WE_The Media

Interview with Dan Gillmor

we:One of your books is titled ”We – The Media“. What is your understanding of “we”?

Dan Gillmor: The notion of ”We – The Media“ is that in an era of democratised media where we all, have tools to create media that are inexpensive and quite high quality combined with the democratization of access to what we create. We are doing something new that used to be the province of “they”, “They, the Media” – now it’s “We – The Media“.

we: What are the biggest challenges for ”We“ in this context of a democratised media environment?

Dan Gillmor: The challenges are many including how do we find the good material amid the flood of things people are creating, not all of which is useful to all of us at some level — some of it is, some of it is not. But what is useful to one person won’t be to another. How do we have shared experiences that we all learn from? How do we sort out what is trustworthy from what is not? How do we persuade people to behave with civility instead of anger and fury when they are dealing with each other? And in terms of journalism: How do we make sure there is a business model, a sustainability model to support high quality journalism? Whether it’s a for-profit or non-profit or some combination as I expect it will be. Over time we need to be sure we have journalism that is sustainable.

we: What do you mean by a sustainable business model?

Dan Gillmor: Sustainability could be achieved in many ways. It can be done by someone who doesn’t try to make money, who just does it for the love of it. Perhaps like someone blogging about a local community. That is only sustainable as long as that person keeps doing it. So we need a lot of people doing it. Another sustainable business model in a not-for-profit world would be national public radio for example: users, which work on a small amount of subsidy and a large amount of user and donor contributions. And of course there is the for-profit model, which basically is: we provide a service or a product and you pay us because you like it or advertisers pay us or some subsidy method. But there are many different ways to support quality media. And we need to explore all of them.

we: So what would be your vision of the ideal media ecosystem?

Dan Gillmor: I don’t have a single idea of that. I think my best role is to watch what people do and try and help identify the good things. I do think a future ecosystem that we want would include the elements of today’s media and journalism that we all agree upon and then add to those the new kinds of things that people are doing. Many people are working in this field … well, most of them will fail. The ones that will succeed we will all learn from and work to improve.

we: How can grassroots journalism lead to a change of the media system in a democratic society? And on the other hand in a non-democratic environment?

Dan Gillmor: Grassroots media are media by people who are not journalists but who occasionally do some journalism but provide information to each other, a highly valuable part of the emerging ecosystem. The difficulty whether whatever kind of culture is sorting out good from the bad, the trustworthy from the untrustworthy and to make sure that people get reliable quality information if that’s what they are looking for. The risks people take in non-free societies are much higher and I admire very much people who take risks of that sort. But it certainly is something that will have great potential to open up more closed societies or help open up. But this is not a magic solution to dictatorship or authoritarian rule. And we should not imagine that it is. But it is a very useful tool.

we: What is your take on the problem of filtering and sorting the ever growing amount of information?

Dan Gillmor: That sorting question is a difficult one and I don’t have a magic formula, but I do think we need to combine human intelligence with machine intelligence in much more powerful and easy to use ways than we have done today. When we do that, I think, we will end up with a phantastically valuable sort of tools and help from each other, which is the only way we are going to be able to sort it out. This is not solvable solely by human editors nor is it solvable solely by machine algorithms. It will be a combination.

we: What role will ”We“ play in the future of media? What’s next that might strengthen the ”We“ in media?

Dan Gillmor: I am very bad at predicting. I like being surprised. All I know for sure is that the devices will get more powerful, smaller, less expensive, that computing power will increase, storage will increase, bandwidth will increase most of the time in most places. The tools of media will become more easy to use and more affordable. Beyond that I do not have predictive power. I was surprised by things that happened after blogging. I think blogging is a proxy word for a whole set of new technologies that add up to conversation. It’s all about conversation as opposed to solely listening to lectures. So I look forward to the next surprise …

we: Traditional media have failed in understanding how the web, how their online audience and how business models are working on the web? Do you agree and what if they had not failed? Would that still have led to the rise of ”We“ Media?

Dan Gillmor: Traditional media have a fundamental business issue that I don’t see a way to solve easily and that is that the advertising has been separated from the journalism. That is going to lead to the increasing inability of major news organisations to do what they have done. We leave aside whether they have been failing journalistically, in some ways they have. But in many ways they have done a great job. So the issue is not whether the business problems are going to continue, which they are, but how do we move from this system into the more broad, diverse, vibrant ecosystem that will support the kinds of journalism we all would agree that we need. And the market problem that’s occurring is a very serious one, but I think we are going to end up figuring it out.

we: What do you think does this all mean for content? What kind of content are we going to see more? What kind of content are we going to see less?

Dan Gillmor: I think we are going to see more of the content that people create themselves as opposed to what’s created for them. We will combine it in new ways and it will be mashed up. It will be in new formats, in new kinds of media tools and ways of looking at it as well as interacting with it and with each other. The specifics? — I have no idea. But it is very clear that this conversation gets more and more widespread, richer and much more difficult to keep track of.

we: If you had three wishes for “We – The Media”, what would they be?

Dan Gillmor: I guess, globally, they would be for a increasingly faster pace of adoption through affordability and government willingness to see it. Off these tools and with bandwidth part of that, I would like to see societies widely understand that free speech and dissent do not equal being unpatriotic. In fact, that’s a very patriotic thing to do to dissent. I’d like to see more people feel that not only do they have something to say but beyond that, they have something to share. And to collaborate with others on the web. It’s wonderful to see consumers becoming creators, but even more wonderful to watch creators become collaborators.

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