The terms “collaborative media and collaborative journalism" are beginning to emerge as a way to describe a new approach to journalism and a new media model. (Caveat: It also happens to be the name of the new company I am working to help develop.) But what is “collaborative media” really and what is the history of this media model?
Over the past two decades, the Internet has increasingly allowed people to inform themselves through new channels and to communicate with each other more easily and widely. Web 2.0 tools have fueled the current citizen journalism phenomenon, allowing citizens to have a louder voice, to begin their own editorial pages, and in some cases viable news organizations, and to engage in genuine and unlimited discourse and debate. Individuals, nonprofit and political groups, educational institutions, religious organizations, and civic groups alike are immersing themselves in this world of new media and citizen journalism, in many cases independent of and parallel to mainstream media. Today the reader truly has become the writer – and now also has the tools to play the role of editor and publisher as well. More people than ever before in history have the ability to insert themselves into the journalistic process through blogs, podcasts, online videos and photos, comments, news ranking and rating systems and citizen media sites.
But the notion of a collaboration-based model is hardly new. In the 1920s – long before the Internet or Web 2.0 were even imaginable – American social theorist, educator and philosopher John Dewey suggested that the traditional conception of journalism (i.e., “publication”) is only one part of the journalistic process. News or journalism, according to Dewey, cannot realize its full value until the public participates in a dynamic conversation about the published information.
(The Public and Its Problems, 219)
Dewey also asserted that journalism should not just be a static report of what has already happened, but rather that it should always be in a constant state of evolution as the community adds value by generating knowledge. His vision of the ideal relationship between the public and the press was based on his strong belief that the public should be involved and that this active participation should extend to the public’s role in the evolution of news stories. He believed that news was more than just printed words on a page, but rather an evolving, multi-dimensional story in which the public should be allowed to fully participate.
He rejected the ‘spectator theory’ of knowledge, instead advocating knowledge acquired by a collaborative inquiry and problem solving. The ideal journalistic model, according to Dewey, was not based on a passive audience, but rather engaged citizens actively collaborating and interacting with the journalistic process – helping to create a dynamic and changing news story, rather than simply the receptors of information. Dewey believed that communication and collaboration is foundational to the creation of the “Great Community,” and that citizens who actively participate in public life contribute to the formation of that community.
Dewey’s collaboration model has been closely tied to the public journalism movement of the 19080s and 90s, but it seems to more closely reflect a vision of today’s blogosphere, citizen journalism and citizen-generated media (CGM), and Twitter-based journalism, which rely on knowledge-sharing, collaboration, debate, multiple perspectives, and a constantly updated, dynamic approach to addressing a news story or issue.
When he wrote the phrase “the winged words of conversation,” John Dewey could not possibly have imagined how that notion would come to life through the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies, for the Internet enables written speech to rise about the constraints of the printed word and Web 2.0 allows for user participation, openness, and collaboration.
Over the past two decades – more than 80 years after Dewey wrote The Public and Its Problems – new media and communications technologies have allowed people to inform themselves through online channels and enabled them to communicate with each other more easily, immediately, widely, and interactively than has ever before been possible or even imaginable. These new tools have fueled the current citizen journalism phenomenon, or what Dewey called, the creation of a “true public,” not based on geography, but on communities of interest – not reliant on mainstream media to meet its information or community-building requirements, but on a free-flowing, open, and dynamic exchange of ideas representing a multitude of perspectives.
At Redwood Collaborative Media we honor the rich history of the collaborative media model and believe that a collaboration model is the media model of the future. Stay tuned for more as we continue to learn and grow.
Note: Much of this post was excerpted from my master’s thesis, Realizing John Dewey’s Vision: From Public Journalism to Citizen Journalism to the Next Newsroom. I’ll be sharing more of my research for that work in future posts.