Media Users, Media Creators: Principles of Active Engagement: In Transforming 'Ourselves from Passive Consumers of Media into Active Users ... We'll Have to Instill throughout Our Society Principles That Add Up to Critical Thinking and Honorable Behavior.'

By Gillmor, Dan | Nieman Reports, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Media Users, Media Creators: Principles of Active Engagement: In Transforming 'Ourselves from Passive Consumers of Media into Active Users ... We'll Have to Instill throughout Our Society Principles That Add Up to Critical Thinking and Honorable Behavior.'


Gillmor, Dan, Nieman Reports


This article is adapted, in part, from an essay Gillmor wrote in 2008 as part of the Media Republic project (www.mediarepublic.org) at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. In the Winter 2008 Nieman Reports, Persephone Miel, who directed that project, wrote "Media Republic: My Year in the Church of the Web."

In the age of democratized media, the tools of creation are increasingly in everyone's hands. The personal computer that I'm using to write this essay comes equipped with media creation and editing tools of such depth that I can't begin to learn all their capabilities. One of the devices I use regularly boasts video recording and playback, still-camera mode, audio recording, text messaging, and GPS location, among other tools that make it a powerful media creation device (and, by the way, it's a phone).

Equally important in this world of democratized media, we can make what we create widely accessible. With traditional media, we produced something, usually manufactured, and then distributed it--put it in trucks or broadcast it to receivers in a one-to-many mode. Today, we create media and post it online. We make it available; people come and get it. There's an element of distribution here, by virtue of letting people know it's there, but the essential fact in a one-to-one or many-to-many world is availability.

This democratization gives people who have been mere consumers the ability to be creators. With few exceptions, we are all becoming the latter as well as the former, though to varying degrees. More exciting, some creators become collaborators.

What does this mean? For one thing, contrary to the panic we're hearing from newspaper people whose jobs are disappearing, the end of our oligopolistic system of media and journalism is good news, not something to dread. Indeed, I no longer worry about a sufficient supply of journalism, not in the emerging age of abundance. We'll have ample amounts of information and journalism--in some ways, too ample.

Why, given the crumbling of newspapers and the news industry in general, should we believe in abundance? Just look around. The number of experiments taking place in new media is stunning and heartening. Entrepreneurs are moving swiftly to become pioneers in tomorrow's news. Philanthropic enterprises are filling gaps they perceive in coverage. Even the traditional media dinosaurs are, probably too late, moving to adapt to the changes that have put them in such difficulty, namely the transition from monopoly and oligopoly to a truly competitive marketplace.

Most of the experiments in new journalism and business models will fail. That is the nature of the new and of start-up cultures. But even a small percentage of successes will still be a large number because so many people are trying. We won't lack for supply, though we should never stop trying to make it better.

But to ensure that this supply of information is useful and trustworthy, we'll have to rethink our relationship with media. In the supply and demand system that guides all marketplaces, including the marketplace of ideas and information, we need better demand, not just more supply. To ensure that demand, we'll need to transform ourselves from passive consumers of media into active users. And to accomplish that, we'll have to instill throughout our society principles that add up to critical thinking and honorable behavior.

Even those of us who are creating a variety of media are still--and always will be--more consumers than creators. For all of us in this category, the principles (illuminated below) come mostly from common sense. Call them skepticism, judgment, understanding and reporting.

Media saturation requires us to become more active as consumers, in part to manage the flood of data pouring over us each day but also to make informed judgments about the significance of what we do see. And when we create media that serves a public interest or journalistic role, we need to understand what it means to be journalistic, as well as how we can help make it better and more useful.

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