Gillmor Encourages Audience Participation as Symposium Begins

Dan Gillmor, from Grassroots Media Inc. and author of “We The Media,” speaks during the 6th International Online Journalism Symposium
Apr. 8, 2005. (Knight Center/Flickr)

The future of journalism in the digital age is dependent on the continued growth of participation from a worldwide audience, Dan Gillmor said during his presentation to inaugurate the 6th International Symposium on Online Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin.

The renowned author of “We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People” spent more than half of his life in the audience, beginning his career as a musician before becoming a newspaper reporter and online pioneer. He highly values the participatory role of the individual citizen and centered his remarks on that function.

“We’re moving from a lecture mode of journalism to a conversation,” Gillmor said. “The audience is not just a part. It’s demanded.

Gillmor pointed to a series of events that brought the audience into the interactive reporting culture of online journalism, moving from the disputed 2000 election to the September 11 terrorist attacks to the 2003 Columbia shuttle crash. Sitting in Hong Kong during the 2000 presidential election, Gillmor realized that monitoring online news sources was giving him a more accurate portrayal overseas than the linear news reporting of American television.

“Secrets are hard to keep,” Gillmor said. “I’ve got to understand this better, but what I do is not what I used to do. How do we get truth to keep up with the lies? I don’t know, but we are working on it.”

Gillmor also emphasized the creative future of online journalism through examples of multimedia packages assembled by members of the new media generation. Gillmor said a wave of visually-oriented reporters is coming to change a textually-oriented profession.

“I completely agree with [Gillmor] about the changing news approach,” said Angela Grant, a UT Journalism senior and president of the University’s chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists. “I got really excited about what he had to say because that is what I want to do. I want to reach people with interactive news and graphics. The new generation is going to want its news in a new way. They won’t sit down to read the newspaper or watch a television broadcast.”

As this new era of “self-assembling journalism” grows with new media and new participants, Gillmor warned of possible threats, such as the need for better tools, government regulation and overbearing copyright lawsuits. “If we need Hollywood’s permission in order to innovate, that’s trouble,” Gillmor said. “With this online movement, we have to restore some balance in a world that has lost it.”

ISOJ 2005: Dan Gillmor Keynote, from Knight Center on Vimeo.