The first fruits of NewAssignment.net’s labors are up at Wired — an article about Cizendium — and Jay Rosen reports on the process and what they’re learning, transparent to their word. “Whether Assignment Zero worked or not is ultimately in the journalism,” Jay concludes. “Right now I’d say about 28 percent of what we did worked. But there’s time to push that up.”
I still think much of this is in the assignment. This assignment was influenced, perhaps too much, by the first partner, Wired. The original concept was that the public would pick the story it wanted to work on and though that would have been difficult to pull off from a standing start, now that there is a community around NA.net, I think it would be easier to open up the assignment part of the process as well. Jay quotes some criticism and worry from the start of the project, including from me:
We were criticized for starting with a geeky and self-referential story. “Man, you could have tackled health care, education, immigration, race relations, religion – or any number of real news topics,” said Tom Watson, whose instincts I respect. “And the thing is, even if this thing rocks, it will only prove the concept to a bunch on insider head-nodders anyway.”
It’s a fair point, and I replied to it here. Jeff Jarvis, a friend of the project, said we started with something too hard. “I think they actually bit off a big bite for their first story,” he wrote, “because it’s more qualitative than quantitative, more about interviews and views than numbers and facts.” He was more right than I thought at the time.
I think it’s worth trying to list the characteristics of the ideal networked story. I’m still thinking that it’s something more fact- and data-based, more quantitative than qualitative. This allows the gathering of news that would not have been possible with a tiny team of journalists: What can 1,000 people learn that one cannot? It also implies a broader story, for why would 1,000 people want to help gather reporting unless they cared about the results? And it yields something we didn’t know until we could gather it, and that’s the essence of news.
I think that NewAssignment.net has already answered the biggest and most critical question: Will people give a damn sufficient to go to the effort of journalism? Will they be able to work together? Can the tasks be split up so that they can accomplish something as a whole? I’d say the answers appear to be yes. So to me, the real question is how best people can harnass themselves to accomplish journalism together. And I think the art of that will be in the assignment. I’d start the discussion on Assignment One now.