Dan Gillmor Gives AAN West Attendees Food for Thought

Like fresh cream in polenta, democratized media enriches the media. Such was the thought-provoking contention of Dan Gillmor, Friday’s lunch speaker at AAN West. He encouraged the crowd to get on with getting savvy with new news outlets.

Gillmor, the author of “Grassroots Media,” observed dryly, “Alternative weeklies have taken, shall we say, slowly to this new interactive world.”

Passive audiences, he explained, have transformed into active agents who create their own media reports — information compiled from both traditional and non-traditional news outlets — using services and Web sites such as my.yahoo.com.

In the past, news was a dry lecture (indeed, kind of like the chicken), and “it’s now turning into a conversation.” Publication is no longer the end of a news gathering process but a key moment in a dialogue. Readers are seeking new kinds of authorities, and fact checking has become a communal and continual process.

In light of these developments, Gillmor said, the alternative press has one key advantage over other print media: a sense of community with the readers.

He lambasted the copyright system and warned that the entertainment industry’s legal structure for controlling DVDs will push jurisprudence down a road without fair use, where sources would be paid for quotes. (His own book is part of the “creative commons” and can be downloaded for free online.)

In a question-and-answer session, some attendees voiced concern over electronic media’s ability to perpetuate falsehoods. Gillmor agreed that, yes, blogs and message-boards and the like make it easier for untruths to spread. But he added: “I’m not sure that truth spreads more slowly. And the chance to catch up to these lies is improved.”

His optimistic close was as well received as a big piece of chocolate cake.

Lacey Phillabaum is a reporter for The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.