Gillmor on why failure is a positive quality

One of the more interesting speakers at last week’s annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication was Dan Gillmor.

During a panel on citizen media, he talked about the need to accept failure as a learning process. Gillmor is speaking from experience, having being behind the failed Bayosphere site.

At the AEJMC event, he emphasised the need for experimentation in new media projects. In his words, “failures are not going to be uncommon.” Some are just going to run out of money, he said, citing as examples Backfence and Open Source Radio.

In his view, failure is going to be the predominant outcome of these experiments, so it is something we should accept. Particularly, he added, as the cost of new projects is so low and there are “few institutional barriers between thought and action

Gillmor urged the audience to embrace a philosophy of experimentation based on four principles:

  • Openness
  • Use of existing tools
  • Collaboration
  • Risk-taking

These are not ideas found in traditional news organisations. On the whole, mainstream media, is based on the opposite of these points: closeness, propriety tools, competition and risk-averse.

The key point here is how the networked nature of the Internet changes these traditional dynamics of journalism. Being willing to experiment, take risks and fail should be part of the culture of journalism.

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  • thornburgr says:

    Amen to that.

    Colleges and universities need to be places where the kinds of experiments that Gillmor describes can have the freedom to fail.

    Measure. Experiment. Measure. Experiment Again.

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