Grassroots media gasping for air


Dan Gillmor is the author of “We the Media” and the apostle of citizen journalism. I share Dan’s belief that new technologies give ordinary folks the tools to create journalism — that is, factual stories of real events aimed at provoking thought and perhaps even change.


But Dan’s faith in the promise of a more democratic media clouds his vision. How else could he say, as he did in a recent op-ed piece:


“There’s never been a better time, I tell students, to be a journalistic entrepreneur — to invent your own job, to become part of the generation that figures out how to produce and, yes, sell the journalism we desperately need as a society and as citizens of a shrinking planet. The young journalists who are striking out on their own today, experimenting with techniques and business models, will invent what’s coming.”

On this “shrinking planet” all depends on oxygen. And in the media world advertising is oxygen. Despite our yearning for more a democratic information industry new media suffer are like fish out of water. They are left gasping for air because 99 percent of all the ad dollars flowing to the Web are being sucked up by 10 online brands according to a recent article by reporter Jeffrey Rayport.


“Despite the promise of democratization of the Web, with nearly 120 million active sites last month . . . In the United States, at least, an oligopoly has emerged . . . Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN . . . captured 85% of the U.S. online-ad market (in 2006) as measured in gross ad dollars . . . The top 10 online sites on the Web, including the Big Four, captured 99% of gross ad dollars in 2006, up from 95% in 2005.”

Jan Schaffer, director of the University of Maryland’s J-Lab, zeroed in on the revenue-starvation of journalism startups in a press release summarizing a February 2007 report on citizen media:


“Most citizen media ventures are shoestring labors of love, funded out of the founders’ own pockets, and staffed by volunteer content contributors.”

So to the students whose heard Dan say “there’s never been a better time” to be a journalistic entrepreneur, let me add one suggestion: take a deep breath, and hold it for as long as you can.