Review of Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media – Grassroots Journalism by the people for the people”

Dan Gillmor:
“We the media – Grassroots Journalism by the people for the people.”

O’Reilly 2004/Paperback 2006


*** (3 out of 5)

The problem with books about the Internet is the timeliness: as soon as they are written, edited, published and printed, they are already out-of-date.
And whilst the Internet and world-wide web don’t explicitly feature in the title of the book or most of the chapters, it exclusively focuses on grassroots media on the Internet.
And, of course, the author doesn’t mention podcasting or “YouTube” or “Odeo” or “MySpace” or “CommentIsFree” or “Grokster” yet, as its actuality is based on the technology in 2003. The author tries to catch up in actuality a bit with the new introduction for the 2006 paperback edition, but the 6pages can not quite add the same in-depth coverage to complete the research.
However, the book has several big advantages: the whole content of the book is available on the internet, it is released under the creative commons license, which allows unlimited added contribution, changes and dissemination of the content, it includes a huge web site directory, glossary and index.

But the two paragraphs on Indymedia are more than disappointing in a 300 pages book on grassroots media.
Dan Gillmor seems to forget the limits of cyberspace, whilst he talks about trolls, spin and legal problems, he forgets that there is more to grassroots journalism than cyberspace.
There is no mention of leaflets, posters, pamphlets, talks, videos, books, radio/audio, meetings and other media formats grassroots media uses.
The Internet is just a tool for disseminating information and build opportunities for social networking, but he forgets the built-in disadvantages of the format and how and why to use which format according to advantages and disadvantages and to distinguish purposes.
He also focuses like many mainstream journalists on how to exploit the ideas and creativity of grassroots media projects for the mainstream, but of course without taking into account the underlying purposes and reasons of the grassroots media, therefore distorting the messages in the name of objectivity and changing it according to their totally different editorial and personal agenda.
Somehow these authors and journalists seem to miss something important: grassroots media is not an ally of mainstream media, it exists partly because of mainstream media’s inability for compassion, personal and editorial freedom and ethical judgment.

Unfortunately the book doesn’t really tells anything new either. So, it leaves a bit of a boring impression, although written entertainingly. For a factual, non-fiction book, it therefore does not fulfill its main purpose to introduce new knowledge.

Another weakness is the focus on main grassroots media, it actually does not give a round-up of the little community groups benefiting from the internet, but just mentions the big players, like Wikipedia, Kuro5hin, Slashdot, BBCiCan, and the semi-commercial ones, like OhMyNews, Technorati, Yahoo Email Groups, and professional Journalists’ Blogs.

Dan Gillmor should have titled the book “The Journalism of Participation”, as the current title and the content of the book does not deal with the power structures between readers and editors in most of the presented projects.
The book is good to slap traditional mainstream journalists with, grassroots media activists’ appetite will however not be satisfied.


Comment by Adam on 2006-10-17 17:52:02 +0100

I suppose it’s in the interests of the mainstream media to package new grassroots media as an accompaniment to them rather than a challenge. The best way to get the truth across is just to keep putting the time in on Indymedia or whatever. People are gradually turning away from TV and newspapers anyway, so eventually they are bound to discover us. Or should that be ‘themselves’? Yes, probably…

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