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.