Posts about newassignment

Leading up to the Networked Journalism Summit

Wednesday morning, the Networked Journalism Summit at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism opens. Students will be liveblogging at the summit blog and I’ll ask the participants to tag their posts, photos, videos, etc. “netj.” Rachel Sterne from Ground Report also plans to broadcast from the summit.

Jay Rosen beats them to the punch tonight with a great post that both walks up to the summit and shares his lessons from NewAssignment.net. Jay’s summary:

That is my attempt to map the perimeter: solutions lie within. Division of labor is the key creative decision in acts of distributed reporting. Grok the motivations or it can’t be done. Watch for ballooning coordination costs as ramp up succeeds. Where the small pieces meet the larger narrative the alchemy of the project lives. Shared background knowledge raises group capacity. Extant communities already coordinate well.

No one is saying that collaborative, pro-am, networked journalism is the cure to the industry’s ills or that it will replace the professional model. I believe that it is one means by which journalism can and should expand now — even as journalistic organizations’ revenue and often staffs decline. New Assignment is one way to try this — with Rosen et al or on your own, as Brian Lehrer at WNYC has done. And tomorrow’s participants will hear about many other endeavors in other models. I hope they leave with information and inspiration and new ideas to implement and experiment with. When they do, we will report back on their plans and will follow up with progress reports.

My Assignment Zero interview

I was interviewed via email for NewAssignment.net’s assignment zero on crowdsourcing by Neal G. Moore, director of community relations at Indiana University’s School of Informatics. I’ll put up the first exchange. If you have better answers — or better questions — please join in.

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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.

Abandoning ship

Newspapers — and their readers — should be scared reading Jay Rosen’s interview with John McQuaid, an accomplished reporter — he predicted everything that would happen in Katrina years before — who has given up on working for papers. He is exactly where papers should be putting their investment: in unique reporting, real value for the community. But his investigative role was killed, before Katrina, and he chose not to become a paper-pusher on a desk.

So McQuaid becomes a poster child for newspaper cutbacks done wrong. I have been arguing that cutbacks are a good thing if they are used to boil a paper to its essence, to get rid of the useless stuff and decide what a paper’s real value is: reporting. Cutbacks are bad if they maintain the commodity stuff at the expense of reporting. But all is not lost. McQuaid remains a reporter, only now an independent one. He’s going to contribute to NewAssignment.net. He says:

Newspapers remain key venues for probing, public service-oriented journalism. While the format has its problems–too many dull, interminable series see print mainly as Pulitzer bait–at their best, newspaper series can not only reveal terrible problems and injustices, but also be lively and engaging reading.

Big papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post retain the staff and resources to do these kinds of things. But no matter how important or interesting they are, investigations don’t pay the bills, and in a lot of other places there’s neither the capacity nor the will to delve deeply into both local and national issues. That’s a serious problem, in keeping politicians and other officials honest and in the functioning of democracy itself. So I’d like to help new, Internet-based forums, emerge locally and nationally to do investigative or explanatory journalism. And of course we need readers, advertisers and financial backers to go with them.

This is a great era for news– government accountability has all but disappeared. Doubtless, there are dozens of government meltdowns — on top of the ones that we already know about — already underway or about to happen.

That said, I’m not sure how what this new form will look like. The newspaper investigation is basically a static form: journalists work for weeks or months on a story. For the most part, nobody in the wider world even knows what they’re doing. Then they publish it. It makes a splash (or not). Maybe it has a broad impact. After the publication date, on some basic level, it’s over.

But the web is so dynamic — an ever-unfolding conversation. So I was intrigued by NewAssignment.Net, which offers an opportunity to figure out how to harness that dynamism in the service of journalism.

: LATER: Part two up now.

Networked journalism on the track

The new NewAssignment.net site launches today and Tom Evslin writes about a very real networked journalism project to find whether there are the smoking guns of network (non)neutrality lurking in our ISP wires.

The NA.net blog is now filled regularly with reporting about networked reporting: lots of good stuff from founder Jay Rosen and the first editor, David Cohn. Time to add it to your RSS subscriptions.

I’m less enthused about another project they’re involved in: a networked photolog of polling places. Polling places are, by their very nature, excruciatingly dull.

But meanwhile, elsewhere on the frontier, Carnegie, Ford, and Open Society are supporting VoterStory.org, where we are encouraged to go file any tales of voting irregularities. Those tales clearly will need confirmation – that is, reporting.

: LATER: Betsy Devine dispatches people to take pictures of the campaign flyers on car windows at church. More networked journalism, more crowdsourcing.

New Assignment Q&A

Jay Rosen is probed by Slashdotters on New Assignment. Good reading.

School security: networked reporting

If NewAssignment.net were operational, I imagine its infrastructure of networked journalism could be used not only to undertake large reporting projects but also quick and vast stories.

For example: I would be eager to see hundreds of thousands of us contact our school districts today to find out the state of their security, in light of the latest rash of tragic murders in schools across the country. As I’ve discussed before, this act of reporting could also be an act of advocacy: The more we dog our school administrators, the more they know we are watching, the more diligent I hope they will be. This isn’t about scoops; it’s about being watchdogs.

Here are questions I just sent to the superintendent of our schools. I introduced myself as a parent and writer and then said:

I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a few questions on school security in light of recent events. (I’ve also read your letter to parents on the site about crises and school closures.)

* Are all doors at all schools locked at all times? If not, what are the exceptions? How are the doors monitored?

* Are there security cameras in the schools? If so, how many? And if so, where and by whom are the monitored?

* How often are staff, faculty, and students trained in emergency procedures?

* Is there onsite security in the schools?

* If, God forbid, there were a threat within a school, what should we as parents expect to happen?

When I get an answer, I will post it here tagged SCHOOLSECURITY.

If you do likewise, please post what you find and tag it. If more of us start posting on the topic, the results will show up under a Technorati tag here.

Even if that happens, of course, it’s only part of the story. With a working system for networked reporting, we’d want to have a means to format the information being gathered and then to put it into a system that allows analysis.

And then we’d want reporters to followup and give us more than data: expert advice on school security and what it will take to keep our children safe. . . . analysis of previous school tragedies to see what could have prevented them. . . interviews with school administrators to see what they are trying to do and what they need to get the jobs done. . . interviews with parents and children to see how safe they feel. . . interviews with government officials to see what resources they are willing to bring to the task. . . interviews with police to see what they think is needed. . . and so on.

Together, we could jump on this story and answer the questions: How safe are our children today? And how can we make them safer?

: UPDATE: Less than an hour after I sent my email, the superintendent of our schools sent back a very informative reply. Among her replies:

* “The doors at the elementary and middle schools are supposed to be locked at all times. The doors at the high school are not locked, and in fact, students use side and rear doors to move to different parts of the building for class. Teachers are stationed at those doors. The front entrance doors at the elementary and middle schools have buzzer systems, and a secretary has to ‘buzz in’ (unlock the door for) each visitor.”

* There are 16 cameras in our middle school and 32 in the high school with 16 more coming. I wish there were cameras in the elementary schools and that they were monitored. I emailed teh superintendent suggesting that webcams are cheap — as little as $10 retail — and since every classroom has internet-connected PCs, every classroom can have a cam that can be monitored by the administration.

* “We have district and individual school crisis management teams that meet monthly to review current plans and procedures, and work very closely with the emergency management officers in the township. ([The district's] municipal and school plans have been used as models in the county). Each school practices 3 lockdown drills per year, in addition to 2 monthly fire drills.

* There is no security in the schools but there is an armed police officer in the high school to deal with student issues.

* “In the event of a threat within a school, we take our direction from the police. They advise whether they want us to go into lockdown mode or evacuate. Both the county and local police have run their own training drills in our schools over the past several years. ”

The superintendent adds that a nut with a gun can do most anything.

: By the way, that simple act of emailing the school, asking questions, and getting answers is an act of journalism. Anyone can do it.

Good for Reuters

Catching up with Reuters Media President Chris Ahearn’s explanation of the wire’s $100k contribution to NewAssignment.net:

While encouraging good journalistic ideas is a worthy goal in itself, Reuters believes that supporting new and varied networks of creators with different perspectives is good for both journalism and business.

Ultimately, journalism is about the story and the pursuit of truth; it is not about the news industry, a j-school or a traditional newsroom structure. By building bridges and finding new ways to augment and accelerate the creation of quality journalism, we believe that ultimately the public will benefit and perhaps change their minds about the noble profession of journalism.

This on top of Reuters’ deal with Global Voices. Bravo.