We Media: How Audiences Are Shaping The Future Of News And Information

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T H I N K I N G PA P E RWe MediaHow audiences are shaping the future of news and informationBy Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis

T H I N K I N G PA P E RWe MediaHow audiences are shaping the future of news and informationBy Shayne Bowman and Chris WillisEdited by J.D. LasicaCommissioned by The Media Center at The American Press Institute.Published July 2003 online in PDF and HTML: www.hypergene.net/wemedia/Cover illustration by Campbell Laird, www.campbelllaird.com

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and informationCopyright 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 2.0License. To view a copy of this license, visit r send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.Published online in PDF and HTML formats, July diacenter.org/mediacenter/research/wemedia/Edited by J.D. Lasica, Senior Editor, Online Journalism Review, http://www.jdlasica.com/Cover illustration by Campbell Laird, www.campbelllaird.comDesign by Shayne Bowman, www.hypergene.netAbout The Media CenterThe Media Center is a non-profit research and educational organization committed to building abetter-informed society in a connected world. The Media Center conducts research, educationalprograms and symposia and facilitates strategic conversations and planning on issues shaping thefuture of news, information and media.The Media Center helps leaders, organizations and educators around the world understand andcreate multimedia futures. Its programs and engagements provide innovation, knowledge andstrategic insights for personal, professional and business growth.A division of The American Press Institute, The Media Center was established in 1997 to help thenews industry devise strategies and tactics for digital media. In September 2003 it merged with NewDirections for News, an independent think tank. The merger created a global, multi-disciplinarynetwork of researchers and leading thinkers focused on the future of media and the behaviors ofconsumers in a media-centric world.For more on The Media Center’s programs, research and services, go to www.mediacenter.org.ContactsAndrew Nachison, director703. 620. 3611 andrew@mediacenter.orgDale Peskin, co-director703. 620. 3611 dale@mediacenter.orgGloria Pan, communications director703.620. 3611 gpan@mediacenter.orgHeadquartersThe Media Center at the American Press Institute11690 Sunrise Valley DriveReston, Va. 20191-1498ii

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and informationTable of ContentsIntroduction by Dale PeskinvForeword by Dan Gillmorvi1. Introduction to participatory journalism72. Behind the explosion of participatory media153. How participatory journalism is taking form214. The rules of participation385. Implications for media and journalism476. Potential benefits of adopting We Media537. How media might respond58Appendix: Additional bibliography62 iii

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and informationiv

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and informationIntroductionThere are three ways to look at how societyis informed.The first is that people are gullible andwill read, listen to, or watch just about anything.The second is that most people require an informed intermediary to tell them what is good,important or meaningful. The third is that peopleare pretty smart; given the means, they can sortthings out for themselves, find their own versionof the truth.The means have arrived. The truth is outthere.Throughout history, access to news and information has been a privilege accorded to powerfulinstitutions with the authority or wealth to dominate distribution. For the past two centuries, anindependent press has served as advocate forsociety and its right to know — an essential roleduring an era of democratic enlightenment.It feels like a new era has been thrust upon us— an era of enlightened anxiety. We now knowmore than ever before, but our knowledge creates anxiety over harsh truths and puzzlingparadoxes. What is the role of the storyteller inthis epoch? How will an informed, connectedsociety help shape it? How does the world lookwhen news and information are part of a sharedexperience?For more than 15 years, NDN and The MediaCenter have provided prescient insights aboutthe changes confronting news, information andmedia. We commissioned We Media as a wayto begin to understand how ordinary citizens,empowered by digital technologies that connectknowledge throughout the globe, are contributing to and participating in their own truths, theirown kind of news. We asked seasoned, visionary journalists — innovators like Dan Gillmor,technology columnist for The San Jose MercuryNews, and news media editor-author JD Lasica— to help frame a conversation about the promise and pitfalls of citizen-based, digital media inan open society.The conversation is just beginning. I have always believed that a good story gets around.At some level, We Media will reveal somethingabout society and the way people learn from eachother.— Dale PeskinCo-Director, The Media Center v

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and informationForewordIn March 2002, at the annual PC Forumconference in suburban Phoenix, a telecommunications chief executive found himself onthe receiving end of acerbic commentary froma pair of weblog writers who found his on-stagecomments wanting. Joe Nacchio, then the headof Qwest Communications, was complainingabout the travails of running his monopoly. DocSearls, a magazine writer, and I were posting onour blogs via the wireless conference network.A lawyer and software developer named BuzzBruggeman, “watching” the proceedings from hisoffice in Florida, e-mailed both of us a note pointing to a Web page showing Nacchio’s enormouscash-in of Qwest stock while the share price washeading downhill. We noted this in our blogs,and offered virtual tips of the hat to Bruggeman.Many in the audience were online, and some wereamusing themselves reading our comments. Themood toward Nacchio chilled.Were we somehow responsible for turning theaudience against Nacchio? Perhaps the bloggingplayed a small role, though I’m fairly sure he wasmore than capable of annoying the crowd all byhimself. But the incident was a wakeup call. It reflected the power of blogs, a form of participatoryjournalism that has exploded into popularity inrecent years. And it showed how these techniquesare irrevocably changing the nature of journalism, because they’re giving enormous new powerto what had been a mostly passive audience inthe past.I’ve been lucky enough to be an early participant in participatory journalism, having beenurged almost four years ago by one of the weblogsoftware pioneers to start my own blog. Writingabout technology in Silicon Valley, I used theblog to generate even more feedback from myaudience.That audience, never shy to let me know whenI get something wrong, made me realize something: My readers know more than I do. Thishas become almost a mantra in my work. It isby definition the reality for every journalist, nomatter what his or her beat. And it’s a great opportunity, not a threat, because when we ask ourreaders for their help and knowledge, they arewilling to share it — and we can all benefit. Ifmodern American journalism has been a lecture,it’s evolving into something that incorporates aconversation and seminar.vi This is all about decentralization. Traditionallycentralized news-gathering and distributionis being augmented (and some cases will bereplaced) by what’s happening at the edges ofincreasingly ubiquitous networks. People arecombining powerful technological tools andinnovative ideas, fundamentally altering thenature of journalism in this new century. Thereare new possibilities for everyone in the process:journalist, newsmaker and the active “consumer”of news who isn’t satisfied with today’s product— or who wants to make some news, too. Oneof the most exciting examples of a newsmaker’sunderstanding of the possibilities has been thepresidential campaign of Howard Dean, the firstserious blogger-candidate, who has embraceddecentralization to the massive benefit of hisnomination drive.Participatory journalism is a healthy trend,however disruptive it may be for those whoseroles are changing. Some of the journalismfrom the edges will make us all distinctly uncomfortable, raising new questions of trust andveracity. We’ll need, collectively, to develop newstandards of trust and verification; of course, thelawyers will make some of those new rules. Andtoday’s dominant media organizations — led byHollywood — are abusing copyright laws to shutdown some of the most useful technologies forthis new era, while governments increasinglyshield their activities from public sight and makerules that effectively decide who’s a journalist. Ina worst-case scenario, participatory journalismcould someday require the permission of BigMedia and Big Government.But I’m optimistic, largely because the technology will be difficult to control in the long run, andbecause people like to tell stories. The new audience will be fragmented beyond anything we’veseen so far, but news will be more relevant thanever.NDN and The Media Center have put togetheran excellent overview on a topic that is only beginning to be understood. Participatory journalism is a big piece of our information future. We’reall in for a fascinating, and turbulent, ride in theyears ahead. Welcome aboard.— Dan GillmorThe San Jose Mercury NewsJuly 2003

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and informationCHAPTER 1Introduction to participatory journalismIn his 1995 book Being Digital, NicholasNegroponte predicted that in the future, online news would give readers the ability tochoose only the topics and sources that interested them.“The Daily Me,” as Negroponte called it, worried many guardians of traditional journalism.To actively allow a reader to narrow the scopeof coverage, observed some, could underminethe “philosophical underpinnings of traditionalmedia.”1The vision that seemed cutting edge and worrisome eight years ago seems to have come partlytrue. The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, TheWashington Post and CNN, to name a few, alloffer readers some degree of personalization onthe front pages of their sites.Millions of Yahoo members customize theirMyYahoo personal news portal with the samenews wire reports that editors use in daily newspapers across the globe. Google’s news page usesa computer algorithm to select headlines fromthousands of news sites — creating a global newsstand, of sorts.And media outlets from Fox News and theDrudge Report to individual weblogs offerthe kind of opinionated slant to the news thatNegroponte envisioned.But is the future of online news simply a continued extrapolation of this trend – news a lacarte? Does greater personalization necessarilymean greater understanding for a democracy?In the view of futurist and author WattsWacker, the question is not about greater personalization but about greater perspectives.According to Wacker, the world is moving fasterthan people can keep up with it. As a result, thereare fewer common cultural references that can beagreed upon. Ideas, styles, products and moresaccelerate their way from the fringe to the mainstream with increasing speed.To combat the confusion, consumers are seeking more perspectives, Wacker says.2 They research an automobile for purchase by spendingtime online and reading both professional andamateur reviews alike.But what are they doing when it comes to news?And what will they be doing in the future?To understand that, Wacker advises, you mustseek out people from the future today and studythem.3 How do you find people from the future?Locate early adopters — people who are usingand appropriating technology in new ways.In South Korea, it looks like one future of online news has arrived a few years early.OhmyNews.com is the most influential onlinenews site in that country, attracting an estimated2 million readers a day. What’s unusual aboutOhmyNews.com is that readers not only can pickand choose the news they want to read – they alsowrite it.With the help of more than 26,000 registeredcitizen journalists, this collaborative onlinenewspaper has emerged as a direct challenge toestablished media outlets in just four years.4Unlike its competitors, OhmyNews has embraced the speed, responsiveness and community-oriented nature of the Web.Now, it appears, the vision of “The Daily Me” isbeing replaced by the idea of “The Daily We.”The rise of “we media”The venerable profession of journalism findsitself at a rare moment in history where, for thefirst time, its hegemony as gatekeeper of thenews is threatened by not just new technologyand competitors but, potentially, by the audienceit serves. Armed with easy-to-use Web publishingtools, always-on connections and increasinglypowerful mobile devices, the online audience hasthe means to become an active participant in thecreation and dissemination of news and information. And it’s doing just that on the Internet: According to the Pew Internet Project, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, generated themost traffic to traditional news sites in the history of the Web. Many large news sites buckledunder the immense demand and people turnedto e-mail, weblogs and forums “as conduits forinformation, commentary, and action relatedto 9/11 events.”5 The response on the Internetgave rise to a new proliferation of “do-it-yourself journalism.” Everything from eyewitnessaccounts and photo galleries to commentaryIntroduction to participatory journalism 7

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and information and personal storytelling emerged to helppeople collectively grasp the confusion, angerand loss felt in the wake of the tragedy.During the first few days of the war in Iraq,Pew found that 17 percent of online Americansused the Internet as their principal source ofinformation about the war, a level more thanfive times greater than those who got theirnews online immediately after the Sept. 11terrorist attacks (3 percent). The report alsonoted that “weblogs (were) gaining a following among a small number of Internet users(4 percent).”6Immediately after the Columbia shuttle disaster, news and government organizations,in particular The Dallas Morning News andNASA, called upon the public to submit eyewitness accounts and photographs that mightlead to clues to the cause of the spacecraft’sdisintegration.7ABCNews.com’s The Note covers 2004 political candidates and gives each an individual weblog to comment back on what was reported.8In addition, presidential candidate HowardDean guest-blogged on Larry Lessig’s weblogfor a week in July 2003. (A future presidentof the United States might be chosen not onlyon his or her merits, charisma, experience orvoting record but on the basis of how well heor she blogs.)College coaches, players and sports mediaoutlets keep constant vigil on numerous fanforum sites, which have been credited witheverything from breaking and making newsto rumor-mongering. “You can’t go anywhereor do anything and expect not to be seen, because everyone is a reporter now,” says StevePatterson, who operates ugasports.com, a Website devoted to University of Georgia sports.9Before the Iraq war, the BBC knew it couldn’tpossibly deploy enough photojournaliststo cover the millions of people worldwidewho marched in anti-war demonstrations.Reaching out to its audience, the BBC Newsasked readers to send in images taken withdigital cameras and cell phones with built-incameras, and it published the best ones on itsWeb site.10Weblogs come of ageThe Internet, as a medium for news, is maturing. With every major news event, online mediaevolve. And while news sites have become moreresponsive and better able to handle the growing8 Introduction to participatory journalismdemands of readers and viewers, online communities and personal news and informationsites are participating in an increasingly diverseand important role that, until recently, has operated without significant notice from mainstreammedia.While there are many ways that the audienceis now participating in the journalistic process,which we will address in this report, weblogshave received the most attention from mainstream media in the past year.Weblogs, or blogs as they are commonlyknown, are the most active and surprising formof this participation. These personal publishingsystems have given rise to a phenomenon thatshows the markings of a revolution — giving anyone with the right talent and energy the ability tobe heard far and wide on the Web.Weblogs are frequently updated online journals, with reverse-chronological entries andnumerous links, that provide up-to-the-minutetakes on the writer’s life, the news, or on a specificsubject of interest. Often riddled with opinionated commentary, they can be personally revealing (such as a college student’s ruminations ondorm life) or straightforward and fairly objective(Romenesko). (We discuss weblogs in greaterdetail in Chapter 3.)The growth of weblogs has been largely fueledby greater access to bandwidth and low-cost,often free software. These simple easy-to-usetools have enabled new kinds of collaborationunrestricted by time or geography. The resultis an advance of new social patterns and meansfor self-expression. Blog-like communities likeSlashdot.org have allowed a multitude of voicesto participate while managing a social order andproviding a useful filter on discussion.Weblogs have expanded their influence byattracting larger circles of readers while at thesame time appealing to more targeted audiences.“Blogs are in some ways a new form of journalism, open to anyone who can establish and maintain a Web site, and they have exploded in thepast year,” writes Walter Mossberg, technologycolumnist for the Wall Street Journal.“The good thing about them is that they introduce fresh voices into the national discourse onvarious topics, and help build communities ofinterest through their collections of links. Forinstance, bloggers are credited with helping toget the mainstream news media interested in theracially insensitive remarks by Sen. Trent Lott(R.-Miss.) that led to his resignation as Senate

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and informationmajority leader.”11Mossberg’s description of weblogs as a newkind of journalism might trouble established,traditionally trained journalists. But it is a journalism of a different sort, one not tightly confinedby the traditions and standards adhered to by thetraditional profession.These acts of citizen engaging in journalism arenot just limited to weblogs. They can be found innewsgroups, forums, chat rooms, collaborativepublishing systems and peer-to-peer applications like instant messaging. As new forms ofparticipation have emerged through new technologies, many have struggled to name them.As a default, the name is usually borrowed fromthe enabling technology (i.e., weblogging, forumsand usenets).The term we use — participatory journalism— is meant to describe the content and the intentof online communication that often occurs in collaborative and social media. Here’s the workingdefinition that we have adopted:Participatory journalism: The actof a citizen, or group of citizens, playingan active role in the process of collecting,reporting, analyzing and disseminatingnews and information. The intent of thisparticipation is to provide independent,reliable, accurate, wide-ranging andrelevant information that a democracyrequires.Participatory journalism is a bottom-up, emergent phenomenon in which there is little or noeditorial oversight or formal journalistic workflow dictating the decisions of a staff. Instead, itis the result of many simultaneous, distributedconversations that either blossom or quickly atrophy in the Web’s social network (see Figure 1.1– Top-down vs. Bottom-up).While the explosion of weblogs is a recentphenomenon, the idea of tapping into your audience for new perspectives or turning readersinto reporters or commentators is not. Manynews organizations have a long history of tappinginto their communities and experimenting withturning readers into reporters or commentators.In the early 1990s, newspapers experimentedwith the idea of civic journalism, which soughtparticipation from readers and communities inthe form of focus groups, polls and reaction todaily news stories. Most of these early projectscentered around election coverage. Later, news-papers sought to involve communities in majordeliberations on public problems such as race,development and crime.According to a report from the Pew Center forCivic Journalism, at least 20 percent of the 1,500daily U.S. newspapers practiced some form ofcivic journalism between 1994 and 2001. Nearlyall said it had a positive effect on the community.12Civic journalism has a somewhat controversialreputation, and not everyone is convinced of itsbenefits. While civic journalism actively tries toencourage participation, the news organizationmaintains a high degree of control by setting theagenda, choosing the participants and moderating the conversation. Some feel that civic journalism is often too broad, focusing on large issuessuch as crime and politics, and not highly responsive to the day-to-day needs of the audience.13Yet, the seed from which civic journalismgrows is dialogue and conversation. Similarly, adefining characteristic of participatory journalism is conversation. However, there is no centralnews organization controlling the exchange ofinformation. Conversation is the mechanismthat turns the tables on the traditional roles ofjournalism and creates a dynamic, egalitariangive-and-take ethic.The fluidity of this approach puts more emphasis on the publishing of information rather thanthe filtering. Conversations happen in the community for all to see. In contrast, traditional newsorganizations are set up to filter informationbefore they publish it. It might be collaborativeamong the editors and reporters, but the debatesare not open to public scrutiny or involvement.John Seely Brown, chief scientist of XeroxCorp., further elaborates on participatory journalism in the book The Elements of Journalism:“In an era when anyone can be a reporter or commentator on the Web, ‘you move to a two-wayjournalism.’ The journalist becomes a ‘forumleader,’ or a mediator rather than simply a teacher or lecturer. The audience becomes not consumers, but ‘pro-sumers,’ a hybrid of consumerand producer.”14Seely Brown’s description suggests a symbioticrelationship, which we are already seeing. Butparticipatory journalism does not show evidenceof needing a classically trained “journalist” to bethe mediator or facilitator. Plenty of weblogs, forums and online communities appear to functioneffectively without one.This raises some important questions: If parIntroduction to participatory journalism 9

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and information ticipatory journalism has risen without the directhelp of trained journalists or news industry initiatives, what role will mainstream media play?And are mainstream media willing to relinquishsome control and actively collaborate with theiraudiences? Or will an informed and empoweredconsumer begin to frame the news agenda fromthe grassroots? And, will journalism’s valuesendure?Journalism at a crossroadsIn his 1996 book News Values, former Chicago10 Introduction to participatory journalismTribune publisher Jack Fuller summed it up well:“The new interactive medium both threatens thestatus quo and promises an exciting new way oflearning about the world.” This deftly describesboth camps of opinion concerning participationby the audience in journalism.15It’s not just the Internet that threatens the status quo of the news business. In their 2001 bookThe Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach andTom Rosenstiel make a compelling argumentthat the news business is undergoing “a momentous transition.”

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and informationOhmyNews is themost influentialonline news sitein South Korea,attracting anestimated 2million readersa day. It isproduced bymore than 26,000registered citizenjournalists.According to the authors, each time there hasbeen a period of significant, social, economicand technological change, a transformation innews occurred. This happened in the 1830s-40swith the advent of the telegraph; the 1880s witha drop in paper prices and a wave of immigration;the 1920s with radio and the rise of gossip and celebrity culture; the 1950s at the onset of the ColdWar and television.The arrival of cable, followed by the Internetand mobile technologies, has brought the latest upheaval in news. And this time, the changein news may be even more dramatic. Kovachand Rosenstiel explain, “For the first time inour history, the news increasingly is producedby companies outside journalism, and this neweconomic organization is important. We are facing the possibility that independent news will bereplaced by self-interested commercialism posing as news.”16Kovach and Rosenstiel argue that new technology, along with globalization and the conglomeration of media, is causing a shift away fromjournalism that is connected to citizen buildingand one that supports a healthy democracy.Clearly, journalism is in the process of redefining itself, adjusting to the disruptive forces surrounding it. So it’s no surprise that discussionsabout forms of participatory journalism, such asweblogs, are frequently consumed by defensivedebates about what is journalism and who canlegitimately call themselves a journalist.While debating what makes for good journalismis worthwhile, and is clearly needed, it preventsthe discussion from advancing to any analysisabout the greater good that can be gained fromaudience participation in news. Furthermore, thedebate often exacerbates the differences primarily in processes, overlooking obvious similarities.If we take a closer look at the basic tasks andvalues of traditional journalism, the differencesbecome less striking.From a task perspective, journalism is seenas “the profession of gathering, editing, andpublishing news reports and related articles fornewspapers, magazines, television, or radio.”17In terms of journalism’s key values, thereis much debate. After extensive interviewswith hundreds of U.S. journalists, Kovach andRosenstiel say that terms such as fairness, balance and objectivity are too vague to rise to essential elements of this profession. From theirresearch, they distilled this value: “The primarypurpose of journalism is to provide citizens withthe information they need to be free and self-governing.”18In the case of the aforementioned South Koreannews site, we see that traditional journalism’sbasic tasks and values are central to its ethos.The difference essentially boils down to a redistribution of control – a democratization of media.“With OhmyNews, we wanted to say goodbye to20th-century journalism where people only sawthings through the eyes of the mainstream, conservative media,” said Oh Yeon-ho, editor andfounder of South Korea’s Ohmynews.com.19Introduction to participatory journalism 11

We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and information “The main concept is that every citizen can bea reporter,” Yeon-ho says. “A reporter is the onewho has the news and who is trying to informothers.”20The new evolving media ecosystemThe most obvious difference between participatory journalism and traditional journalism is thedifferent structure and organization that producethem.Traditional media are created by hierarchicalorganizations that are built for commerce. Theirbusiness models are broadcast and advertisingfocused. They value rigorous editorial workflow,profitability and integrity. Participatory journalism is created by networked communities thatvalue conversation, collaboration and egalitari12 Introduction to participatory journalismanism over profitability.Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor at New YorkUniversity who has consulted on the social andeconomic effects of Internet technologies, seesthe difference this way: “The order of things inbroadcast is ‘filter, then publish.’ The order incommunities is ‘publish, then filter.’ If you goto a dinner party, you don’t submit your potential comments to the hosts, so that they can tellyou which ones are good enough to air beforethe group, but this is how broadcast works everyday. Writers submit their stories in advance, tobe edited or rejected before the public ever seesthem. Participants in a community, by contrast,say what they have to say, and the good is sortedfrom the mediocre after the fact.”21Ma

Google's news page uses a computer algorithm to select headlines from thousands of news sites — creating a global news-stand, of sorts. And media outlets from Fox News and the Drudge Report to individual weblogs offer the kind of opinionated slant to the news that Negroponte envisioned. But is the future of online news simply a con-

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