Looking for the young media rebels (in all the wrong places)

19 April 2006

A note on SiliconValleyWatcher about the sale of failed citizen-media site Bayosphere contains an aside that, for me, sums up the big problem with citizen journalism, at least in the way it is covered in many blogs:

In my view, Bayosphere suffered from a lack of professional media involvement. Dan Gillmor, blogged there semi-occasionally but he has always been more interested in lecturing and talking about citizen media than in the work of creating it.

Tom Foremski's main point is that citizen media needs help from professional media. I can see his point but I think he's mistaken. The problem with much of the citizen media revolution is that you have a bunch of ex-hacks pontificating on the subject and not a great deal of the job itself is getting done. At least not in the places they are looking for it.

Citizen media has been with us since the 19th Century - it was made possible by the availability of small, cheap-ish printing presses. Don't believe me? Take a look at one of the many histories of the UK newspaper. Try Power Without Responsibility by James Curran and Jean Seaton. The early chapters focus on the rise of the untaxed papers put together by small workers' group and Chartists to press for social and political reform.

Today, there are active citizen media outlets that are also pushing for reform, and seemingly unnoticed by citizen-media advocates who reckon there is an untapped well of people who want to write about local issues - an army of Homer Simpsons campaigning for more road signs. Indymedia and similar outlets that focus on anti-globalisation and similar issues seem to be the successors of those independent-media activists from Victorian Britain, among other places. And they are doing without help from the pros for the most part (although the NUJ has been supportive of Indymedia on the occasions that serves have been confiscated by police). As before, this form of citizen media is something that has grown naturally without any input from self-styled "citizen media institutions".