All information isn’t equal, not in quality or reliability.
~ Dan Gillmor
As print and broadcast give way to the Digital Age, the media are in upheaval. The changes have sparked fascination, confusion and peril—especially when it comes to news, which is so essential in democracies.
We need a media environment that serves us, both as individuals and as a society. Yet turmoil in journalism threatens our ability oversee the people who act on our behalf. Media participation is critical to avoiding this threat: not just to keep politicians in check but also to balance the power of the whole crazy range of people we rely on—police and doctors and energy executives and pharmaceutical researchers and bankers, and all the other people who make decisions that affect us without requiring or allowing our direct input. Solid journalism helps keep those people working on our behalf (and it keeps us honest, when we work on behalf of others).
The turmoil is inspiring large numbers of ideas and experiments from people who know the risks and want to help create a valuable media in this new century. The experiments fascinate me as a writer on media and the Internet, and they fascinate my students at New York University and Harvard. They differ in small and large ways, but most have at least one thing in common: They imagine trying to fix the supply of news, either by vetting or filtering sources in such a way as to preserve the old, relatively passive grazing habits of 20th century news consumers. [Boldface mine]
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The excerpt above is from Clay Shirky’s foreword in Mediactive, a Creative Commons-licensed book that speaks to every blogger and citizen journalist out there about the great responsibilities of media creators, as well as our shared possibilities for moving forward in an information environment that causes confusion more than clarity. The book was written by Dan Gillmor, who runs the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University and who describes himself as “involved in citizen-media efforts, and am a blogger, author, media investor and co-founder of several online businesses.”
The book itself is a breakthrough because it adheres to the very principles that it espouses, especially that of demanding transparency, and is available for free on the site or as a downloadable PDF (of course, Kindle and Lulu versions are available, too). It sets a great example for every blogger, every blog collective, and everyone who dares call himself or herself a “citizen journalist” because, as well all know, unethical practices abound in this field. It shares principles for responsible citizen journalism, shares stories and case studies, and could very well be a handbook for this generation of media creators. I haven’t yet read the whole book, and I certainly have not been paid to endorse this, but I most certainly will read it and even donate on the site. We need to keep great things like this going.
In closing, let me share another excerpt–this time, from Mr. Gillmor’s introduction.
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Welcome to 21st century media. Welcome to the era of radically democratized and decentralized creation and distribution, where almost anyone can publish and find almost anything that others have published. Welcome to the age of information abundance.
And welcome to the age of information confusion: For many of us, that abundance feels more like a deluge, drowning us in a torrent of data, much of whose trustworthiness we can’t easily judge. You’re hardly alone if you don’t know what you can trust anymore.
But we aren’t helpless, either. In fact, we’ve never had more ways to sort out the good from the bad: A variety of tools and techniques are emerging from the same collision of technology and media that has created the confusion. And don’t forget the most important tools of all—your brain and curiosity.
Many people who know me and my work may find what I just said ironic. After all, I’ve spent the past decade or more telling anyone who’d listen about the great promise of citizen media—democratized digital media tools and increasingly ubiquitous digital networks.
Make no mistake: I believe in the potential of citizen media more than ever, partly because I’ve seen some wonderful experiments that prove out the potential.
But the more thoughtful critics of citizen media aren’t wrong about their main point: All information isn’t equal, not in quality or reliability.
I care, as you probably do if you’ve picked up this book, about an undeniable reality: As media become more atomized, more and more unreliable information, or worse, makes its way into what we read, listen to and watch.
Still, I can’t contain my growing excitement about the opportunities for participation that digital media have given us. I suspect you share some of that energy, too. Whether you realize it or not, you’re almost certainly a media creator yourself to at least a tiny extent—and creative activity is intimately linked to the process of sorting out the good from the bad, the useful from the useless, the trustworthy from the untrustworthy.
Does this sound daunting? Relax. In reality, this is a much more natural and logical—and fun—process than you might be imagining.
At the risk of being too cute, I’ve mashed together two words—media and active—that describe my goal in this book, website and accompanying materials: I want to help you become mediactive. [Boldface mine]
“Mediactive.” In this day and age, in this society, do the responsible citizen journalists out there have any other choice?