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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Dan Gillmor

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

I'm not a technology innovator. I write about the innovators.

If I've made a contribution in my own field, it's been to promote the spread of "grassroots journalism," as I'm describing in my new book, "We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People" (O'Reilly Media, 2004). There's no question that the collision of technology and journalism, which makes this phenomenon possible, is having an enormous impact on all three major constituencies of the craft:

-- Journalists: We will learn we are part of something new, that our readers/listeners/viewers are becoming part of the process. I take it for granted, for example, that my readers know more than I do -- and this is a liberating, not threatening, fact of journalistic life. Every reporter on every beat should embrace this. We must use the tools of grassroots journalism or be consigned to history. Our core values, including accuracy and fairness, will remain important, and we'll still be gatekeepers in some ways, but our ability to shape larger conversations -- and to provide context -- will be at least as important as our ability to gather facts and report them.

-- Newsmakers: The rich and powerful are discovering new vulnerabilities. When anyone can be a journalist, many talented people will try -- and they'll find things the professionals miss. Politicians and business people are learning this every day. Writers of weblogs helped bring down Trent Lott, the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, from his post. But newsmakers also have new ways to get out their message, using the same technologies the grassroots adopts. Howard Dean's presidential campaign may have failed, but his methods will be studied and emulated because of the way his campaign used new tools to engage his supporters in a conversation. The people at the edges of the communications and social networks can be a newsmaker's harshest, most effective critics. But they can also be the most fervent and valuable allies, offering ideas to each other and to the newsmaker.

-- The former audience: Once consumers of news, the audience is learning how to get a better, timelier news report. The audience can now deal with powerful corporations and other large institutions on a somewhat more equal basis, because relevant information is no longer solely in the hands of the institutions. Most important, the audience is learning how to join the process of journalism, helping to create a massive conversation and, in some cases, doing a better job than the professionals.

The tools of this evolution are weblogs, mail lists, peer to peer, digital video and a variety of other technologies that are now cheap and easy enough for average people to use. We are seeing the advent of the "read-write Web," not just a read-only Web -- and the implications are huge.

The traditional journalism business is sewing destructive seeds, meanwhile. First is the pernicious consolidation of mass media into a few extraordinarily powerful conglomerates that tend to prefer selling infotainment, not useful information. Second is the erosion of the newspaper business model, and resulting corporate cost-cutting instead of investing in the future. An informed citizenry is the ultimate casualty of both trends.

This is why the grassroots journalism movement, made possible by modern information and communications tools, is so important. We not only need more and better journalism to augment traditional Big Media. The new voices may be crucial to the future of self-rule.

If I can help this new world of media emerge in a serious way, I'll feel I've made a significant long-term contribution.

Brief Biography

Dan Gillmor is business and technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley's daily newspaper. He also writes a daily Web-based column for SiliconValley.com, a KnightRidder.com site that is an online affiliate of the Mercury News. His column runs in many other U.S. newspapers, and he appears regularly on radio and television. He has been consistently listed by industry publications as among the most influential journalists in his field. His new book, "We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People," describes the collision between technology and journalism, and what that means for journalists, newsmakers and the audience.

Gillmor joined the Mercury News in September 1994 after about six years with the Detroit Free Press. Before that, he was with the Kansas City Times and several newspapers in Vermont. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Vermont, Gillmor received a Herbert Davenport fellowship in 1982 for economics and business reporting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. During the 1986-87 academic year he was a journalism fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied history, political theory and economics. He has won or shared in several regional and national journalism awards.

Gillmor has had a longstanding interest in technology. He studied programming in high school. He bought his first personal computer in the late 1970s and first went online in the early 1980s. Before becoming a journalist he played music professionally for seven years.