Dan Gillmor has a fine piece here about the Bayoshpere venture into citizen journalism. There's much to thank him for in the posting: for one thing, his clear outline of the business options they considered before settling on publishing is a useful list for anyone considering doing something similar.
Bayosphere didn't get airborne, and the best of Dan Gillmor's posting lies in the lessons he's drawn from the experience:
… Bayosphere attracted quite a bit of traffic, and some
heartening effort on the part of some citizen journalists. I'm grateful
to them for trying. But as is obvious to anyone who's paid attention,
the site didn't take off -- in large part, no question about it,
because of my own miscues and shortcomings. My friend Esther Dyson
says, wisely, "Always make new mistakes." Did I ever. But I learned
from them, and from what did work. Here are some of the lessons:
- Citizen journalism is, in a significant way, about owning your own
words. That implies responsibilities as well as freedom. We asked
people to read and agree to a "pledge" that briefly explained what we
believed it meant to be a citizen journalist -- including principles
such as thoroughness, fairness, accuracy and transparency. Although
some cynics hooted that this was at best naive, we're convinced it was
at least useful.
- Limiting participation is not necessarily a bad idea. By asking for
a valid e-mail address simply in order to post comments, you reduce the
pool of commenters considerably, but you increase the quality of the
postings. And by asking for real names and contact information, as we
did with the citizen journalists, you reduce the pool by several orders
of magnitude. Again, however, there appears to be a correlation between
willingness to stand behind one's own words and the overall quality of
- Citizen journalists need and deserve active collaboration and
assistance. They want some direction and a framework, including a clear
understanding of what the site's purpose is and what tasks are
required. (I didn't do nearly a good enough job in this area.)
- A framework doesn't mean a rigid structure, where the citizen journalist is only doing rote work such as filling in boxes.
- The tools available today are interesting and surprisingly robust.
But they remain largely aimed at people with serious technical skills
-- which means too ornate and frequently incomprehensible to almost
everyone else. Our tech expert, Jay Campbell,
did a heroic job of trying to wrestle the software into submission to
our goals. We still felt frustrated by the missing links.
- Tools matter, but they're no substitute for community building.
(This is a special skill that I'm only beginning to understand even
- Though not so much a lesson -- we were very clear on this going in
-- it bears repeating that a business model can't say, "You do all the
work and we'll take all the money, thank you very much." There must be
clear incentives for participation, and genuine incentives require
- On several occasions, PR people offered to brief me on upcoming
products or events that they hoped I'd cover in my capacity as a tech
journalist, but were happy to give the slot to our citizen journalists.
This testifies to a growing recognition among more clued-in PR folks
that citizen journalism is here to stay.
- Although the participants -- citizen journalists and commenters --
are essential, it's even more important to remember that publishing is
about the audience in the end. Most people who come to the site are not
participants. They're looking for the proverbial "clean, well-lighted
place" where they can learn or be entertained, or both.
- If you don't already have a thick skin, grow one.
Marc (Canter) has some comments about this here (and see, too, Lloyd Shepherd's posting). As Marc says, 'How many failed CEOs would blog it - and explain what went wrong, their own
shortcomings and deliver an honest apology?'.
No surprise, then, that I also take away from Dan Gillmor's posting respect for his honest self-appraisal: 'As an entrepreneur, let's just say I wasn't in my element. The
relentless focus on a single, limited project for long periods of time,
combined with the inevitable compromises inherent in for-profit
decision-making, turned out not to be my best skills'. (A friend of his said, "Well, you've always struck me as more of a dot-org kind of guy than the dot-com kind".)
The experience hasn't shaken Dan Gillmor's faith in citizen journalism: 'As the Bayosphere project was playing out last fall, I concluded that I
could do more for the citizen journalism movement by forming a
nonprofit enterprise, a "Center for Citizen Media" where I could put my skills and passion for the genre to better use'. His concluding comments are full of hope:
The shift in how we communicate and collaborate, how we learn what's
going on in our world, has barely begun. Predicting the future is for
other people, but I'm optimistic that we'll collectively figure this
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