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Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production

Author: Axel Bruns
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2005
Review Published: May 2008

 REVIEW 1: J. Richards Stevens

Many thanks to J. Richards Stevens for his balanced and detailed critique of my book. Though it's been a few years since the book was first published, it's been interesting for me to see how many of the themes I addressed in it continue to reverberate through the spaces of industrial and citizen journalism, and beyond. In fact, when I wrote the book, the rise to public prominence of the very term "citizen journalism" had only just begun. It's staggering to see how far we've come since then, but also how much still remains to do in order to turn the "random acts of journalism" (as JD Lasica called them) that so many now engage in on a regular basis into a sustainable and accountable practice which may, if not challenge, then at least provide a credible complement and alternative to the industrial mainstream.

It's not as though the journalism industry has stood still over recent years either, of course -- whether forced to do so by their users, or out of their own volition and interest, many of the more progressive news organisations around the world have begun to explore innovative ways of connecting more directly with the user-generated, citizen journalism that now takes place in so many variations and across so many sites outside their own gates. The leading innovators in this field -- from South Korea's OhmyNews to BBC News Online, and through to many far smaller operators -- are sketching out a set of possible futures for journalism that does indeed enable conventional mass media journalism to metamorphose and reinvent itself as appropriate for the changing informational environment, as Roger Fidler suggested more than a decade ago.

The emergence of such collaborations between industry professionals and enthusiastic amateurs is anything but limited to the journalistic space, of course; the open news processes I've described in Gatewatching were themselves inspired by open news software production, and more recent mass collaboration projects from Wikipedia to Current.tv are all similarly coming to a point where activating, utilising, and respecting the various forms of knowledge, expertise, and talent which their diverse user communities bring to the table has become a crucial (and exciting) challenge. Across the various projects for user-led content generation -- which, as I argue in my most recent book, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond, can be understood as part of a general paradigm shift from industrial production to collaborative produsage -- we can now observe intensive attempts to develop morally and financially sustainable Pro-Am models (as Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller have described them).

In the process, though, it's not only industry which must change its modus operandi in order to survive the paradigm shift. Their very success means that the various grassroots communities of content produsage -- in citizen journalism and elsewhere -- are becoming increasingly serious partners and counterparts for surviving industry players, and experience the growing pains which come with such newfound respect and responsibility. Wikipedia's ongoing struggle over internal organisation and accountability serves as just one example for these processes. The tactical moment is over -- longer-term strategies are what's needed now.

While Stevens's image of gatewatchers and citizen journalists as reformers challenging the orthodoxies of the journalistic priesthood is a vivid and compelling one, then, let's not get ahead of ourselves and believe that this reformation has as yet progressed beyond its early stages. As the Martin Luthers of their profession, journalistic dissidents like Dan Gillmor and JD Lasica have nailed their theses to the door of journalism's chapel -- the newsroom -- and we've seen plenty of skirmishes between the troops of journo-fundamentalists and (sometimes just as zealous) citizen reformers. What remains to be seen is whether these gangs of reformers will choose to remain independent lay priests outside the organised religion of journalism, to prepare the foundations for an alternative religion of their own, or to overcome the great schism by finding ways to unite traditionalists and reformers within the same broad church. My guess is that we'll see a little of everything for the next few years -- but that the greatest potential lies in that third option.

Axel Bruns


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