Open-Source Networked Journalism Meets SmartMobs: NewAssignment.net
Journalism without the media? How can that be?
Can grassroots, community-based, networked journalism be transformed into a powerful new media format?
Photo credit: Yurok Aleksandrovich
NewAssignment.net, in the words of its own creator is "a way to fund high-quality, original reporting, in any medium, through donations to a non-profit..."
Here three of its key of NewAssignment.net, open-source, networked journalism characteristics:
- it uses open-source methods to develop good assignments and help bring them to completion,
- it employs professional journalists to carry the project home and
- sets high standards so the work holds up.
- There are accountability and reputation systems built in that should make the system reliable.
- Places some of its success bets on individuals funding promising research assignments, as open-source journalism approaches let anyone have a glimpse-ahead of what could be cooked.
But how would this work?
On New Assignment the foundations of a promising story are gradually uncovered and served to the audience for evaluation: is this worth more research and investigation? Do you want to add your info, know-how or research time? Be welcome! Want to fund it so that more skilled reporters can work at it? Go Paypal your money in.
NewAssignment.net is enterprise reporting in a pro-am format. Writing assignments are open sourced and started/disclosed online. Selected editors working with many smart individual researchers and bloggers would get lots more valuable information from many more sources and locations than any traditional newspaper or blog could ever do.
"Reporter + smart mob + editor with a fund = get the story the press pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't."
Here is how Amy Gahran describes NewAssignment.net on Media Tidbits:
"Once project ideas get past an initial filtering process, an army of citizen journalists would do the initial fieldwork to canvass the national or international situation.
When enough information is gathered to frame a more traditional news assignment, professional journalists and editors get involved to bring it to fruition and ensure journalistic quality."
But for whom is NewAssignment.net been thought up for?
Essentially, NewAssignment.net has been designed for those among you that are really into "finding out" as much information as possible on a specific topic, hot issue, news story.
While Jay Rosen writes that these are those "who are interested in the news, online regularly and accustomed to informing themselves", it would appear only fair to me to underline that what I read in between the words of such an apparently geenric description is the description of information seekers, truth finders and unsatisfied readers of mainstream media. These are yes people who want and do keep themselves informed, but who do so by using often multiple resources, by checking out the Internet before any print or tv verification and who never stand for a one dogmatic position on most any issue.
Whether these should be labelled open-minded info-seekers, always-on learners, or liberally minded reality reporters matters less. What appears to me to matter more is that the audiences NewAssignment.net will stimulate are made up of those individuals who are generally disappointed by today's manipulation of mainstream media by corporate interests and who have a genuine interest in seeing true investigative journalism take place around key issues.
These individuals "would come because New Assignment does stories the regular news media doesn't do, can't do, wouldn't do, or already screwed up."
As in Jeff Jarvis own definition of networked journalism, what we are about to witness are "professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story out".
"NewAssignment.Net would be a case of journalism without the media."
How could NewAssignment.net content be funded?
The interesting thing here, is that there many opportunities open in this direction.
I don't recall having read how NewAssignment.net will be licensed once it is finalized, but I am personally assuming that it will be under an open, CC-like type of license.
If that is the case, NewAssignment.net could request publishers to pay a monthly or annual subscription fee if they want to use that content on sites or pages where advertising money is being collected. If the rates were as liberal as the overall project "feels", I would be more than happy, -- maybe given a minimum guaranteed number of stories per month or year that I could count on - on specific themes or categories - - to support financially such an initiative.
Further, if it is to be asked whether the final content produced by NewAssignment will be open for further research and editing by others, who may not like or want to operate under NewAssignment.net own original umbrella. Could those individuals or publishing companies pay a fee to access NewAssignment.net research material and edit and re-use it under their own terms?
What about the possibility of having NewAssignment.net funded or significantly supported by public tax-payer money? Here in Italy, the state gives out millions of dollars every year to support a number of newspaper and magazines, of which a large number would not survive without this yearly inflow of money. Now these newspapers are most often not at the service of citizen interests as powerful, corporate interest groups are generally behind them. But if, at least some part of our taxpayer money could be directed to support such a public-interest endeavour, I would see this as a very positive and democratic step in giving citizens the news and information they want to have.
As of now, citizens don't have a voice or say in to what makes it onto the front page of most newspapers, nor at the scrutiny and analysis of sources used, translations made and possibilities for seeing, framing and reporting any news story in more than one possible way.
Why should this approach work, be successful or get attention by big media?
Why should NewAssignment.net be successful? Because it does not pretend to be.
NewAssignment breathes from its very inception a feel of "...we are here to find out....we don't know if it is going to work....but... we want to find out..."
I think that this humble, research-oriented aspect of NewAssignment.net is one of its greatest strength. While I am not betting myself on its sure success as a media project that will last over time and produce tons of great content, I am sold already on its ability to make people think and consider aspects of new media journalism under new and different lights. And this by itself is worth for me the price of entrance.
Jay Rosen writes: "New Assignment is an attempt to find out. Parts of this puzzle are scattered all about: in the news business, blogger empires, on the political Web in several places, on the air-- and indeed around the world. My scheme isn't advanced enough yet to go live. It's in the development stage, quite unfinished."
"NewAssignment.Net is a test of that proposition. It should be possible for the site to discover things that would be hard to discover any other way, certainly by an individual reporter, unaided."
Assumptions and Goals
From NewAssignment.net initial write-up:
"I just think journalism without the media is at this point a practical idea, worth testing.
By raising money and "raising" great stories that are worth the money, NewAssignment.Net makes it possible for the people formerly known as the audience (I've been writing about them lately) to originate outstanding work.
The design assumes no antagonism at all between "citizen" users and "professional" journalists.
The assumption is we need both, and ways for them to work in tandem.
A journalist who can't work with people and tell them the truth isn't right for New Assignment. Visitors who cannot accept an account at odds with prior belief will not be happy participants, and they certainly won't donate."
What would define success under these terms?
Open-sourcing effectively the research phase for each possible news story is one of the most critical aspects of how NewAssignment.net needs to operate.
As all assignments emerge from open-source, collaborative methods, they bring into investigative journalism what Net-based social networks can know.
The key idea is in fact that NewAssignmet.net would start breaking stories that way. That is: if there is not excessive control on the selection and news election process, more potentially interesting news stories, that never make it to mainstream news, could find enough momentum and open-sourced contributions to warrant enough attention and donors funding to become key front page assignments.
Also critical is the fact that only after the "open" stage has been completed, money is raised, and the editorial phase is brought to completion.
Unique traits: What's Different Joe?
a) NewAssignment.net does professional quality, but (very) amateur-friendly reporting.
b) it's journalism without the media.
c) it runs all assignments through an open source gauntlet.
d) it requires the participation of a smart mob for a story to lift off and become an Assignment, capital A.
e) the correspondent doesn't "take over" until work is well along.
f) the early stages are done in the open.
g) the money for the reporting isn't raised until the story is outlined and partially developed.
h) you can see where each story is going.
"Every time I have explained the site to journalists the first objection has been the same. It's a prediction.
If people do step forward to fund these New Assignments, they will be interests with an agenda who only want results that support that agenda.
Or they will be passionate believers in a cause who know the truth and won't accept an account that differs.
By taking their money you're asking for trouble."
"To which [my] answer is:
Editors. Good editors. ...What else do I need?
Editors are the barrier between donors and journalists, the guarantors of New Assignment's independence, the guardians of quality. End of system.
Not unlike a traditional newsroom."
(Source: Jay Rosen - Pressthink)
Who are the editors and what do they do?
"Editors at New Assignment do a great many things, some of which differ not at all from traditional section editing at a newspaper or magazine, while others have no parallel to prior work. New Assignment editors hire writers, supervise their reporting, edit the work that comes back, and prepare it for publication--all traditional tasks.
But they also blog in their area of interest to generate story ideas and attract knowledgeable people to their area of the site. They work with users as assignments come together online. They decide when an assignment is far enough along to be packaged and sent out to seek its fortune.
They set budgets; negotiate contracts; develop and nurture new writers; raise money for their special funds; cultivate a network of reliable supporters; find new patrons; participate with other editors in the approval of story ideas; "place" finished work with media outlets in syndicated fashion; and--much the most important thing--they uphold the site's standards and practices.
They also drum up excitement for the work they are doing by being visible, clued-in and articulate persons on the scene."
(Source: Jay Rosen - Pressthink)
There would be a lot more to say, report and comment on NewAssignment.net. This is just such a fantastic burst of journalistic innovation, laid out with the such openness and collaborative attitude that I can't avoid reporting it and inviting you to go and study it in person yourself.
NewAssignment.net is a lesson in media innovation, future-thinking and in remixing the best of our journalistic heritage with the new emerging ideas that the Web has allowed to grow in recent times.
I don't know whether I will have the opportunity to join NewAssignment.net in some form in the future, but I wish to publicly state my open and unrestricted support for it now, and my desire to contribute at least financially to this marvellous research experiment.
Podcast interview with Jay Rosen and Craig Newmark
by David Berlind of ZDNet's Between the Lines
a) "Constructing a framework to enable an open source reinvention of journalism"
written by Leonard Witt, Chair of the Communications Department at Kennesaw State University and director of Public Journalism Network a professional association that is experimenting with new ways to teach and do journalism.
Key in Witt's article is his recipe for effective grassroots, citizen journalism and which invites public participation in a format that allows the comprehensive breaking of all tasks into tiny chunks -- "on the assumption that more people can be enticed to do a little than a lot".
Benkler lays out three characteristics of successul group efforts:
1) "They (tasks) must be modular. That is, they must be divisible into components, or modules, each of which can be produced independently of the production of the others. This enables production to be incremental and asynchronous, pooling the efforts of different people, with different capabilities, who are available at different times."
2.) "For a peer production process to pool successfully a relatively large number of contributors, the modules should be predominately fine-grained, or small size. This allows the project to capture contributions from large numbers of contributors whose motivation levels will not sustain anything more than small efforts toward the project ...."
3.) "... a successful peer production enterprise must have low-cost integration, which includes both quality control over the modules and a mechanism for integrating the contributions into the finished product," while defending "itself against incompetent or malicious contributors."
(Source: Tom Abate the MiniMediaGuy)[ Read more ]
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