It’s been a long time since Thomas Macaulay wrote in 1828 that “The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.” Macaulay would hardly recognize that fourth estate of the press these days, grown lazy, ossified, smug about its past, dishonest about its present. Americans are more cynical now than ever of the ability of that once trusted thing known as The Media to do anything other than sell cheap plastic crap and fatty foods.
Which, frankly, is a shame. At a time when the entry to becoming a publisher or a journalist has opened so widely it is nearly non-existent, one can hardly afford to let the opportunities slip. It isn’t cynicism about The Media that the new global society needs, it’s skepticism and effort. The contemporary global citizen can hardly afford to be lazy in either reading, watching, listening, writing, speaking, or photographing the news.
That’s the premise of our e-book of the week here at the Star, Dan Gillmor’s crackling Mediactive. Mr. Gillmor writes that he is not trying to turn everyone into a journalist–in any sense of that word–but rather to lift them out of the walled garden of passively absorbed junk into a broader realm of active inquiry tempered by skepticism.
That probably all sounds quaint. It isn’t. It’s vital. With more and more people choosing fewer and fewer sources, the world of contemporary media often serves as what Mr. Gillmor calls an “echo chamber” in which one simply hears one’s own reverberating prejudices. Responsible citizens must resist the temptation.
But this isn’t just a book on media literacy, how to read slant and bias, and how sift through junk news to verify facts. It’s also a call to entrepreneurship. The journalism of the future needs more vision than currently displayed in pop-up ads and paywalls. It needs people who are willing to experiment, to fail if necessary, but above all to succeed at changing the sorry state of things. Tools, techniques, principles, business models, political policy–all of these are addressed deftly in Mediactive.