‘Citizens Media’ Pioneer Dan Gillmor Leaving Bayosphere

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By: Miki Johnson

True to his favorite form of media, online journalism pioneer Dan Gillmor broke the news yesterday on his Bayosphere blog that he’s leaving the San Francisco-based citizen journalism venture he started a little over a year ago.

In a letter being hailed around the Web for its transparency, Gillmor explained in no uncertain terms the lessons learned and some of the reasons for Bayosphere’s “underwhelming” response.

Gillmor described in the letter his and business partner Michael Goff’s initial vision of Bayosphere as “a place where people in the San Francisco Bay Area community could learn about and discuss the regional scene, with a focus on technology, the main economic driver. My tech and policy blogging would be an anchor, hopefully attracting some readers and, crucially, some self-selected citizen journalists who’d join a wider conversation.”

But a little more than a year after walking away from “one of the two or three best gigs in the entire newspaper industry” as a columnist for Silicon Valley’s San Jose Mercury News and a blogger for SiliconValley.com, Gillmor is letting go of this experiment in citizen journalism, a phrase that became inextricably linked with his name when he published the highly influential 2004 book, “We The Media.”

Turning the analytical eye that has made him an online journalism guru onto his own project, Gillmor admits in his letter several downfalls. The Mercury News’ Silicon Beat, Gillmor’s old blog, seized on one of these as key: “Tools matter, but they’re no substitute for community building.” This goes along with several of Gillmor’s other comments lamenting the fact he did not give his contributors more guidance and stressing the importance a strong vision for the site.

Comments on the Silicon Beat page also highlight this theme, like one complaining that Bayosphere lacked “a sense of dynamism or a singular vision” and reiterating that “editing style, vision and business sense” are the necessary starting points for a new media business. Another comment reminds readers that, “the proper selection, timing and staging of content is a delicate and complicated task. ? Participatory journalism is still presumably journalism, and requires discipline of vision like any other worthwhile endeavor.”

Gillmor has already moved on to a new project, the Center for Citizen Media, a nonprofit online resource affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University Law School.

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