor whose blog postings on the intersection of technology and liberty garnered him enough readers and influence that he became a source for professional journalists. Or Ben Chandler, whose upset Congressional victory was fueled by contributions that came in response to ads on a handful of political blogs. Or Iraqi blogger Zayed, whose Healing Irag blog (healingiraq.blogspot.com) scooped Big Media. Or "acridrabbit," who inspired an online community to become investigative reporters and discover that the dying Kaycee Nichols' sad tale was a hoax. Give the people tools to make the news and they will.

The future of news empires

In the chapter entitled, 'The Empire Strikes Back',  Dan writes: "But the clampdown has begun. Everywhere we look, the forces of centralization and authority are finding ways to slow—and perhaps halt altogether—the advances we've made." Dan warns that we have to realize that the movement for revitalizing our citizens and democracy made possible by the net is not inevitable. It will be like all political change, a process that will require constant attention and diligence. To succeed the movement needs the efforts of all caring citizens. As Edward Abbey said ‘Society is like a stew. If you don't keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top.’

Historically, journalists have been charged with informing the democracy. But their future will depend not on only how well they inform but how well they encourage and enable conversations with citizens. That is the challenge. Websites like the Webdiary understand the importance of Dan’s basic premise: "My readers know more than I do - and that's an opportunity." The ability of anyone to make the news has given new voice to people who used to feel voiceless—and whose words we need to hear. According to Dan, Webdiarists and citizen journalists are "showing all of us—citizen, journalist, newsmaker—new ways of talking, of learning. In the end, they may help spark a renaissance of the notion, now threatened, of a truly informed citizenry."

This is a story of a modern revolution

Back in 2001, Dan wrote on his blog

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 their 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 into the kitchen themselves.

Dan, like Margo Kingston, is one of the few professional journalists who really understands the impact of blogs and other new technologies on journalism. They pass along approvingly the citizens media credo of Oh Yeon Ho, the reformist founder of South Korea's largest online paper, OhmyNews: "Every citizen's a reporter. Journalists aren't some exotic species, they're everyone who seeks to take new developments, put them into writing, and share them with others."

Lessons for other fields

Corporate executives, politicians, public relations professionals and others with access to the hallways of power can draw parallels in We the Media to what's happening in their own fields as the Internet disrupts business models and empowers users to bypass traditional lines of authority. Gillmor shows newsmakers how to deal with the new realities and shift from a control mindset to one of conversation.

Technical and business evangelists, like Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, are also urging businesses to get into the act: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers. With camera cellphones, digital cameras, camcorders, Pocket PCs, PDAs, WiFi, on-line publications and personal blogs growing so rapidly keeping good and bad news 'quiet' is becoming difficult, if not impossible. Customers and employees can spread information about your firm to the global community with just a few keystrokes. Customers who like and dislike any products are 'reporting' the good, the bad and the ugly every day on the web.

Dan saves his sharpest criticism for governmental lawmakers and the copyright industries that are supporting them. These organizations and individuals are throwing millions of dollars and volumes of new laws to blur the lines between fair use and copying for personal use. Unfortunately, the wheels of law-making and justice don’t keep pace with technology. Most of the new laws deal with old technology and old enforcement to the point that they are irrelevant to the current state. But are still impacting upon people personally and financially.

Grassroots: The beginning of the end

What's cool about We the Media is that every problem it highlights is also coupled  with examples of people working on solutions to the problem. The book gave me a deeper appreciation of how the media has changed from informing citizens and consumers into force-feeding them: how the drive for profit corrupts  the process of imparting crucial information. Dan's story also illustrates the ways we are taking this back and how we can build a new media model that will allow participation. Much like Webdiary could lead the velvet revolution Down Under, Dan Gillmore shows us that blogs, RSS and more are the tools for a revolution in media everywhere. In a nutshell, We The Media, is a fascinating look on the way the internet self-publishing and blogging phenomenon has changed the way we produce, consume, and share news.

Dan Gillmor: Grassroots Media Ethics Pledge
Steve Outing: The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism
John Robinson: Great rules for newspaper bloggers

Useful Internet Resources

Over the coming weeks, months, and years Webdiary is going to experiment with various ways of nurturing and expanding this conversation, ranging from blogging to investigative journalism, interviews, profiles and guest columns. The focus is going to be on new grassroot tools, processes, uses and trends - not on scoring partisan political points.

Webdiary also needs to compile some kind of database of political  resources and classify them under subject heading such as LOCAL and GLOBAL. We value your suggestions, links and ideas. Hopefully these websites will stimulate cross-pollination of policies, data and information:

Australian Policy Online
Parliament of Australia Information and Research
NSW Parliamentary Library links

Center for Democracy
Dan Gillmor

Blog Father
Deep Blog

After Matter

Print media will figure out how to make money online. George Putnam says newspaper and magazine publishers still have several factors going for them, including great brands, loyal customers and significant assets in other fields.

"No one will argue that the print media face many challenges, ranging from the instant accessibility of information on the Internet to the apparent preference of many people for 'sound bite' journalism. But we think it is too soon to write off the whole industry. ...We think they’ll eventually figure out how to make money in electronic publishing."

And when will there be a museum of blogging?

"The world has really, really changed and will keep changing and we in mainstream media may not like it but it’s a fact and we have to embrace it or we will die."

Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media

"What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never..."

Which reporting can we trust?

"But how reliable was the reporting, media execs asked. Who were their sources? How about if one of the citizen reporters had it in for one of the Republicans? I didn’t add my two cents on that point at the meeting. Here it is now: As a reader, I’m happy to look at that citizens’ reporting. It’s additive. There was nothing. Now there’s something. True, the anonymous reporters are not accountable for their work. So I wouldn’t cite it, journalistically, as evidence that a certain Republican voted one way or another."

Not what it seems

"Of course, neither the bloggers nor the journalists will win in the end. The computer will soon cease to be a technician and come into its own as an artist, showing us patterns of meaning based on all of our contributions. It's evolving faster than we are. BigMedia needs to get into the business of writing algorithms rather than news stories."

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re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Jozef Imrich, I think it worth trying to isolate the different characteristics which make and define different types of online productions. (I think journals is a dying term, redolent of deadwood media).

First off there are mainstream publications: the papers that simply put their content up online. At first they adapted to the web only in a typographical sense. Wow! This is different to our paper products. We'll have to design the thing differently.

The electronic media, television and radio, weren't much more savvy. Like the newspapers and magazines, they simply tried to reproduce their products online. Sometimes this worked, most often it didn’t.

Then, along about 1999, earlier in some cases, came a dash of interactivity.

The mainstream players then began to realise, as the purely online publishers had years before, that this medium was different.

The consumers of the product wanted, indeed demanded, that they have a say in producing the product. The advent of blogs took this one step further: let's just do away with the product altogether!

Many blogs were, and are, simply the product of one person, or one group of people. But, provided they can attract people to comment, interactivity is built in. Still, most blogs, like Webdiary, have a central control: the keys to the castle are held by one person or by one small group.

Wikipedia is different in that it is a genuine, and fascinatingly successful, attempt to give everyone the keys. It is the creative commons in practice.

Is this the way things are going to go? Or, are various groups going to try to retain editorial control? Human nature, not to mention commercial and brand incentives, would dictate that the urge to control is never going to disappear.

But the underlying technologies are developing in ways that empower the consumer, not the producer. Aggregators such as Google, Yahoo and MSN are essentially news publishers without journalists. Push technologies, particularly RSS, the various news alerts systems and desktop widget systems (I use Konfabulator), increasingly allow us, as information consumers, to define what types of information we receive. Editors of all types are crying into the coffee cups.

At the same time: we are also witnessing the unplugging of the net – as it migrates on to ever physically smaller, more portable and wireless gadgets. So not only is the content being redefined, so are the physical ways we get that content.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

I agree with Mark Connell's observations. That is, other than the last paragraph.

Churchill said he was an optimist because there wasn't much use in being anything else.

"The Power of Many: We the Webdiary" may be premature. Perhaps it should be preceded by and evolve from "The Potential of Many ...". When potential exceeds a critical value, sparks fly.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Mark Connell wrote, "Webdiary is an interesting little blog with a specific veiw of the world, and that's okay. So why set such unrealistically high standards about taking on the mainstream media?"

If you have a closer look at Jozef's post, it is better laid out than the usual, with indented paragraphs, and (dammit!) a graphic. Some weblogs are presented well, using fancy web-authoring tools. Some are statements of the art.

But I submit the function of non-mainstream publications is to keep readers alert to new developments. Such is the movement that Al Gore is connected with, as pointed to by Kerri's first reply to this topic. When will our mainstream media take up that story?

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Two of the things that I think will greatly affect the degree to which the citizen journalism can "beat or compete with" mainstream media is the extent of understanding that the bloggers "get" that news format (concept of sections, eg. finance, world, etc) is useful and searchable archives are useful.

As examples, we have threads (with great resources) buried here in WD that are probably easier to find through Google or PreviewSeek than through our own site. For example rather than just our monthly archives we eventually need sections like: Political (World, Regional, National), Human Rights (Refugees, etc), Environment (Resources, Population, Energy, etc), Finance (Interest rates, Foreign debt, etc) and so forth. Not all the stories that have "fallen off" our front page are old news - for example the housing/interest rate/debt issues are still very current [yes, pet topic of mine ;-) ] ... for example the recent report that the RBA severely understates personal debt levels because they do NOT record store credit cards (nor apparently intend to do so!) means that the picture for Australian personal debt is quite a bit worse that the official data indicate. By the way, although this story was reported in the print version of The Canberra Times a week ago (26 Sept, from memory) it got virtually no play anywhere else.

The format (medium) of the media (message) matters as well as the content.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Craig The MIT project needs to move quickly ... DELL is selling excellent laptops in the US presently at USD$599 with widescreen, etc. :-)

Jozef Thanks; excellent piece. If you have you additional references on such citizen journalistic efforts in developing countries and countries "in transition" they would be intersting to see.

The "digital divide", see this for example, is shrinking every day ... and increasing the opportunities to by-pass main stream media filters. Also see this for another example.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

What of the reliability of bloggers? Well, can they be any more inaccurate, accidentally or willfully, than tabloid press or infotainment telly?

Given the state of media, politics and society, what choice have we had but to seek out others who have also realised they are excluded. The ship has already gone down; a matter of survival.

And as is also pointed out, change is not coming any time fast from within, given the hidebound and ossified structures in place. Jozef Imrich, as a veteran survivor of a superceded and extinct evolutionary manifestation of heterogeny/homogeneity; Brezhnevism, is as well-able to give us a description of the "virtual" simulacra cognitive landscape in which we find ourselves today.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Well, I agree increased diversity in the media is a good thing. And I love weblogs. However, to be frank, if the aim of this blog is to smash the media moguls or change the world, I think you're getting a bit carried away...

Weblogs are almost totally opinion rather than fact-based; they provide the bloggers' perspectives of the news, and are not really a substitute for "The News". Personally, I read a wide variety of blogs to get a range of viewpoints, but I would never use a blog as my sole source of news and information, or as a replacement for newspapers, radio or TV. To me, having a weblog as the sole source of information represents a narrowing, rather than broadening, of diversity, as all the facts are filtered through the blogger's personal views and prejudices. Someone who read "The News" as reported on Webdiary is going to get a vastly different view than if they read, say, Tim Blair.

At best, a weblog can correct factual errors in the news (the falsity of the Bush war record claims is probably the most famous), or to provide a collection of like-minded reports ("Good news from Iraq", etc). But even so, these are still driven more by the bloggers' opinions than by any desire to report "The News", and are probably more suited to those people who already agree with the blogger in the first place.

Webdiary is an interesting little blog with a specific veiw of the world, and that's okay. So why set such unrealistically high standards about taking on the mainstream media?? This just seems to set you up to "fail", when you can still be a success just doing what you're doing now.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Excellent Jozef.

At present citizen (or better community) journalism is essentially opinion pieces with blogger comments. I think it needs to be a little more. Most members of any small or large community do not read or comment on blogs but many do read newspapers or watch/listen to other media. Why not expand webdiary to a weekly e-paper. The e-paper (in pdf format delivered by e-mail) would take the form of opinion pieces of the week with maybe some local community journalists providing local or regional news - sometimes local politicians etc will speak to a journalist working on a community paper than to a journalist from established print media. Any comments made can be followed up at higher level by "professional" journalists.

Many people may not feel comfortable using blogs but may be more comfortable with 'letter' writing to a newspaper to express their views and these could be incorporated into the blog by the editors. Letter writers would be given a chance to respond to any comments made in relation to their subimission.

By making Webdiary available as an e-paper while still keeping the current blog format will I feel increase its appeal and readership.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Jozef Imrich: Brilliant! This is the best introduction to the new online media I have yet seen.
And, as Kerri noted, your links are great.
Somewhat more mainstream and industry focussed, but also interesting: the USC Annenburg 'Online Journalism Review'.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Susan E Crawford things are getting better in some ways. Please see my comments here on the MIT Media Labs project to create the $100 laptop. For once a project like this seems to be progressing rapidly. It's excellent news.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Jozef it is material like this excellent and out of the ordinary piece -- the kind of material that thankfully you point out in the most timely way time and again -- that keeps me keen on Webdiary and similar sites in the more inspiring sectors of our cyberspace communities.

Remember what Howard Rheingold said about the title of his 1993 book -

"When you think of a title for a book, you are forced to think of something short and evocative, like, well, 'The Virtual Community,' even though a more accurate title might be: 'People who use computers to communicate, form friendships that sometimes form the basis of communities, but you have to be careful to not mistake the tool for the task and think that just writing words on a screen is the same thing as real community.'"

I think Margo has facilitated the growth of something more than just a tool for the task or just for writing words on a screen. I think she's nurtured the growth of a real community here. I certainly feel that way as I get to meet some of the people behind the keyboards.

I'm finding on the whole many good people, knowledgeable people, fascinating and engaging people. And, most importantly, I find people with passion and a commitment to civil society and all that being a citizen entails.

I am glad you are one of the people with Margo Kingston's Webdiary URL bookmarked. Thank you citizen-journalist Jozef, and more please. Much more.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

After a day of checking the artists' blogs beginning to bloom via my writers group I read this article. What strikes me over and again is how many people don't have enough tech to even use blogger or live journal. More voices are being heard for sure but the pace of change and cost of new computers is still leaving lots of people with the daily paper. So here's to a better relationship.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Thanks very much Jozef, great summary. It comes as Yahoo announces an attempt to control online publications in a counter-attack on Google.... it's all here, and we're all here as well. Exciting stuff, and exactly as I also hold the Webdiary vision.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Fascinating review Jozef, and your links are great!

In New York this week, the chairman of Current TV and former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, will deliver the keynote address at We Media, an Oct 5 conference in New York.

RESTON, Va., Sept. 7 PRNewswire
...The conference brings together the trailblazers, leaders, movers and shakers of the media vanguard and is organized by The Media Center, the non-profit media-technology-society think tank based at the American Press Institute. The conference will be conducted at the world headquarter of The Associated Press in New York City.

The We Media program includes a series of conversations on the phenomenon of mass collaboration, focusing on such topics as citizen journalism; activism and democracy; media gawking; culture, politics and buzz; marketing; and trust networks.

According to their website, The Media Center is

committed to building a better- informed society in a connected world. The Media Center helps individuals and organizations worldwide acquire intelligence and apply insight into the future role and use of media and enabling technology. Through research, education and unique learning experiences, The Media Center helps leaders in media, technology, academia, philanthropies, NGOs, nonprofit and other businesses understand the challenges of a changing multimedia world.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Michael, I would agree with almost every word you said; what you left out (and it is a type of "virtual tragedy of the internet commons") is that there is now so much noise in the blog world in particular, but the internet in general, that sorting the good from the bad from the just plain ugly is increasingly difficult and time consuming - do I really want a topic that gets me 4.5 million hits?

This of course makes Google and PreviewSeek even more valuable... but on the production side it shows the mixed blessing of the wiki model and the benefits of discipline if what we want are coherent but interactive news sites. This is also part of the driving force behind the various Content Management products which provide a coherent form (including graphics!) while allowing contributors relative freedom.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Folks, two things bobbed up on the radar in relation to access.

The first came up on SBS Insight Oct 4th, when at least two of the audience in the Jakarta studio said that the loss of the library facilities in the Australian embassy was a great impediment to students trying to learn about Australia.

The second is some work on internet access, building on experiences of people who were stranded in shelters after hurricane Katrina. They played around with different distributions of operating systems and software, packaged to run entirely from CD ROMs. That way, users could have basic tools, including access to the email and the web, on machines of unknown componentry and history, without compromise.

One striking fact is that the FEMA website accepted only the XP operating system, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. See Slashdot.

Slightly off-topic, but relevant to bigger picture, I believe. :)

PS Chanticleer's 'Packer style wins new media' on back page of the Financial Review Oct 6th, begins:

"In the internet world, James Packer holds a huge advantage over his print rivals because the dotcom entreprenuers believe he understands their game and can successfully bridge the gap between new and old media.

Rupert Murdoch has more money, which helps in an auction, but John Fairfax faces a huge credibility gap with the online set, which must be addressed.

If Fairfax is being left on the shelf, its reputation as an old media player that doesen't "get" the internet is far more the reason than being outsmarted by Packer or anyone else... "

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Russell, on that first link you posted this article caught my eye. But what's the bet that as drug companies have done with pharmaceuticals the IT corporations are going to move into Africa and other developing areas and try and seize control?

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Kerri, Jack, Craig and Michael, your timely links and kind observations are much appreciated ;-) WD has a huge potential for creating both real and virtual community.

Indeed Susan, while the whole wide web is inclusive, it is not inclusive enough. However, a number of non profit organisations and public libraries are addressing this imbalance if ever so slowly. Craig’s specific reference to MIT Media Labs is worth digging.

Surjit your suggestion of e-paper format of WD should be investigated further as sites like Crikey are using similar formats and strategies very effectively.

Mark, a similar point was expressed by another blog starting with W. I agree blogs are not silver bullets, however they can be another tool to add value or challenge the existing media regimes. Wonkette editor Ana Marie Cox once cheekily said that ‘People should have a complete media diet. Things like CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, that's your roughage. That's your green vegetables. That's, like, what's good for you. And then there's what I do, which is like dessert. It's not always good for you. It's not very filling, but it's tasty. It's fun. It's, you know, empty calories.’

Paul, I wish Trotsky could read your colourful turns of phrase. As Trotsky put it: "No devil ever yet voluntarily cut off his own claws." The Soviet bureaucracy would not give up its positions without a fight...

Russell, a friend of mine suggested that one of the good sites on citizen journalistic efforts in developing countries and countries "in transition" to check would be Global Voices. Your examples on digital divide hit the spot. WD is in a process of looking at better ways to tag or catalogue its archives. Phin, Kerri, you and all the keen indexers should one day get teleconferencing on Skype in order to brainstorm your thoughtful suggestions.

Trevor, Kerri is indeed a very keen observer of many different trends and developments. It is all about adding value ...

Roy, I could not disagree less or agree more. As Ayn Rand noted:"Believing in freedom will create infinite possibilities." Many WD contributors are bursting with possibilities and potentials ...

Michael's thoughtful comments prove the point.

On a lighter note, I sometimes do wonder what Oscar Wilde would say about the relationship between journalists and bloggers (pajamahadeens) or the so called dead wood versus the electronic ink ... Oscar we miss your sharp analysis ;-) "The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read."

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

I understand that about 250 people attended The Media Center's We Media conference last week at The Associated Press, with that number swelling to about 300 during Al Gore’s keynote address. We Media conference blog includes further analysis of Al's speech (The destruction of democratic discourse), as well as analysis and reports on all the sessions. As I mentioned to Kerri, would not it be great if mainstream media followed the Web Diary example in generating robust debate on issues such as the cross media ownership and the relationship between the media and policy making processes.

Al Gore acknowledged that there are serious problems with the American political system. He argued that the internet has the potential to serve as a medium through which normal citizens, like me, can be heard. He is absolutely right. He is also right that we must protect the freedom of the internet ...

Quoting the German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, Gore describes what's happened as "the refeudalization of the public sphere." The result is a situation in which most Americans sit on the sidelines while a wealthy few control the news and advertising outlets and, in turn, politics. Gore claims that such a radical reconfiguration of the "marketplace" has fogged and unfocused the public discourse and has profoundly hindered America's abilities to reason and make choices. As a solution, Gore wants to return public forums to the people. Recently, he launched Current TV, an independent news and information network where average citizens participate and "the meritocracy of ideas" reigns.

According to Gore, America's earliest decades were a time when a "marketplace of ideas" thrived, when open public discussion was seen as central to the success of democracy. He argues that as the primary form of public discourse shifted from print to television, that "marketplace" collapsed. Cheap metal printing presses once ubiquitous and readily available to many were, over time, replaced by television networks controlled by conglomerates and almost entirely inaccessible to individual citizens.

On the morph blog, the We Media Conversations and Collaborations continue to generate deeper discussion. Also, nearly eight hours of podcasts from every session are available for download

Reviews so far have been rave: Gary Goldhammer of MarCom Interactive said in his Below the Fold blog: "The 2005 We Media conference was a gorgeous blur, a non-stop serenade from modern media pioneers, practitioners and a few procrastinators about the coming Collaboration Age.” You can see other comments at Media Center

Note also how Gore sees the Current TV channel as "a chance to democratize the medium of television" by blending new Internet technology with old-fashioned television. Al Gore hopes to 'democratize' TV with new channel
I came here today because I believe that American democracy is in grave danger. Al Gore's Code Red: An alternate universe

Elsewhere: New York Times looks at the newspaper business: At Newspapers, Some Clipping

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

In this comment, I mentioned that Al Gore was giving the keynote speech to the We the Media conference. Below is an extract of the speech as published on Alternet. I sourced this speech by being a subscriber to PR Watch Spin, a publication of the Center for Media and Democracy.


Al Gore: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was -- at least for a short time -- a quality of vividness and clarity of focus in our public discourse that reminded some Americans -- including some journalists -- that vividness and clarity used to be more common in the way we talk with one another about the problems and choices that we face. But then, like a passing summer storm, the moment faded. In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders, probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.

Their faith in the viability of Representative Democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry. But they placed particular emphasis on insuring that the public could be well-informed. And they took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas in order to ensure the free-flow of knowledge.

The values that Americans had brought from Europe to the New World had grown out of the sudden explosion of literacy and knowledge after Gutenberg's disruptive invention broke up the stagnant medieval information monopoly and triggered the Reformation, Humanism, and the Enlightenment and enshrined a new sovereign: the "Rule of Reason."

Indeed, the self-governing republic they had the audacity to establish was later named by the historian Henry Steele Commager as "the Empire of Reason."

Our founders knew all about the Roman Forum and the Agora in ancient Athens. They also understood quite well that in America, our public forum would be an ongoing conversation about democracy in which individual citizens would participate not only by speaking directly in the presence of others -- but more commonly by communicating with their fellow citizens over great distances by means of the printed word. Thus they not only protected Freedom of Assembly as a basic right, they made a special point -- in the First Amendment -- of protecting the freedom of the printing press.

Their world was dominated by the printed word. Just as the proverbial fish doesn't know it lives in water, the United States in its first half century knew nothing but the world of print: the Bible, Thomas Paine's fiery call to revolution, the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution , our laws, the Congressional Record, newspapers and books.

Though they feared that a government might try to censor the printing press -- as King George had done -- they could not imagine that America's public discourse would ever consist mainly of something other than words in print.

And yet, as we meet here this morning, more than 40 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and, for the most part, resisting the temptation to inflate their circulation numbers. Reading itself is in sharp decline, not only in our country but in most of the world. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by television.

Radio, the internet, movies, telephones, and other media all now vie for our attention -- but it is television that still completely dominates the flow of information in modern America. In fact, according to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of four hours and 28 minutes every day -- 90 minutes more than the world average. When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time that the average American has. And for younger Americans, the average is even higher.

The internet is a formidable new medium of communication, but it is important to note that it still doesn't hold a candle to television. Indeed, studies show that the majority of Internet users are actually simultaneously watching television while they are online. There is an important reason why television maintains such a hold on its viewers in a way that the internet does not, but I'll get to that in a few minutes. Television first overtook newsprint to become the dominant source of information in America in 1963. But for the next two decades, the television networks mimicked the nation's leading newspapers by faithfully following the standards of the journalism profession. Indeed, men like Edward R. Murrow led the profession in raising the bar.

But all the while, television's share of the total audience for news and information continued to grow -- and its lead over newsprint continued to expand. And then one day, a smart young political consultant turned to an older elected official and succinctly described a new reality in America's public discourse: "If it's not on television, it doesn't exist."

But some extremely important elements of American Democracy have been pushed to the sidelines. And the most prominent casualty has been the "marketplace of ideas" that was so beloved and so carefully protected by our Founders. It effectively no longer exists.

It is not that we no longer share ideas with one another about public matters; of course we do. But the "Public Forum" in which our Founders searched for general agreement and applied the Rule of Reason has been grossly distorted and "restructured" beyond all recognition.

And here is my point: it is the destruction of that marketplace of ideas that accounts for the "strangeness" that now continually haunts our efforts to reason together about the choices we must make as a nation. Whether it is called a Public Forum, or a "Public Sphere" or a marketplace of ideas, the reality of open and free public discussion and debate was considered central to the operation of our democracy in America's earliest decades.

In fact, our first self-expression as a nation -- "We the People" -- made it clear where the ultimate source of authority lay. It was universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for American government was its accountability to the people. And the public forum was the place where the people held the government accountable. That is why it was so important that the marketplace of ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of government.

The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were: ... more

And read the comments by posters to Al Gore's publication of his lecture on Alternet here.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Notice that Yahoo!'s online news search tool has added blogs to the listing rather than just the mainstream media offerings?

See Yahoo! adds blogs to its news section in The Age online today.

Yahoo!'s inclusion of blogs in its news section represents another validation for a growing group of people that are bypassing newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets to report and comment on topical events.

Although many top bloggers lack formal journalism training, it hasn't stopped them from building loyal readerships or breaking news that the mainstream media either missed or ignored.

Those scoops have helped rally more support for "citizen journalism" - a cause Yahoo! said it wanted to recognise by spotlighting some of the news appearing in blogs.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

From the ABC News this morning: The CSIRO has won a bid to play a central role in setting standards for the World Wide Web.

The organisation will now host the Australian office of the World Wide Web Consortium, which is the international body that sets standards for the web.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Mark I appreciate your point. The key message of 'We The Media' states that readers should be seen and treated as the most valuable resource worth tapping into ... This is what Margo has done extremely successfully and it is why Jay Rosen and Dan Gillmor consider her to be a pioneer in the world which has a very few trailblazers.

Tim Porter makes a great point 'The essence of what makes a great newspaper has nothing to do with paper. It has to do with being a great community voice, reporting a story very well, and gaining the trust of your audience and your marketers. No, I wouldn't say that print media is on its way out. … I would say, however, that it better be very well justified if it is going to exist. … I think we've seen the passing of print as the medium of news delivery. There are plenty of examples where print was the best we could do because it's all we had. But the online medium is better.' Developing and building new communities


Characters like O'Reilly often miss the point about the whole wide web or weblogs. This week O'Reilly called Media Matters "assassins" and "the worst" among "most vicious" political websites. Also O'Reilly's Sneak Attack on Bloggers!

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Wonkette editor Ana Marie Cox once cheekily said that "People should have a complete media diet. Things like CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, that's your roughage. That's your green vegetables. That's, like, what's good for you. And then there's what I do, which is like dessert. It's not always good for you. It's not very filling, but it's tasty. It's fun. It's, you know, empty calories."

Jozef, that's my point exactly. Your article, on the other hand, seems to want Webdiary to become our primary, or even sole, source of nutrition. This would be like living on brussels sprouts for life.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

There is little I can add to this article by Eric and this is again one of the genuine joys of blogging. I guess blogging has taught me that no matter how original, bright, revolutionary or new I think an idea is, that someone else has not only thought of it before me but has written about it in much better way than I ever could ...

If you want to understand exactly how the federal government's "reform" plan to abolish the cross-media ownership rules will denigrate Australian journalism and curtail media diversity, here it is. Eric Beecher, just like, Steve Mayne is priceless: How media "reform" will kill genuine debate.

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

Dee, it is probably not a good thing to get me on my Open Source Problems soap box so I'll keep it to a couple of points.

a) Many OS advocates often don't earn a living from software - those of us who do don't all share the same boundless enthusiam for it... but not just for that reason.

b) MANY companies have found out the hard way that OS solutions are often extremely expensive, fragile, and difficult to maintain. Consultant costs go through the roof.

(Note: I don't want to throw this discussion off track so those of you in IT who want to discuss this ad nauseum please don't do it here.)

So, pushing this kind of initiative into developing economies is not necessarily a good thing. Which is part of why Gates has been so involved in promoting IT through the Gates Foundation and trying to help build seriously workable solutions.

PS. Open Standards is quite a different issue but often OS is confused with OS, if you get my drift. :)

re: The power of many: we the Webdiary

I made a reference to cross media ownership in my earlier post today and I thought I might share a few recent and not so recent posts such as one by Julianne Schultz, editor, Griffith Review: "There is no public policy rationale to abolish the cross-media ownership laws ... We are about to go back to the 1960s just as the rest of the world is leaping into a new century of media diversity and choice. Removing cross-media laws is an answer to yesterday's question." Independent media on cross-media.

The Parliamentary Library has also done us a great favour by compiling a rather impressive pages filled with useful resources: 'The Government has long indicated that it believed the rules to be anachronistic, and its policy for the 2001 election contained a commitment to amend cross-media and foreign ownership restrictions.’ Media Ownership Regulation in Australia Xmedia posted An outline of the parliamentary history of the media ownership reform Timeline: media ownership 1991-2003
Ironically, back in 2003, but not in 2005, the The Sydney Morning Herald felt strongly about the issue as it created a special section on Cross Media Ownership
Ari Sharp calls knows how to create punchy headlines: Another win for Kerry and Rupe

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