Tuesday, February 7, 2006


At the end of last year Dan Gillmor left his citizen journalism startup, Bayosphere, to start a nonprofit housed at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

He also wrote a very reflective, open and insightful post explaining why he left Bayosphere a couple weeks ago. A few of his words:

A more personal lesson also emerged: As an entrepreneur, let's just say I wasn't in my element. The relentless focus on a single, limited project for long periods of time, combined with the inevitable compromises inherent in for-profit decision-making, turned out not to be my best skills. For almost 25 years I'd thrived on the constant deadlines and competition of journalism. So I assumed I'd easily handle the pressures of trying to create a business from scratch while also keeping my reporting and writing skills intact and helping other people join in. In reality, I was unprepared for what proved to be an entirely different kind of pressure, and didn't handle it nearly as well as I'd expected. I allowed myself to get distracted, moreover, by matters that were not directly relevant to the project.

During the summer, Michael and I realized that it was unlikely that we would land a key distribution deal in the immediate future, and without that we weren't finding the kind of business model for Bayosphere that justified raising more money beyond the seed financing. We had business ideas that might well have been funded, but they were not first and foremost aimed at boosting the citizen-journalism field, which was and remains my overriding goal. In September, we stopped spending our investors' money, and sustained Bayosphere ourselves on a relatively bare-bones budget from our own funds, putting in our own time.

We've never lost sight of this, however: A more democratized media is crucial our common future -- grassroots ideas, energy and talent. I believe this more than ever, as do Mitch Kapor and the folks at the Omidyar Network, who provided seed funding for the project. Their work is changing the world for the better, and I admire them.

MarketWatch's Bambi Francisco has some more words on citizen journalism:

Or, how does one rely on the audience to stay engaged in either watching and or participating in creating content? A site for the people by the people sounds great in theory. But it seems that individuals drawn to such "by-the-people" reporting aren't necessarily good in supporting roles or teamwork.

Consider Dan Gillmor, a writer at the San Jose Mercury News who left that job to start a grassroots news organization written by citizen journalists. He recently wrote about how his efforts failed. He said that "fewer citizens participated, they were less interested in collaboration with one another, and the response to our initiatives was underwhelming."

He's just one example of course.

Yet even the larger, populist news sites such as Pajamasmedia.com, Backfence.com, and Buzzmachine.com, aren't getting much traction. Backfence.com says it's local news written by you and your neighbors while Pajamasmedia is news written by anyone any time -- especially when they're in their pajamas. They received fewer than 360,000 unique visitors each in December, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

The other question is advertising. How do user-generated or citizen journalist sites attract advertisers, especially if trust and credibility may be lacking in many of these sites?

Al Gore's Current, which is a television show that's predicted to have 50% of its content produced by viewers in the future, has some advertisers unnerved because the audience-generated content lacks credibility.

I'm sure it's still early for such democratic, bottoms-up endeavors. And, I don't doubt that in five years or a decade newspapers and TV news will be redefined and will have incorporated such audience participation features.

As Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster at the Institute for the Future, once said: "In a In a two-year period, less happens than we would have thought and in a 10-year period, more happens than we could ever imagined."

So, for now, traditional media isn't dead. But it definitely is becoming less relevant.
(full post)

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