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How Audiences Are Shaping the Future of News and Information


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How Audiences Are Shaping the Future of News and Information: commissioned by The Media Center at The American Press Institute. Published July 2003.

How Audiences Are Shaping the Future of News and Information: commissioned by The Media Center at The American Press Institute. Published July 2003.

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  • 1. T H I N K I N G PA P E R We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and information By Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis
  • 2. T H I N K I N G PA P E R We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and information By Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis Edited by J.D. Lasica Commissioned by The Media Center at The American Press Institute. Published July 2003 online in PDF and HTML: Cover illustration by Campbell Laird,
  • 3. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Copyright © 2003 Shayne Bowman, Chris Willis and The Media Center at The American Press Institute. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA. Published online in PDF and HTML formats, July 2003 Edited by J.D. Lasica, Senior Editor, Online Journalism Review, Cover illustration by Campbell Laird, Design by Shayne Bowman, About The Media Center The Media Center is a non-profit research and educational organization committed to building a better-informed society in a connected world. The Media Center conducts research, educational programs and symposia and facilitates strategic conversations and planning on issues shaping the future of news, information and media. The Media Center helps leaders, organizations and educators around the world understand and create multimedia futures. Its programs and engagements provide innovation, knowledge and strategic insights for personal, professional and business growth. A division of The American Press Institute, The Media Center was established in 1997 to help the news industry devise strategies and tactics for digital media. In September 2003 it merged with New Directions for News, an independent think tank. The merger created a global, multi-disciplinary network of researchers and leading thinkers focused on the future of media and the behaviors of consumers in a media-centric world. For more on The Media Center’s programs, research and services, go to Contacts Andrew Nachison, director 703. 620. 3611 | Dale Peskin, co-director 703. 620. 3611 | Gloria Pan, communications director 703.620. 3611 | Headquarters The Media Center at the American Press Institute 11690 Sunrise Valley Drive Reston, Va. 20191-1498 ii |
  • 4. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Table of Contents Introduction by Dale Peskin v Foreword by Dan Gillmor vi 1. Introduction to participatory journalism 7 2. Behind the explosion of participatory media 15 3. How participatory journalism is taking form 21 4. The rules of participation 38 5. Implications for media and journalism 47 6. Potential benefits of adopting We Media 53 7. How media might respond 58 Appendix: Additional bibliography 62 | iii
  • 5. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information iv |
  • 6. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Introduction T here are three ways to look at how society society help shape it? How does the world look is informed. when news and information are part of a shared The first is that people are gullible and experience? will read, listen to, or watch just about anything. For more than 15 years, NDN and The Media The second is that most people require an in- Center have provided prescient insights about formed intermediary to tell them what is good, the changes confronting news, information and important or meaningful. The third is that people media. We commissioned We Media as a way are pretty smart; given the means, they can sort to begin to understand how ordinary citizens, things out for themselves, find their own version empowered by digital technologies that connect of the truth. knowledge throughout the globe, are contribut- The means have arrived. The truth is out ing to and participating in their own truths, their there. own kind of news. We asked seasoned, vision- Throughout history, access to news and infor- ary journalists — innovators like Dan Gillmor, mation has been a privilege accorded to powerful technology columnist for The San Jose Mercury institutions with the authority or wealth to domi- News, and news media editor-author JD Lasica nate distribution. For the past two centuries, an — to help frame a conversation about the prom- independent press has served as advocate for ise and pitfalls of citizen-based, digital media in society and its right to know — an essential role an open society. during an era of democratic enlightenment. The conversation is just beginning. I have al- It feels like a new era has been thrust upon us ways believed that a good story gets around. — an era of enlightened anxiety. We now know At some level, We Media will reveal something more than ever before, but our knowledge cre- about society and the way people learn from each ates anxiety over harsh truths and puzzling other. paradoxes. What is the role of the storyteller in — Dale Peskin this epoch? How will an informed, connected Co-Director, The Media Center | v
  • 7. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Foreword I n March 2002, at the annual PC Forum This is all about decentralization. Traditionally conference in suburban Phoenix, a telecom- centralized news-gathering and distribution munications chief executive found himself on is being augmented (and some cases will be the receiving end of acerbic commentary from replaced) by what’s happening at the edges of a pair of weblog writers who found his on-stage increasingly ubiquitous networks. People are comments wanting. Joe Nacchio, then the head combining powerful technological tools and of Qwest Communications, was complaining innovative ideas, fundamentally altering the about the travails of running his monopoly. Doc nature of journalism in this new century. There Searls, a magazine writer, and I were posting on are new possibilities for everyone in the process: our blogs via the wireless conference network. journalist, newsmaker and the active “consumer” A lawyer and software developer named Buzz of news who isn’t satisfied with today’s product Bruggeman, “watching” the proceedings from his — or who wants to make some news, too. One office in Florida, e-mailed both of us a note point- of the most exciting examples of a newsmaker’s ing to a Web page showing Nacchio’s enormous understanding of the possibilities has been the cash-in of Qwest stock while the share price was presidential campaign of Howard Dean, the first heading downhill. We noted this in our blogs, serious blogger-candidate, who has embraced and offered virtual tips of the hat to Bruggeman. decentralization to the massive benefit of his Many in the audience were online, and some were nomination drive. amusing themselves reading our comments. The Participatory journalism is a healthy trend, mood toward Nacchio chilled. however disruptive it may be for those whose Were we somehow responsible for turning the roles are changing. Some of the journalism audience against Nacchio? Perhaps the blogging from the edges will make us all distinctly un- played a small role, though I’m fairly sure he was comfortable, raising new questions of trust and more than capable of annoying the crowd all by veracity. We’ll need, collectively, to develop new himself. But the incident was a wakeup call. It re- standards of trust and verification; of course, the flected the power of blogs, a form of participatory lawyers will make some of those new rules. And journalism that has exploded into popularity in today’s dominant media organizations — led by recent years. And it showed how these techniques Hollywood — are abusing copyright laws to shut are irrevocably changing the nature of journal- down some of the most useful technologies for ism, because they’re giving enormous new power this new era, while governments increasingly to what had been a mostly passive audience in shield their activities from public sight and make the past. rules that effectively decide who’s a journalist. In I’ve been lucky enough to be an early par- a worst-case scenario, participatory journalism ticipant in participatory journalism, having been could someday require the permission of Big urged almost four years ago by one of the weblog Media and Big Government. software pioneers to start my own blog. Writing But I’m optimistic, largely because the technol- about technology in Silicon Valley, I used the ogy will be difficult to control in the long run, and blog to generate even more feedback from my because people like to tell stories. The new audi- audience. ence will be fragmented beyond anything we’ve That audience, never shy to let me know when seen so far, but news will be more relevant than I get something wrong, made me realize some- ever. thing: My readers know more than I do. This NDN and The Media Center have put together has become almost a mantra in my work. It is an excellent overview on a topic that is only be- by definition the reality for every journalist, no ginning to be understood. Participatory journal- matter what his or her beat. And it’s a great op- ism is a big piece of our information future. We’re portunity, not a threat, because when we ask our all in for a fascinating, and turbulent, ride in the readers for their help and knowledge, they are years ahead. Welcome aboard. willing to share it — and we can all benefit. If — Dan Gillmor modern American journalism has been a lecture, The San Jose Mercury News it’s evolving into something that incorporates a July 2003 conversation and seminar. vi |
  • 8. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information CHAPTER 1 Introduction to participatory journalism I n his 1995 book Being Digital, Nicholas And what will they be doing in the future? Negroponte predicted that in the future, on- To understand that, Wacker advises, you must line news would give readers the ability to seek out people from the future today and study choose only the topics and sources that inter- them.3 How do you find people from the future? ested them. Locate early adopters — people who are using “The Daily Me,” as Negroponte called it, wor- and appropriating technology in new ways. ried many guardians of traditional journalism. In South Korea, it looks like one future of on- To actively allow a reader to narrow the scope line news has arrived a few years early. of coverage, observed some, could undermine is the most influential online the “philosophical underpinnings of traditional news site in that country, attracting an estimated media.”1 2 million readers a day. What’s unusual about The vision that seemed cutting edge and worri- is that readers not only can pick some eight years ago seems to have come partly and choose the news they want to read – they also true. The Wall Street Journal,, The write it. Washington Post and CNN, to name a few, all With the help of more than 26,000 registered offer readers some degree of personalization on citizen journalists, this collaborative online the front pages of their sites. newspaper has emerged as a direct challenge to Millions of Yahoo members customize their established media outlets in just four years.4 MyYahoo personal news portal with the same Unlike its competitors, OhmyNews has em- news wire reports that editors use in daily news- braced the speed, responsiveness and commu- papers across the globe. Google’s news page uses nity-oriented nature of the Web. a computer algorithm to select headlines from Now, it appears, the vision of “The Daily Me” is thousands of news sites — creating a global news- being replaced by the idea of “The Daily We.” stand, of sorts. And media outlets from Fox News and the The rise of “we media” Drudge Report to individual weblogs offer The venerable profession of journalism finds the kind of opinionated slant to the news that itself at a rare moment in history where, for the Negroponte envisioned. first time, its hegemony as gatekeeper of the But is the future of online news simply a con- news is threatened by not just new technology tinued extrapolation of this trend – news a la and competitors but, potentially, by the audience carte? Does greater personalization necessarily it serves. Armed with easy-to-use Web publishing mean greater understanding for a democracy? tools, always-on connections and increasingly In the view of futurist and author Watts powerful mobile devices, the online audience has Wacker, the question is not about greater per- the means to become an active participant in the sonalization but about greater perspectives. creation and dissemination of news and informa- According to Wacker, the world is moving faster tion. And it’s doing just that on the Internet: than people can keep up with it. As a result, there • According to the Pew Internet Project, the ter- are fewer common cultural references that can be rorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, generated the agreed upon. Ideas, styles, products and mores most traffic to traditional news sites in the his- accelerate their way from the fringe to the main- tory of the Web. Many large news sites buckled stream with increasing speed. under the immense demand and people turned To combat the confusion, consumers are seek- to e-mail, weblogs and forums “as conduits for ing more perspectives, Wacker says.2 They re- information, commentary, and action related search an automobile for purchase by spending to 9/11 events.”5 The response on the Internet time online and reading both professional and gave rise to a new proliferation of “do-it-your- amateur reviews alike. self journalism.” Everything from eyewitness But what are they doing when it comes to news? accounts and photo galleries to commentary Introduction to participatory journalism | 7
  • 9. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information and personal storytelling emerged to help demands of readers and viewers, online com- people collectively grasp the confusion, anger munities and personal news and information and loss felt in the wake of the tragedy. sites are participating in an increasingly diverse • During the first few days of the war in Iraq, and important role that, until recently, has oper- Pew found that 17 percent of online Americans ated without significant notice from mainstream used the Internet as their principal source of media. information about the war, a level more than While there are many ways that the audience five times greater than those who got their is now participating in the journalistic process, news online immediately after the Sept. 11 which we will address in this report, weblogs terrorist attacks (3 percent). The report also have received the most attention from main- noted that “weblogs (were) gaining a follow- stream media in the past year. ing among a small number of Internet users Weblogs, or blogs as they are commonly (4 percent).”6 known, are the most active and surprising form • Immediately after the Columbia shuttle di- of this participation. These personal publishing saster, news and government organizations, systems have given rise to a phenomenon that in particular The Dallas Morning News and shows the markings of a revolution — giving any- NASA, called upon the public to submit eye- one with the right talent and energy the ability to witness accounts and photographs that might be heard far and wide on the Web. lead to clues to the cause of the spacecraft’s Weblogs are frequently updated online jour- disintegration.7 nals, with reverse-chronological entries and •’s The Note covers 2004 politi- numerous links, that provide up-to-the-minute cal candidates and gives each an individual we- takes on the writer’s life, the news, or on a specific blog to comment back on what was reported.8 subject of interest. Often riddled with opinion- In addition, presidential candidate Howard ated commentary, they can be personally reveal- Dean guest-blogged on Larry Lessig’s weblog ing (such as a college student’s ruminations on for a week in July 2003. (A future president dorm life) or straightforward and fairly objective of the United States might be chosen not only (Romenesko). (We discuss weblogs in greater on his or her merits, charisma, experience or detail in Chapter 3.) voting record but on the basis of how well he The growth of weblogs has been largely fueled or she blogs.) by greater access to bandwidth and low-cost, • College coaches, players and sports media often free software. These simple easy-to-use outlets keep constant vigil on numerous fan tools have enabled new kinds of collaboration forum sites, which have been credited with unrestricted by time or geography. The result everything from breaking and making news is an advance of new social patterns and means to rumor-mongering. “You can’t go anywhere for self-expression. Blog-like communities like or do anything and expect not to be seen, be- have allowed a multitude of voices cause everyone is a reporter now,” says Steve to participate while managing a social order and Patterson, who operates, a Web providing a useful filter on discussion. site devoted to University of Georgia sports.9 Weblogs have expanded their influence by • Before the Iraq war, the BBC knew it couldn’t attracting larger circles of readers while at the possibly deploy enough photojournalists same time appealing to more targeted audiences. to cover the millions of people worldwide “Blogs are in some ways a new form of journal- who marched in anti-war demonstrations. ism, open to anyone who can establish and main- Reaching out to its audience, the BBC News tain a Web site, and they have exploded in the asked readers to send in images taken with past year,” writes Walter Mossberg, technology digital cameras and cell phones with built-in columnist for the Wall Street Journal. cameras, and it published the best ones on its “The good thing about them is that they intro- Web site.10 duce fresh voices into the national discourse on various topics, and help build communities of Weblogs come of age interest through their collections of links. For The Internet, as a medium for news, is matur- instance, bloggers are credited with helping to ing. With every major news event, online media get the mainstream news media interested in the evolve. And while news sites have become more racially insensitive remarks by Sen. Trent Lott responsive and better able to handle the growing (R.-Miss.) that led to his resignation as Senate 8 | Introduction to participatory journalism
  • 10. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information majority leader.”11 papers sought to involve communities in major Mossberg’s description of weblogs as a new deliberations on public problems such as race, kind of journalism might trouble established, development and crime. traditionally trained journalists. But it is a jour- According to a report from the Pew Center for nalism of a different sort, one not tightly confined Civic Journalism, at least 20 percent of the 1,500 by the traditions and standards adhered to by the daily U.S. newspapers practiced some form of traditional profession. civic journalism between 1994 and 2001. Nearly These acts of citizen engaging in journalism are all said it had a positive effect on the commu- not just limited to weblogs. They can be found in nity.12 newsgroups, forums, chat rooms, collaborative Civic journalism has a somewhat controversial publishing systems and peer-to-peer applica- reputation, and not everyone is convinced of its tions like instant messaging. As new forms of benefits. While civic journalism actively tries to participation have emerged through new tech- encourage participation, the news organization nologies, many have struggled to name them. maintains a high degree of control by setting the As a default, the name is usually borrowed from agenda, choosing the participants and moderat- the enabling technology (i.e., weblogging, forums ing the conversation. Some feel that civic journal- and usenets). ism is often too broad, focusing on large issues The term we use — participatory journalism such as crime and politics, and not highly respon- — is meant to describe the content and the intent sive to the day-to-day needs of the audience.13 of online communication that often occurs in col- Yet, the seed from which civic journalism laborative and social media. Here’s the working grows is dialogue and conversation. Similarly, a definition that we have adopted: defining characteristic of participatory journal- ism is conversation. However, there is no central Participatory journalism: The act news organization controlling the exchange of of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing information. Conversation is the mechanism an active role in the process of collecting, that turns the tables on the traditional roles of reporting, analyzing and disseminating journalism and creates a dynamic, egalitarian news and information. The intent of this give-and-take ethic. participation is to provide independent, The fluidity of this approach puts more empha- reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and sis on the publishing of information rather than relevant information that a democracy the filtering. Conversations happen in the com- requires. munity for all to see. In contrast, traditional news organizations are set up to filter information Participatory journalism is a bottom-up, emer- before they publish it. It might be collaborative gent phenomenon in which there is little or no among the editors and reporters, but the debates editorial oversight or formal journalistic work- are not open to public scrutiny or involvement. flow dictating the decisions of a staff. Instead, it John Seely Brown, chief scientist of Xerox is the result of many simultaneous, distributed Corp., further elaborates on participatory jour- conversations that either blossom or quickly at- nalism in the book The Elements of Journalism: rophy in the Web’s social network (see Figure 1.1 “In an era when anyone can be a reporter or com- – Top-down vs. Bottom-up). mentator on the Web, ‘you move to a two-way While the explosion of weblogs is a recent journalism.’ The journalist becomes a ‘forum phenomenon, the idea of tapping into your au- leader,’ or a mediator rather than simply a teach- dience for new perspectives or turning readers er or lecturer. The audience becomes not con- into reporters or commentators is not. Many sumers, but ‘pro-sumers,’ a hybrid of consumer news organizations have a long history of tapping and producer.”14 into their communities and experimenting with Seely Brown’s description suggests a symbiotic turning readers into reporters or commentators. relationship, which we are already seeing. But In the early 1990s, newspapers experimented participatory journalism does not show evidence with the idea of civic journalism, which sought of needing a classically trained “journalist” to be participation from readers and communities in the mediator or facilitator. Plenty of weblogs, fo- the form of focus groups, polls and reaction to rums and online communities appear to function daily news stories. Most of these early projects effectively without one. centered around election coverage. Later, news- This raises some important questions: If par- Introduction to participatory journalism | 9
  • 11. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information ������ ��� � �������� ��� ��������� ���� ���������� �������� ���� ����� ���� ������ ��������� ����� ������������� �� ����� ������������ �������� ��� ���� �� �������� ������� ������������ ������ ������� �� ��������� ����������� ��� ����� �� ����� ����� ������������ ���������� ������������ ���� ���� �������� ���������� ��������� ���� ���� ������ ������������� ������ �������� ������������ ��� ����� ��� ���� ������� �� ������ ������ ���� �� ����� ���������� �� � �������� ������ ������� �� ��� ��������� ����������� ������� ��������� ��������� ��������� ��������� ��������� �������� ticipatory journalism has risen without the direct Tribune publisher Jack Fuller summed it up well: help of trained journalists or news industry ini- “The new interactive medium both threatens the tiatives, what role will mainstream media play? status quo and promises an exciting new way of And are mainstream media willing to relinquish learning about the world.” This deftly describes some control and actively collaborate with their both camps of opinion concerning participation audiences? Or will an informed and empowered by the audience in journalism.15 consumer begin to frame the news agenda from It’s not just the Internet that threatens the sta- the grassroots? And, will journalism’s values tus quo of the news business. In their 2001 book endure? The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel make a compelling argument Journalism at a crossroads that the news business is undergoing “a momen- In his 1996 book News Values, former Chicago tous transition.” 10 | Introduction to participatory journalism
  • 12. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information OhmyNews is the most influential online news site in South Korea, attracting an estimated 2 million readers a day. It is produced by more than 26,000 registered citizen journalists. According to the authors, each time there has is worthwhile, and is clearly needed, it prevents been a period of significant, social, economic the discussion from advancing to any analysis and technological change, a transformation in about the greater good that can be gained from news occurred. This happened in the 1830s-40s audience participation in news. Furthermore, the with the advent of the telegraph; the 1880s with debate often exacerbates the differences primar- a drop in paper prices and a wave of immigration; ily in processes, overlooking obvious similarities. the 1920s with radio and the rise of gossip and ce- If we take a closer look at the basic tasks and lebrity culture; the 1950s at the onset of the Cold values of traditional journalism, the differences War and television. become less striking. The arrival of cable, followed by the Internet From a task perspective, journalism is seen and mobile technologies, has brought the lat- as “the profession of gathering, editing, and est upheaval in news. And this time, the change publishing news reports and related articles for in news may be even more dramatic. Kovach newspapers, magazines, television, or radio.”17 and Rosenstiel explain, “For the first time in In terms of journalism’s key values, there our history, the news increasingly is produced is much debate. After extensive interviews by companies outside journalism, and this new with hundreds of U.S. journalists, Kovach and economic organization is important. We are fac- Rosenstiel say that terms such as fairness, bal- ing the possibility that independent news will be ance and objectivity are too vague to rise to es- replaced by self-interested commercialism pos- sential elements of this profession. From their ing as news.”16 research, they distilled this value: “The primary Kovach and Rosenstiel argue that new technol- purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with ogy, along with globalization and the conglom- the information they need to be free and self-gov- eration of media, is causing a shift away from erning.”18 journalism that is connected to citizen building In the case of the aforementioned South Korean and one that supports a healthy democracy. news site, we see that traditional journalism’s Clearly, journalism is in the process of redefin- basic tasks and values are central to its ethos. ing itself, adjusting to the disruptive forces sur- The difference essentially boils down to a redis- rounding it. So it’s no surprise that discussions tribution of control – a democratization of media. about forms of participatory journalism, such as “With OhmyNews, we wanted to say goodbye to weblogs, are frequently consumed by defensive 20th-century journalism where people only saw debates about what is journalism and who can things through the eyes of the mainstream, con- legitimately call themselves a journalist. servative media,” said Oh Yeon-ho, editor and While debating what makes for good journalism founder of South Korea’s Introduction to participatory journalism | 11
  • 13. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information ������ ��� � ��� �������� ����� ��������� �� �� ���������� ���� �������� ����������� �������� ����������� ���� ���������� ������� ����� ��������� �� ��� ���� ���� �������� ����������� ���������� ������ ��� ������ ���� ���� ������� ������� ����� ����� ������������ ���� ���������� ������� ����� ����������� �� �������� ��������� ������� ����� �� ������������� ��� �������� ����� ���������� �� ���� ������ ������������ ���� “The main concept is that every citizen can be anism over profitability. a reporter,” Yeon-ho says. “A reporter is the one Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor at New York who has the news and who is trying to inform University who has consulted on the social and others.”20 economic effects of Internet technologies, sees the difference this way: “The order of things in The new evolving media ecosystem broadcast is ‘filter, then publish.’ The order in The most obvious difference between participa- communities is ‘publish, then filter.’ If you go tory journalism and traditional journalism is the to a dinner party, you don’t submit your poten- different structure and organization that produce tial comments to the hosts, so that they can tell them. you which ones are good enough to air before Traditional media are created by hierarchical the group, but this is how broadcast works every organizations that are built for commerce. Their day. Writers submit their stories in advance, to business models are broadcast and advertising be edited or rejected before the public ever sees focused. They value rigorous editorial workflow, them. Participants in a community, by contrast, profitability and integrity. Participatory journal- say what they have to say, and the good is sorted ism is created by networked communities that from the mediocre after the fact.”21 value conversation, collaboration and egalitari- Many traditional journalists are dismissive of 12 | Introduction to participatory journalism
  • 14. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information participatory journalism, particularly weblog- universe. They are a media life-form that is native gers, characterizing them as self-interested or to the Web, and they add something new to our unskilled amateurs. Conversely, many weblog- mix, something valuable, something that couldn’t gers look upon mainstream media as an arro- have existed before the Web. gant, exclusive club that puts its own version of “It should be obvious that weblogs aren’t com- self-interest and economic survival above the peting with the work of the professional journal- societal responsibility of a free press. ism establishment, but rather complementing According to Shirky, what the mainstream it. If the pros are criticized as being cautious, media fail to understand is that despite a par- impersonal, corporate and herdlike, the bloggers ticipant’s lack of skill or journalistic training, the are the opposite in, well, almost every respect: Internet itself acts as editing mechanism, with They’re reckless, confessional, funky — and herd- the difference that “editorial judgment is applied like.”24 at the edges … after the fact, not in advance.”22 Dan Gillmor, one of weblogging’s most vocal In The Elements of Journalism, Kovach and defenders and a technology journalist and we- Rosenstiel take a similar view: “This kind of blogger for the San Jose Mecury News, describes high-tech interaction is a journalism that resem- this ecosystem as “journalism’s next wave.” In a bles conversation again, much like the original post to his weblog on March 27, 2002, Gillmor journalism occurring in the publick houses and described the principles that define the current coffeehouses four hundred years ago. Seen in this “we media” movement: light, journalism’s function is not fundamentally • My readers know more than I do. changed by the digital age. The techniques may • That is not a threat, but rather an be different, but the underlying principles are the opportunity. same.”23 • We can use this together to create something What is emerging is a new media ecosystem between a seminar and a conversation, (See Figure 1.2), where online communities educating all of us. discuss and extend the stories created by main- • Interactivity and communications technology stream media. These communities also produce — in the form of e-mail, weblogs, discussion participatory journalism, grassroots reporting, boards, web sites and more — make it annotative reporting, commentary and fact- happen.25 checking, which the mainstream media feed upon, developing them as a pool of tips, sources In the next chapter, Cultural context: Behind the and story ideas. explosion of participatory media, we explore the Scott Rosenberg, managing editor of reasons behind the social forces that are reshap-, explains, “Weblogs expand the media ing the public’s relationship to media. Introduction to participatory journalism | 13
  • 15. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Endnotes 1 Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital (Vintage Books, 1996). Also referenced in “The Promise of the Daily Me,” by J.D. Lasica, Online Journalism Review (, April 4, 2002. 2 Watts Wacker speech at New Directions for News conference. “The News Business in Transition: Forces Shaping the Future,” Austin, Texas, Oct. 31, 2002. For more, read Wacker’s book The Deviant’s Advantage (New York: Crown Business, 2002). 3 Watts Wacker, The Deviant’s Advantage (Crown Publishing, 2002). 4 Leander Kahney, “Citizen Reporters Make the News,” Wired News, May 17, 2003.,1284,58856,00.html 5 Pew Internet & American Life Project, One year later: September 11 and the Internet (Sept. 5, 2002). 6 Pew Internet & American Life Project, The Internet and the Iraq war: How online Americans have used the Internet to learn war news, understand events, and promote their views (April 1, 2003). 7 John Schwartz, “3,000 Amateurs Offer NASA Photos of Columbia’s Demise,” The New York Times, April 19, 2003. http:// Also see: “Tragedy Over Texas,” The Dallas Morning News Web site, 8, The Note: Direct From the Campaigns. 9 Tim Layden, “Caught in the Net,” Sports Illustrated, May 19, 2003, p. 46. 10 Steve Outing, “Photo Phones Portend Visual Revolution” from his column, “Stop The Presses,” March 12, 2003. See BBC News anti-war protest photo gallery at: 11 Walter Mossberg, “Mossberg’s Mailbox,” Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2003. 12 Pew Center for Civic Journalism, Community Impact, Journalism Shifts Cited in New Civic Journalism Study, Nov. 4, 2002. 13 Pew Center for Civic Journalism. 14 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect (Three Rivers Press, 2001), 24. 15 Jack Fuller, News Values: Ideas for an Information Age (University of Chicago Press, 1997), 231. 16 Kovach, et al. Pg. 13. 17 Encarta World English Dictionary, North American Edition, Microsoft Corporation, 2003. 18 Kovach, et al. Pg. 17 19 Kahney. 20 Dan Gillmor, “A new brand of journalism is taking root in South Korea,” The San Jose Mercury News, May 18, 2003. Business Section. 21 Clay Shirky, “The Music Business and the Big Flip.” First published Jan. 21, 2003, on the Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list. 22 Clay Shirky, “Broadcast Institutions, Community Values.” First published Sept. 9, 2002, on the Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list. 23 Kovach, et al. Pg. 24. 24 Scott Rosenberg, “Much Ado About Blogging,”, May 10, 2002. 25 Dan Gillmor, “Journalistic Pivot Points” in his weblog eJournal on, March 27, 2002. 14 | Introduction to participatory journalism
  • 16. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information CHAPTER 2 Cultural context: Behind the explosion of participatory media “Have you any news?” tural factors that have provided the fuel for this — The second message transmitted by explosion of participatory media. We’ll also look Samuel B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph.1 at how information technologies are changing the traditional roles of consumers. N ewspapermen of the Victorian era feared the telegraph would spell their doom. Extending social networks “The mere newspapers must submit to People are inherently social creatures. We de- destiny and go out of existence,” wrote one news- velop and maintain complex social networks of paper executive.2 Yet, just the opposite occurred. friends, family and acquaintances through vari- Despite fears of their obsolescence, newspapers ous means of communication. were able to thwart a major technological threat Regardless of technology, human “relation- by adopting it as a business advantage. ships will naturally continue to rely on face-to- The telegraph was speedier than mail and en- face and physical contact, on shared experience abled newspapers to publish more timely news. and values, on acts of generosity and thoughtful- Other newspapers joined together to set up wire ness, and on trust, understanding and empathy,” services such as the Associated Press. And the according to a whitepaper for Groove, the col- concern that a telegraph transmission might be laboration software created by Lotus developer cut short gave rise to the familiar writing style Ray Ozzie. called the inverted pyramid, which places impor- “Nevertheless, (Internet and mobile) technolo- tant news first followed by less critical details. gies do have the potential to have significant, fun- Journalism has always had to respond to tech- damental impact on the types of relationships we nological and social changes. The Information maintain, on where we live and work, on when Age brought about a tremendous expansion of and how we are educated, on how we entertain media — cable television, growing numbers of ourselves and spend our leisure time, on our poli- niche print publications, Internet Web sites, tics, and on how we conceive of time.”4 mobile telephony. Media have become nearly In the 10 years since its mass adoption, the Web ubiquitous, and journalism again finds itself at has quickly become a reflection of our elaborate a crossroads as the media landscape becomes social networks. It has evolved into a powerful more fragmented and filled with competition medium for communication and collaboration, from nontraditional sources. as evidenced by the hypertext links of more than “The way we get news has gone through mo- 10 billion documents authored by millions of mentous transition,” Kovach and Rosenstiel people and organizations around the world.5 write in The Elements of Journalism. “It has hap- It is the greatest publishing system ever known, pened each time there is a period of significant and it keeps growing. In May 2003, there were social, economic and technological change. It is at least 40.4 million Web sites6 with thousands occurring now with the advent of cable followed being added, moved or removed every day. It’s a by the Internet. The collision this time may be phenomenally extraordinary achievement, which more dramatic.”3 has emerged without central planning and with- Unlike the telegraph, the Internet is far more out government regulation, censor or sanction pervasive and accessible by just about anyone. If — an emergent, bottom-up process. history is any guide, journalism will change, al- “Self-organization is an irrepressible human though how dramatic that change will be remains drive, and the Internet is a toolkit for self-orga- uncertain. nizing,” according to Howard Rheingold, author This chapter attempts to shed light on the cul- of Smart Mobs. “The role of voluntary coop- Cultural context: Behind the explosion of participatory media | 15
  • 17. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information eration is the most important and least known from scratch.”10 story is the history of personal computers and Years before the advent of the Web and Mosaic, networks.”7 e-mail, bulletin boards and Usenet were the pop- Indeed, the architecture of the Internet was ular means of communication and collaboration the result of a decentralized philosophy, free on the Internet. Bulletin boards and Usenet, a software and collaboration. In 1962, Paul Baran stockpile of millions of e-mail postings arranged of the RAND corporation was commissioned by into “newsgroups,” changed radically and became the U.S. Air Force to design a computer network more popular as forums. The browser-based able to survive a nuclear attack to any part of it. graphic interface, which allowed participants to His insightful solution required that there be no explore and contribute more readily, changed the master or central computer running the network. practical nature of the Usenet idea into some- Instead, computers could be connected to many thing more open, accessible and interesting to other computers in a mesh–like pattern. the masses. In a sense, Baran wanted to create a social The Internet had become a massive repository network of mainframes that routed packets of in- of publicly accessible, linked documents. This formation through a variable maze of connectors. doesn’t sound like a breeding ground for social The benefit was that the network could grow, or activity, but according to John Seely Brown and handle a loss of computers, without having to be Paul Duguid, it is inherently so. redesigned. “Documents do not merely carry information, As brilliant as Baran’s idea was, it was rejected. they help make it, structure it and validate it. AT&T, the telephone monopoly designated to More intriguing, perhaps, documents also help maintain the network for the U.S. government, structure society, enabling social groups to form, saw the “digital packet” approach as too costly develop, and maintain a sense of shared identi- to deploy and a threat to its monopoly position ty,” they write in The Social Life of Information. because it could allow for competition.8 “Shared and circulating documents, it seems, But several years later, the Advanced Research have long provided interesting social glue.” Project Agency stumbled upon the same solution and created a network called ARPANET, the pre- cursor to today’s Internet. The network was built Figure 2.1 to allow military facilities to connect computers. Internet Backbone Traffic By 1973, just three years after ARPANET went Chart shows estimated traffic in terabytes online, something unexpected happened. E-mail, on Internet backbones in U.S. during which began as a novelty, accounted for 75 per- December of that year. cent of all network traffic.9 Throughout the 1980s, the Internet grew Year Terabytes/month steadily but remained mostly unnoticed behind 1990 1.0 the walls of academic and scientific institutions. In the early ’90s, two events turned the Internet 1991 2.0 into the greatest publishing system in history by 1992 4.4 making it more accessible to the masses. 1993 8.3 First, Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, 1994 16.3 substituted the impossible-to-remember nu- 1995 NA merical addressing system of the Internet with 1996 1,500 the URL (uniform resource locator) for use as electronic addresses. Soon after, students at the 1997 2,500 - 4,000 University of Illinois, led by Marc Andreessen, 1998 5,000 - 8,000 created Mosaic, the first browser to display docu- 1999 10,000 - 16,000 ments on the Web. This graphic, rather than text- 2000 20,000 - 35,000 based, interface resulted in an explosion of the 2001 40,000 - 70,000 Internet’s popularity. 2002 80,000 - 140,000 In December 1993, a New York Times business section article concluded that Mosaic was per- Source: K. G. Coffman and A. M. Odlyzko, “Growth of the haps “an application program so different and so Internet,” AT&T Labs - Research, July 6, 2001 obviously useful that it can create a new industry 16 | Cultural context: Behind the explosion of participatory media
  • 18. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Today, we see a new phenomenon. Given tech- this function. There is evidence that people are nological innovations in open source software, actively seeking new perspectives beyond those everyone has access to robust tools for publishing provided by mainstream media. Researchers and collaborating easily on the Web. Weblogging have begun to categorize an individual’s media tools are in many ways easier to use than most e- diet as a more dependable method of segment- mail applications. It is this ease that accounts for ing audiences, as opposed to demographic and their increasing popularity.11 pyschographic criteria.18 Estimates of the number of active weblogs vary We are now beginning to lead what futurist widely from 500,000 to as high as 1 million. 12 Wacker calls “media-centric life,” where all of our According to the Pew Internet & American Life information is mediated, coming to us second or Project, more than 8 million U.S. Internet users third hand. Media, he says, are how we define (7 percent) have created a weblog13 and 90 mil- ourselves and our relationships. lion (84 percent) have participated in online This media-centric life requires a large amount groups.14 of assimilation of information, most of it com- ing second-hand. Objectivity is one casualty of The Post-Information Age this massive abundance of viewpoints, Wacker In a way, the Internet was destined to be a social argues. medium from the start — open, unregulated, Even traditionalists are questioning the extensible and unpredictable. Like the telephone, practicality of objectivity. In The Elements of it removes one of the critical barriers to main- Journalism, Kovach and Rosenstiel write: “The taining social networks: geography. In doing so, concept of objectivity is so mangled it now is the Internet enables a vibrant social universe to usually used to describe the very problem it was emerge powered by the passions of millions. conceived to correct.” Moreover, this medium has empowered mil- But whether the demise of objectivity will give lions to express their ideas and perspectives rise to a social environment governed by interests in many ways, which, according to futurist and relationships is debatable. What is clear is Watts Wacker, feeds a great hunger in the Post- that the Internet provides more opportunity for Information Age. people to share information among communi- In his 2002 book The Deviant’s Advantage, ties, thereby circumventing traditional media’s Wacker suggests that our current society is un- role as privileged, trusted and informed interme- dergoing relentless, all-encompassing change, diaries of the news. which will do nothing but accelerate. This con- In their report “Online Communities: Networks stant change results in an “Abolition of Context” that nurture long-distance relationships and local — the inability of business and society to find ties,” the Pew Internet & American Life Project commonly agreed upon reference points. 15 found that not only are people becoming more “Context is the framework, the structure, the social online, they are forming vibrant communi- collective common understanding that allows us ties and integrating them into their lives.19 to live our lives and run our businesses,” Wacker Some of their findings: writes in his book. “Take it away and it’s all but • 90 million Americans (84 percent of Internet impossible to know what’s the right or wrong ac- users) have participated in online groups; 26 tion to take.” percent have used the Internet to deepen their Such a situation makes it more difficult for ties to their local communities. companies to create commercially viable, long- • Use of the Internet often prompts Americans to lasting goods and services. This environment join groups. More than half of the aforemen- also creates stress, anxiety and confusion for the tioned 90 million say they joined an online individual. With social mores constantly shifting, group after they began participating over the people seek a “proliferation of perspectives” to Internet. make sense of the world.16 • Online communities bring about greater con- Credibility, a traditionally reliable context as it tact with different people. Participants say that has been viewed until now, is dead, Wacker says. online communities have spurred connections “Knowing what other people think news means, to strangers and to people of different racial, in many layers, is more important.”17 ethnic and economic backgrounds. It appears that the many forms of participatory • Online communities foster lively chatter and journalism on the Web are ideally suited to serve connection. People exchange e-mails, hash Cultural context: Behind the explosion of participatory media | 17
  • 19. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information out issues, find out about group activities, and meet face to face as a result of online commu- When Customer Innovation nities. About 23 million Americans are very Makes Sense active in online communities, meaning that Harvard Business Review identified three they e-mail their principal online group sev- major signs that an industry may soon eral times a week. migrate to a customers-as-innovators • Online communities draw civic involvement approach: from the young, a segment of the population that has not typically been drawn to civic ac- 1. Your market segments are shrinking, tivities. and customers are increasingly asking for Sociologist Barry Wellman argues that many customized products. As you try to respond new social arrangements are being formed to those demands, your costs increase, through “glocalization” — the capacity of the and it is difficult to pass those costs on to Internet to expand people’s social worlds to far- customers. away people and simultaneously connect them 2. You and your customers need many more deeply to the place they live.20 iterations before you find a solution. More than just connecting, people are increas- Some customers complain that you have ingly collaborating. The bottom-up nature of the gotten the product wrong or that you are Internet and several technological innovations responding too slowly. You are tempted to — such as digital still and video cameras, mobile restrict the degree to which your products devices and wireless computing platforms — can be customized, and your smaller have resulted in an explosion of creative activity. customers must make do with standard products or find a better solution elsewhere. Customer as innovator As a result, customer loyalty starts to erode. Just as blogs and forums have turned audiences 3. You or your competitors use high-quality into participants, other industries have thrived computer-based simulation and rapid- by developing tools to turn their customers into prototyping tools internally to develop new creators. As Stefan Thomke and Eric von Hippel products. You also have computer-adjustable argue in “Customers as Innovators: A New Way production processes that can manufacture to Create Value,” the pace of change in many custom products. (These technologies markets is too great and “the cost of understand- could form the foundation of a tool kit that ing and responding to customers’ needs can customers could use to develop their own quickly spiral out of control.”21 designs.) Some industries have already succeeded in Source: Harvard Business Review (April 1, 2002). turning their customers into contributors and in- novators. Knowing they cannot predict the shift- ing desires of their customers, these companies have instead created the tools and frameworks to Providing the tools and services to enable cus- empower their customers to create. tomers to act as their own auctioneers is at the “Essentially, these companies have abandoned heart of one of the most successful Internet com- their efforts to understand exactly what products panies, eBay. In 2002, eBay members bought their customers want and have instead equipped and sold $14.87 billion in annualized gross mer- them with tools to design and develop their own chandise.23 products, ranging from minor modifications to Perhaps one the most vivid and dramatic ex- major new innovations,” Thomke and von Hippel amples of customers transforming a business is wrote. the computer game industry. A number of industries are succeeding in the In the summer of 2000, on the verge of gradu- “Customer as Innovator” approach. Nestlé has ating with a computer science degree, 23-year- built a toolkit that enables its customers to de- old Minh Le built a computer game in his par- velop their own flavors. GE provides customers ents’ basement called Counter-Strike. In 2002, with Web-based tools for designing better plastic Counter-Strike was the most popular multiplayer products. This approach has transformed the action game in the world, with more than 1.7 semiconductor business, bringing the custom- million players spending on average about 23.5 chip market to more than $15 billion.22 hours a month in the game. In addition to its free 18 | Cultural context: Behind the explosion of participatory media
  • 20. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Internet distribution, Counter-Strike has sold 1.3 will be to persuade their customers to become not million shrink-wrapped copies at retail, with rev- just innovators but collaborators as well. enues of more than $40 million.24 What’s remarkable is that Le didn’t have to Power of networks build the entire game from scratch. Instead he In their book Information Rules, Carl Shapiro converted or “modded” the game from an exist- and Hal R. Varian suggest an altogether new ing popular game called Half-Life. The tools to axiom for the news business and its future. “The modify Half-Life into a completely new game old industrial economy was driven by economies were downloaded from the manufacturer’s Web of scale; the new information economy is driven site. by the economics of networks.”28 “Many of the best game companies now count Indeed, our traditional notions of econom- on modders to show them the way creatively ics are being disrupted and transformed by the and to ensure their own survival in a savagely power of distributed collaboration through our competitive market,” says Wagner James Au, computer networks. in his article Triumph of the Mod. “By fostering More than 2 million people worldwide have the creativity of their fans, their more agile peers been donating their unused computer down time in the game industry have not only survived but to help the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence prospered.”25 (SETI) analyze 50 billions bytes of signals from Even gaming giant Electronic Arts encouraged outer space. The SETI@home project, which gamers to modify their classic hit The Sims. So began in mid-1999, put distributed computing far, more than 30,000 different Sims mods are on the map.29 available. About the same time that project began, the “In a sense, mods also represent the most vis- peer-to-peer file sharing program Napster was ible success of the free (open-source) software launched to enable the sharing of music between movement on the larger culture,” Au adds. “For users connected to the Internet. At its height, 70 the millions who play computer games, the same million users were trading 2.7 billion files per ethos of volunteerism and shared ownership that month. Since Napster was shut down, Gnutella characterizes free software has helped utterly clients such as Morpheus and Kazaa have stepped transform the gaming experience and the $8 bil- in, allowing billions of movies, songs, ebooks, lion-plus gaming industry.”26 software and other digital files to be exchanged In many ways, the open-source movement among the masses.30 offers a glimpse at the future. In open-source It seems as though the possibilities of distrib- projects, the community builds the tools for uted collaboration are limitless. “Today, millions itself motivated by hopes of creating better soft- of people and their PCs are not just looking for ware through mass collaboration. In the best messages from outer space and trading music,” case, open-source movements can organize and says Rheingold in Smart Mobs, “but tackling can- develop industry-leading tools (e.g., Linux and cer research, finding prime numbers, rendering Apache Web server), which sometimes threaten films, forecasting weather, designing synthetic multibillion-dollar companies. drugs by running simulations on billions of pos- According to Dave Winer, weblog guru and sible molecules — taking on computing problems founder of Userland Software, Google’s acqui- so massive that scientists have not heretofore sition of Pyra and its Blogger weblogging tool considered them.”31 earlier this year “may signal a change possibly as The network economy and the proliferation deep as the personal computer revolution, where of media are presenting a tremendous challenge huge glass palaces controlled by technologists for mainstream media organizations, such as were routed around, by software and hardware newspapers, radio and television. Not only will that did the same thing, for a fraction of the cost. they have to adapt organizationally, and perhaps Today, the same software that Vignette sold a philosophically, but their products, over time, few years ago for millions of dollars can be had will be transformed in unexpected and unfore- for hundreds, and it’s much easier to install and seen ways. use.”27 In the next chapter, How participatory jour- Access to powerful and inexpensive tools is nalism is taking form, we look at the exciting turning more people into innovators of all sorts. new forms that are emerging for this new media The challenge for news organizations, ultimately, construct. Cultural context: Behind the explosion of participatory media | 19
  • 21. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Endnotes 1 John. D. Ruley, “Yesterday’s Prejudices Today,” Dr. Dobb’s Electronic Review of Computer Books. 2 Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet (Berkley Books. 1999). 3 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism (Three Rivers Press, 2001). 4 “The Connection Age,” white paper published on the Internet in 2001 by Groove Networks. 5 NEC Research Inc. 6 Figure on on May 13, 2003. 7 Howard Rheingold. Posted on his weblog dedicated to his book, Smart Mobs (Perseus Publishing, October 2002). 8 Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks (Perseus Publishing, May 2002). 9 Andrew Odlyzko, “Content Is not King,” First Monday, June 2002. 10 R.H. Reid, Architects of the Web: 1,000 Days that Built the Future of Business (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997). 11, “Thanks to new easy-to-use software, the number of weblogs on the Net seems to be growing at an unprecedented rate,” Feb. 23, 2000.,1284,34006,00.html 12 Most blogging communities do not publicly report the number of active blogs. Also, there is some debate over what qualifies as a blog. Just three and a half years old, the popular Blogger software (now owned by Google) has 1.1 million registered users. Evan Williams, founder of the company that built Blogger, estimates that about 200,000 of them are actively running weblogs (Dan Gillmor,, “Google Buys Pyra: Blogging Goes Big-Time,” Feb. 15, 2003). column/dangillmor/archives/000802.shtml Joe Laszlo, a Jupiter Research analyst, estimates that around 500,000 people actively maintain a weblog. (Peter Rojas, “Now Bloggers Can Hit The Road,”, Feb. 20, 2003.,1382,57431,00.html 13 Pew Internet & American Life Project, Internet Activities chart. The statistic on weblogging is dated Sept., 2002. 14 Pew Internet & American Life Project, Online Communities: Networks that nurture long-distance relationships and local ties, Oct. 31, 2001. 15 Watts Wacker, The Deviant’s Advantage (Crown Publishing, 2002). 16 Watts Wacker speech at New Directions for News conference. “The News Business in Transition: Forces Shaping the Future,” Austin, Texas, Oct. 31, 2002. 17 Wacker, from speech. 18 Wacker, from speech. 19 Pew Internet & American Life Project, Online Communities … 20 Barry Wellman, “Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Networked Individualism,” online publication, July 12, 2002. 21 Stefan Thomke, Eric Von Hippel, “Customers as Innovators: A New Way to Create Value,” Harvard Business Review, April 1, 2002. 22 Thomke and Von Hippel. 23 About eBay: Company Overview Web page. 24 Geoff Keighley, “Game Development a la Mod,” Business 2.0, October 2002.,1643,43489,FF.html 25 Wagner James Au, “Triumph of the mod,”, April 16, 2002. 26 Au. 27 Dave Winer, “Comments on the Google-Blogger Deal,” Post on his weblog, Feb. 20, 2003. 28 Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian, Information Rules (Harvard Business School Press; 1998). 29 Rheingold. 30 Rheingold. 31 Rheingold. 20 | Cultural context: Behind the explosion of participatory media
  • 22. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information CHAPTER 3 How participatory journalism is taking form P articipation has been a fundamental com- where all participants must be online at the same ponent of the Internet since its inception. time to communicate. This has the benefit of pro- Newsgroups, mailing lists and bulletin viding immediacy and can be used effectively for boards were the early cousins to the forums, business services such as customer support. But weblogs and collaborative communities flourish- for the most part, chat rooms are more like virtual ing today. Those early forms are still thriving, a cafes or hangouts, with live, unfiltered discussion. testament to our need to stay connected to our Forum discussions are probably the most social networks. familiar discussion group form to the average Participatory journalism flourishes in social Internet user. Forums are typically arranged media — the interpersonal communication that into threads in which an initial message or post takes place through e-mail, chat, message boards, appears at the beginning of a discussion and forums — and in collaborative media — hybrid responses are attached in a branching manner. forms of news, discussion and community. When forums are viewed in threads, it’s easy to This section categorizes the forms in which recognize the branching of conversation that oc- participatory journalism takes shape. Some of curs, some of which might not be entirely related these forms continue to evolve and merge and to the original post. Some forums permit the au- thus overlap. The list, while generalized, is meant dience to sort messages by various means — pop- to describe the outlines of that participation and ularity, date, ranking. Many forums are archived, the communities where it resides. turning them into a searchable knowledge base of Considering the “publish, then filter” model1 community conversation. that most of these forms follow, we define each Here’s a look at the strengths and weaknesses form’s self-correcting or filtering mechanism. of various forms of online participation, together The end goal of filtering is the same in all — to with a description of how they work. amplify the signal-to-noise ratio, separating the Self-correcting process: In a discussion meaningful information from the chatter. group, moderators police the content and actions of participants, sometimes removing and editing Discussion groups parts of the conversations that violate the stan- Online discussion groups are the oldest and still the dards of the community. These moderators are most popular forms for participation. Discussion sometimes appointed by the community; in other groups run the gamut from bulletin boards and cases they are appointed by the host or owner of forums to mailing lists and chat rooms. the forums. However, in many discussion com- Participants might engage a discussion group munities, the participants police each other, to answer tech support questions, to trade stock- sharing their views of when particular behaviors trading tips, to argue about a favorite sports or actions are inappropriate. team, to share experiences about a health care Strengths: Most discussion forms have a issue, or to join a collaborative work project. relatively low barrier to entry (just create an user Mailing lists, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and account), with an especially low level of commit- forums are methods of asynchronous communi- ment. For example, a participant can engage a cation, meaning that all participants do not have forum only once, or few times, and still have a to be online at the same time to communicate. meaningful experience. Sometimes this leads to more thoughtful contri- Weaknesses: Sometimes forums are too butions, because participants have more time to open, easily garnering flip, reactive comments. refine their responses. Active, large forums can get noisy, with so many Chat rooms, on the other hand, are synchronous, posts from so many members, it’s hard to deter- How participatory journalism is taking form | 21
  • 23. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 3.1: Discussion forums (top) Lawrence Journal, (bottom) 22 | How participatory journalism is taking form
  • 24. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information mine what information is meaningful or useful. edly may build up over time a reputation among In addition, some moderated forums require each their peers as an expert on the subject. post to be pre-approved before it appears online, Weaknesses: The quality of user-generated slowing down and smothering the conversation. content can be uneven, with participants who Many online media outlets have abandoned are not trained writers or fact-checkers. As a re- discussion forums in the past few years, citing sult, some content can require extensive editing. legal problems as well as lack of sufficient staff to Generally, this type of content relies on the good moderate and maintain forums. Ultimately, some will of the audience to not exploit the system. media outlets think forums provide little value to It’s easy, in some cases, to skew polls and other the audience and to the bottom line (ROI).2 One feedback systems, by voting multiple times. Also, barrier to effective advertising on these pages is a low volume of participation can limit the value the lack of content control by either the adver- of feedback systems. tiser or publisher. See Figure 3.2 for examples. See Figure 3.1 for examples. Weblogs User-generated content Among the newest forms of participatory journal- Many news sites provide a vehicle – through ism to gain popularity is the weblog. A weblog is Web-based forms or e-mail – designed to col- a web page made up of usually short, frequently lect content from the audience and redistribute updated text blocks or entries that are arranged it. This vehicle can collect full-length articles, in reverse chronological order (most recent to advice/tips, journals, reviews, calendar events, oldest). The content and purpose of weblogs vary useful links, photos and more. The content is greatly, ranging from personal diary to journal- usually text-based, but increasingly we are seeing istic community news to collaborative discussion the contribution of audio, video and photographs. groups in a corporate setting. After submission, the content appears online Weblogs can provide links and commentary with or without editorial review, depending on about content on other Web sites. They can be a the nature of content and the host policy. form of “latest news” page. Or they can consist of Ranking is another popular and easy way for project diaries, photos, poetry, mini-essays, proj- the audience to participate. Examples include ect updates, even fiction. The quick, short posts rating a story, a reporter and other users. Ranking on weblogs have been likened to “instant mes- systems typically provide the best benefit when a sages to the Web.” On other weblogs, the content sufficient number of users have participated, for can be longer, such as excerpts from a research example, “4,202 readers give this movie 4 out of paper in progress, with the author seeking com- 5 stars.” ment from peers. Internet users also provide content through Weblogs fall into the one-to-many (individual feedback systems, such as polls or mini-forums blogs) or many-to-many (group blogs) model of attached to story pages. Polls sometimes also media, with some allowing no or little discussion support comment submissions. by users and others generating robust reader re- Self-correcting process: Usually, audience sponses. Either way, weblogs inevitably become submissions go to a traditional editor at the host part of what is now called the “blogosphere.” site, undergo an editing or approval process, and This is the name given to the intercast of weblogs then are posted to the Web. Ranking and feedback – the linking to and discussion of what others mechanisms, however, are typically posted live im- have written or linked to, in essence a distributed mediately. Communities often police the submis- discussion. sions, and strong agreement or disagreement with The blogosphere is facilitated by several tech- a submission may prompt members to submit nologies. First, it is supported by TrackBack3 their own comments. This commonly occurs with – a mechanism that automatically finds other reviews of products, movies and restaurants. comments about a blog post on a weblog, and Strengths: Like forums, audience submis- provides excerpts and links to the comments sions have a relatively low barrier to entry, with alongside the post. It’s like having an editorial a low level of commitment. A participant can page of commentary on the Web, automatically submit (usually on topics that meet a special generated to appear alongside a story. interest) only once, or few times, and still have a Second, the blogosphere is fueled by meta-sites meaningful experience. Those who post repeat- such as Daypop, MIT’s Blogdex, Technorati and How participatory journalism is taking form | 23
  • 25. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 3.2 User-generated content (Top), the leading provider of online city guides in the U.S., enables the audience to write reviews and contribute information about venues and restaurants. (Bottom) is a community site for exchanging stories, tips and advice, as well as discussing common problems facing parents. 24 | How participatory journalism is taking form
  • 26. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information others. Theses sites track what items weblogs Collaborative publishing are linking to and talking about – news stories, The technology behind many online communi- weblog posts, new products (movies, books, ties is open source and free. In addition, Web software), whatever subject is catching their at- publishing tools and content management sys- tention. Meta-sites provides a popularity ranking tems are becoming easier to install, deploy and of the most linked-to items, and then indexes all manage. As a result, thousands of Web-based links to those items. collaborative publishing communities have ap- The blogosphere is also supported by a third peared in the past five years. technology, XML or RSS syndication. This allows As open-source tools for forums, weblogs weblogs to syndicate their content to anyone and content management systems (CMS) have using a “news reader,” a downloadable program evolved, they have begun to blur into each other. that creates a peer-to-peer distribution model. This has led to the development of groupware, With content so easily exchanged, it’s easy to Web- or desktop-based applications designed know what others in your peer group are talking for the collaborative creation and distribu- about. (XML Syndication is discussed in detail tion of news and information, file-sharing and later in this chapter). communication. Weblogs are considered to be Weblogs are a powerful draw in that they en- groupware, because they can be collaboratively able the individual participant to play multiple created. But in this section, we are addressing roles simultaneously – publisher, commentator, systems that are somewhat more complex. moderator, writer, documentarian. A collaborative publishing environment is de- Weblogs have also proven to be effective col- signed to enable a group of participants (large or laborative communication tools. They help small small) to play multiple roles: content creators, groups (and in a few cases, large) communicate moderators, editors, advertisers and readers. in a way that is simpler and easier to follow than While the environment may be owned by an in- e-mail lists or discussion forums. dividual creator or host organization, the goal of For example, a project team can collaboratively these systems is distributed ownership and deep produce a weblog, where many individuals can involvement from its community of users. post information (related Web site links, files, Forums, mailing lists and weblogs can be effec- quotes, meeting notes or commentary) that tive collaborative publishing environments. But might be useful or interesting to the group or to what distinguishes this group from other forms inform others outside the group. A collaborative is the self-correcting process and the rules that weblog can help keep everyone in the loop, pro- govern participation (see Chapter 4 for more on moting cohesiveness in the group. rules). Self-correcting process: Weblogs rely on Forums use moderators and community feed- audience feedback, through weblog commenting back. Weblogs usually have a feedback feature or, forms, e-mail or remarks made on other weblogs, more often, other weblogs link back and discuss as a method of correction. Typically, webloggers posts. However, in complex collaborative publish- are reliable about correcting their mistakes, and ing environments, the self-correcting processes a great many frequently link to dissenting view- are more akin to peer review, traditional editing points on the Web. oversight and meta-moderators, individuals who Strengths: Weblogs are easy to set up, oper- police moderators to make sure the conversation ate and maintain. The technology is relatively doesn’t get skewed or diluted. inexpensive, sometimes even free. This allows The most well-known of these environments is just about anyone to simultaneously become a, which resembles a cross between publisher, creator and distributor of content. a large-scale forum and a collaborative weblog. Weaknesses: This type of publishing requires Slashdot is driven by a combination of editorial a higher level of commitment and time from the oversight by its owners, submissions by users, and creator than other forms. Also, it is difficult for moderation and meta-moderation by the com- weblogs to attract readers, other than through munity of users. The site attracts more than 10 word of mouth and weblog aggregation and search million unique readers each month, with roughly engines. Weblogs have also been judged as being a half million audience members (5 percent) too self-referential, with critics likening them more participating by submitting articles, moderating, to the “Daily Me” than the “Daily We.” ranking and posting comments. The open-source See Figures 3.3 and 3.4 for examples. technology behind Slashdot now runs thousands How participatory journalism is taking form | 25
  • 27. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 3.3 Weblogs (Top) InstaPundit is one of the most well-known and popular weblogs, written by Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee. (Bottom) Florida Today uses a weblog format to chronicle the launch and landing of space shuttle missions. This example is the weblog for Columbia, which tragically exploded during re-entry over the Southwestern US in February 2003. 26 | How participatory journalism is taking form
  • 28. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 3.4 Weblogs (Top) Gawker, a gossip weblog for New York City, made Entertainment Weekly’s 2003 “It List,” with the editors noting, “The cheeky roundup of gossip, hipster to-do items, and withering commentary on pop- culture news has become a must-read for Manhattan’s media elite.” (Bottom) Leo’s Mob is a moblog — a mobile weblog created with a cell phone digital camera. How participatory journalism is taking form | 27
  • 29. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information of similar communities on the Web.4 omnipotent version history. As evidence to the Extending the Slashdot model in a different ever-blurring lines of these forms, there are now direction, passed on editorial over- experiments in Wiki-style weblogs.5 sight to its members. Every story is written by Another interesting example of a collaborative a member and then submitted for peer review. publishing is Zaplet technology, where discus- Next, the story is edited, discussed and ranked sion forums, polling and group decision-making before it even appears on the site. Finally, the au- tools are exchanged inside dynamic e-mails. dience reacts, comments and extends the story. Among the most advanced and ambitious The open-source technology that runs groupware desktop applications is Groove, cre- Kuro5hin, called Scoop, is a “collaborative media ated by Ray Ozzie, who also created one of the application” according to its creator, Rusty best-known collaboration tools, Lotus Notes. Foster. “It empowers your visitors to be the pro- Groove is a peer-to-peer program that allows ducers of the site, to contribute news and discus- large or small groups to collaboratively write, sion, and to make sure the signal remains high.” surf, exchange files, chat, create forums and One measure of the success of these two col- invite outsiders to participate. It even supports laboration systems is that Google News includes voice-over-IP communications. Slashdot and Kuro5hin as two of the 4,500 sourc- Self-correcting process: Collaborative sys- es for its news search index. tems usually have a detailed workflow for built-in A somewhat less-structured approach to col- correction, such as Slashdot’s system, where the laborative publishing is the Wiki model. Wiki audience ranks other audience members and technology, depending on how its deployed, is their comments, moderators police discussions, used for writing, discussion, storage, e-mail and and moderators are monitored by meta-modera- collaboration. In this discussion, we will narrow tors. In the case of Kuro5hin, the audience acts as our focus to collaborative examples, such as editor before and after publishing. Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an international, open Strengths: Participants can engage multiple content, collaboratively developed encyclopedia. roles, or earn the privilege of new roles. A greater In just over two years, it has amassed more than level of involvement and ownership from the 120,000 articles in English as well as more than audience usually yields greater reward (better 75,000 articles in other languages. discussion and content) than in other forms. At first glance, a Wiki appears to be somewhat Weaknesses: These systems are more dif- chaotic, allowing any member the ability to cre- ficult to launch and maintain than others, due to ate public domain articles and edit just about any technical complexity. Depending on the number piece of text within the environment. The central of participants in the environment, the speed at component is that every change is tracked, and which membership grows, and how active the can be reviewed, challenged or restored — an membership is in creating content, collaborative Figure 3.5 Collaborative publishing Wikipedia is an international, open content, collaboratively developed encyclopedia. In just over two years, it has amassed more than 120,000 articles in English as well as more than 75,000 articles in other languages. 28 | How participatory journalism is taking form
  • 30. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 3.6 Collaborative publishing (Top), which resembles a cross between a large-scale forum and a collaborative weblog, is driven by a combination of editorial oversight by its owners, submissions by users, and moderation and meta-moderation by the community of users. The site attracts more than 10 million unique readers each month. (Bottom) Every story on is written by a member and then submitted for peer review. Stories are then edited, discussed and ranked before it even appears on the site. Once published, a mass audience reacts, comments and extends the story. How participatory journalism is taking form | 29
  • 31. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 3.7 Collaborative publishing: Internet Movie Database ( originally started as newsgroup. In the early ’90s, the user-created database was moved to the Web, and has become one of the top movie sites. In 1998, it was purchased by, but the content is still primarily created by the audience. systems become increasingly unwieldy and com- messages daily. AOL, one of the most popular of plex to manage. instant messaging providers, transmits almost See Figure 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 for examples. 1.4 billion instant messages each day. SMS, short text messages that are sent between Peer-to-Peer cell phones, is pervasive in Europe and Asia but Peer-to-peer (P2P) describes applications in which hasn’t yet gained traction in the United States people can use the Internet to communicate or due to the lack of support for a key industry tech- share and distribute digital files with each other nology (GSM). directly or through a mediating Web server. In the past decade, as American culture has P2P communication: Instant Messaging (IM) embraced mobile technologies, instant messag- and Short Message Service (SMS) are the most ing has become a powerful means of distribut- pervasive forms of peer-to-peer communication. ing news and information to computers, cell These forms constitute types of social media, phones, pagers and PDAs. Now, everything from where personal, informal conversation occurs in news headlines and stories, sports scores, stock a “one-to-one” or “one-to-few” model. quotes, airline flight schedules and eBay bids are While the content of IM and SMS is difficult to regularly sent directly to mobile devices, through categorize or analyze, its appeal and usefulness instant messages or SMS. In addition, parents as a communications medium is unquestionable. keep in closer contact with their teen children Surveys from the Pew Internet and American through IM. Life Project reveal that more than 50 million Reuters explored the business prospects for Americans (about 46 percent of all Internet instant messaging of news, sports and financial users) have send instant messages, and about 7 information with an ActiveBuddy tool. Audience million (11 percent) of all these users send instant members who added this intelligent news agent 30 | How participatory journalism is taking form
  • 32. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information as a IM buddy could ask for news on demand based on keywords. In Hong Kong, the Chinese government sent a blanket of 6 million SMS messages to spread the word and avert panic about the outbreak of the SARS respiratory illness.6 As cell phones and mobile devices have in- tegrated digital camera technology, instant messaging is now expanding outside of text communications to include still photography and video. This is already being used in a peer- to-peer fashion among friends or colleagues, but it is also being used as a vehicle to submit photography and video directly to a Web site or Figure 3.8 Peer-to-Peer: With Microsoft’s ThreeDegrees, weblog. During worldwide protests against the participants form groups to chat, share pictures and war in Iraq, the asked its readers music, without permanently sharing the files. Music to submit photos from their digital cameras and and images are streamed to the group. cell phones.7 Microsoft’s new ThreeDegrees application is ranking and filtering mechanisms can increase an interesting experiment in peer-to-peer com- the signal-to-noise ratio. Peer-to-peer commu- munication. Participants form groups with this nication such as instant messaging doesn’t need software to chat, share pictures and music to the correction either, any more than a conversation group, without permanently sharing the files. with a friend would. However, chat rooms some- Music and images are streamed to the group times benefit from moderation. members on the fly (See Figure 3.8). Strengths: Synchronous communication is a P2P Distribution: Peer-to-peer forms excel powerful vehicle for immediate news and infor- when it comes to the distribution and dissemi- mation. SMS has the advantage of being both nation of digital files, which may carry valuable synchronous and asynchronous, because if a news and information. Instant messaging users participant isn’t online, the message is stored for can exchange digital files on the fly in the middle later retrieval. of a conversation. But the heart of P2P file shar- Weaknesses: Instant messaging requires ing was born with Napster, the controversial participants to be online in order to communi- desktop software program designed to enable cate. The lack of interoperability between soft- participants to share any digital music file on ware programs, conflicting messaging standards their hard drives. and closed devices are sources of continual frus- At its zenith, 70 million users were trading tration, creating islands of users who are unable 2.7 billion files per month. Since Napster was communicate with others. For example, an AOL shut down, other file-sharing programs (called instant messaging user cannot communicate Gnutella clients) such as Morpheus and Kazaa with an MSN user. have stepped in, allowing billions of movies, songs, ebooks, software and other digital files to XML Syndication be exchanged among the masses. The content on many of these forms, especially From a participatory journalism perspective, blogs and collaborative systems, can be syndi- P2P has enormous potential to distribute the cated through the use of an XML specification content created by digital amateurs. One exam- called RSS, Rich Site Summary. An RSS file typi- ple is the recent emergence of P2P photo-sharing cally contains a list of headlines, summaries and software programs. Such programs let you define links recently published by a given site. Using a list of friends and mark photos that you want news reader applications such as NewzCrawler, to share with your them. The program watches AmphetaDesk or NetNewsWire, Web readers for your friends to log on and then automatically can browse these RSS files, sorting through large makes the images available for downloading or amounts of news content at a rapid rate. When real-time viewing. a reader finds an item of interest, she clicks on Self-correcting process: Peer-to-peer file the headline and it takes her to the story on the sharing doesn’t necessarily need correction, but source’s site. (See Figure 3.9 for an example). How participatory journalism is taking form | 31
  • 33. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 3.9 XML syndication: The Christian Science Monitor’s headlines are distributed using the RSS XML format and can be quickly scanned in a news reader application, such as NetNewsWire (above). RSS syndication seems to be making an impact in “News readers help to build community,” several ways. Content creators, from mainstream adds Matthew Gifford, a Web developer in media to the average blogger, can easily syndicate Bloomingdale, Ill. “You can see the ebb and flow their content to RSS reader applications, creating of ideas around the network much better now.”11 a peer-to-peer distribution model. In many cases, The XML structure of RSS feeds also allows the user doesn’t have to do a thing. “It’s all part of other sites to easily integrate a headline and the democratization effect of the Web,” says entre- summary feed into other products, redistributing preneur Dave Winer, who incorporated an early content in a viral fashion. version of RSS in Userland blogging software in 1999. “It puts bloggers on the same field as the big Open vs. closed news corporations, and that’s great.”8 The scale of these forms, the technology behind News readers can be trained to go out and them and type of participation that occurs var- refresh content based on a time schedule. This ies greatly. However, the nature of participation allows readers to be up to date without having to can be affected by one additional key factor that search for recent news on their own. should be considered: Is the environment public “Most people, once they start using RSS to or private? We have identified four categories of check the news, just don’t go back (to surfing openness that these forms usually fall within: Web pages),” says Tim Bray, co-editor of the 1. Open Communal: While there typically is a World Wide Web Consortium’s XML specifica- single host, facilitator or architect of the com- tion. “The amount of time and irritation saved is munity, almost all activity within it – mem- totally, completely addictive.”9 bership, editing, filtering, moderation, content According to columnist J.D. Lasica, this virtue contribution, etc. – is managed and governed can motivate users into an immediate online by the community it serves. dialogue, whether through e-mails, discussion 2. Open Exclusive: A group of privileged mem- boards or blog entries. “Interactivity is much bers, usually the owners of the site, is allowed more vibrant when the news is fresh.”10 to post primary content to the site, while the 32 | How participatory journalism is taking form
  • 34. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information audience creates secondary content through Gizmodo, “the Gadgets Weblog,” is a well-ed- commentary. This is typical of weblogs. ited, “best-of” list of links to news and informa- Sometimes exclusivity can be assigned to tion about cutting-edge consumer electronics. audience members. For example, MetaFilter Gizmodo is produced by one person. The search limits the number of new members that can engine Daypop, also run by one person, has a join each day. collection of the top 40 most linked-to news and 3. Closed: Only a group of privileged members can information Web pages within the blogging com- read, post, edit and comment on content. The munity (See Figure 3.10). system, which can take the form of a weblog or Many news sites, such as and forum, exists in a private Web environment,, employ a similar “Most Read Top 10,” such as a company intranet. Instant messaging where all site visitors’ choices are accumulated and e-mail are private, and thus closed. into a popularity ranking. Other interesting ex- 4. Partially Closed: In this case, some portion of amples of filtering systems include Google’s Page the information created by a closed commu- Rank algorithms, Yahoo’s Buzz – based on popu- nity is exposed to a public Web space. lar searches – and The New York Times’ “most e-mailed stories.” Function of participation Filtering, however, doesn’t have to come from This section attempts to categorize participatory explicit activities, such as linking or favorite journalism by the function the audience serves. lists. It can also have implicit origins, such as Amazon’s well-known “People who bought this Commentary item also bought ...” feature. This is an example The most pervasive, and perhaps fundamental, of collaborative filtering, in which Amazon uses level of participation is commentary. During information about previous sales and browsing the past three decades, forums, newsgroups, to suggest potentially relevant products to re- chat rooms and instant messaging have enabled turning customers. online discussion on just about any subject of in- terest imaginable. Summing up the ubiquity and Fact-checking popularity of this activity, a Pew Research report In discussion forums and weblogs, the act of veri- noted that in the days following the Sept. 11 at- fication is a frequent activity. The initial post in ei- tacks, nearly one-third of all American Internet ther form begins with a link to a story, followed by a users “read or posted material in chat rooms, statement questioning the validity of certain facts. bulletin boards or online forums.” What ensues is a community effort to uncover the In the past five years, weblogs have increased truth. Sometimes journalists enter the fray in an ef- the signal of this activity, with some advocating fort to uncover the truth in traditional media. the blog form as the next generation of newspa- One example of this occurred when the Slashdot per Op/Ed page. community and an Associated Press reporter un- “Though webloggers do actual reporting from covered a fraudulent ad campaign by Microsoft.14 time to time, most of what they bring to the table “This is tomorrow’s journalism,” says blogger is opinion and analysis — punditry,” says Glenn and journalist Dan Gillmor, “a partnership of Reynolds, a law professor at the University of sorts between professionals and the legions of Tennessee and author of the popular weblog gifted amateurs out there who can help us — all InstaPundit.12 of us — figure things out. It’s a positive develop- ment, and we’re still figuring out how it works.”15 Filtering and editing With the flood of information available, as well Grassroots reporting as competing demands of media attention, the Taking the form of eyewitness or first-hand ac- door has opened for alternative forms of editing counts, Internet users are participating in the — filtering, sorting, ranking and linking. This fact-gathering and reporting process, sometimes process is akin to “editing” in the sense of edito- even conveying breaking news. Weblogs and rial judgment and selection. The online partici- forums brought compelling first-hand accounts pants “guide and direct” their community, large and photography to the events of September 11. or small, to valued news and information.13 The terrorist attacks were the watershed Filtering and ranking can be based on explicit event for grassroots reporting in weblogs, says singular or collective participation. For example, John Hiler, co-founder of WebCrimson, a soft- How participatory journalism is taking form | 33
  • 35. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 3.10 Filtering Daypop’s Top 40 is a list of popular links that are being discussed by webloggers around the world. Weblog indices such as Daypop are an excellent way to monitor the distributed discussion in the blogosphere. ware consulting firm based in Manhattan, and collaborative community, such as Slashdot. These, one of the largest weblog commu- participants tend to produce a wealth of original nity sites. “Eyewitness reporting comes in large content as well as opinion, links and original part from people’s desire to share their stories databases of resources on their expertise. This is and publish the truth. These are key features in particularly successful on a subject or theme that blog-based grassroots reporting, and a big reason is not covered well by mainstream media. that weblogs have exploded in popularity since An excellent example of such niche amateurs September 11th.” is the Web site Digital Photography Review. This “There are so many post 9-11 weblogs that news and reviews site is written and produced by they’ve gotten their own name: warblogs,” Hiler UK photography consultant Phil Askey and his says. Warblogs continue to dissect and analyze wife Joanna. The nearly 4-year-old site features the news from the war on terrorism. a weblog on digital photography news, plus in- The scope of blog journalism has expanded to depth equipment reviews and original coverage other areas of interest. “[A]lternative internet of trade shows. It also has a active discussion sources are gaining a reputation for breaking forum. From its modest beginnings in late 1998, important news stories more quickly than tra- it now attracts almost 5 million unique visitors ditional media sources,” says Chris Sherman, as- and 50 million page views each month.17 sociate editor of “For example, The New York Times reported that Annotative reporting the first hint of problems that doomed the space Another way to characterize the fact-checking, shuttle Columbia appeared on an online discus- grassroots reporting and commentary in weblogs sion eleven minutes before the Associated Press and related forms is to view the activity as an issued its first wire-service alert.”16 extension of traditional reportage. Adding to, Fact-gathering and grassroots reporting also or supplementing, the information in a given come from professional or amateur subject matter story is the goal of many participants who believe experts who publish a weblog or participate in a that a particular point of view, angle or piece 34 | How participatory journalism is taking form
  • 36. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information of information is missing from coverage in the mainstream media. Reporters have also used participatory forms on the web to annotate themselves, calling it “transparent journalism,” by publishing the com- plete text of their interviews on their weblogs. For example, Online Journalism Review’s senior edi- tor JD Lasica sometimes uses his weblog to print the complete text of interviews he conducts for an OJR article. Lasica explains why he did this earlier this year on a story about RSS syndica- tion, “I’m posting the comments of my interview subjects here, since I had so little room to include them in my column. I suspect most journalists don’t do this because (a) it’s a hell of a lot of work, and (b) it could call into question the deci- sion-making process on which quotes the writer selected for his or her story.”18 When taking the role of a source, Lasica also posts transcripts of when he’s been interviewed by media outlets about subjects like the state of online news media.19 This could have tremendous impact if sources such as politicians, celebrities, athletes and others begin to post transcripts of interviews by the media. Open-source reporting and peer review Some media are allowing their readers to evalu- ate and react to content online before its official publication in the traditional product. Journalism researcher Mark Deuze suggests that this type of journalism, similar to a peer review process, is best suited to “specialized niche markets” whose audience has comparably specialized interests and needs.20 Considering the fluidity and connec- tivity of the Internet, it is within reason to sug- gest that a community of interested peers could quickly be assembled on any given subject. The most frequently documented case of Figure 3.11 Grassroots reporting open-source journalism, is the story of Slashdot Digital Photography Review provides amazingly and Jane’s Intelligence Review. Dan Gillmor re- detailed reviews of digital cameras (above), forums counts what happened: and weblog of digital photography news. “In 1999, Jane’s Intelligence Review, the jour- nal widely followed in national security circles, and rewrote the article from scratch. The com- wondered whether it was on the right track with munity had helped create something, and Jane’s an article about computer security and cyberter- gratefully noted the contribution in the article it rorism. The editors went straight to some experts ultimately published.”21 — the denizens of Slashdot, a tech-oriented Web site — and published a draft. In hundreds of post- Audio/Video broadcasting ings on the site’s message system, the technically While not nearly as widespread due to cost bar- adept members of that community promptly riers and technological know-how, the Web has tore apart the draft and gave, often in colorful empowered the audience to the play the role of language, a variety of perspectives and sugges- audio or video broadcaster. tions. Jane’s went back to the drawing board, Internet radio and television stations use How participatory journalism is taking form | 35
  • 37. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information streaming servers or straight file downloads to In the past few years, following the lead deliver content. These bandwidth-intensive sites of Google and collaborative weblogs such as can be expensive to operate and require dona- MetaFilter and Kuro5hin, we have begun to tions or some type of revenue stream to survive. see the proliferation of text-based advertising. Yet thousands of these sites continue to thrive, Depending on how the system is designed and like many audience-driven sites, by providing priced, audience members can compete with alternative/niche content. large companies for the same ad space. As broadband adoption increases, creation Kuro5shin’s community text ads offers a key tools get cheaper and more simple, and the en- twist — any community member can publicly tertainment center of the home (TV) gets con- comment on an advertisement. nected to the Web, we should see a significant “The idea behind ad comments is twofold,” proliferation of audio and video content created explains Foster, Kuro5hin’s founder. “For the and distributed by the audience. advertiser, the benefit is that potential customers can meet you on ‘neutral ground,’ ask questions Buying, selling and advertising and get more information in a place they’re al- The egalitarian ethos driving participatory jour- ready comfortable. And for the users, the benefit nalism is not restricted merely to the dissemina- is that they can see what others have said abut the tion of news and information but also encom- product, whether it’s good or bad, and how the passes commerce and advertising. advertiser has dealt with other people.”25 “The web has created an unprecedented op- portunity for consumers to openly discuss the Knowledge management products that fill their lives,” says Derek Powazek Some people are taking weblogs and using them as in his book Design for Community. “From e-mail a tool for personal and corporate knowledge man- to web sites to Usenet, there are millions of con- agement, in what’s become known as “klogging.” versations on anything and everything you can Weblogs have proven to be a great enabler buy, rent, or do.”22 of knowledge collecting and sharing. A strong Commerce communities began to develop in emphasis on hypertext linking, simple content the mid-’90s with sites such as Amazon, which publishing and syndication helps creators amass include reviews by users on its product pages. a searchable and distributable knowledge base Sites like provide discussion and related to personal interests, academic research advice about purchasing cars. The participation or the workplace. in commerce communities includes commen- Weblogging also encourages interaction and tary, grassroots reporting and fact-checking. refinement of ideas, enabling a group of peers At the same time, in the mid-’90s, consumer to to add to the knowledge through feedback or consumer (C2C) environments began to establish comment. Group weblogging has become an ef- the notion of the audience owning all aspects of fective tool for knowledge management in the the business chain – buying and selling to each workplace. other. Examples range from the monolithic auc- The authors of We Blog: Publishing Online tion site eBay, with more than 12 million items with Weblogs explain one scenario of how for sale, to the intimate, down-to-earth classi- weblogs build and capture knowledge: “By inte- fieds of grating the weblog publishing process into how Easy-to-use systems such as PayPal, Amazon inter-office communication happens, it becomes zShops and Yahoo Stores enable any Internet possible for weblogs to function simultaneously user to put up a storefront in a few hours. Affiliate as informal knowledge management systems. An programs, like those set up by Amazon, allow e-mail exchange between two technical support anyone to share in the profits when an item sells. reps outlining a fix to a common problem can be Donation engines, like Amazon’s Honor copied to the department weblog. Now that fix, System, enable small-scale publishers like that knowledge, is stored in a centralized location, webloggers to collect an income ranging from and is available to everyone else in the group.”26 the modest to respectable. During a one-week In the next chapter, The rules of participation, pledge drive in December 2002, weblogger and we examine what motivates the audience to take New Republic senior editor Andrew Sullivan on their participatory roles and what kinds of generated $79,020 in donations from 3,339 of rules yield the most fruitful participation. his weblog readers.24 36 | How participatory journalism is taking form
  • 38. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Endnotes 1 Clay Shirky, “Broadcast Institutions, Community Values.” First published Sept. 9, 2002, on the Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list. 2 Derek Powazek’s essay “Community-friendly advertising,” published April 19, 2002 on his Web site, describes why CNN closed their forums, and other sites moved forums to fee-based services. Jim Cashel, editor of the Online Community Report newsletter, says, “While many (community) sites were successful in attracting huge usage, revenue hasn’t kept pace. Most online community sites are not economically viable and never will be.” From his article “Top Ten Trends for Online Communities,” published in his newsletter. 3 TrackBack is the formal name of this function within MovableType, a popular weblog software system. Other software offers this functionality under a different name. For more information, see “A Beginner’s Guide to TrackBack” by Mena and Ben Trott on the MovableType web site. 4 Slashdot statistics provided in an e-mail from Jeffrey “Hemos” Bates, one of Slashdot’s founders. For more information on Slash code, see: 5 WikiLogs. 6 Associated Press, “Six million mobile phones get the message,” April 3, 2003. 7 “Your pictures of the anti-war demonstrations” on, February 18, 2003. Steve Outing also has documented several other excellent examples of audience photo submissions in his Stop The Presses column, “Photo Phones Portend Visual Revolution,” on Editor & Publisher’s Web site, March 12, 2003. 8 J.D. Lasica, “News That Comes to You,” Jan. 23, 2003, Online Journalism Review ( 9 Tim Bray, “Where Next for RSS?” Jan. 23, 2003. Self-published. 10 Lasica. 11 Lasica. 12 Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Symbiotic Media,” Oct. 16, 2002, 13 Guide and direct is a term coined by Tim McGuire, former editor of The Minneapolis Star Tribune. 14 Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis, “Grassroots reporting breaks MS ad fraud,” Hypergene MediaBlog, Oct. 15, 2002. 15 Dan Gillmor, “Microsoft Ad Unravels — Lessons.”, Oct. 15, 2002. 16 Chris Sherman, “Puzzling Out Google’s Blogger Acquisition.” Search Day newsletter, Feb. 18, 2003. 17 “Why Advertise on Digital Photography Review.” Statistics as of January 2003. 18 JD Lasica, “An experiment in interviewing: News readers and RSS feeds,” posted on his weblog, Jan. 23, 2003. Also see: Sheila Lennon’s “Bloggers, NYT author weigh in on interview transcript,” posted on her weblog, Sept. 28, 2002. 19 See examples of Lasica posting interviews he has given at: 20 Mark Deuze, “Online Journalism: Modelling the First Generation of News Media on the World Wide Web.” First Monday, Volume 6, Number 10 (October 2001). 21 Dan Gillmor, “Here Comes We Media,” Columbia Journalism Review, January/February, 2003. This story is also recounted by Mark Deuze, in his aforementioned “Online Journalism” article for First Monday. 22 Derek Powazek, Design for Community (New Riders, 2002). 23 About eBay – Company Overview Web page. 24 Post on, Dec.19, 2002. 25 Bowman and Willis, “Kuro5hin’s active text ad comments,” Hypergene MediaBlog, Dec. 5, 2002. 26 Paul Bausch, Matthew Haughey, Meg Hourihan, We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs (John Wiley & Sons, August 2002). How participatory journalism is taking form | 37
  • 39. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information CHAPTER 4 The rules of participation T he abundance and proliferation of virtual ticipatory journalism, we have compiled a list of communities and collaboration environ- reasons why audience members are becoming ments provide the opportunity for anyone participants. While reading this list, consider to play just about any role in the journalistic that an individual may be motivated by multiple process. reasons. As we discussed in the last chapter, the audi- ence has taken on the roles of publisher, broad- To gain status or build reputation in a caster, editor, content creator (writer, photogra- given community. pher, videographer, cartoonist), commentator, Social recognition is one of the biggest motiva- documentarian, knowledge manager (librarian), tors, intoxicating participants with instant grati- journaler and advertiser (buyer and seller). fication and approval. This ego-driven motiva- For media organizations and businesses to un- tion to enhance social capital is best captured by derstand how to engage their empowered audi- the advice Web sites and review engines rampant ence, we must consider what motivates the audi- in the late 1990s, which enabled anyone to show- ence to take on their new roles and what kinds of case his or her expertise and recommendations rules yield the most fruitful participation. Finally, on just about any subject imaginable. we look at reputation systems and the balance of “People with expertise contributed answers, trust that’s struck between buyers and sellers or tidbits, essays, pages of software code, lore of content creators and their online peers. astonishing variety,” Howard Rheingold writes in Smart Mobs. “A few contributors earned the Why we participate kind of currency banks accept. Most contributed Through these emerging electronic communities, for the social recognition that came with being a the Web has enabled its users to create, increase top-ranked reviewer. The ‘reputation managers’ or renew their social capital. These communities that enabled users and other recommenders to are not merely trading grounds for information rate each other made possible opinion markets but a powerful extension of our social networks. that traded almost entirely on ego gratification.”2 And as in any social system, looking at our moti- For some, the ego-driven surface of this mo- vations helps us understand and trust the system tivation is more practical underneath — people as well as find our place in it. want to establish themselves as an authority on The Hierarchy of Needs was the brainchild of a subject. For example, one the primary reasons Abraham Maslow, one of the founding fathers of people write a blog is that they aspire to become humanistic psychology. He believed that people “legitimate” writers in mainstream media. The are motivated by the urge to satisfy needs rang- weblog becomes a place to hone their craft and ing from basic survival to self-fulfillment, and showcase their skills.3 that they don’t fill the higher-level needs until the In general, this is viewed as a benefit to the in- lower-level ones are satisfied. dividual. Small business proprietors, consultants In her book Community Building on the Web, and budding writers can quickly gain an audience online community expert Amy Jo Kim mapped and build a positive reputation that they can par- Maslow’s offline needs to online community lay into real-world business opportunities. But equivalents (See Figure 4.1). Viewed in this con- organizations can benefit as well because indi- text, we can assume that people are motivated vidual reputation can be transferred to some ex- to participate in order to achieve a sense of be- tent. For example, if a reporter begins to gain an longing to a group; to build self-esteem through involved audience through a weblog, that good contributions and to garner recognition for con- will and trust could be transferred to the media tributing; and to develop new skills and opportu- organization that he or she works for. nities for ego building and self-actualization.1 These new forms also allow people who haven’t Through our interviews and research on par- had a voice — because of educational, economic, 38 | Rules of participation
  • 40. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Figure 4.1 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Online Communities Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that people are motivated by the urge to satisfy needs ranging from basic survival to self-fulfillment, and that they don’t fill the higher-level needs until the lower- level ones are satisfied. Amy Jo Kim’s book, Community Building on the Web, uses Maslow’s hierarchy to clarify the goals and needs of online community participants. Need Offline (Maslow) Online Communities Physiological Food, clothing, shelter, health System access; the ability to own and maintain one’s identity while participating in a Web community Security & Safety Protection from crimes and war; Protection from hacking and personal Advancement in Hierarchy the sense of living in a fair and attacks; the sense of having a “level just society. playing field”; ability to maintain varying levels of privacy Social The ability to give and receive Belonging to the community as a love; the feeling of belonging to whole, and to subgroups within the a group. community. Self-Esteem Self-respect; the ability to The ability to contribute to the earn the respect of others and community, and be recognized for contribute to society. those contributions. Self-Actualization The ability to develop skills and The ability to take on a community role fulfill one’s potential. that develop skills and opens up new opportunities. Source: Amy Jo Kim’ s Community Building on the Web (Peachpit, 2000) social or cultural barriers — to enter the dialogue Office of Distributed Learning, says that “while by building a personal reputation. Online com- chat rooms, newsgroups, forums and message munities have also empowered those with physi- boards continue to play a role in computer-me- cal or emotional impediments to blossom in a diated communication, the Web has assumed a virtual space.4 prominent place in forging relationships among people with common interests.”5 To create connections with others who According to a study by the Pew Internet & have similar interests, online and off. American Life Project, about 45 million partici- An oft-read claim is that the majority of the bil- pants in online communities say the Internet has lions of Web pages on the Internet today are junk. “helped them connect with groups or people who The trouble with this criticism is that the wheat share their interests.” Participation in an online — the relevant 2 percent — is different for every community, the study says, has helped them get to person. What many dismiss as “junk” is made by know people they otherwise would not have met.6 junkies – people who are fanatical or passionate The same Pew study revealed that these virtual about a subject. relationships are transferring to offline interac- People want to feed their obsessions and share tion. “In addition to helping users participate them with like-minded individuals. This is what in communities of interest that often have no fuels, in large part, many social connections on geographical boundaries, the Internet is a tool the Internet. Whether it’s a fan page for ’50s and for those who are involved with local groups, ’60s jazz pianist and vocalist Buddy Greco, or a particularly church groups (28 million). Internet database of airfoils used in the wing design of users have employed the Internet to contact or aircraft, people are using online communities to get information about local groups.” share passions, beliefs, hobbies and lifestyles. Sociologist Barry Wellman argues that a good Stuart Golgoff, from the University of Arizona’s deal of new social capital is being formed through Rules of participation | 39
  • 41. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information “glocalization” – the capacity of the Internet to the role of “thin media” publishers, inexpensively expand users’ social worlds to faraway people providing news, information and advice not nor- and simultaneously to connect them more deeply mally found in mainstream media. to the place where they live. According to the Everyone on the Internet is a potential expert Pew study, “glocalization” is widespread. “The on some subject — from Pez dispensers to digital Internet helps many people find others who photography techniques to wormholes — and share their interests no matter how distant they these participatory forms are great places to find are, and it also helps them increase their contact and share not only obscure or rare information, with groups and people they already know and it but commentary that might be too controversial helps them feel more connected to them.” for mainstream media. “Thin media publishers are far nimbler and Sense-making and understanding. will feed happily on new niches that are far too Faced with an overwhelming flow of information obscure for traditional media to notice and too from a massive number of media sources, people thin for traditional media to profitably mine,” are increasingly going to online communities to says Henry Copeland, founder of the Web consul- learn how to make sense of things. Moreover, the tancy Pressflex and author of the weblog Blogads. conglomeration and corporatization of media and “And, because they are small and nimble, thin the sophisticated means by which sources (such media can help discover and invent the Next as politicians and business executives) “spin” Big Thing much easier than their big peers who media leaves the mass audience often grasping are busy looking for huge revenues from huge to make sense of the news and wondering what services.”8 information to trust. The social network created by Internet virally Witness the increasing number of experts on spreads information extremely quickly among TV news trying to explain market fluctuations, their participants. This may be because par- political maneuvers and medical advancements. ticipatory forms attract “mavens” and “connec- But that doesn’t completely satisfy the audience, tors.” These types of individuals, whom Malcolm write Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their book Gladwell identified in his book The Tipping The Elements of Journalism, because “a journal- Point, are crucial to the spread of information, ism that focuses on the expert elite — the special online and off. 9 interests — may be in part responsible for public Mavens are information brokers, sharing and disillusionment. Such a press does not reflect the trading what they know. They are aggressive col- world as most people live and experience it.” lectors of information but are socially motivated Weblogs, forums, usenets and other online to share it as well. Connectors are people who social forms have become real-time wellsprings know a lot of people in diverse settings. They of sense-making from their peers on just about have their feet in many different worlds and are any subject. They also function as archives of socially motivated to bring them together. perspective. Participatory forms offer an excellent outlet for According to a study by the Pew Internet & mavens to satisfy their need to share and acquire American Life Project, “The pull of online com- information, and provides connectors the ability munities in the aftermath of the September 11 to help information seekers find mavens. (It also attacks shows how Americans have integrated provides the opportunity to position themselves online communities into their lives. In the days as an authority on a subject.)10 following the attacks, 33% of American Internet In a foreword to Seth Godin’s book on mar- users read or posted material in chat rooms, bul- keting, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Gladwell ex- letin boards, or other online forums. Although plains the potential power of what’s happening many early posts reflected outrage at the events, in participatory forms: “(The) most successful online discussions soon migrated to grieving, ideas are those that spread and grow because discussion and debate on how to respond, and of the customer’s relationship to other custom- information queries about the suspects and those ers — not the marketer’s to the customer.” Later who sponsored them.”7 in the book, Godin adds: “The future belongs to marketers who establish a foundation and pro- To inform and be informed. cess where interested people can market to each Participants in discussion forums, weblogs and other. Ignite consumer networks and then get out collaborative publishing communities also play of the way and let them talk.”11 40 | Rules of participation
  • 42. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information To entertain and be entertained. of creativity,” Canter says. “(Weblogging is) at Just about anything will suffice as entertainment, the core of creativity — expressing your feelings, as long as it can serve as a distraction from the opinions and showing everyone else what you day-to-day grind. To get people to pay for this think is important.”15 diversion, it usually must be compelling or “fun.” Traditional media tend to understate the And there are seemingly no limits to what we will value of participation journalism, holding that pay for fun. comments, reviews and content created by But, as anyone in the entertainment business “amateurs” provide little value to their mass will testify, fun can be one of the most difficult ex- audience. As such, they are missing the inherent periences to satisfy. What seems to resonate with psychological value of the creative process to the an audience of thousands one month falls into individual. relative obscurity the next month. Factors such For the most part, our list contains motivations as novelty, trend and cultural status weigh heav- that are positive or fairly benign. An egalitarian/ ily in the success of entertainment. The result is a for-the-common-good ethic tends to permeate large target that is hard to hit.12 most of these forms. Yet, anyone that has partici- According to the authors of The Cluetrain pated in online communities knows that not all Manifesto, the Web is not a natural vehicle for participants play fairly. People will abuse these prepackaged entertainment. “Unlike the lockstep forms by performing pranks, manipulating the conformity imposed by television, advertising rules, spreading false information and rumors, and corporate propaganda, the Net has given engaging in flaming — indeed, just about any mis- new legitimacy — and freedom — to play. Many chief imaginable — and the results can serious. of those drawn into this world find themselves According to a CNET article in 1996, “Several exploring a freedom never before imagined: to stocks have seen meteoric rises, or dramatic falls, indulge their curiosity, to debate, to disagree, to in their valuation because of information posted laugh at themselves, to compare visions, to learn, to Internet newsgroups and online services. The to create new art, new knowledge.”13 Securities and Exchange Commission and other Online participation is simply fun — whether federal regulatory agencies are concerned that a political riff by a deeply committed weblogger, unscrupulous insiders or stock promoters could a casual forum discussion, or a one-off album disseminate false or misleading information to review posted on Amazon. As futurist Paul Saffo manipulate securities prices.”16 notes, “In the end, much of what passes for com- Regulatory agencies have policed Internet post- munications actually has a high entertainment ings aimed at manipulating stock prices, but they component. The most powerful hybrid of commu- need to tread carefully lest they infringe on free nications and entertainment is ‘particitainment’ speech rights. Conflict is a key component of any — entertaining communications that connects us social environment, from a party to a chat room, with some larger purpose or enterprise.”14 so we have learned to develop rules designed to guide the experience in a positive direction. To create. “Social interaction creates tension between the Those who participate online usually create con- individual and the group,” explains Clay Shirky, tent to inform and entertain others. But creating a consultant and teacher who writes frequently also builds self-esteem and, in Maslow’s view, it’s on the social and economic effects of Internet an act of self-actualization. We derive fulfillment technologies. “This is true of all social interac- from the act of creation. tion, not just online. Any system that supports “Five percent of the populace (probably even groups addresses this tension by enacting a less) can create. The others watch, listen, read, simple constitution — a set of rules governing consume,” says Marc Canter, one of the founders the relationship between individuals and the of Macromedia and now chairman and founder groups. These constitutions usually work by en- of Broadband Mechanics. “I think one of the des- couraging or requiring certain kinds of interac- tinies of digital technology is to enable the other tion, and discouraging or forbidding others.”17 95 percent to express their creativity somehow. That’s the gestalt view.” Rules governing participation “Digital cameras, storytelling, assembling stuff In broadcast models, the rules of participation from existing content, annotating, reviews, con- are strict and limited. The media organization versations, linking topics together — are all forms has supreme control as the informed intermedi- Rules of participation | 41
  • 43. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information ary of the news and it only allows the audience to lished rules of the environment. For example, in participate through limited means, e.g., submit- chat rooms or discussion forums, it’s common to ting letters to the editor or phoning a talk show. have a moderator that disciplines or kicks out Mainstream media are comfortable with this users who are behaving improperly. level of participation because it’s relatively easy Even those who are not appointed as modera- to authenticate the credibility of these partici- tors will police the activity of the system. Much as pants (though occasional pranks do occur). in any social situation, individuals draw bound- Because not all participatory journalism is col- aries about what’s appropriate and what’s not. laborative, We Media can follow the same model As the community grows and evolves, members as broadcast models. For example, reviews are push back against the rules of the host to the submitted by the audience to a product recom- point where the system becomes co-owned and mendation site, authenticated by editors, and operated. In this regard, many of these environ- broadcast out to a mass audience. Likewise, ments are highly democratic in the way they many webloggers have little interaction or open operate. discussion with their audience. It’s simply push Various technologies have evolved over the media. past 40 years to enable us to establish rules, But collaborative forms of participatory jour- monitor behavior and to tune out the unwanted nalism — forums, newsgroups, chat rooms, voices. As online community expert Rheingold group weblogs and publishing systems — are says, “Hiding the crap is the easy part. The real more complex because they must balance the achievement is finding quality.”19 tension between the group and the individual. To increase the signal-to-noise ratio of online Even more challenging are the dynamically form- communities, emerging technologies called ing groups that come together briefly to achieve “reputation systems” are helping participants goals through Internet-connected mobile devices define which information is credible, reliable and (dubbed “smart mobs” by Rheingold). trustworthy. In the past few decades, the Internet has be- come highly successful in giving the consumer a Reputation systems and trust metrics voice, but author Stephen Johnson says “... sys- Traditional models of trust between buyers and tems like Slashdot force us to accept a more radi- sellers fell short of requirements for an online cal proposition. To understand how these new marketplace, where anonymous transactions media experiences work, you have to analyze the crossed territorial and legal boundaries as well message, the medium and the rules. What’s in- as traditional value chains. Alternative quantifi- teresting here is not just the medium, but rather cations of trust were developed for e-commerce, the rules that govern what gets selected and what called “reputation systems” or “trust metrics,” to doesn’t.”18 ensure better evaluations of risk. When we talk about rules, we really are de- On eBay, for example, auction buyers evaluate scribing control — the governance of how par- sellers, rating their transaction experience and ticipants assume roles, how they are allowed to adding comments. The cumulative ranking of interact with others, and the ownership of the past buyers creates a track record of trust that social system. new buyers often reference. This also works in The rules of participation come from a few the other direction, where sellers can rate buyers, places. First, they come from technology — rules creating a full-circle reputation system. that are built into the social software that runs “A reputation system collects, distributes, and the community or participatory form. These rules aggregates feedback about participants’ past are then configured by the host (whoever creates behavior,” according to a paper by a group of the environment). A basic rule of most systems, University of Michigan researchers. “Though for example, is that you have to become a regis- few of the producers or consumers of the rat- tered member to participate. A host would define ings know each other, these systems help people whether registration is necessary and the criteria decide whom to trust, encourage trustworthy be- that a registrant must meet. havior, and deter participation by those who are Second, rules come from the community of unskilled or dishonest.”20 members. This can come from moderators — ap- When it comes to the exchange of news and pointed community members who police the ebb information, the challenge of reputation systems and flow of communication based on the estab- is equally complex to that of e-commerce. In 42 | Rules of participation
  • 44. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information traditional broadcast models, trust is built top abusive discussions and other bad behavior that down. News and information is gathered and plagues some discussion group systems.”23 disseminated by trained professionals that use Other online communities have reputations rigorous methods of verification to ensure that systems that try to capture the somewhat transi- the information is reliable and trustworthy. The tive nature of trust. The products recommenda- media institution develops a certain level of cred- tion site Epinions uses a “web of trust” to mimic ibility based on the success of this process. the way people share word-of-mouth advice. From the consumer’s perspective, it’s easy to Their reputation system is based on the premise, place trust in an established institution such as “If a friend consistently gives you good advice, The Wall Street Journal or even MTV, but how you’re likely to believe that person’s suggestions does the audience learn to trust a stranger (or in the future. You know which preferences you group of strangers), to evaluate the information and your friend share. If you both like the same they are providing, and to collaborate with them? types of films, you’re more likely to trust your In participatory forms, trust is built from the friend’s recommendations on what to see.24 bottom up. An anonymous individual enters the Such collaborative filtering systems, pioneered environment with no reputation and must gain by Firefly (since purchased by Microsoft) in the the trust of others through their behavior and mid-1990s, are now becoming commonplace, through the information they provide. Through bringing the idea of reputation systems to a wide the ranking and rating of content and of content range of content sites, ranging from parental ad- creators, several successful online communities vice to purchases of home theater systems. have used reputation systems to help maintain quality discussions and content. Distributed credibility One of the most well-known success stories of There are other ways to assess credibility of reputation systems is,21 an online content. One of the most effective is through technology discussion community. Slashdot has hyperlinks. Acting as a decentralized, distributed three mechanisms for creating and distributing reputation system, links act as votes, citations trust. First, all posts to the site are policed by and reference to relevant pages on the Web. moderators, who are members in good standing. Google’s PageRank search algorithm uses Second, moderators are monitored by meta- hyperlinks-as-votes as a method of relevance in moderators to ensure that moderators do not the social network of the web. As they explain on wield too much control. The last ingredient is their Web site, “PageRank relies on the uniquely karma, a way for members to gain recognition democratic nature of the web by using its vast link for contributions and appropriate behavior. structure as an indicator of an individual page’s “These three political concepts,” says Shirky, value. In essence, Google interprets a link from “lightweight as they are, allow Slashdot to grow page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. without becoming unusable.”22 But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume Reputation systems help track the activity of of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes a community and use criteria to determine ap- the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages propriate roles for members, based on their level that are themselves ‘important’ weigh more heav- of acceptance within the community. Reputation ily and help to make other pages ‘important.’ ”25 systems also help members identify self-inter- Weblogs use a similar system of hyperlinks as ested parties that are trying to disrupt the com- votes with something called “blogrolls.” A blog- munity’s goal of the greater good. roll is a list of links to a weblog author’s favorite According to the creators of, a com- Web sites, usually sites that are related to the munity site in New Zealand, reputation systems weblog’s subject. So if a reader decides they like a “have the potential to solve the problems of con- certain weblog, they might check out its blogroll trolling access while preventing gate-keeping or as well. ‘capture’ of the web site by outsiders. They serve “Rampant cross-linkage isn’t a new phenome- as a filter so that the most valued members of the non. It’s the basic mechanism by which academia community are given prominence, while less val- has operated for centuries,” says Joshua Allen ued members have a chance to prove themselves on his weblog Better Living Through Software. before they are given the ‘limelight’ [enhanced “Researchers judge the value of published re- reputation and special privileges]. In this way, search based upon the number of other works the site can avoid spam (unsolicited advertising), that cite it. Citations in scientific research form Rules of participation | 43
  • 45. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information ‘clusters’ of cross-linkage that would suggest cita- (from weblogs),” explains L.A. tion reciprocity. Groups of people tend to cite one publisher Matt Welch, “is that people value per- another. Besides reciprocity, there are certainly sonalities, especially those who will admit being other reasons that researchers can end up get- wrong, show humility and class with readers. ... ting sucked into citation clusters. A milder form Newspapers have gotten away from the person- of reciprocity is mutual admiration. If Dr. Wang ality business, and this is where the weblogs are cites Dr. Miller five times, Dr. Miller will start just hammering them.”30 to think that Dr. Wang has good judgment.”26 Speed of communication: According to Harvard University professor Karen Stephenson, Credible by nature an influential social network theorist, one easy There are several other qualities of these new way to improve the level of trust is simply to online participatory experiences that can breed increase the speed with which people respond to trust and credibility: our communication. Egalitarian: Collaborative publishing sys- When people return our e-mails or respond tems like Wiki use open editing rules and version to questions in forums quickly, it sends a signal history to promote trust. Because any reader of a that we can rely on them because our connec- Wiki can add their own views or information to a tion, however distant, is important enough to Wiki article, they begin to trust the environment claim some of their attention. Compare the ex- and the collective goal of the common good. perience of leaving a voice-mail message with “We assume that the world is mostly full of rea- tech support that gets a response days later to a sonable people,” say the creators of Wikipedia, a real-time chat session or user-to-user discussion multi-lingual open-content encyclopedia, “and forums. The faster a satisfactory answer comes, that collectively they can arrive eventually at a the more likely we are to trust a person or orga- reasonable conclusion, despite the worst efforts nization. “Human beings always keep an internal of a very few wreckers.”27 accounting system of who owes what to whom,” Intimacy: Authenticity comes from the per- says Steve Haeckel, director of strategic studies sonal nature of discussions in a participatory at IBM’s Advanced Business Institute. “Response form. One powerful draw of weblogs and forums time is one indicator of the degree of trustworthi- is their ability to capture and share first-hand ness of the individual.”31 accounts, such as 9/11 terrorists attacks. The Free market of media: There are three University of Arizona’s Golgoff explains, “When basic rules of behavior that are tied directly to the people share intimate details of their lives with a intrinsic nature of the Internet, according to Doc virtual stranger, it affirms that an implicit context Searls and David Weinberger: “No one owns it. of trust has been established.”28 Everyone can use it. Anyone can improve it.”32 Passion: According to Time magazine colum- Likewise, there is practically no barrier to nist James Poniewozik, the problem with main- participatory journalism. Just about anyone can stream media today is a passion deficit. “Many start a discussion forum or weblog for relatively big-media journalists are now cautious, well-paid little or no money, or participate for free in most conformists distant from their audiences and public participatory environments. “This is a me- more responsive to urban élites, powerful people dium that by definition encourages readers to es- and megacorporations—especially the ones they tablish competing media,” says publisher Welch. work for.”29 The result, he says, is bland news “That’s awesome and wonderful.”33 anchors, magazines that more closely resemble When the audience owns the medium, and catalogs, timid pack journalism, and celebrity/ owns the power to equitably compete in the same cult-of-personality coverage overload. space, the medium and its forms carry a level of On the flip side of the new media ecosystem, on- trust not found in any other media to date. line participatory journalism is fueled by people who fanatically follow and passionately discuss Challenges of trust their favorite subjects. Their weblogs and online Reputations systems are by no means perfect. communities, while perhaps not as profession- One problem with online reputation is the lack ally produced, are chock full of style, voice and of portability of virtual identities (and reputa- attitude. Passion makes the experience not only tions) between systems. For example, if you build compelling and memorable but also credible. a positive seller or buyer reputation on eBay or “Maybe the biggest, if vaguest, lesson to learn Slashdot, it cannot be transferred to other vir- 44 | Rules of participation
  • 46. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information tual environments. (eBay has sued some who because, just as in the real world, we sometimes have tried to do so.) It’s great for the host of give compliments in order to received them.35 the community, such as eBay—some speculate “Further complicating all of this,” says Shirky, that this aggregation of social capital is the key “are the feedback loops created when a group to their success —but for the individual and for changes its behavior in response to changes in social networks, it’s a serious problem. It creates (social) software.”36 islands of reputation, which are time-consuming Despite their theoretical and practical diffi- to earn. culties, reputations systems appear to perform The issue of identity ownership may be why reasonably well, says a team of University of weblogs cause such a powerful fuss. The par- Michigan researchers. “Systems that rely on the ticipant owns and controls their identity, without participation of large numbers of individuals the requirement to be known by a different eight- accumulate trust simply by operating effectively character name (e.g., bluskyz7) in each system. over time.”37 “Because a person has control over his own The success of We Media thus far has been built piece of the community landscape (with a on the evolution of reputations systems, trust weblog), he feels a powerful ownership of his metrics and the politics of social software. As the space that’s lacking in traditional community technology improves, facilitating better social sites,” says Derek Powazek, author of Design for connections, the future role of the mainstream Community. “(Weblogging) tools are exciting media in this new media ecosystem comes into because they point to the future of online com- question. munity — a future where everyone has a home of Can the audience, informed and independent, his own, a space where he has control, a private provide news with meaning, context and cred- space in an ever-more complicated virtual com- ibility beyond the capabilities of a professional munity sphere.”34 press? Are traditional media companies capable From the reader’s perspective, this also adds of growing and nurturing a community? Will re- a level of credibility to webloggers because blog- porters and editors lurk in communities for tips gers typically use their real-world identity in their and grassroots reporting or will they become ac- virtual space. tive co-equal participants in online communities, Another challenge facing reputation systems is fully engaged in the conversation? capturing feedback. Some people may not bother In the next chapter, Implications of We Media, to provide feedback at all, seeing little or no value we explore the potential impact of participa- in the process. Negative feedback is difficult to tion journalism on mainstream media and its elicit, because people fear the retaliation it could relationship with advertisers, sources and the bring. The honesty of feedback is questionable, audience. Endnotes 1 Amy Jo Kim, Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities (Peachpit, 2000), 8-9. 2 Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution (Perseus Publishing, 2002), 119. 3 Author interview with John Hiler, co-founder of, one of the largest weblog community sites and co-founder of WebCrimson, a software consulting firm based in Manhattan (2002). 4 One example: Mark Siegel, who has spinal muscular atrophy, has an excellent weblog: 5 Stuart Golgoff, “Virtual Connections: Community Bonding on the Net.” Published on (March 2001). 6 Pew Internet & American Life Project. Online Communities: Networks that nurture long-distance relationships and local ties. Oct. 31, 2001. 7 Pew Internet & American Life Project. 8 Steven Carlson, “Henry Copeland: We are infatuated by revolutions.” Published on author’s Web site (2002). 9 Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 62. 10 John Hiler goes into great detail about how Mavens and Connectors provide value in the weblogging community in his article, “The Tipping Blog: How Weblogs Can Turn an Idea into an Epidemic.” He also connects the ideas of Gladwell and Godin. Published on his weblog, Microcontent News (March 12, 2002). Rules of participation | 45
  • 47. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information 11 Seth Godin, Unleashing the Ideavirus (Hyperion, 2001). Full text of the book can be downloaded at: 12 Paul Saffo, “Consumers and Interactive New Media: A Hierarchy of Desires.” From the 1993 Ten-Year Forecast, Institute for the Future (c. December 1992). 13 Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual (Perseus Publishing, 2001). The book is also available online at: 14 Saffo. 15 Jonathan Peterson, “A Conversation with Marc Canter.” Published on the author’s weblog, Amateur Hour: the “me” in media (Feb. 17, 2003). 16 Mike Ricciuti. “SEC fears stock manipulation online” ( June 12, 1996). 17 Clay Shirky, “Social Software and the Politics of Groups.” First published March 6, 2003 on the Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list. 18 Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (Scribner, 2001). 19 Rheingold. 20 Paul Resnick, Richard Zeckhauser, Eric Friedman and Ko Kuwabara, “Reputation Systems: Facilitating Trust in Internet Interactions.” University of Michigan (October 2000). Also see: The University of Michigan’s “Reputations Research Network” database of articles and papers about this subject. 21 For a deeper explanation of Slashdot’s system, refer to: 22 Shirky. 23 Susan Forbes, Murray Hemi, Greg Ford, Joan Ropiha. “Web Site Design Document” describes how the community site operates. 24 FAQ – Web of Trust. 25 “Google Technology” on 26 Joshua Allen. From a post titled “Interlinktual” on his weblog, Better Living Through Software, Jan. 4, 2002. 27 Published on, “Wikipedia: Replies to common objections.” 28 Golgoff. 29 James Poniewozik, “Don’t Blame It on Jayson Blair” (Time magazine, June 9, 2003), 90.,9565,455835,00.html 30 EPN World interview with Matt Welch, “The Welch Report – Go Publish Yourself,” April 23, 2002. 31 Art Kleiner, “Karen Stephenson’s Quantum Theory of Trust.” strategy+business magazine, Fourth Quarter, 2002. (registration required) 32 Doc Searls and David Weinberger, “World of Ends: What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for Something Else.” Published online, March 2003. 33 EPN World 34 Derek Powazek, Design for Community: The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places (New Riders Publishing, 2001), 267. 35 Resnick, et al. 36 Shirky. 37 Resnick, et al. 46 | Rules of participation
  • 48. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information CHAPTER 5 Implications for media and journalism T he Internet has grown in a way distinctly early ’90s, desktop publishing allowed many different from any medium before it. As a small, independent publications to spring up. result, it’s difficult to predict how the Net To some degree, the magazine business became will change mainstream media and to what mag- more democratized with the addition of more nitude. To say that media will undergo a “para- viewpoints. But those publications generally ex- digm shift” might be an understatement. panded the reach of magazines without toppling Consider that today one billion computers the more established titles. In the same way, are connected to the Internet, most dialing in some see little evidence that micromedia will through telephone lines. By the end of 2010, displace established media today. Intel predicts that more than 1.5 billion comput- An important distinction to remember is that ers will be connected via high-speed broadband the economics of production and distribution in and another 2.5 billion phones will have more the magazine business, while less costly than be- processing power than today’s PCs.1 fore, were still substantial — keeping the number Yet, only one-tenth of the world’s population, of new competitors to a handful. Moreover, com- or 600 million people, can access the Internet peting with magazines that had larger circulation today. What will happen when many of the rest usually required considerable marketing budgets join in seeking others with whom to collaborate and years to build a large subscriber base. and share information? On the Web, the barriers to entry are next to That’s a revolution already underway, but it’s nothing. The costs associated with distributing one that’s easy to miss. It’s quiet. Revolutions on content online are so low that anyone can join the Net happen at the edges, not at the center. and experiment with the democratization of Economist J. Bradford Long explains: “As the media. action spreads from producers (the few) to users And that experiment is quickly moving into the (the many), it becomes much, much harder to get mainstream. Recently America Online announced an overview of the revolutionary things occur- it would get into the weblog game, putting simple ring. We have anecdotes of brilliant new uses and and powerful publishing tools into the hands of applications, but do they add up to an enduring more than 30 million members. Millions will own boom or just a few isolated pops that make good a press, making everyone a potential media out- copy?”2 let. With the ability to publish words and pictures And that is the problem facing media compa- even via their cell phone, citizens have the poten- nies, the entertainment industry and even gov- tial to observe and report more immediately than ernments. How do you put together the pieces of traditional media outlets do. a puzzle without knowing what the final picture looks like? Challenges to the media’s hegemony First, you find the edges. A democratized media challenges the notion of While we may not be able predict how the the institutional press as the exclusive, privileged, media landscape will shift, there are places we trusted, informed intermediary of the news. can begin looking for change and their likely According to a recent Sports Illustrated story, impacts: “there is little doubt that fan web sites are break- ing — and making — news and dramatically re- Democratization of media shaping the relationship between college coaches A.J. Liebling once said, “Freedom of the press is and the public. guaranteed only to those who own one.”3 Now, “Mainstream news media, SI included, moni- millions do. tor web site message boards to take the public’s Those who believe the democratization of pulse and, in some cases, look for news tips.” 4 media will have little effect on big media often Are respected news operations such as SI likely point to the “zine” business. In the late ’80s and to be eliminated as one of the primary interme- Implications for media and journalism | 47
  • 49. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information diaries of sports news any time soon? That’s un- what the person being interviewed is saying. likely, but Web communities and even search en- Even well-intentioned journalists may misin- gines are becoming valued outlets of news, which terpret an interviewee’s meaning. Annotating guide and direct their readers to information of provides the interviewee the opportunity to give interest. The role these sites play — as filters, sim- his or her comments the kind of nuance, heft, plifiers and clarifiers of news — is adding a new context and thoughtfulness that might be left on intermediary layer. They might not be the ulti- the cutting-room floor in a news outlet’s notori- mate authority, but the new intermediaries — fo- ously shrunken news hole. rums, weblogs, search engines, hoax-debunking One of the better examples of user-generated sites — are helping audiences sort through the content actively challenging the media’s credibil- abundance of information available today.5 ity is product reviews. While mainstream readers Many newspapers and TV stations have had might not actively seek news reports or political years to establish the trust of their audiences. Yet opinions from amateurs, many are willing to con- participatory news sites, with their transparent sult reviews contributed by strangers before they and more intimate nature, are attracting legions make a purchase. of fans who contribute and collaborate with one Commerce sites like Amazon or product review another. In addition, recent surveys suggest sites such as or people are beginning to place more trust in on- put a great deal of emphasis on user-generated line sources and are seeking increasingly diverse reviews and discussions. Many manufacturing news sources and perspectives.6 companies like Subaru have taken notice and actively monitor discussion boards to under- Credibility becomes redefined stand what online communities think about their What are the implications of a distributed, collec- products.9 tive pool of knowledge on credibility? Arguably, the stakes go up. Online communities require The rise of new experts and watchdogs transparency of sources and reporting methods. News organizations have spent much time and Experts emerge through the recognition of their effort trying to position their journalists as more online peers rather than by anointment by the than impartial observers. They have in many mass media. ways tried to present them as experts in a field or For example, Glenn Fleishman, a freelance interpreters of events. This approach in a print or journalist in Seattle, has become one of the broadcast model makes perfect sense. world’s leading experts on wireless technology. Online, the world of opinion and expert com- He uses his weblog to both report on the latest mentary is not restricted to the privileged. But developments in wi-fi and to interact with read- forward-looking media companies don’t view ers who might point him to a new wrinkle in the that development as a threat. News organiza- fast-moving field.7 tions still have the resources to become known as In a digital medium, reputations form through the definitive authority on various subjects. They a synthesis of consistency, accuracy and frequent will have to make way, however, for readers who comparison by the reader. want pick up the tools of journalism to contribute Says author Howard Rheingold: “I think people to a more informed citizenry and a more robust who are dedicated to establishing a reputation democracy. for getting the story right and getting it first don’t For example, the news media and consumer necessarily have to work for The Washington non-profits no longer have a monopoly on serv- Post or The New York Times.” 8 ing as a watchdog on government and private Individuals, institutions, the government industry. Individuals and citizen groups are step- and even reporters use the Web to maintain a ping in to fill the void they believe has been cre- record of their encounters with other media. ated by lapses in coverage by big media. The Department of Defense routinely posts One of the more ambitious attempts is the transcripts of interviews with the Secretary of Government Information Awareness (GIA) proj- Defense and other high-ranking officials. ect by the MIT Media Lab, created in response to The motivation for self-publishing interviews the government’s Total Information Awareness appear to be twofold: To ensure that their words project, which aims to collect personal informa- aren’t misconstrued or misreported by the news tion on citizens and foreigners and analyze it to media and to publish a complete public record of preempt terrorist activities. 48 | Implications for media and journalism
  • 50. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information In a sense, GIA hopes to be Big Brother’s Big Media organization & culture Brother: “To allow citizens to submit intelligence Three incidents in the spring of 2003 point to the about government-related issues, while maintain- disruptive effects that the Internet has begun to ing their anonymity. To allow members of the gov- sow in newsrooms — a disruption that threatens ernment a chance to participate in the process.” 10 the status quo of news organization culture and, a site by the Center for policy. Responsive Politics, tracks campaign contribu- • In April 2003, The Hartford Courant required tions and corporate connections of government a travel editor and former columnist, Denis officials, from the president’s administration to Horgan, to stop posting commentary to his every member of Congress. weblog.16 Citizens are also taking up a media watchdog • A month earlier, CNN reporter Kevin Sites was role when it comes to chronicling perceived evi- told to discontinue posting to his blog, which dence of the news media’s political bias, censor- featured first-hand accounts of the war in Iraq. ship or reporting inaccuracies. According to a CNN spokesperson, “ Controversies surrounding the invasion of Iraq prefers to take a more structured approach to have fueled the launch of many sites. Mainstream presenting the news. ... We do not blog.”17 media has been criticized for under-reporting • Similarly, Time magazine editors instructed re- both coalition force and Iraqi civilian casualties.11 porter Joshua Kucera to stop posting reports In response, two sites — Iraq Coalition Casualty from Kurdistan to his weblog. Count and Iraq Body Count — have attempted to The resistance in media organizations to these establish independent databases that tabulate newer forms of expression is not surprising. But deaths by reviewing military and news reports.12 such incidents, which are likely to multiply, raise Each provides greater detail and accuracy than questions about the nature of the relationship currently found in mainstream news reports. The between journalists and their employers. sites also provide a transparency of sources and Is a journalist, by virtue of his or her newsroom methodology rarely found in other media. employment and access to newsmakers, not per- The Memory Hole, run by Russ Kick, is an mitted to express a personal opinion outside of example of a watchdog site that attempts to the office? Do media companies own an employ- preserve and share information that has been re- ee’s free time? Do such prohibitions apply only moved from other sites on the Web or is difficult to working journalists or to newsroom executives to find.13 as well? scrutinizes media practices that A chief concern on the part of news organiza- “marginalize the public interest.”14 Established tions is one of liability. Allowing reporters to in 1986, the organization highlights neglected write when off the clock might expose a company news stories, opposes efforts at censorship and to a lawsuit. In addition, news outlets may per- defends First Amendment precepts. ceive a reporter’s weblog as competition, since In a similar vein, the Tyndall Report monitors it potentially draws eyeballs away from a media the three major U.S. television networks’ nightly company’s advertisers. newscasts and the time devoted to each story.15 Yet, as media companies gear more of their In England, where the BBC is funded by pub- operations to an online audience that expects lic tax monies, groups like have a more interactive dynamic, things will have to sprung up to make sure the broadcast organiza- change. The collaborative and fast-paced nature tion stays true to its charter, which pledges jour- of online news will require new policies, technol- nalism that is impartial and comprehensive. ogies, organizational structures and workflows. In the wake of corporate scandals and greater The assembly-line nature of broadcast and influence-peddling in Washington, grassroots or- print media is not well-suited to developing ganizations are also turning a watchful eye toward content for smaller, more targeted audiences. corporate responsibility., a Content will likely be published in a more con- 4-year-old consumer organization in Portland, tinuous manner by teams or communities acting Ore., tries “to keep the commercial culture within as an extention of the enterprise. Eventually, its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploit- licensing and copyright policies will need to be ing children and subverting the higher values of reexamined to come into harmony with a collab- family, community, environmental integrity and orative audience model. democracy.” Moreover, measuring and managing the suc- Implications for media and journalism | 49
  • 51. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information cess of such collaborative ventures might be a topics of interest. challenge and force some rethinking about how “That’s one of the great challenges to us as news such projects are gauged within the larger orga- gatherers and journalists,” said Joan Connell, ex- nization. ecutive producer for opinion and community at Some news sites are experimenting on a small “How do we discover information scale by co-opting successful participatory media and share it in creative ways with people? Give models.’s Weblog Central section them the information they need to make the hosts a variety of analysts and columnists such choices in their lives as citizens.”20 as’s Glenn Reynolds and Eric believes that the editing process Alterman of The Nation. brings a higher degree of journalistic integrity Some of the more ambitious efforts have come to the news equation, and that’s one factor that from the United Kingdom. sets news organizations apart from personal Whereas many larger news sites keep links weblogs. to other sites to a minimum, Britain’s The “One of the values that we place on our own Guardian18 maintains many weblogs that guide weblogs is that we edit our webloggers. Out there readers to the best of the Web, including other in the blogosphere, often it goes from the mind of news sites. the blogger to the mind of the reader, and there’s The BBC has announced plans to make its no backup. …I would submit that that editing entire archives available for non-commercial function really is the factor that makes it journal- use. Called the BBC Creative Archive, it will offer ism.”21 more than 80 years of radio and broadcast pro- Universities will also need to shape their jour- grams free to anyone. nalism curricula to help students prepare for The BBC’s director general, Greg Dyke, said the working in this new media ecosystem and the decision was made based on their sense of where fast-changing tools needed. the Internet was heading: “I believe that we are A larger unknown for investigative reporters about to move into a second phase of the digital will be the impact of the Internet on sources. Now revolution, a phase which will be more about that we live on the cusp of a world in which every- public than private value; about free, not pay ser- one has the potential to be a reporter and a source, vices; about inclusivity, not exclusion. will that affect the behavior of sources when they “In particular, it will be about how public are approached by mainstream journalists? money can be combined with new digital tech- nologies to transform everyone’s lives.”19 Advertising and marketing When some media outlets start making partici- Clay Shirky believes that mass media are dead. patory media work effectively, media companies In his essay “RIP the Consumer 1900-1999,” he that dig in their heels and resist such changes suggests that mass media depend on two im- may be seen as not only old-fashioned but out portant characteristics of the audience: size and of touch. silence.22 According to recent Nielsen ratings reports, Journalism and the media workforce the TV audience continues to become more frag- Assuming that issues related to newsroom cul- mented, with new channels continuing to prolif- ture can be overcome, there are more hurdles erate. (Nightly network news viewership dropped facing the media. in half from 1993 to 2002.23) Today, an unquali- Along with a rethinking of journalism’s role in fied ratings champion is a fraction of what it was the online medium, new skills and attitudes will several years ago. Audiences, while still fairly be required. Staffs will need to be motivated to large, are diminishing in size. collaborate with colleagues, strangers, sources To Shirky, silence means that the audience and readers. After years of working their way up remains passive. The Internet has helped to frac- the professional ladder, some reporters will un- ture mass media by empowering the audience doubtedly need to discover a newfound respect to take a more active role when interacting with for their readers. Arrogance and aloofness are media. deadly qualities in a collaborative environment. “The Internet heralds the disappearance of the To be successful, reporters will need to be more consumer altogether,” Shirky writes, “because than skilled writers. They will have to hone their the Internet destroys the noisy advertiser/silent skills in growing communities around specific consumer relationship that the mass media relies 50 | Implications for media and journalism
  • 52. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information upon. The rise of the Internet undermines the news service run by a small staff of professional existence of the consumer because it undermines journalists who work with a national network of the role of mass media. In the age of the Internet, free-lance writers. Devoted to coverage of wom- no one is a passive consumer anymore because en’s issues, the site became a fully independent everyone is a media outlet.”24 operation in early 2002. In July 2003 it won four There are a number of challenges facing media journalism awards from the National Federation companies in the long run, if Shirky’s argument of Press Women and continues to probe issues is valid. often overlooked by the mainstream media.26 First, traditional media may need to rethink Occasionally, readers will dig into their own how to measure economic success. One option pockets to finance a journalism effort they find is to explore avenues for targeted, personalized worthwhile. Freelance journalist Christopher advertising aimed at individuals or small identifi- Allbritton received $14,334 from 320 people who able groups. Another is to consider the possibil- funded his trip to Iraq to report his first-hand ity of moving away from an advertising-support- observations of the war zone. He filed daily dis- ed business model and toward subscriptions and patches on his Web site,, about other pay-for-content models. Real-time data the fall of Tikrit and reported on the region’s eth- about readership and viewership might lead to nic tensions.27 new pricing rules where fixed pricing is replaced A freelance journalist from Maine, David by real-time market adjustments. Appel, asked readers of his weblog to pony up In addition, media companies will likely have to let him pursue an investigative story. After to devise new ways to present audiences to ad- receiving more than $200, Appel investigated a vertisers. Typically, standard demographics are sugar lobbying group’s attempt to get Congress to the measure of an audience. It may be that more kill funding for the World Health Organization, creative and descriptive measures of audiences, whose policies had offended corporate sugar based around psychographic characteristics, will interests.28 be devised. While war reporting and investigative reporting Such changes cannot happen without expecting remain the province of trained journalists, more a change in the relationship between businesses often citizens are taking up the tools of journal- and their customers. While many news sites have ism to write about favorite topics. Columnist J.D. experimented with personalization as a means Lasica calls these do-it-yourself entries “ran- to identify more targeted advertising opportu- dom acts of journalism,” as when Jessica Rios, nities,25 they have only fleetingly experimented a 22-year-old woman in Los Angeles, attended with new ways to allow consumers to interact a Coldplay concert and wrote a review of their with advertisers. performance on her weblog.29 The author Howard Rheingold is representa- Citizens as stakeholders tive of a new kind of reader who spends more in the journalistic process time with favorite weblogs and collaborative Increasingly, audiences are becoming stake- media than with traditional media. “The things holders in the news process. Rather than pas- I’m interested in, from pop culture to wireless sively accepting news coverage decided upon by policy to copyright, you have to go to the fanat- a handful of editors, they fire off e-mails, post ics,” he said.30 And those fanatics are more easily criticism of perceived editorial shortcomings on found in niche online media. weblogs and in forums, and support or fund an In the next chapter we explore the potential independent editorial enterprise. practical benefits of integrating participatory In June 2000 the NOW Legal Defense and journalism into mainstream news operations. Education Fund launched Women’s eNews, a Implications for media and journalism | 51
  • 53. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Endnotes 1 Michael J. Miller, “Rejecting the Tech Doomsayers,” PC Magazine, June 25, 2003. 2 J. Bradford DeLong, “Don’t Worry About Deflation,” Wired, August 2003. 3 Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations, compiled by James B. Simpson (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988). 4 Tim Layden, “Caught in the Net,” Sports Illustrated, May 19, 2003, p. 46. 5 Harry Beckwith’s book What Clients Love has an excellent essay on this subject called “Option and Information Overload,” p. 45-50. (Warner Books, Inc., 2003). 6 Pew Internet & American Life Project, The Internet and the Iraq war: How online Americans have use the Internet to learn war news, understand events, and promote their views, April 1, 2003. 7 See Glenn Fleishman’s weblog, Wi-Fi Networking News, at: 8 JD Lasica, “Where Net Luminaries Turn For News,” Online Journalism Review, Oct. 24, 2002. 9 EContent, “Brain Trust: Mining the Community Mind,” October 2001. 10 Government Information Awareness site: 11 Editor & Publisher, “Media Underplays U.S. Death Toll in Iraq,” July 17, 2003. 12 Iraq Coalition Casualty Count web site: Iraq Body Count web site: 13 Memory Hole site: 14 FAIR’s web site: 15 Tyndall Report site: 16 Carl Sullivan, “Hartford Paper Tells Employee to Kill Blog,” Editor & Publisher Online, April 24, 2003. 17 Susan Mernit, “Kevin Sites and the Blogging Controversy,” Online Journalism Review, April 3, 2003. 18 Guardian Unlimited weblog: 19 “Dyke to open up BBC archive,” BBC News, Aug. 24, 2003. 20 Terence Smith, “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” PBS, April 28, 2003. 21 Smith. 22 Clay Shirky, “RIP THE CONSUMER, 1900-1999,” published on his Web site,, May 2000. 23 The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Public’s News Habits Little Changed by September 11, June 9, 2002. 24 Shirky. 25 J.D. Lasica, “The Second Coming of Personalized News,” Online Journalism Review, April 2, 2002. 26 Women’s eNews, “Women’s eNews Wins Four Journalism Prizes,” July 29, 2003. 27 Spencer Ante, “Have Web Site, Will Investigate,” Business Week, July 28, 2003. 28 David Appell, “Sugar and Independent Journalism,” Quark Soup weblog, May 14, 2003. 29 J.D. Lasica, “Random acts of journalism,” New Media Musings weblog, March 12, 2003. 30 Lasica, “Where Net Luminaries Turn for News.” 52 | Implications for media and journalism
  • 54. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information CHAPTER 6 Potential benefits of We Media P articipatory journalism is not going to An involved, empowered audience could well disappear any time soon. Communication, bring a number of potential benefits to media collaboration and sharing personal pas- companies. From our research, we have com- sions have been at the heart of the Internet since piled the following list of benefits: its inception more than 30 years ago. David Weinberger, author of Small Pieces Increased trust in media Loosely Joined, says that this is because the Web According to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll is not just a giant marketplace or an information in June 2003, only 36 percent of those polled resource. Rather, “it’s a social commons on which believe the news media generally “get the facts the interests of a mass of individuals are splayed straight.”4 News media have their work cut out in universally accessible detail and trumpeted in in restoring their reputations and their readers’ an effectively infinite array of personal voices.”1 sense of trust. According to Scott Rosenberg, managing edi- Participatory journalism provides media com- tor of, what Weinberger reminds us is panies with the potential to develop a more loyal that “every Web site, every Internet posting mat- and trustworthy relationship with their audienc- ters to the person who created it — and maybe to es. This can happen, for example, with a reporter that person’s circle of site visitors, whether they who writes a weblog, asking the audience to fuel number 10 million or just 10.” her efforts by providing tips, feedback and first- “Individually, these contributions may be crude, hand accounts that confirm a story’s premise or untrustworthy, unnoteworthy. Collectively, they that take it in a different direction. We Media can represent the largest and most widely accessible also provide the audience a deeper level of under- pool of information and entertainment in human standing about the reporting process by illustrat- history. And it’s still growing.”2 ing, for example, how a reporter must balance If media companies are going to collaborate competing interests. This communication can with their audiences online, they must begin to lead to a lasting trust. consider a news and information Web site as a Time magazine media critic James Poniewozik platform that supports social interaction around explains how this is possible, when he describes the stories they create. These interactions are the perception gap between the audience and the as important as the narrative, perhaps more media about trust. “Journalists think trust equals so, because they are created and owned by the accuracy. But it’s about much more: passion, gen- audience. In a networked world, media whose uineness, integrity.”5 Honest conversation and primary value lies in its ability to connect people passionate collaboration could instill respect and will win.3 trust into the relationship between both parties. This chapter explores the potential benefits Involving an audience, either small or large, in to media companies and businesses that adopt the creation of content also gives them a sense of participatory journalism in meaningful ways. ownership — an affinity with the media brand Possible examples include enabling editors and that they believe they are not getting today — as reporters to publish a weblog about the subjects well as a more intimate relationship with the sto- they cover; hosting, moderating and participat- rytellers. ing in discussion forums or groups about news; encouraging audience contribution of editorial Shared responsibility content for distribution on a Web site or in a tra- in informing democracy ditional media product; enabling your readers to An audience that participates in the journalistic purchase online advertising through affordable process is more demanding than passive consum- text ads. The possibilities are limitless, as long as ers of news. But they may also feel empowered to it includes an effort to engage the audience in an make a difference. As a result, they feel as though authentic conversation and collaboration. they have a shared stake in the end result. Potential benefits of We Media | 53
  • 55. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information According to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, Newspapers.” authors of the book The Elements of Journalism, “What users do with content is more important citizens must take an active, collaborative role in than how content may affect users. Users are the journalistic process if we are to realize an ef- actively chasing discovery, rather than passively fective journalism that appropriately informs a being informed.”8 democracy. Ultimately, the authors argue, “journalists “Journalists must invite their audience into the today must choose. As gatekeepers they can process by which they produce the news,” Kovach transfer lots of information, or they can make and Rosenstiel write in their book. “They should users a smarter, more active and questioning take pains to make themselves and their work as audience for news events and issues.” transparent as they insist on making the people and institutions of power they cover. This sort The next generation of news consumers of approach is, in effect, the beginning of a new Increasing interactivity and enabling audience kind of connection between the journalist and the participation have an additional benefit — at- citizen. It is one in which individuals in the audi- tracting a younger audience, the next generation ence are given a chance to judge the principles by of news consumers. which the journalists do their work.” “Kids today expect to interact with their media,” “The first step in that direction has to be de- according to Steve Outing, a senior editor at the veloping a means of letting those who make up Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and an in- that market finally see how the sausage is make teractive media columnist for Editor & Publisher — how we do our work and what informs our Online. “From playing interactive online games, decisions.”6 to using instant messenger (IM) services to com- Many journalists who are already weblogging municate with friends, to interacting with their are doing just that — exposing the raw mate- television (by having control over when pro- rial of their stories-in-progress, posting complete grams are watched, and skipping commercials text of interviews after the story is published, and with devices like TiVo and ReplayTV), today’s inviting comments, fact checking and feedback kids expect their media to offer a two-way street that contribute to follow-up stories. of communication.”9 “A safe assumption is that when today’s chil- Memorable experiences created dren and teenagers reach adulthood, they’ll not Online interactive experiences are more memo- be tolerant of media that’s one-way, that’s not rable than relatively static experiences such as interactive. They expect to be able to manipulate newspapers, according to Web usability expert media content, and to share it with others. The Jakob Nielsen. “Moving around is what the Web one-way conversation of a printed newspaper is all about,” Nielsen explains. “When analyzing won’t do — thus print’s prospects for the young the ‘look-and-feel’ of a web site, the feel com- digital generation are not promising. Newspaper pletely dominates the user experience. After all, Web sites and other newspaper digital media doing is more memorable and makes a stronger formats likewise cannot afford to perpetuate the emotional impact than seeing.”7 one-way model. They’ve got to become more in- Collaborating and having a conversation with teractive.” audience members is sure to provide an even more meaningful and memorable experience Better stories — and better journalism than passive consumption of news. An interesting question, yet to be addressed Likewise, enabling your audience to talk about by research in this field, is: Does participatory and extend news stories also increases retention journalism — the process of collaboration and and understanding. When we read a story that conversation between media and the audience grabs us, we want to tell others, who will also — ultimately help create better stories and better likely tell others. Good stories are inherently in- storytellers? fectious. Sharing and discussing them is a natural “I’ve found that my readers definitely know extension of the experience. more than I do, and, to my benefit, they share “As users have greater effect upon the experi- their knowledge,” says San Jose Mercury News ence, they become more absorbed (immersed) technology columnist Dan Gillmor, who has been in the experience,” according to the authors of writing a weblog since 1999.10 a research study, “Interactive Features of Online Based on Gillmor’s experience and that of oth- 54 | Potential benefits of We Media
  • 56. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information ers in the field, reporters who write weblogs and or insights. Weblogs have been credited with collaborate with their audiences in various ways keeping in the public spotlight Sen. Trent Lott’s ultimately write more compelling and accurate statement expressing fondness for the Dixiecrat stories. One reason is that listening to and col- era of one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond, laborating with your audience helps to develop a a controversy that led to Lott stepping down as broader base of sources who are experts in wide- Senate majority leader.13 ranging subject matter. Journalism researcher Mark Deuze explains: A scalable virtual staff “The Internet as it wires millions of individuals An involved audience can play the role of a scal- as potential information experts into a global able virtual staff — a massive pool of grassroots communications infrastructure provides an ideal writers, commentators, photographers and platform for improving journalism by incor- videographers. Collaborating with them enables porating the expertise of people ‘outside of the media to be and go where they normally cannot, Rolodex.’ ”11 due to geography or cost. Sheila Lennon, a features and interactive For example, in the weeks leading up to the producer with, the Web site of The Iraq war, BBC News asked its worldwide audi- Providence Journal, says collaborating with the ence to send in digital images from anti-war audience “can make for better reporting, espe- protests held around the globe, then published a cially when sources contact me out of the blue slide show of the best images on its Web site.14 because they feel the know me from the weblog The events calendar on is a good and choose to trust me with their news.” example of building a virtual staff as well as Voice and personality are also key hallmarks editorial content getting better through user par- of participatory media. Several observers have ticipation. Craig E. Engler, a general manager at argued that the informal style found in many par-, says that one-quarter of all events on ticipatory forms free the writer from the “official the calendar are submitted by their fans. “They voice” of the media company, and that makes for usually send us things that we might otherwise better storytelling. The official voice of journalism miss on our own, so it balances our work nicely,” is usually formal, often drained of color and atti- Engler said.15 tude, and written as an objective and balanced ac- Using the audience as an extension of your count. In contrast, weblogs and discussion groups staff will help develop a broader base of editorial thrive on their vivid writing, controversial points voices and perspectives from diverse ethnic and of view and personality-rich nature — traits that social backgrounds. many readers find compelling. Columnist J.D. Lasica goes so far as to argue Fostering community that newspaper webloggers should not be sub- Traditionally, media companies have viewed ject to the newsroom’s routine editing filter. the concept of online community no differently On his weblog he called for a form of Editing than a section of a newspaper (à la Letters to the Lite: “Perhaps the chief appeal and attrac- Editor) or a segment of a newscast. It is some- tion of weblogs are their free-form, unfiltered thing that has been segregated from the news — a nature. You get to hear people in their natural closed-off annex where readers can talk and dis- dialect, writing from their gut with a voice and cuss, as long as the media companies don’t have tone that too often can be filtered into a ho- to be too involved. Such an architected virtual mogenous blandness after passing through the space is not a true online community. Real com- typical newsroom’s editing machine. A lightly munities have leaders, moderators and involved edited, hands-off weblog would show journalists participants who care about their space. as human beings with opinions, emotions and Participatory journalism helps develop real personal lives.”12 community around reporters, stories, and the Audience participation serves another salutary media company’s brand experience. With a function. The mainstream media tend to dispose weblog, for example, a reporter has a place to of stories in a fast-paced news cycle. Even impor- extend reporting, interact with readers, exercise tant news events often fall off the media’s radar personal conscience, and share some level of per- screen after 48 hours. The blogosphere and dis- sonality that might be absent from his “unbiased” cussion forums keep stories alive by recirculating reports. These are elements that attract real com- them and regurgitating them with new angles munity. Potential benefits of We Media | 55
  • 57. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information’s Lennon shared with us an excellent diving into the substance of their information. story describing how this occurred with a break- It reinforced that caring humans were reporting ing news story in February 2003. The rock band this story, and ‘Thank God for The Journal’ was Jack Russell’s Great White used a pyrotechnic commonly heard in those dark days.” display that triggered a fire and killed 97 people Using participatory journalism, Lennon in a Rhode Island nightclub called The Station. It engaged the readers in the reporting process, became a national story overnight.16 creating a community around a breaking news “When The Station nightclub fire happened, story as well as building a community around the I created a special weblog for that on The reporter’s brand and the newspaper’s brand. Providence Journal Web site, and it resulted in a real exchange of information. I was updating Network identity constantly with information found in the forums In the past 10 years there have been numerous at sites such as,, in news- scientific discoveries about how networks form groups and in smaller local papers and far-flung and behave. This has led us to understand that hometown papers of victims. networks are driven by hubs and nodes. “My e-mail address became a contact point. “There is a hierarchy of hubs that keep these Friends and relatives of victims e-mailed me the networks together, a heavily connected node URLs of pages set up for those in the hospital; the closely followed by several less connected ones, photo on the weblog of the club before the fire trailed by dozens of even smaller nodes,” writes originally came by e-mail from the mother of the Albert-László Barabási in his book Linked: The man who had painted the mural, and the National New Science of Networks. “No central node sits Fire Protection Association e-mailed me looking in the middle of the spider web, controlling and for the original. Clubs e-mailed information on monitoring every link and node.” hastily arranged benefits for the weekend after “Real networks are self-organized. They offer a the fire — and, in the course of calling to check vivid example of how the independent actions of details and confirm those benefits, I learned that millions of nodes and links lead to a spectacular the first of many clubs had been temporarily emergent behavior.”17 closed after a sudden wave of fire inspections and News media have traditionally viewed them- broke that news. selves as central nodes in the information net- “I was in the office of the deputy managing edi- work, with the power to control the ebb and flow tor as she read my story about it on the web site of news. On the Web, that is no longer possible. to the bureau manager in the closed club’s town. News sites that sit behind registration firewalls, It was the first he’d heard of it, and he was being or whose content is quickly moved into paid ar- dispatched to follow it up for the paper. chives, display the characteristics of a cul-de-sac “The readers became the sources as a com- rather than a connected node on a network. munity pooled its knowledge. The nature of this Adopting various forms of participatory jour- event, which involved so many people, so many nalism will increase the importance of your questions and reporting spread all over the web, company’s hub in the network economy. By would have led to the invention of a weblog on increasing the number of connections — though the spot even if I hadn’t already been weblogging weblogs, forums, XML syndication and collab- on the site. It was the only way to handle that orative publishing engines — the strength of a much incoming information in a way that invited media company’s node is enhanced. readers to add what they knew — or found — to In the next chapter, we look at various ways in our common body of knowledge. which media companies can retool themselves to “I answered every e-mail, and expressed my become a powerful force in an era of participa- sympathy to every friend and relative before tory journalism. 56 | Potential benefits of We Media
  • 58. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Endnotes 1 Scott Rosenberg paraphrasing of Weinberger’s concepts in “The media titans still don’t get it,”, Aug. 13, 2002. Also see: David Weinberger, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web (Perseus Publishing, March 2002). 2 Rosenberg. 3 Ellen Kampinsky, Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis, “Amazoning the News,”, February 2001. 4 James Poniewozik, “Don’t Blame It on Jayson Blair,” Time, June 9, 2003, p. 90.,9565,455835,00.html 5 Poniewozik. 6 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect (Three Rivers Press, 2001), 191-192. 7 Jakob Nielsen, “Differences Between Print Design and Web Design.” Published on the author’s Web site,, Jan. 24, 1999. 8 Keith Kenney, Alexander Gorelik and Sam Mwangi, “Interactive Features of Online Newspapers,”, December, 1999. 9 Steve Outing. “Newspapers: Don’t Blow it Again,” Stop The Presses column, Editor & Publisher Online, Feb. 13, 2003. 10 Dan Gillmor, “Here Comes We Media,” Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 2003. 03/1/gillmor.asp 11 Mark Deuze, “Online Journalism: Modelling the First Generation of News Media on the World Wide Web,”, Volume 6, Number 10 (October 2001). 12 J.D. Lasica, “Should newspaper bloggers be subjected to the editing filter?,” New Media Musings weblog, Feb. 5, 2003. 13 Mark Glaser, “Weblogs credited for Lott brouhaha,” Online Journalism Review, Dec. 17, 2002. 14 “Your pictures of the anti-war demonstrations,”, Feb. 18, 2003. Steve Outing also has documented several other excellent examples of audience photo submissions in his Stop The Presses column, “Photo Phones Portend Visual Revolution,” on Editor & Publisher Online, March 12, 2003. 15 From an e-mail interview conducted by the authors with Craig Engler, June 21, 2002. See events calendar: 16 Sheila Lennon’s story comes from an e-mail interview, conducted by the authors July 2003. You can see the reporting process unfold, if you read the weblog Sheila created on, starting from the bottom up. 17 Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks (Perseus Publishing, May 2002), Pg. 221. Potential benefits of We Media | 57
  • 59. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information CHAPTER 7 How media might respond M edia organizations will need to rethink emergent behavior of participatory journalism some of their basic ideas about jour- suggests that audiences want to create intimate nalism, organization and the role of connections with news organizations, reporters audience if they hope to remain indispensable and the stories they produce. The challenge in resources to their readers and viewers. newsrooms will be to persuade writers, editors This section explores effective ways of integrat- and advertisers to stop thinking in terms of a ing participatory journalism into existing media broadcast model (one-to-many) and to start operations. “thinking network” (one-to-one). At the strategic level, a corporation must de- Connections = Value cide: Is the value of your audience going to be Our research suggests a simple proposition for its size or the quality of its participation? Most media in the network economy: Connections likely, both factors will come into play. That leads equals Value. There are three types of connec- directly to the next set of questions: What is it tions that media should consider: worth to acquire participants? What are you will- 1. Continuous connections: Magazines and ing to do to keep them for the long term? newspapers need Internet counterparts that are providing continuous updates to their audience. Make your newsroom This doesn’t mean a web site filled with shovel- responsive to change ware content. It needs to be a 24x7x365, living, According to Albert-László Barabási, author of breathing, responsive extension of your brand. Linked: The New Science of Networks, media Increase the frequency of connections with daily e- organizations are tree networks. “The CEO sits at mail newsletters, weblogs, RSS feeds and forums. the root and the bifurcating branches represent 2. Network connections, online and off: the increasingly specialized and nonoverlap- Use your content (print and online) as a platform ping tasks of lower-level manager and workers,” to guide and direct readers to additional news, Barabási writes. “Responsibility decays as you information and experiences on the Web and move down the branches, ending with drone ex- in other media. Ultimately, this will make your ecutors of orders conceived at the roots.”1 content more valuable because it’s connected to This is the standard model of corporations, one similar information. As well, your customers’ that has been ingrained in their DNA for more media diet is becoming more varied and vast. than 100 years. Don’t leave your product in a cul-de-sac. “These days, however, the value is in ideas and 3. Intercast connections: A successful news information,” Barabási writes. “As companies Web site is a platform that supports social inter- face an information explosion and an unprec- action around the story. Print media must begin edented need for flexibility in a rapidly changing to engage and grow online community in order marketplace, the corporate model is in the midst to build affinity and loyalty to their brand experi- of a complete makeover. ence. Community members have a stake in your “The most visible element of this remaking is brand when they engage the journalistic process a shift from a tree to a web or network organiza- — by providing valuable commentary, displaying tion, flat and with lots of cross-links between the their mastery of a subject, offering grassroots nodes.” reporting and acting as filters for their fellow The internal remaking of media companies, readers. transforming them from tree organizations News organizations have policies, practices into web networks, is only one consequence of and traditions that discourage connections. a network economy, Barabási says. “Another Despite this, the audience is still managing to be- is the realization that companies never work come part of the news equation by creating links alone. They collaborate with other institutions, and commentary that center on news events. The adapting business practices proved successful in 58 | How media might respond
  • 60. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information other organizations.” In the case of participatory around them to do so as well. journalism, this means that media companies “The top-down structure of oligarchies usually will increasingly collaborate with their audience, makes it more difficult for individuals to be heard either directly in a one-on-one fashion, or indi- on abstract matters, such as ethics or questions rectly using audience-created communities such of conscience. As long as we have one newspaper as as leads for story generation. and only three or four TV stations doing news in But none of this will happen unless the media most cities, we cannot rely solely on the market- organization and its business culture are trans- place to protect journalism ethics.” formed.2 Such a radical change will not occur But providing journalists with some measure overnight. This is uncharted territory for most of autonomy goes beyond questions of ethics and large-scale change in corporations is fraught and conscience. Such a move can lead to more with pitfalls. compelling stories, fostering a closer relationship With media companies still generating respect- between audience and storyteller, outside of the able returns on investment, the smart money classic construct of a newspaper or TV station. will be on those organizations that can integrate Ultimately, the audience develops an allegiance successful experiments supported by better staff to those who are authentic and open in their pur- training, equipment and practices that encour- suit of journalism. age reporters and editors to interact with their News organizations and audiences will have audience. to become more comfortable with a duality they have wrestled with for years — journalist as ob- Give your staff some level of autonomy jective observer and as an informed conscience. Media companies must consider that the role of reporters and editors are in flux. Your audience Embrace the audience as valued partner wants a closer relationship with the storytellers. Critical to any participatory model is the under- Reporters and editors must find the proper bal- standing that the audience needs to play a mean- ance between encouraging audience participa- ingful role in the news process. tion and producing something ready for publica- relies upon thousands of citizen journalists to tion or broadcast — and finding that balance may produce the majority of the site’s daily content. prove difficult. While that model might appear extreme to Reporters and editors will need to be empow- many traditional news organizations, it illustrates ered to grow communities of interest online. As that there are thousands of people eager to con- the value of their communities grows so will it tribute to the news equation. Publications such enhance the value of the media organization. as the Santa Fe New Mexican, Dallas Morning However, we are increasingly seeing media News and BBC News have taken a step in that companies force their employees to make the direction by soliciting reader photographs, news choice between their jobs and their weblogs, accounts and other user-generated content.3 rather than trying to determine how blogging can News organizations also need to consider how serve the interests of both parties. Such control- to empower the audience as a valued intermedi- ling behavior on the part of media companies ary of the news. When deciding on what news to sends a negative message to their audiences. read, the audience often trusts other audience Readers begin to wonder, “If journalists can- members for recommendations before they trust not be heard, then what is the media company an editor. Thus, the popularity of “most-read hiding?” Weblogs are an excellent way for staff and most-emailed stories” pages on news sites. members and readers to bridge the communica- Likewise, this is one of the reasons why weblogs tion gap. are useful. Weblogs act as a filter on the news, A key component of what makes a good journal- helping its audience cut through the fat of the ist, according to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, news and get to what’s important to them. is an obligation to personal conscience. “Every News organizations face a challenge in decid- journalist — from the newsroom to the board- ing the extent to which they want to leverage au- room — must have a personal sense of ethics and dience participation and incorporate it into their responsibility — a moral compass,” they say in news products. their book The Elements of Journalism. “What’s more, they have a responsibility to voice their Embrace customers as innovators personal conscience out loud and allow others According to a Harvard Business Review article How media might respond | 59
  • 61. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information on turning your customers into innovators, or- create new products that enhance your news ganizations need to provide some type of free and information. Some blogging tools, such toolkit to effectively collaborate with their cus- as MovableType, have features that provide tomers.4 Here’s what a customer collaboration notifications when someone has commented toolkit for news media might contain: on a story. Integrating such functionality in news sites can greatly increase the interest • Open-source style guide: One of the hidden and goodwill of communities. parts of journalism is style. If media are going to enable its audience to produce news and in- Don’t own the story. Share the story. formation, then it behooves media to educate “We have to convince journalists that the con- its audience on the best ways to produce it. sumer owns the story,” says Dan Bradley, vice Why not make your style guide open source? president of broadcast news at Media General Being accurate, reliable and consistent has and former news director of WFLA-TV.7 value, and something like an open-source The last and perhaps most important step for style guide is critical to infecting social net- a media company to take is to relinquish control. works with the power to adopt journalism’s News media are geared to own a story. They best practices. The BBC offers its style guide shape it, package it and sell it. But that mindset online along with journalism courses.5 Many might make organization blind to the larger op- universities also post their style guides online. portunity. • Provide a journalism learning program: “The story itself is not the final product, it’s just For those audience members who really want the starting point, because ultimately the goal of to become full-fledged journalists, a learning every story is to start discussion, to start a lot of program is the next step. Such a program other people saying what they think about it,” would encompass writing, editing, audio, says Rusty Foster, founder of video and still photography. Participants “A story (on isn’t considered should do more than take notes; they should complete when it’s posted (online). That’s just the report on an event and then engage in a group beginning of the story, and then people post com- discussion that examines best practices. Such ments and discuss the story. And eventually, after a a course also must include an ethics guide. while, you have sort of a complete view of an issue Certification, or graduation, could be a require- because many people are talking about it.”8 ment for a participant to become a “trusted” Today, news media organizations are actually contributor. Media might consider adopting a story instigators. They track down important sto- program similar to MIT’s OpenCourseWare, ries and relay them to the world. Once they are which includes lecture notes, video lectures, released, stories transform and can take a life simulations and lab courses.6 of their own beyond the control of the news or- • Encourage low-cost content manage- ganization. The Internet community (and other ment solutions: Large newspaper sites use media) appropriates the stories, retells them, expensive and complicated content manage- comments on them, adds additional information ment systems, but that doesn’t mean their or overlooked angles, and reworks them as part audience should, too. Encourage audience of a broad-based web of ideas and information. members to create their own content. This, in That’s not only a good thing, it’s essential. If it’s turn, will make a more fertile ground for your not happening, it means your reporting has little content. If you cannot provide the publishing value to your audience. tools for them, guide them to open-source If journalism is indeed about informing the tools or other reasonable platforms. Consider community and lifting up our fellow citizens, we offering Web services, as Amazon, eBay and need to evolve. We need to tell better stories and, Google do, to provide audiences with a way to while doing so, we need to engage the world. 60 | How media might respond
  • 62. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Endnotes 1 Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks (Perseus Publishing, May 2002), p. 201. 2 See “Managing the Connected Organization,” by Valdis E. Krebs for advice on how to create effective connections within your organization. 3 J.D. Lasica, “Participatory Journalism Puts the Reader in the Driver’s Seat,” Online Journalism Review, Aug. 7, 2003. 4 Stefan Thomke, Eric Von Hippel, “Customers as Innovators: A New Way to Create Value,” Harvard Business Review, April 1, 2002. 5 BBC News Styleguide 6 MIT OpenCourseWare Also see David Diamond’s article, “MIT Everywhere,” which recounts the impact of MIT’s online learning program (Wired, September 2003). 7 Cory Bergman, “The Convergence Culture,” Web site, Feb. 18, 2002. 8 From a panel discussion, “Journalism’s New Life Forms: Community Publishing, Weblogging, Self-Broadcasting & More” at the Online News Association Annual Conference, Berkeley, Calif., Oct. 27, 2001. How media might respond | 61
  • 63. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information APPENDIX Resources for We Media Joichi Ito Weblogs & related sites Weblog by the CEO of Neoteny, a VC firm Hypergene MediaBlog Weblog about participatory journalism by the authors of this MediaSavvy paper, Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis Barry Parr’s analysis of media news and research New Media Musings E-Media Tidbits Weblog of J.D. Lasica, senior editor for OJR Collaborative weblog by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies about online media and journalism Weblogs and the News An introduction to blogging and journalism Online Community Report Free e-mail newsletter about online group collaboration Dan Gillmor’s eJournal Weblog of San Jose Mercury News technology columnist Design for Community Essays from Derek Powazek, author of book by same name Weblog by technology editor Jonathan Dube, sponsored by the American Press Institute. I Want Media Media news, interviews and resources by Patrick Phillips. Amateur Hour: the “Me” in Media Jonathan Peterson’s weblog about the democratization of media Romenesko Poynter Institute weblog on media industry news, commentary and internal memos Many-to-Many Collaborative weblog on social software Adrian Holovaty Weblog that focuses on design, usability of news Web sites. Clay Shirky Essays about media, community, open source and more Steven Berlin Johnson Weblog by the author of Emergence Seb’s Open Research Weblog on the evolution of knowledge sharing Mitch Ratcliffe Journalist whose blog covers business, technology and investing Meg Hourihan Weblog by the co-founder of Pyra, the company behind Blogger, and co-author of We Blog Jeff Jarvis Weblog by the president of Jason Kottke Weblog about Web technology, media and network science Matt Haughey Weblog by the co-author of We Blog and creator of the community weblog MetaFilter Evan Williams Weblog by CEO of Pyra, the company behind Blogger Marc Canter Weblog by the founder of MacroMind David Weinberger Weblog by author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined; co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto Blogosphere Weblog by Nicholas Jon on weblogging, new media Doc Searls Weblog by co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto; senior editor of Slashdot Linux Journal News for nerds, stuff that matters Dave Winer Kuro5hin Weblog by the creator of UserLand Software Technology and culture, from the trenches Nick Denton MetaFilter Weblog by the founder of Gawker and Gizmodo and former Community weblog, with topics that run the gamut chief executive of Moreover Technologies J-Log Journalism news and views from K. Paul Mallasch 62 | Appendix
  • 64. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information Creative Commons ONLINE COMMUNIT Y Released a set of copyright licenses free for use Design for Community: The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places First Monday by Derek M. Powazek Peer-reviewed journal on the Internet Web site: Pew Internet & American Life Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies Research and reports on the impact of the Internet for Successful Online Communities by Amy Jo Kim Research, resources and ideas to improve journalism The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier Online Journalism Review by Howard Rheingold Articles on new media by a staff at USC Annenberg Online Communities: Designing Usability and Supporting Online News Association Sociability 5-year-old organization devoted to enhancing online news by Jennifer Preece Instant Messaging Planet WEBLOGS News and research on instant messaging The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog W E B LO G I N D I C E S , R E S O U RC E S A N D S E ARCH by Rebecca Blood Blogdex: Author weblog: Daypop Top 40: We’ve Got Blog: How Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture Popdex: by Editors of Perseus Publishing, Rebecca Blood Technorati: Waypath: We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs by Paul Bausch, Meg Hourihan, Matt Haughey Photoblogs: Blogwise: Weblog: BlogStreet: Essential Blogging Organica: by Shelley Powers (Editor), et al (Paperback) Books Author weblog: N E T WO R K T H E O RY Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content by Biz Stone Linked: The New Science of Networks by Albert-László Barabási Running Weblogs With Slash Author site: by Chromatic, et al Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan J. Watts Blog On: Building Online Communities With Weblogs by Todd Stauffer Small Worlds by Duncan J. Watts JOURNALISM The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know Nexus: Small Worlds and the and the Public Should Expect Groundbreaking Science of Networks by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil by Mark Buchanan Warp Speed: Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order America in the Age of the Mixed Media Culture by Steven Strogatz by Bill Kovach, Tom Rosenstiel Emergence: The Connected Lives of News Values: Ideas for an Information Age Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Jack Fuller by Steven Johnson The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril The Tipping Point: How Little Things by Leonard Downie Jr., Robert G. Kaiser Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World The Emergence of Everything: by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Paul Waldman How the World Became Complex by Harold J. Morowitz Appendix | 63
  • 65. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information OT H E R DISCUSSION GROUPS SOFT WARE Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution Yahoo!Groups: by Howard Rheingold Topica: Weblog: GNUTELL A FILE SHARING (P2P) SOFT WARE Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web by David Weinberger Kazaa: Morpheus: Author weblog: LimeWire: TRUST: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order BearShare: by Francis Fukuyama Grokster: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and RSS XML NE WS READERS Revival of American Community NewzCrawler (PC): by Robert D. Putnam AmphetaDesk (cross-platform) The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected News Monster (cross-platform) World by Lawrence Lessig Radio UserLand (PC or Mac) The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Christopher Locke, et al NetNewsWire (Mac) The Visionary’s Handbook: Nine Paradoxes FeedReader (PC): That will Shape the Future of Your Business Headline Viewer (PC): by Watts Wacker, Jim Taylor Aggie News (PC): More news reader software The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets by Ryan Mathews, Watts Wacker XML FEED AGGREGATORS Syndic8: Tools News Is Free: W E B LO G S O F T WA R E COLL ABOR ATIVE PUBLISHING TOOLS Blogger: Slashcode: Movable Type: Scoop: TypePad: PHP-Nuke: Radio UserLand: Postnuke: pMachine: Wiki Engines: LiveJournal: OpenCMS Greymatter: b2: Open Source Content Management Systems Geeklog: iBlog (Mac): Groove Networks: Tripod Blog Builder: Zaplet Collaboration Software: Trellix: ActiveBuddy: Interactive Instant Messaging Software Xanga: Open source instant messaging platform WebCrimson: Weblog Compendium: F O RU M S O F T WA R E phpBB: Discus and DiscusPro: vBulletin: WebBoard: WebCrossing: Ultimate Bulletin Board (UBB) & OpenTopic Snitz Forums: Phorum: 64 | Appendix
  • 66. Insights, ideas and actions The Media Center is a non-profit research and educational organization committed to building a better-informed society in a connected world. The Media Center conducts research, educational programs and symposia and facilitates strategic conversations and planning on issues shaping the future of news, information and media. The Media Center helps leaders, organizations and educators around the world understand and create multimedia futures. Its programs and engagements provide innovation, knowledge and strategic insights for personal, professional and business growth. A division of The American Press Institute, The Media Center was established in 1997 to help the news industry devise strategies and tactics for digital media. In September 2003 it merged with New Directions for News, an independent think tank. The merger created a global, multi- disciplinary network of researchers and leading thinkers focused on the future of media and the behaviors of consumers in a media-centric world. For more on The Media Center’s programs, research and services, go to Headquarters The Media Center at the American Press Institute 11690 Sunrise Valley Drive Reston, Va. 20191-1498