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.

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