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Review: Dan Gillmor, “We the Media”

(Updated 1/05) As a sometime adjunct instructor at a couple of library schools, if I were teaching right now, I’d find a way to work “We the Media” into my syllabus, regardless of the class. For anyone remotely webby, “We the Media” is required reading.

“We the Media,” by respected Silicon Valley journalist (now citizen-journalism advocate) Dan Gillmor, is a crystal-clear description of the shifting state of journalism today, a lucid exploration of the new media that is forcing these changes, and a crash course in how people are using essential new technologies such as blogging and RSS. “We the Media” belongs both on new-book shelves in libraries and on the staff-reading shelves for librarians in any type of library or organization.

“We the Media” covers the rise of blogging, the consolidation of mainstream journalism, and the emergence of the “conversation” between readers and creators of news (who are increasingly one and the same). Gillmor manages to be both positive and observant about this phenomenon without falling victim to the googly-eyed uncritical adoration that makes some of the books of last century’s dot-com boom such embarrassing reads. He acknowledges that blogs are still “crude,” that credibility matters, and that journalists are scrambling to keep up with the technologies, and he’s not too proud to list his own encounters with spin doctors and flacks. Gillmor is also no fan of the scenario (Utopian or dystopian, depending on your bent) in which all news is home-grown; he argues that “institutional journalism” needs a successful business model so that as a profession it can use its clout to “fight the good fights.” Nevertheless, “We the Media” is upbeat and refreshing, and will bring blogging to the dinner table, if not the computer desktop, for many of his readers.

Throughout the book–a quick 250-page read with a nice accompanying Web site,— Dan Gillmor uses accessible and entertaining examples to illustrate the evolving world of the three constituent groups he describes–journalists, newsmakers, and “the former audience.” Many of his examples will be at least vaguely familiar to readers, such as the Dean campaign (as Gillmor points out, the miracle is that Dean got as far as he did, and the blogging world played a key role in that). Some examples will be new to many readers, such as the wonderful anecdote leading the book, in which real-time blogging changed audience reaction during a presentation by a CEO.

I only wish the book had gone farther into prescriptions for participants in this new “conversation.” The chapter “Trolls, Spin, and the Boundaries of Trust” explores the problems of integrity and authority, but I kept waiting for Gillmor to lay the Commandments for new journalism. Maybe that’s just a book that needs to be written.

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