Assignment Zero, open-source journalism

Assignment ZeroI stumbled upon this site, which is about open-source journalism.

Their about page:

Inspired by the open-source movement, this is an attempt to bring journalists together with people in the public who can help cover a story. It’s a collaboration among NewAssignment.Net, Wired, and those who choose to participate.

The investigation takes place in the open, not behind newsroom walls. Participation is voluntary; contributors are welcome from across the Web. The people getting, telling and vetting the story are a mix of professional journalists and members of the public — also known as citizen journalists. This is a model I describe as “pro-am.”

The “ams” are simply people getting together on their own time to contribute to a project in journalism that for their own reasons they support. The “pros” are journalists guiding and editing the story, setting standards, overseeing fact-checking, and publishing a final version.

In this project, we’re trying to crowdsource a single story, and debut a site that makes other such reports possible down the road. But we don’t know yet how well our site and our methods work. Our ideas are crude because they are untested. By participating, you can help us figure this puzzle out.

An outstanding fact of the Net era is that costs for people to find each other, share information, and work together are falling rapidly. This should have consequences for reporting big, moving stories where the truth is distributed around. By pooling their intelligence and dividing up the work, a network of journalists and volunteer users should be able to find out things that the larger public needs to know.

James Surowiecki, who wrote a book on the subject, says that “in smart crowds, people cooperate and work together even when it’s more rational for them to let others do the work.” What professional journalism says to its audience is that you haven’t the time or inclination to hang around the halls of government or go where news is happening. It’s more rational to let us, the press, do that for you. Go out there and live your life, we’ll keep you informed.

Except it doesn’t always work that way, does it?

We know that pro-am journalism can work only if people are persuaded to give their time, lend their knowledge, pool their intelligence. Those are donations, but not of money. Often they are more critical than money.

To succeed in this, we have to persuade several hundred people to donate good work to one big story — and to swarm around so it gets really good. We plan to modify this site for use in future stories, more sprawling and more difficult. Maybe about the environment. Or the schools. Or — who knows? — the war.

A professional newsroom can’t easily do this kind of reporting; it’s a closed system. Because only the employees operate in it, there can be reliable controls. That’s the system’s strength. The weakness is the organization knows only what its own people know. Which wasn’t much of a weakness until the Internet made it possible for the people formerly known as the audience to realize their informational strengths.

Our site was designed for the “open” mode of news production. That means anyone can wander by and check out what we’re doing. And if we do this right, anyone who is interested can find within minutes something useful to do. We’re betting that openness of that type has editorial advantages bigger than its well-known weak points.

This is not just an open, but also a pro-am, project. Some things will be decided by editors, others will be left to participants. We don’t know what the optimal mix is yet, but in the course of the project we’ll find it.

One place that is likely to happen is The Exchange, Assignment Zero’s discussion forum. That’s where you can talk about the project, float ideas and tell us what’s working, or not. Anyone can start a thread. The editors watch The Exchange and of course participate.

One day, stories with a thousand people on the masthead might become routine, and we’ll know how to do them. For now, we just need hundreds, acting in the spirit of the enterprise, to help us take apart and put together a single, sprawling story.

Assignment Zero is a starting point, a base line. Who knows where we will end up. But if reporting in the open style ever comes into its own — at our site or someone else’s — that might very well change journalism and expand what’s humanly possible with the instrument of a free press.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.