Should you choose to accept it….

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is up on NewAssignment.net. This is Jay Rosen’s inspiration brought to life. As he explains the question:

Can large groups of widely scattered people, working together voluntarily on the net, report on something happening in their world right now, and by dividing the work wisely tell the story more completely, while hitting high standards in truth, accuracy and free expression?
If they can, this would matter.

I think they actually bit off a big bite for their first story, their assignment zero, because it’s more qualitative than quantitative, more about interviews and views than numbers and facts. They’re going to assess the impact of crowdsourcing. That comes, I suspect, from the influence of Wired, which was first step up for a joint project. I think the results will be fascinating but also challenging as they figure out how do — and this is Jay’s key inspiration — cut up a story into its elemental bits of reporting and assign those out. Jay again:

We’re going to investigate the growth and spread of crowdsourcing, which overlaps with something called peer production. (Yochai Benkler’s complete term is “commons-based peer production.”) This basically means people making valuable stuff by cooperating online, mainly because they want to and sometimes because they’re paid to assist. . . .

While the geeks invented such practices, first with free software, then with open source, they long ago lost control of them; and today crowdsourcing is on the rise across a wide social landscape, from corporate America and government to arts and crafts. Wikipedia calls this open-source culture.

Collaboration in the open-source diaspora and why it works when it does (plus what it can’t do …), that’s a sprawling and nuanced story with lots of locations. It lies in pieces — and in people who know the practices. There’s also a little mystery at the core of it: Why are these people willing to work for free?

Nuanced, indeed. That’s not as easy an exercise in networked journalism as, say, comparing prices for drugs across the country, one of the early examples thrown out for NewAssignment, or comparing companies’ family policies. But they didn’t go for easy out of the gate. That will make the process as fascinating to watch as the story.

So go dig in. Take an assignment. Pick up your notebook and get out of the newsroom.

  • greg0658

    The masses can contribute on issues of daily life, but specific issues of mass importance – on say “spy poisoning” needs a sleuth assigned to the job who is not predisposed to an outcome.

    Sure there are always individuals in the know on any subject and could be this reporter, but those individuals are usually predisposed to another purpose in life and beyond that are not connected in mass to inform us on their subject.

    Say the Borg control and freedom to “boldly go were no man has gone before”.

  • http://tomwatson.typepad.com Tom W.

    Great project – crappy assignment.

    Where’s the news value? Where’s the impact on people’s daily lives? How does this fit into the current discussion of issues? Why so esoteric? Why a subject that will only attract cyber-geeks?

    Man, you could have tackled health care, education, immigration, race relations, religion – or any number of real news topics.

    And the thing is, even if this thing rocks, it will only prove the concept to a bunch on insider head-nodders anyway…Hate to say it, was excited when I first heard of the idea, but this is a big swing and a miss!

  • http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/ Jay Rosen

    Hi, Tom. I knew I would get this criticism, and it is a valid criticism

    Assignment Zero now is a beta site, and we’re learning how to use it, just as we are figuring our how to organize a big team of contributors. Starting from zero.

    I made the decision that we should start with this “open source goes mainstream” story as a test of premises and platform. And I made it knowing that the choice would disappoint, frustrate, annoy some people, and would also be confusing to some. I even groaned a time or two myself: a crowdsourced article on crowdsourcing? I understand why people think that’s lame.

    But. I had reasons. I don’t know if I made the right decision, but here’s my list:

    * This is our first project. Maybe we will catch your interest on the next one.

    * After this one our site will be a lot better, and we won’t be making dumb ass rookie mistakes.

    * We are, no way around it, doing a crowd sourced story on crowd sourcing. But not to be cutesy and self-referential and “webbie.” That was not my aim. I think the rise of crowdsourcing and peer production as a social trend is a pretty good story. But also: The information we develop about the practice of collaborating online, about “good” practice, variations in it, problems with it–all the realism we can find–will be extremely valuable to future projects of NewAssignment.Net.

    * Our site–an open newsroom with an assignment desk, reporter’s notebook, exchange, contributors columns–is new, rough, unfinished, in a sense just bones. Only people trying to use it can make it better. So which people do you want at that early stage, when it’s all potential but not fully “there”…? My decision was to go with people inclined to know a lot about the Web, who could see something under construction and realize what it was, people with some enthusiasm for the project of creating a way to do large, complex stories. Call them early adopters. The story we’re covering is likely to be of interest to them.

    * The rise and spread (and limits) of crowdsourcing is of marginal interest to some, maybe most of NewAssignment.Net’s eventual participants. But the same subject is, without question, of journalistic importance to Wired and Wired.com– on their beat. Therefore they have an easy way to evaluate how useful our practices are. If they can effectively evaluate us, we can learn more. And that’s a win.

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  • http://www.newcritics.com Tom W.

    Jay – those are valid reasons, i suppose. I kind of figured some of them out when I threw the comment down, but still…I’d suggest two things:

    - There are other groups of highly motivated (and wired) citizen reporters out there, certainly within the wide scope of politics and policy, but also within big cities – you could have gone local.

    - And two, while I agree the mistakes would have been more spectacuar, perhaps that would have been for the best! (And have the added benefit of drawing more attention to the project).

    Finally, you must have thought about the double-entendre of “crowdsourcing” in a journalistic context….some fascinating ways to read the term.

    Still, I’ll be watching – I’ve been interested in community journalism since, well, I was one one.

  • http://www.newcritics.com Tom W.

    One other thought and I guess this was what got me charged up: what I really would hope to get from the experiment is something that can move people.

  • http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/ Jay Rosen

    Understood on all points. Funny, the other “test” topic I considered was a local story. The same conditions could have been applied there.

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