NewAssignment.net

Jay Rosen announces an important experiment in journalism today: NewAssignment.net.

In a nutshell: This is publicly supported journalism. The public will come to NewAssignment.net with story ideas and will collaborate on honing them there. Once assigned by NewAssignment’s editors, the public will contribute both money and reporting to the work that reporters are paid to do. The process is open and the public will have a strong voice and role in the journalism NewAssignment does. Editors will supervise the assignments and the reporting and will edit the stories, assuring that NewAssignment produces quality journalism and also that it is not overtaken by a pressure groups. There’s much more to this with many nuances and Jay examines them all in a lengthy (even for him) FAQ on his blog.

This is an answer — not the answer — to the frequently asked question in the shrinking news business these days: How will we support journalism and investigation? NewAssignment will not replace the work of professional news organizations. It will complement them, attacking the stories that are not being covered. It begins with an article a few articles faith. First: The public will support journalism and investigation. Second: The public will then want more of a voice and a role in that reporting. Third: Given the opportunity to have more of a voice and role, the public will contribute more support. It’s a virtuous circle, if it works.

Jay got funding from the MacArthur Foundation to explore this idea for a year. NewAssignment just received a grant from Craig Newmark‘s personal foundation to fund the work on a pilot project. And NewAssigment is getting help from Daylife, the news startup I’ve been working on. That relationship: Daylife will gather, analyze, organize, and create a new, distributed platform for the world’s news. In a sense, then, NewAssignment is complementary: Daylife shows you what is being covered and New Assignment fills in a few of the gaps about what is not being covered. Daylife will provide some technical and distribution help, starting with a pilot project.

I’ve known about Jay’s vision for NewAssignment for more than a year now and I’ve thrown in my two cents. I think this is an important experiment in pro-am, publicly supported, open journalism. We must explore new business models to support coverage of news and this is one of them. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of NewAssignment and I look forward to working with Jay and you on it and learning a lot along the way.

This is your chance: You’ve said you wonder why some stories are not getting covered. Well, now you can gather together and get them covered. You’ve wanted more of a role in journalism. Now you can be involved from start to finish. You’ve known facts that would matter in news coverage if only you could be heard. Now, you can.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    This is nothing but another nuanced indictment of the free market and public.

    The public is slowing tuning out Big Media’s tripe ergo the public doesn’t support “quality” journalism.

    This project will go nowhere. If it’s such a good idea where are the investors?

    Hah. It needed a grant from a communist foundation.

  • http://www.charlesarthur.com/blog Charles

    Sorry, Jeff, but the 1% rule will kill this. You’re expecting lots of 1-per-centers will come along and not only put in the idea, but wait to have it approved?

    If they have the idea, they won’t dump it somewhere – they’ll either follow it up themselves (in whatever way) or blog it or forget it. Most people who come by won’t bother.

    Think how hard it is to get journalists, who generally are the 1%ers, to generate stories, and then imagine the public doing it? This is why c–n journalism don’t work. 99% of people aren’t in the 1%. It’s going to go about as well as Steve Gillmor’s experiment with a publicly-generated paper.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Nut: Well, I can always count on you for the constructive and helpful addition to the contribution.

    Charles: I’m not sure I understand your point on the 1% rule. The rule tends to mean that you need only 1 percent of the community to contribute to reach something worthwhile for the community.

    I’d say that the ideas for reporting aren’t just dumped at NA.net. They are discussed all over, including in blogs. If this is something someone can complete in a blog, then wonderful, it’s not a story for NA.net. The point of NA.net is that it will have and raise the money to assign reporters to stories to get the work done. I have lots of ideas for stories I simply do not have the time to pursue; I need to earn a living. But now I can contribute to the means to get someone to pursue that story.

  • http://www.beatcanvas.com Brett Rogers

    I think the problem is the role of the editor. I read Jay’s FAQ on it. Impassioned people already research a topic of interest to them and post about it on their blogs. For free. Google allows me to search for those who might have already researched a topic / event and see multiple points of view on it. There is Technorati and Digg and Memeorandum for current events and different perspectives on these events.

    Why is the editor necessary? Let people assign themselves, as they do today, and let them post about it, as they do today, and let aggregators allow us in the cheap seats search out and find that research, as we do today.

    The wisdom of the crowd and the army of Davids approach seems fine today. I don’t see what’s broken here. Maybe in terms of Big Media’s approach this is an incremental step, but it still involves a middle-man, when the middle-man is quite unnecessary.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Brett:
    Jay can explain that far better than I can.
    This is by no means an either/or. I absolutely agree that innumerable acts of journalism already occur on blogs in a distributed world and this does not affect that. People do assign themselves and thank god for it.
    This is about needing the resources to full-time report something. Imagine if you could assign and collaborate with and support the good reporters on your newspaper. I think that’s the better analogy.

  • http://www.beatcanvas.com Brett Rogers

    I said on your site a long time ago that if I could find an outfit that reported the facts – giving all sides of an issue – I’d support that with my money. It’s worth it because it saves me time from having to ferret out the truth myself.

    NA’s approach, with its feedback system, would reward and continue the relationship with reporters who work hard to report the facts – good – but what happens if a donor gives money to a story and it comes out other than the donor expected. Would they see their money’s worth in getting an answer other than what they wanted to hear? People with enough passion to part with their money for a story probably have an opinion formed already. Will the reporter report for the money and not for the story? How will this affect their donor-supported rating?

    Perhaps I’ve read Jay’s premise wrong. I like the idea of involving us in the cheap seats. I like anything that runs around Big Media’s “Thanks, we’ll take it from here” approach. Competition is healthy. I’ll read Jay’s Thursday FAQ part II to learn more.

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  • http://robertdfeinman.com/society Robert Feinman

    I think that the public is mostly interested in the same few issues at a given time. So, expecting investigative reporting and a public interested in reading the results on a below-the-radar story is unlikely.

    For example, I floated an idea on how to decrease the budget deficit by imposing a war tax surcharge on the top three income brackets last week. It got almost no notice. Raising taxes is just not something people are willing to discuss (although they are happy to complain about the size of the deficit).

    Josh Marshall has been using the citizen financed model to staff TPMmuckrakers with a degree of success, but he is only interested in government malfeasance.

  • http://www.drcookie.blogspot.com JennyD

    Brett wrote: “but what happens if a donor gives money to a story and it comes out other than the donor expected. Would they see their money’s worth in getting an answer other than what they wanted to hear?”

    Why would this be any different from a newspaper owner who doesn’t want to see bad press about his CEO friend? Or about some organization he is involved in?

  • http://www.beatcanvas.com Brett Rogers

    Hi Jenny

    It’s different on a couple of levels.

    Ad money, which pays the salaries at newspapers, is not directly tied to the story itself. They are separate transactions. Here, I pay directly for a particular story.

    The favoritism lent to a friend of the publisher might be done to protect ad revenue. Most of those contributing to Jay’s enterprise won’t have their image at stake by investing in a story. I might, however, have my beliefs at stake, which is the danger I cite.

    The public can’t vote specifically on the veracity or quality of the story in a newspaper or its reporter, and I think Jay has that intention here.

  • http://www.drcookie.blogspot.com JennyD

    Brett, I hear many saying that private ownership is better than corporate ownership, b ut then I see all the same issues that would come up with donors.

    Maybe. We’ll see.

    One thing I was thinking of with this is stories I DON’T want to see that might go away, kind of. I live in a university town. Yesterday, the banner headline was University to raise Tuition. Honestly, no one who subscribes to the newspaper cares about this much. People who live here don’t attend the university. This headline is for others, for parents of future students. But the newspaper has decided that this is the big news of the day.

    I think if people could pay for coverage they wanted, no one would have paid for this who lives in my college town.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Jeff,

    So does that mean you don’t respect my view that NewAssignment is a joke?

    Let’s see. Apparently “professional” news organizations are ignoring important stories. But they should only be “complemented”, not reformed or eliminated – and definitely not by market forces.

    The great thing about the net is that in two years we can check back NewAssignment’s progress and see whether it surpassed the “contribution” level of my commentary.

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  • Jaap

    The first link is still broken…

  • http://www.digitalstreetjournal.com Jonathan Trenn

    I can see this working on a small scale, but not a large scale. There are plenty of wothy stories that don’t get covered. But what I forsee is what Brett was talking about.

    A reporter believes that perhaps there’s a hidden story out there – a conspiracy that’s covered up. He or she submits it, gets people to contribute. Nothing is found…no cover up, no conspiracy.

    Now, the investors are pissed. Because they may have pissed their money away, their investment…or more importantly, because they think the reporter did a bad job…and may be now part of the conspiracy.

    Because, in the end, I think most contributors will feel as if they are investors who’ve hired someone to get their side of their story out in the open.

  • David

    Hey Jarvis;

    A REMINDER:

    An average of 100 Iraquis are dying everyday in a war that you were so happy to start. The 100 Iraquis being killed is equivalent to about a 1000 US citizens being killed as the population is 10 times as small as ours. 14000 Iraquis have died in this year which is equivalent to 140,000 US citizens. So why oh why have you stopped posting all the good news from Iraq the last few months?

    Your first assignment should be to back up all the posts you made about all the good news in Iraq that the MSM is not covering. Come on put up or shut up. Show us the good news.

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  • http://amandaunboomed.blogspot.com Amanda Congdon

    This is an exciting, brilliant concept.

    I’m with Brett on cutting as many middlemen out as possible. Can the community be the editors? Can we develop some kind of efficient process for that?

    I also question Jay’s point about having “professional” journalists do the reporting. I’d personally like to see a mix of reporters, both “professionals” and “amateurs”. My guess is that the community will either respond to the person, or not. It has little to do with their title or background. If they trust the person, and that person is smart and engaging…that’ll be what counts. Let’s not just leave this to the “professionals”. If we do that, we’re missing the whole point.

  • Danny Choriki

    A very interesting idea. Two cliches come to mind.

    First, “The devil/god is in the details.”

    Which is to say that it will work or fail based on how it is setup to work and who is involved. There is a lot of faith and trust implicite here. In most of the “old world” model of journalism, I would advocate for separating funding from editorial control. One thing that would make reversing that model work is if the funding is made transparent.

    Second, “The only free press is the one you own.”

    I think that the biggest thing that we have lost in the transition from private ownership of the news media to corporate ownership is that the passion has moved from making a point to making a profit. Look at Fox.

  • leron

    This sounds like the nub of a great idea. But I’m still hazy on how it could actually work. The examples cited here and on the newassignment website don’t really explain how you develop a cadreof professional journalists committed to such a prohject, and how they interface with the “public.” And how you react when people, including more than one above, get upset with you for refusing to cover their “stories,” which may not be worth covering.

  • Sensei Paul

    Anything that shakes up perceptions of media gets my support. Open up skills to the masses I say. A new collective is born!

  • http://erasend.blogspot.com kingdom2000

    It is an interesting concept, almost sounds like a news site version of Wikipedia combined with digg.com. I am wondering how conflict of interest between the money, advertisers (if they come) and so forth will be handled. Its something that all publishers deal with and don’t see how this will be any different.

    Something that hasn’t been dealt with though is the range of topics. Often times, when people complain that a topic isn’t being covered correctly or from all sides, its usually with a personal slant or agenda. How will that be handled and minimized (and should it?). While its known that publications have bias, there is an attempt to hide or shield it (can debate on the levels of success). With such an idea as this, bia may become the biggest problem to overcome.

    What will prevent the site’s content from coming from a chosen few? As recent stories with netscape attempting to buy off some of digg.com providers show, sometimes the content of a site is made up of a core few rather then a large group of mixed interests.

    Above someone suggested eliminating the professional editors. Interesting idea but doesn’t that risk the site just becoming a news version of wikipedia or a heated forum post with back and forth among the heated interested about the topic, rather then the sharing of news? That level of autonomy would probably make for very interesting results but mostly seems more like a possible mistake.

    Finally, what parts of the school of journalism will be applied to the average citizen reporter and how much will not? What would seperate rumors, speculation from facts? What level of transparency would be expected? The biggest complaints about journalism today is the loss of honesty and trust. What steps would be made to prevent a repeat of the mainstream medias mistakes?

    I am not knocking the idea, just sharing random concerns that came up. If the editing and whatnot isn’t handled carefully, the site could become more of a series of like minded bloggers and less of a site about news events worth knowing about.

  • http://benedictionblogson.com Bene Diction

    Spero News is doing this already.
    And it’s been an interesting learning curve.
    I wish Mr. Rosen well.

  • http://www.frankfisher.org Frank Fisher

    This is one way to address a problem we’ve talked about on my site too. I value citizen journalists, but I value pros too, and the wallop that working for a major news org can give them.

    I can see how established journalists could benefit from this kind of idea – even today. Imagine Greg Palasts says “I’m on a story, no one will touch it – sponsor me $10,000 and you’ll get your namecheck in my next book AND the satisfaction of stiffing it to a bad guy” Thousand people put up ten apiece – I can see that working. But for new and unknowns? Different proposition.

  • Jim Dorey

    Why use the public to fund this? Use advertising. Stick to protocol. Simple.

    I love the process notion here. Story ‘Ideas’ (Public) –> Review & Approve (Public) –> Journalist Selection (Public – via resume & past ratings) –> Assignment Review & Approve (Editor, a.k.a. webmaster responsible for any content posted) –> Publication (with sponsored text only banner ads) –> Reader Comments & Rating Submission (Public).

    I would love to see a bibliography of all resources used in the creation of the article. Enough of hiding your ‘sources’. Leads to corrupted journalism.

  • http://www.danielmcvicar.com Daniel McVicar

    I like stirring up this pot. It is clear that the quest for or the revolution of a truth in journalism is suppressed by the profit/and or political motives of those that have been in control of the media.

    Is this the answer? It is one, for sure. I would like to see an open source bidding war between different political viewpoints, with reporters sent to report back to their respective mobs. That could be interesting.

    I do know that with all the filtering going on, it is good to shake it loose and see what happens.

  • http://www.danielmcvicar.com Daniel McVicar

    that is revelation of truth….guess I don’t get the first assignment

  • News OverLoad

    Today’s so-called professional journalists wait for the wire services and change the headlines. There is no more reporting going on. I mean digging and investigating the facts. And these guys have all the resources and money in the world. There is more behind the scenes that actual reporting. I doubt and the overloaded media medium can take another so called “honest” reporting approach. 75% of what you read on the net is total BS. Good luck.
    There are already a billion blogs to choose from. People have to know you exist and you have to prove you are newsworthy. You want the public to pay.
    Good luck again. I couldn’t be bothered to read inane stories that will be half baked truth, lies and cherry pie.

  • Chris Maytag

    Jim Dorrey writes “Why use the public to fund this? Use advertising. Stick to protocol. Simple.”

    1. Advertising is SO 20th century.
    2. Both going directly to people vs. going to advertisers bring in the money. But one focuses on what people actually want (this is a good thing, by the way) and one focuses on having other people tell us what we want (this is a BAD thing, by the way).

    By ‘sticking with protocol’ in order to keep things simple, you’d be missing the whole point of new media.

  • RyanT

    I’m following the crumb trail from Amanda’s blog, and read through those responses to get a feeling for the idea. I’m wondering… is this too close to Newsvine for users to comprehend, and if so, will too many then also only give lackluster performance to the content, thus limiting the funding available? I like the idea of getting rid of the middleman – who can also be the I-want-to-hear-the-story-this-way-man – because I think many will appreciate the honest message. Best of luck to the project!

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  • Raymond Kornele

    Where??? I see lotsw of info on what it is, but none on where.

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