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Gillmor Chapters 7-12

The readings for this week touch on a variety of subjects. Topics include discussions on how Internet users could lose the right to free speech, to strategies that bloggers can use to protect against violating copyrighted and “fair use” materials.

In this week’s blog posting, I’ll focus on three important points that Gillmor raises: the growing importance of grassroots journalism; the future of journalism; and dealing with misinformation.


Media Abyss

Big media—as Gillmor affectionately calls them—continue to miss the point about grassroots journalism. Newspapers have been slow to react and adapt to the new media world. Gillmor asserts that this is probably due to media consolidation and its focus on profitability over quality. Gillmor claims that media conglomerates fail to comprehend the increasingly significant role that grassroots journalism plays in news reporting.

Consider for instance the news coverage of the December 2003 protest in Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis protested the insurgent bombings in the streets of Baghdad. Mainstream media outlets such the New York Times missed the story. However, citizen journalists such as Zeyad blogged thorough and harrowing accounts of the ordeal.

Bloggers have increasingly come to play a larger role in the reporting of news and information. They are capable of producing, filtering and reporting important news events. This has allowed the public to hear new and different opinions. A wider audience of people can now voice their viewpoints for the world to hear.

Gillmor writes that blogs “can be acts of civic engagement.” Furthermore, he asserts that grassroots journalists can provide more depth compared to traditional journalists who often face space and content restrictions from editors.


The New Media

New and faster technologies are being created at high rates of speed. Moore’s Law states that the power of computer CPUs will double every 18 to 24 months. This notion, first proposed in the 1960s, amazingly still holds true today.

Gillmor discusses the changing role of journalism. He maintains that reporters in the near future will have impressive technology toolkits at their disposal. These tools will be simple to use, easily accessible and carried by reporters at all times.

Furthermore, he contends that people and computer systems will handle the media sifting process that journalists currently go through. He believes that the role of the journalists will transform—not disappear as many critics have suggested. He also sees the role of technology and automation playing an increasingly important role for journalists.

I agree with Gillmor’s assertions. Technology will continue to transform how journalists do their jobs. As reported in “The State of the News Media,”  savvy journalists will embrace and use new technologies to improve their gathering and sorting techniques.

However, with this “long tail” journalism that becomes more and more focused on those handful of issues that matter most to each of us, I’m concerned that we risk being unable to see the forest from the trees. Unless people actively seek out “big picture” blogs or news analysis, society could become mired in the “thick of thin things,” and fail to see the bigger trends that are influencing our lives.


The “Backfire Effect”

Innovative technologies have given Internet users the ability to communicate with others simultaneously. However, incredible amounts of information and ways to communicate have created an authenticity problem. How can users evaluate the reputation and credibility of bloggers? How does a user know that the information or picture that he or she is viewing is accurate?

Gillmor points out that public manipulation is easy to do with Photoshop or other image-manipulation tools. The current process of determining authenticity is laborious. Gillmor suggests looking at the source of information.

However, even checking the source doesn’t always uncover the truth—at least initially. At times, the speed of news reporting takes precedence over accuracy. This in turns creates retractions or questions from other bloggers concerning the information’s authenticity. What happens when users are exposed to misinformation even if it’s later disproven? What affect does news misinformation have on readers?

Actually, when people are exposed to misinformation, it can have a “backfire effect”. A new study conducted by political scientists shows that misinformation can have an indelible effect on people, even if it’s later proven false. “Correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information.”

This recent study focused on political campaigns. But, the findings could also be applied more broadly to the Internet. Consider the magnitude of misinformation (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that exists on the Internet. What if the same “backfire effect” occurs with all misinformation? 


“The media may not tell us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about”

Bernard C. Cohen


In the fall of 1989 I attended a public relations conference in New York City. The event featured well-known local and national reporters who eagerly shared their strong viewpoints on how PR professionals should work with the press. I vividly recall how one seasoned reporter mockingly told the audience that “the press doesn’t tell us what to think but what to think about.” The audience politely laughed. I couldn’t help but think at the time that the reporter’s comments sounded vaguely familiar and disturbingly accurate.

In 1963, Bernard C. Cohen, the founder of agenda-setting theory, proclaimed a similar statement about the media’s role in shaping public perception. Today however, news reporting and the role that the public plays have experienced a seismic transformation.

This week’s blog post reflects on chapters 1-6 in Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media.” Additionally, it infuses personal perspective based on my experiences and beliefs about the digital media.

The first six chapters touch on many points concerning the media and the digital age. Several of Gillmor’s points resonated with me: history and evolution of journalism; the new age of reporting; and the roles of traditional and non-traditional journalists.

Prior to the late 20th century, the barriers to entry remained high for journalists. In those days, reporters attended journalism schools to better understand the art of reporting. This evolved into an elite group of educated professionals who reported news that was increasingly out of touch with the mainstream public. A certain distinction and separation existed between the press and the public

However, the widespread public use of the Internet began to crack this separation, thus blurring the lines between the two. Citizen journalism cropped up on the Internet. Citizens began playing an active role in the analysis, reporting and collection of news and information. Gillmor describes citizen journalists as “the former audience.” Citizen journalism has also been defined as “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.”  

Gillmor adamantly believes that the increase in popularity of citizen journalism will only help journalists to do their jobs better. The author views the relationship between the public and journalists as one that is interdependent. Furthermore, he surmises that the rise in citizen journalism will provide a voice for those who have previously remained voiceless. Gillmor believes that traditional journalists should embrace citizen journalists by using them as a resource.

I think Gillmor makes some strong points. Traditional journalists need to embrace and recognize the value that citizen journalists can provide. Media corporations also need to take part and integrate citizen journalists into their business mix.

Consider today how CNN frequently uses citizen journalists to cover breaking news. In fact as the RichardCQZ blog reported back in February, CNN launched its iReport Citizen Journalist Web site.  

However, biased and opinionated reporting is a concern. Citizen journalists are not trained to report the facts in a balanced and fair manner. Their political biases and limited “world views” could taint the story by only presenting one side of a story (intentionally or unintentionally).

Although this video is showing its age, it illustrates both the opportunities and pitfalls that a newsscape dominated by citizen journalists could become.

In case you’re wondering why I chose the name, my company’s name is Pathway Communications. I am considering doing an educational vlog in the future.