Review of Dan Gillmor’s Mediactive

Dan Gillmor is giving a presentation at Loyola this week (register here). I wrote this review of his book and project Mediactive for Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 66(3), pp. 272-273 (2011). It’s no longer available online, so I’m reproducing it here.

The cover of Mediactive by Dan GillmorJournalism is broken, and with Mediactive, Dan Gillmor aims to fix it. But he doesn’t start where you would expect – with a new financial model for the digital age.

He starts with educating the audience. After all, classic, “capital J” journalism is but a small part of the information we consume. Gillmor correctly aims more broadly; including blogs, targeted emails, user-generated content, the entire rabble of the web today. His goal is to help us become active users of mediated information. His principles? Be skeptical. Exercise judgment. Open your mind. Keep asking questions. Learn media techniques. In essence, the media consumer needs to think like a journalist, curate his or her own feed and create meaning from examination of layers of linked sources. Gillmor then offers specific tools to navigate the Internet, from basic search and RSS to specific ways to evaluate the credibility of web-based information. It’s a useful primer in media literacy, especially useful to young audiences whose first instinct is to just “Google it.”

Gillmor then turns to media creation. His perspective accommodates any content creator, whether journalist, hobby blogger or corporate writer. Here, his values emphasize “honorable” content creation through these principles: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, independence, and most importantly, transparency. What about objectivity? He states, “It’s an ideal rather than a principle, and it’s impossible to achieve—no human being is or can be truly objective. We can get closer to this ideal now than ever before, in part because the Internet’s built-in capacity for collaboration makes it easier to find counterpoints to our own views and for our critics to find us (and then for us to respond) … I believe all of the principles in my list help us approach the ideal of objectivity.”

Gillmor offers a lightning tour of the tools and tactics a modern content creator can use to communicate; including tips on purchasing web domains, hosting, backing up data and setting up a content management system such as WordPress. He discusses the value of personal branding and how to gain influence through using these tools. This section is useful for anyone interested in joining the online marketplace of ideas, journalist or not. He closes the how-to section on a hopeful note, advocating entrepreneurial journalism and start-up thinking. Chapters on the law and teaching new media round out the book.

Writing about digital can be like walking on quicksand, so Gillmor has wisely made Mediactive much more than a book. The printed version (also available in Kindle and Nook formats) features underlined text to show links in the online version, at mediactive.com, where you can read the full text or download a .pdf. The site also features annotations, updates and Gillmor’s blog. The entire project is licensed under Creative Commons to facilitate sharing and exchange of ideas.

Mediactive would be an excellent text for a class emphasizing media or news literacy. It would also be a good choice for advertising or public relations classes with a digital emphasis. It begs for a lab experience to complete the lessons

Journalism is going through transformative change, and some institutions will fail. But it won’t be the end of journalism. Our economy is more information-dominant than ever. Barriers to entry have never been lower. Millions are publishing and gaining influence in their chosen spheres. And who knows? Out of these millions of seedlings may grow the New York Times of the future. If you want to participate in this dynamic marketplace of ideas, Mediactive is a useful guide that will speed your progress.