Social Media Club NY Mar 27

Jay Rosen (Newassigment.net) talking about Assignment Zero

When Tim Berners-Lee designed the web, he created a platform for people to collaborate, so scientists could share data. It is a giant collaboration machine. but it has developed more as a broadcast media, print, tv, cable to web.

so what are the consequences for journalism, investigative reporting, when we have falling costs to locate people, share info, collaborate. so like-minded people can find each other, collaborate and make stuff for value. see OSS, Wikipedia, others. So with NewAssignment.net what are the consequences for journalism,

this is a research project; to spark innovation, to develop new knowledge, to push forward platform of open source reporting.

So how do you do reporting under open conditions? the fist attempt is Assignment Zero, joint project with Wired magazine, they have shared some costs, e.g. hiring an editor to carry project to the end.

So can you take a big trend story, out there in 100s or 1000s of places, break it up into parts, develop online, assign to people, write stories and publish the best of the results. an open invitation to participates to join in that behaviour. can you do stories with 100s instead of 2-3?

Have 700 members in 2 weeks, they expected 250 in 2 months, with 100 or so real contributing. biggest problem is organising all of these people. Thye have joined, got blog, have email address. have said intend to contribute. Most members have put photos, They are known.

The heart of the site is the assignment desk (very crudely designed). List all the topics under the big story about the spread of crowd-sourcing.

There are forums to discuss new stories, complaints, a survey, the survey is open to all- looking at motivations across the various types of open source projects.

Most of the editors are professional journalists. we have a Director of Participation. to do this, you need a traditional editor and then you need someone to organise the people..the Director of Participation.. One drives the story, the other solves the people problems. We are deluged now under the cost of interactivity, we have 3x as many people as expected. we do not have the staff to manage this at the moment. then you have to organise volunteers to absorb this costs, to add to the solution, to organise more people. to keep the people there.

The Dir. of Participation’s background is in political campaigns, have understanding of organising people horizontal. The equivalent roles in tech companies are community managers.

We think it will be a 2-3 month project. so what do we get? Wired will have a big feature about everything we will do, and newassignment.net will also publish an editors cut of everything that came in. a big package of stories here, a big feature on the mag. everything is CC, so things can be published elsewhere as well,.

Also (today) starting a second project with Huffpost, following 12 Presidential candidates; create a group blog, with networks of 50-100 people, feeding material to one blog, doing a microbeat. there will be backstage forum for the network to discuss the news, sort out things etc.

Audience Questions

Q: how do you accommodate for standards of journalism, from writing to vetting stories.

A: we are trying to practice open platform, capture the benefits of openness but we know there are cots. the tricks are to have benefits and reduce costs. one of costs is about knowing the credibility of the participants. we are not going to prevent people joining, but have strict controls on what we will print. exercise controls at the final gateway. if we can’t reach you by phone, then unlikely to give you stuff essential to do. there’s no single solution to it. you have overlapping measures that add up to a workable solutions

Q: Dan Gilmore had Bayosphere for a while, the main difference here is there is an editor, far more of a focus.

A: this is a second wave attempt built on what happened the first time round. the first was about building platforms for people to do their own thing – that is what blogging is This is far different – one story into 100s of parts. we can do stuff that are as good, and stories that they would not attempt, that would not be feasible.

Q: what is the business model

A: this is not a business; the costs for this project are over 40k for one this one story, but we do not know what will come out of it. the costs for the first may not be the same as the second. will you get costs savings? not sure, but will get increases in quality and volume. the crowd become a way to make the crowd reliable. it is no a cheaper journalism, but a better one that is done on bigger subjects

Q: how about faster?

A: Last weekend the Justice dept, dumped 3k page of emails, see how talkingpontsmemo.com spread out the work, asked readers to help them out. posted 100s of pdfs, asked people to analyse and find the stuff. they did it overnight.

A: Sunlight foundation got people to check members of Congress employing family members- took a weekend – then all were fact checked and there was a high degree of accuracy.

Q: in terms of wikis, how would you describe the difference?

A: in starting this, we could learn from first wave of projects. take a step beyond that. 2ndly he biggest gains would be in hybrid forms, where you have openness and also some controls. there is structure and chaos. if anyone can sign up, this is the opposite of a controlled newsroom. it is going to be a mix of openness and controls, professionals and amateurs, order and entropy. the only way to find it is through practice, not ideology nor theory. I’m a tenure professor of journalism – who’s going to tell me I can’t. the cost of trying things is plunging so the cost to learning new things is plunging. no paper will do this. most journalists are very protectionist about this, defensive. I don;t have to care at the moment, we can do it without them. I put out an appeal for pros to help with it, when we got to 450, got 25 people interested. we have some problems, we did not design the pages properly. we are redesigning now, so you will find info and who the editor for the pages who is the contributor is, you can join a topic when you want to work on it, and you will know who your collaborators are. we add a blog for the editor to address the contributors.

Q: will we see the reporting that has gone on?

A: will we see their notes, what they add to it. They post in their ‘notebook’. which shows on the front page. Open source code site is built in drupal, all code is there, we need to find developers.

Q: is there a back channels or open channel for the participants?

A: when we redo the topic page. you will find discussion and deliberation at the page – publicly. when we do other stories, we may add some confidential stuff. we do it story by story. if the best thing for the story is to be confidential, then we will.

Q: why do you need a professional at the top – does not community do it already? can’t you do it like that?

A: it’;s possible we will get there, but when starting this I could not work out how to do this without some pros. if we could get there, and have almost no pros, then that would be fantastic discovery..a self informing public, a wild idea. but right now I don;t know how to do it, how to create the controls. I think the biggest gains will be with the hybrid.

Q: At the moment, my reporters notebook is covered by laws to keep me out of trouble, what about this notebook, how is this handled?

A: it;s a complicated questions. I have thought it through with lawyers. write now, all we can do is differentiate the edited from unedited. there is a belief that the libellous material is in unedited material then some protection (common carrier). this is not yet proven, we do not know that the courts will say. it is not exactly clear. this is an experiment in shared responsibility and liability. if I had checked with all lawyers possible, then they may say I could not do it. but I have to innovate. you have to solve the practical problems that you run in,. the knowledge that you develop to solve the problems is the goal.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

3 thoughts on “Social Media Club NY Mar 27

  1. Thanks Jay; I’d taken a look at the site beforehand but this put it all into context and makes far more sense to me.

  2. Pingback: Social Media Club - » Social Media Club, NYC, 3/27/07