Missing the point

Just got back from the pre-Supernova dinner, held in conjunction with the Berkeley Cybersalon:

Vietnamese buffet dinner at 6pm, followed by a discussion about citizen journalism with Dan Gillmor, Becky O’Malley, and Peter Merholz:

Technology is making it easier for grassroots journalism to take root. Craig Newmark, the father of online community classifieds, recently planted the seeds of this new movement, and Dan Gillmor gave up his tech column at the San Jose Mercury to start his own interactive-journalism venture, http://www.Bayosphere.com. In print, publisher/editor Becky O’Malley speaks to the spirit of the local community with The Berkeley Daily Planet. And the father of “blog,” Peter Merholz founded the Beast Blog, at http://www.beastblog.com, a group blog that covers everything of note in the East Bay. With organic publications like these, who needs the artificially flavored New York Times?

So far, so standard.

I was really looking forward to seeing Dan Gillmor speak, but to be honest, I found myself waiting for the meaty stuff to begin, and it didn’t. He didn’t really seem able to talk about the Bayosphere, and there wasn’t anything substantive said about the wider issues of the impact of the blogosphere on the media.

In all fairness, the crowd there (and half the panel) didn’t really seem to grasp the issues, and there was quite a bit of hostility and opinionated voices without much in the way of displays of deeper understanding. Maybe I felt that way because I have been thinking about and talking about blogging and its impact on the media for a while, so such a shallow and unfocused discussion is always going to leave me wondering why I bothered. (Although that was entirely made up for by meeting cool people such as Mary Hodder and Susan Mernit.)

I wanted to discuss what impact blogging is having not just on print media, but on broadcast news in terms of the competition for attention and the variety of sources people use to gather their news these days. Unfortunately, either I explained myself inadequately or that issue is not on Gillmor’s radar. Or, maybe, he was just feeling a bit embattled after a less than creative Q&A session.

But I think that the point that people’s attention is being diverted away from the mainstream media in all its forms by various and assorted different pursuits, and people gather their news from many different sources. The idea of the effect of blogs being felt only by the print media is as fallacious as the idea that TV and radio are only being threatened by videoblogging and podcasting.

It’s not about comparing medium with like medium, it’s about understanding that people mix and match these days. They are as likely to read something online instead of watch the news, or listen to a podcast instead of read a magazine. What’s important is not the medium but the message, and these days messages can be communicated by anyone, at any time, in any medium.

UPDATE: I’ve been told that some people are interpreting this as me slating Supernova. That’s not the case – this was a different crowd and organised by different people, although there was some overlap and Kevin Werbach did advertise this do on the Supernova wiki. He has asked me to clarify that point, though, so I am.

5 thoughts on “Missing the point

  1. Right on the button, Suw. I’ll be interested to see what others who were there make of what you say.

    For me, I find the “grassroots” tag misleading. If you identify yourself as grassroots, then someone (higher up) must be the grass. It implies a view that MSM gets all the sunshine and admiration the rest of us live underground in the dirt, doing vital work that goes largely unseen.

    I’m still searching for a way of describing what we do in non-hierarchical terms. The most important contribution for me of blogging, podcasting & vlogging is that they open up storytelling and news to everybody with access to some simple technology.

    My aggregator has taken the place in my life of newspaper and telly news. Newspapers are something I shoulder-surf on the train in the morning. I look to News24 if I’ve seen something elsewhere for which I want a BBC view. RSS then becomes the great leveller since once you know about my feed, I can live in your aggregator on a much more equal footing with any global corporation and it’s up to you who you listen to.

  2. We reference to note above – ‘its up to you who you listen too’, the following will not surprise you.

    On a visit to the FT as a eBusiness journalist some years ago (B4 blogging), I was asked by a number of subs which paper I read. I replied The Guardian on mondays, The Times on Saturdays, and Observer on Sundays. Sometimes I’ll read the Sun to find out how Murdoch and Blair are getting along, even the Mail for the media equivalent of the Fugu blow fish. Then some weeks I wont bother because I like to think for myself. They all seemed disheartened by my ‘promiscuity’ assuming loyalty to a paper was a cultural expectation. I would fathom a guess there are still many narcissistic journalists and editors who still hold this view – want as they are to ignore current emerging trends of media consumption, indeed to assume the same role of a teacher imparting knowledge to us the children (readers).

    When there is little hope of my podcasting teenage nephew and niece developing even my low level relationship with the print media, its seems only a P45 can wake these poor souls up.

    Like free range cows we wander in the media field grazing where we choose, chewing the op-ed cud of our own making. Its not so much the message or the medium, but how we form our outlook on the world from the many disparate threads we choose to view.

  3. The whole setup, the rows of seats, the screen, the tables facing the rows of seats up front — just by sitting down everybody falls into their roles as Expert and Audience. I know this sounds dumb but I think that sort of thing has a big influence on how people interact. If it looks like a classroom, what takes place inside will mimic a classroom. Many peoples’ experience of a classroom is…boredom.

    I actually think they should have either: One person required to speak for an hour –OR– big round table with wireless keyboard and a screen. People can pass around the keyboard and show each other examples while talking.

    Panel sessions discourage people from really preparing, because to have a nice prepared presentation would be stealing the show from fellow panelists.

  4. I expected Gilmor to be far more confident about his revolution. Although there was a problem of an NDA there, I expected more fireworks – and a world view. Indeed, this was a series of monologues, not a dialogue…and the apartheid in the room between the stage and the floor doesn’t work any more. I hope Supernova will have a few revolutionaries and not just corporate spin.

  5. thanks! thought the excerpt gives me much too much credit.


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