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Author calls for writers' blogs

Tech columnist Dan Gillmor plans to put journalism theories into practice, hitting up Web users for feedback on a book in progress.

San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor is writing a new book about journalism, with a little help from his readers.

Gillmor, who writes a column and posts commentary online for the Silicon Valley newspaper, will focus on how technology, including the Weblog phenomenon, has affected journalism.

Weblogs, known as "blogs," are regularly updated Web sites that feature observations, news and links to other Web sites. They have become wildly popular, thanks to the availability of tools that make it possible for people to create them without learning how to write software code.

To help prove his point about how technology is interacting with journalism, Gillmor is letting his readers critique his book--before it comes out.

"(The idea) just evolved over time. Part of the process of doing the Weblog is this kind of back-and-forth with readers and sources," he said. "And one project that really intrigued me is what David Weinberger did with his book ('Small Pieces Loosely Joined'). He took the process to extremes, posting nightly revisions as he was writing. He did the equivalent of a software developer doing a nightly build."

Gillmor does not plan to go that far. He'll be posting outlines and drafts online on which readers can comment. "I'll use all the great feedback I get and make sure I credit the people who have helped me, and use that as part of the reporting that I've done for the book," he said.

It's not the first time writers have put their work to the test online. Weinberger's book is still being discussed on the Web. In addition, Jane's Intelligence Review asked readers of the tech site Slashdot to help create an article on cyberterrorism.

"That was the early light bulb for me," Gillmor said. "Ask the help of people who know more than you." According to Gillmor, that blog community has had a significant impact on how the mainstream media cover those topics.

While many blogs focus on personal observations, like journals, there are scores of others on just about every topic imaginable, including numerous sites that track news and politics.

"The bloggers and their compatriots have demonstrated the growing power of their emerging medium. They represent a new kind of journalism and public activism, and what they accomplished in (a scandal surrounding Sen. Trent Lott, R-MS) was just one more example of a phenomenon others have already felt," Gillmor writes in an early draft of the book that appears on his Web site.