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We Media


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We Media

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 5. We Media | How audiences are shaping the future of news and information iv |
  6. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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