Many writers are not crazy about turning their unpolished prose over to editors, let alone to common readers.
Not Dan Gillmor. After spending a decade covering Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News, Gillmor decided to write a book about the Internet. Instead of just saving his outline and draft chapters of We the Media on his hard drive, he posted them on the Web, inviting suggestions and corrections from all comers.
"I learned long ago that my readers are smarter than I am," Gillmor says. "And that's a good thing."
When Gillmor comes to Portland for the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, an annual gathering of 1,500 tech nerds, dedicated to the "open source" software movement, he'll be among people already comfortable with the idea of sharing, and revising, creative work in an intellectual free-for-all. And, he says, artistes--or, uh, journalists, at least--better get used to the idea.
Open source is collaboration run amok: You post your work online, then anyone who wants to can take a crack at making it better. Their work, in turn, is also open to improvement. Open source's most famous offspring is the Linux operating system (see "The Rebel Alliance," WW, Jan. 28, 2004).
Gillmor's book, which he will unveil at Powell's Technical Books on Wednesday (the only free convention-related event), argues that the same ethos is rapidly taking root in journalism. The Internet allows readers to cobble together their own news reports from disparate sources, while the rise of blogs blurs the media power structure.
"You see people like Glenn Reynolds, who writes the InstaPundit blog, becoming pros," he says. "Some specialty blogs are just as good as any print product on their subject. If you're a gadget lover, you have to read Gizmodo."
"We used to be consumers of news," he continues. "Now we pick, choose and throw our two cents in, too."
Gillmor's book outlines the potential of this new reality--and argues that old-line, dead-tree media needs to come to grips with it, fast. Not that he has gone all the way himself. Gillmor says one of his fellow tech authors has taken to posting his work in online "wikis," which allow any reader to modify the text.
"He put 'em up there and said, 'Have at it.' I guess I'm not quite ready for that yet."
Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age