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Jack Driscoll
Visiting Scholar
MIT Media Lab
Cambridge, MA

The Media Laboratory
Building E15, 77 Mass Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Work: 617-253-5960
Fax: 617-258-6264

"Professional journalists always saw themselves as being the eyes and ears of the public. Average citizens had no printing presses in their cellars, no broadcast networks to tap into. Now they do. It's cheap, it's fast and it's called the Internet. The major media need to figure a way to let the 'new journalists' under the tent."

From a 2003 interview with the Online Journalism Review.

A future-leaning research lab, seeks to create technology that improves lives

November 11, 2008
Interview with Jack Driscoll by MGP researcher Sara Majka

In November 2008, Jack Driscoll published his book Couch Potatoes Sprout: The Rise of Online Community Journalism with Xlibris, a print-on-demand company partially owned by Random House.

When asked why he chose print-on-demand, Driscoll said the book was originally commissioned by a publisher, but halfway through writing it, the publishing company changed editors and the project fell through. He waited around for nine months while another publisher had it, and when that didn't work, he decided "I'm not in it for the money," and went ahead and published it himself.

Couch Potatoes Sprout is meant for aspiring citizen journalists. The website calls it: "An intimate, inside look at the internal workings of three pioneering publications–that started in 1996, 1998 and 2003–reflects the satisfaction and energizing effect of being able to publish widely without the benefit of a printing press."

Driscoll has been involved in community-group journalism for over 15 years. He traced his involvement back to 1990, when, while working at the Boston Globe (he worked there for nearly 40 years, ultimately holding the position of Editor), he became involved with a citizen group in Dorchester. He fed stories from the Globe to their website, seven or eight stories daily targeted for their community in the four corners section of Dorchester.

After retiring from the Globe, he joined the MIT Media Lab, where he worked on Fishwrap, a personalized newspaper experiment done with the MIT community. In 1996 he helped start the Melrose Mirror, an online paper written by a seniors group in Melrose, Massachusetts. Two years later he helped start the Junior Journal, an international publication written by children between the ages of 10-18. It lasted for seven years, with more than 300 kids from around the world participating. His book uses these as test cases, along with Rye Reflections, a site written by people with ties to Rye, New Hampshire.

Driscoll said he was "always interested in the potential of citizens to be able to express themselves and create a dialogue from their perspectives." It was clear to him in the late 80's that the Internet was "going to be given entre to a much larger number and variety of voices." It would, he said, encourage not only physical communities, but in time would cross geographic and international communities.

His thinking was inspired by a book written by Marilyn Ferguson called the Aquarian Conspiracy. "Admittedly it's kind of a new-age book," Driscoll said, but the underlying philosophy appealed to him. It said that bottom-up groups that came together because of a cause (such as women's rights), would began to link together into a sort of woven network. Citizen journalism is to him a manifestation of this thinking.

His book is filled with advice for those who want to start. "It's loaded with tutorials," he said, "and it's not a long book."


February 8, 2009 article about Driscoll and his new book.

Read more about Jack Driscoll's biography on his website.

From the MIT Media Lab website:
"The Lab comprises rigorous research and graduate degree programs, where traditional disciplines get checked at the door. Future-obsessed product designers, nanotechnologists, data-visualization experts, industry researchers, and pioneers of computer interfaces work side by side to tirelessly invent–and reinvent–how humans experience, and can be aided by, technology."

In a December 2003 article for the Online Journalism Review, Adam Clayton Powell interviewed Driscoll on his work in furthering citizen journalism:

"Driscoll's most important work may be his projects that have focused on teaching senior citizens and students around the world how to be journalists. He has helped create user-friendly editing software for non-journalists and trains technological newbies to be online storytellers. Those who participate in his program learn simple rules of journalism and then use their skills to cover their communities. Often they cover communities that were previously getting no coverage from the mainstream media; usually their work publishes just on their project Web sites, but sometimes their reports are picked up by mainstream media.

The junior high and high school student journalists in Driscoll's programs are called Junior Journalists and the seniors are Silver Stringers. The training projects are getting teenagers engaged in the news and seniors to exercise their minds. The result is "a much better appreciation of traditional media," Driscoll said."