The Economist’s cover asks: Who killed the newspapers. The story is a good roundup of what newspapers are facing worldwide — that is, the challenges and the opportunities. And the leader ends hopefully on the latter:
The usefulness of the press goes much wider than investigating abuses or even spreading general news; it lies in holding governments to account–trying them in the court of public opinion. The internet has expanded this court. Anyone looking for information has never been better equipped. People no longer have to trust a handful of national papers or, worse, their local city paper. News-aggregation sites such as Google News draw together sources from around the world. The website of Britain’s Guardian now has nearly half as many readers in America as it does at home.
In addition, a new force of “citizen” journalists and bloggers is itching to hold politicians to account. The web has opened the closed world of professional editors and reporters to anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection. Several companies have been chastened by amateur postings–of flames erupting from Dell’s laptops or of cable-TV repairmen asleep on the sofa. Each blogger is capable of bias and slander, but, taken as a group, bloggers offer the searcher after truth boundless material to chew over. Of course, the internet panders to closed minds; but so has much of the press.
For hard-news reporting–as opposed to comment–the results of net journalism have admittedly been limited. Most bloggers operate from their armchairs, not the frontline, and citizen journalists tend to stick to local matters. But it is still early days. New online models will spring up as papers retreat. One non-profit group, NewAssignment.Net, plans to combine the work of amateurs and professionals to produce investigative stories on the internet. Aptly, $10,000 of cash for the project has come from Craig Newmark, of Craigslist, a group of free classified-advertisement websites that has probably done more than anything to destroy newspapers’ income.
In future, argues Carnegie, some high-quality journalism will also be backed by non-profit organisations. Already, a few respected news organisations sustain themselves that way–including the Guardian, the Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio. An elite group of serious newspapers available everywhere online, independent journalism backed by charities, thousands of fired-up bloggers and well-informed citizen journalists: there is every sign that Arthur Miller’s national conversation will be louder than ever.
Jay Rosen announces an important experiment in journalism today: NewAssignment.net.
In a nutshell: This is publicly supported journalism. The public will come to NewAssignment.net 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.