I thought I was beginning to get a picture of the We Media conference last week until I read Bill Mitchell, editor of Poynter Online who makes it sound more like an episode of TV’s Dragons’ Den. The most interesting session, he writes, was when 10 media entrepreneurs were each put for a few minutes in front of a panel of venture capital investors.
And non of them got any money! The point, apparently, was to explore overall outcomes of the projects although some of the panel members urged the building of for-profit businesses.
As many failed or struggling start-ups have demonstrated in the still emerging category of participatory publishing, all the clarity in the world won’t buy success without the means to sustain the initiative — technically, financially and otherwise.
The success or failure not only of the conference but of the whole concept put forward by Dan Gillmor in his 2004 book We the Media is being debated.
To recap for those who have not read the book, Gillmor envisaged an evolution from journalism as a lecture to journalism as a conversation. He wrote about the involvement of this three constituencies, journalists, newsmakers and the former audience co-operating in transformation not revolution. We the Media is available online.
After last week’s conference Rich Skerenta, co-founder of topix.net (a 75% share was bought by big media in 2005) wrote an obituary:
The problem is that the hopes that Dan Gillmor raised for the media industry in his book — which kicked off this whole business — have largely failed.
Jeff Jarvis thinks he is throwing in the towel too early just because people at the conference “couldnâ€™t agree on how the various tribes of news can and should work together”. He approvingly quotes Richard Sambrook, who attended last year’s We Media but not last week’s.
Sambrook wants less agonising and more action:
Enough of conferences going over the same ground, enough of bloggers (several of whom make their living from consulting with big organisations) saying big media doesn’t “get it” and only they have insight, enough of big media publicly agonising over how to respond to the huge disruption the internet has brought. Enough of the fallacy of thinking there is some kind of power struggle going on. It’s about integration, not subsititution…
I think that pretty well accords with something Gillmor wrote in the introduction to his book:
Flawed as we may be in the business of journalism, anarchy in news is not my idea of a solution. A world of news anarchy would be one in which the big, credible voices of today were undermined by a combination of forces, including the financial ones I just described. There would be no business model to support the institutional journalism that, for all its problems, does perform a public service. Credibility matters. People need, and want, trusted sourcesâ€”and those sources have been, for the most part, serious journalists. Instead of journalism organizations with the critical mass to fight the good fights, we may be left with the equivalent of countless pamphleteers and people shouting from soapboxes. We need something better.
Happily, the anarchy scenario doesnâ€™t strike me as probable, in part because there will always be a demand for credible news and context.
I sometimes wish some of the evangelical zealots of “citizen journalism” would read the book.