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article imageCitizen Media Leaders: The Journalist With a Business Edge

By David Silverberg     Oct 12, 2008 in Internet
In a four-part series, Digital Journal is profiling innovative journalists, editors and institutions that are redrawing the map of citizen media. Find out how these bold men and women are impacting their corner of the media landscape.
Digital Journal – If Dan Gillmor had his way, citizen journalism would find a business model. Grassroots reporters would get paid, and they’d readily have resources to communicate their stories to the public. As one of the key trailblazers in citizen media, Gillmor hopes many more media consumers will soon become creators.
Last year, Gillmor was appointed director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University. He is responsible for overseeing the Center’s digital media projects that will see students blend their journalistic passions with entrepreneurship ideas. It’s a role that should come naturally to Gillmor: he wrote a book devoted to citizen journalism in 2004, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. Most notably, he founded the Center for Citizen Media, an online hub to enhance the prominence of citizen journalism.
Diving headfirst into citizen journalism isn’t enough for the perpetually busy Gillmor; he is also a journalist who wrote a tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. He dabbles in new media projects, investing in companies such as Wikia and co-founding Dopplr, a travel-related startup that received angel funding. spoke to Gillmor about the state of entrepreneurial citizen media, why credibility will always be an issue and how Africa is using SMS to usher in their own brand of grassroots journalism.
: What do you hope students will gain at the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship?
Dan Gillmor:
This center wants to help bring a culture of entrepreneurship to journalism, which has not been notable until recently. We want these students to get jobs in this field.
We are offering courses that look at the boundaries of expanding digital media for any kind of media startup. We also want to work with students independently, allowing them to create media products and services. If want do something has trad’l fous, that’s their choice. Will encourage projects ppl consider audience part of process more…students ideas their own ideas.
: Has citizen journalism become more relevant in the past few years?
Gillmor: It’s become more relevant all the time, but I think people shouldn’t think of citizen journalism as a single entity, but rather as a number of things people can do both individually and in collaboration with traditional media. It’s a wide field.
I’ve seen how traditional media are using tools of citizen media more efficiently and creatively than before. They are beginning to involve their audience as part of the journalistic conversation. We’ll look back on some projects in a few years and conclude there was a major shift in the way we tackle journalism.
: The question of credibility continues to plague citizen journalism. What are you thoughts on that?
: We’ve all been consuming news in different ways since the Net came along. We are good at deciding what we trust and what we can’t trust. Everyone needs to learn to be skeptical of absolutely everything. That includes the local or national paper or TV broadcast.
At same time, people need to go outside what they normally read and look for things that challenge their worldviews. They need to learn media techniques, including how the media is used to persuade the public.
: How d o you seen citizen journalism working as a viable business model?
Gillmor: Bloggers can make quite a good living focusing on niche topics that attract advertisers. Some folks are looking at subscription or tip jar models, and each blogger or company needs to spend some time before realizing what works. The cost of trying new things is very low.
Look at the business model of iReport: citizen journalists do all the work, and CNN takes all the money. I don’t think that’s fair or sustainable. Glory is attractive to contributors, but we need new marketplaces for people who create media.

Citizen Media Leader Series

This is the first part in a four-part series on pioneers in citizen journalism. See below for the other profiles in the series:
Opening Closer Governments: The Sunlight Foundation peers light into the darkened alleys of the U.S. government, exposing unknown bills and backroom deals the public has a right to see.
The Mentoring Journalism School: How does the Institute of Citizen Journalist help create a healthier media? Learn about the resources and tools offered to engaged citizens in order to uncover under-reported stories
More about Don gillmor, Citizen journalism, Knight center
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