Posts about networkedjournalism

More networked journalism: All for one, one for all

Here’s another notion of networked journalism. (Last week’s was Jay Rosen’s and later this week, I’ll tell you about one more from Berlin.)

Imagine this from the vision of Tom Evslin: What if all our Skype widgets had a button that allowed us to test and report the speed at which our Skype voice packets were being allowed through by our ISPs. What if then — following the 1 percent rule — just 400,000 of Skype’s 40-million-plus regular users hit that button and reported in how Skype’s — and other applications’ packets — were treated by their ISPs.

This would produce an incredible data base showing whether ISPs are, indeed, discriminating against certain packets and applications to advantage their own. I suspect Cablevision of playing wack-a-mole with my Skype because it works fine on slower lines elsewhere but horribly when I try to do interviews with the Guardian or the BBC (which prefer Skype) from home. But I have absolutely no way of knowing whether this is true. Evslin had similar suspicions about his satellite ISP and when I last saw him, he said he wanted to get folks at a place such as Skype to provide the necessary technical details to know how to test — and how to get many people — to test their packets. And wouldn’t it be great if that were as easy as hitting a button on Skype that tested and then reported the results to a central repository?

That is reporting, distributed reporting, pro-am reporting, networked reporting, whatever you’d like to call it. It is the people connected and gathering information that no one reporter could gather alone.

Now a reporter could take that data and go to ISPs to find out their side and get a good story out of this that has a big impact — one way or the other — on the net neutrality debate. Is there a smoking gun of discrimination to favor ISPs own packets? Or not? Let’s find out and report it.

Now, of course, there is also a sort of Heisenberg principle (using the bastardized definition of it) at work here: When the reporter calls, the ISP may say, ‘Oh, this is a mistake. We don’t discriminate.’ And whatever was switched on gets switched off. Or this could happen simply when the ISPs notice that they are being watched by the magic button. So the act of reporting affects the news reported (but then, it often does).

Now a journalist might say that this ruins the story. But the essential role of reporting remains in force: Journalism is a watchdog and now companies know that their customers are their watchdogs. Every customer is now a reporter.

One can imagine no end of ways to enable such large-scale distributed reporting. Some services are trying to get people to report gas prices. Jay talked about surveying prescription drug prices across the country. The Star-Ledger in New Jersey used to get high school counselors to share data that no colleges share on who really gets in and doesn’t (so what if thousands of college students shared their scores, grades, activities, acceptances, and rejections). We could all log out calls to customer service of certain companies — what gets fixed and what doesn’t and how long it takes. We could report and compare how much our local government officials are paid and spend: Every citizen is a reporter. Imagine the possibilities.

Jay Rosen announces an important experiment in journalism today:

In a nutshell: This is publicly supported journalism. The public will come to 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.

Amateurs get paid

When people ask me for the most forward-thinking news organization in the U.S. that has actually accomplished things in this new world, I point to WKRN TV in Nashville, run by Mike Sechrist, and Terry Heaton’s work with them. They’ve listened to their community via bloggers (in meetups) and shared knowledge with them (teaching them how to shoot video) and promoted them (in the station’s blog) and supported them (with an ad network).

This week, they announced an important next step: valuing the work of these amateurs. Terry reports:

…WKRN-TV announced tonight that it would begin paying local bloggers for approved video stories they submit and running those stories on its Website and in its newscasts. WKRN president and general manager Mike Sechrist told a “meet-up” of local bloggers that he could envision the day when a daily program would be made up entirely of material submitted by the community. . . .

Sechrist told the group of bloggers that they had already had a significant influence on the news programs the station produces, simply by doing what they do. The station has pursued stories first raised in the blogging community and has used local bloggers as a sounding board at various times. . . .

I’m sure that we’ll hear plenty of bitching about this from the trenches of the TV news business, but the truth is this was inevitable. Stations have always employed “stringers” or “freelancers,” but most of their work was raw video that station reporters used to tell stories. This takes the concept a step further and taps into the knowledge, passion, brainpower and, yes, skill of people in the community. This a fruit of the personal media revolution, and it will be interesting to watch. . . .


Networked journalism

I think a better term for what I’ve been calling “citizen journalism” might be “networked journalism.”

“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product.

I carry some of the blame for pushing “citizens’ media” and “citizen journalism” as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news. Many of us were never satisfied with the terms, and for good reason. They imply that the actor defines the act and that’s not true in a time when anyone can make journalism. This also divides journalism into distinct camps, which only prolongs a problem of professional journalism — its separation from its public (as Jay Rosen points out). In addition, many professional journalists have objected that these terms imply that they are not acting as citizens themselves — and, indeed, I believe that the more that journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their journalism will be.

In networked journalism, the public can get involved in a story before it is reported, contributing facts, questions, and suggestions. The journalists can rely on the public to help report the story; we’ll see more and more of that, I trust. The journalists can and should link to other work on the same story, to source material, and perhaps blog posts from the sources (see: Mark Cuban). After the story is published — online, in print, wherever — the public can continue to contribute corrections, questions, facts, and perspective … not to mention promotion via links. I hope this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as journalists realize that they are less the manufacturers of news than the moderators of conversations that get to the news.

This came to me on the drive back from Media Giraffe with Jay Rosen: the mobile master class. Somewhere in midConnecticut, we were talking about how journalism can, should, and will work when we can all join in and it hit me like a lightning bolt: this isn’t about citizens or amateurs vs. professionals. We’re all in this together. Journalism is a collaborative venture. Journalism is a network.

: LATER: Terry Heaton points us to earlier thinking in this vein. Just to be clear: I’m by no means trying to claim any provenance in this, only indicating a shift in my own thinking.

: LATER STILL: Chris Nolan adds in email:

Stand-alone journalism depends on an audience of people who understand that connection. The web is a flexible medium so readers come and go quickly. So there’s a contradiction: The newsroom has left the building but no one site can really stand alone and prosper by demanding that readers come to it. The business challenge is to make that flexibility part of how we do business if we’re going to grow and keep readers, Smart guys like WashPo’s Jim Brady and Yahoo’s Neil Budde know this; that’s why they’re not demanding exclusivity. That’s also why Spot-on’s pushing the syndication part of our business ahead of everything else. We want to go to our readers wherever they are, rather than wait for them to come to us.

Julian Sanchez of Reason said in email that he’s using “distributed journalism” and I agree with that. I use it, too, in certain company. Only problem is, when I say that in front of newspaper folks, they think trucks.