The Emergence of Citizen’s Media

moderator: David Thorburn, Literature at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Dan Gillmor, Center for Citizen Media, Harvard University
author: Ellen Foley, Wisconsin State Journal
author: Alex Beam, The Boston Globe
published: Feb. 21, 2011,   recorded: September 2006,   views: 2639
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Extra, extra, browse all about it! The newspaper (as we know it) is history. As David Thorburn handily describes the situation: “The younger the cohort is, the less interested it is in printed materials and the more committed to emerging technologies. The implication is, within 25 to 30 years, there won’t be people who want to read newspapers.” These panelists discuss newspapers’ transformation in the digital age.

While Dan Gillmor thinks it would be a tragedy if traditional newspapers didn’t survive, the current Internet- based democratization of media, with easily accessed “tools of production,” isn’t all bad. “Journalism has been a lecture, where we tell you what the news is, and you either buy it or you don’t. Now it’s moving into something like a conversation.” In this changed world, news organizations ask the public what they know about things. Remember the camera phone photo from the London Underground bombings? Imagine if this technology had been available at the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, muses Gillmor. It wouldn’t have been one guy with a camera, “but 1,000, all connected to digital networks. We’d know if anyone was on the grassy knoll or just one guy in the book depository.”

Ellen Foley acknowledges that her widely read Wisconsin State Journal is a rarity among smaller newspapers. “Unless you’re in prison, you’re reading our paper, but you’re not paying for it,” she says. She attributes her paper’s robust reach to its Midwest philosophy of “being a good neighbor.” This means journalists must not only share information, but listen to what readers want. She applies this approach both to the newspaper and to the paper’s website, where users vote every day on what makes the front page. Foley worries about the financial viability of her paper, but also hopes that the revenue generated from 21st century Internet technology “will support the 20th century values of telling the truth and making a difference in communities.”

Alex Beam pronounces himself a “skeptic of citizens’ media, whatever that means.” He’s grateful to papers like The New York Times, which “get slammed for saying things people don’t want presented. This is a time of transition where we haven’t quite balanced the equities of the readers and the professionals.” And don’t count on linked websites to aid newspaper survival, says Beam. As The Boston Globe is learning, it’s “a hard business model” for the web to generate money either through ads, or by charging readers for access to specialized material, like Boston Red Sox coverage or opinion columns. Beam says, “We haven’t found the price point for editorial judgment, for mediating experience. We’re still floundering. In the so-called traditional newspaper industry, there’s a lot of fear about what we can charge for this.”

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