August 27, 2006
Exploding By-Lines: Update on NewAssignment.Net
There's now a placeholder site. Design Observer joins in. The Economist weighs in. "Creating capacity does not create activity." I have an assignment for someone who wants to help out. And I need ideas for a test run.
1. Theres now a NewAssignment.Net site, a simple Wordpress blog. This is a temporary space while we get our act together. Jake Jarvis, son of Buzzmachines Jeff Jarvis, donated the set-up work. (Thanks, Jake.) Jeff is a key adviser to NewAssignment.Net.
2. The Exposing Earmarks project (see my Aug. 15 post about it) continues to operate as a case study in networked journalism. This was the assignment, as explained in the Examiner:
Check out the earmarks for your state and then call your congressman and ask if he or she sponsored any of your state�s earmarks. If the answer is yes, ask why the congressman�s name isn�t on the earmark. If you recognize the institution designated to receive the earmarked tax dollars, call them and ask them what they intend to do with your money.
Then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line �Earmarks� and tell us what you found out.
Pretty simple system. A user at Josh Marshalls TPM Cafe, mrs panstreppon, took up the challenge and found that $1,175,000 requested for the Friends of the Congressional Glaucoma Caucus Foundation would go to a non-profit created by a Washington healthcare lobbyist, S. J. Bud Grant, in 1999.
Grant earns close to $400,000 annually overseeing an operation with less than $5 million in revenue, mrs panstreppon found. Thats not the great tradition of American philanthropy for which tax exemptions are given. She also explained at the Sunlight Foundations site how she discovered this.
Those are two different donations: verifiable facts about the Friends of the Congressional Glaucoma Caucus Foundation, and her tips for others: Taking Earmark Research To The Next Level.
How do we put a value on those donations and represent them? And what if your member profile at NewAssignment.Net listed all the donations youve made to getting stories done the money you gave, the knowledge you provided (and to what stories) the tutorials you wrote for others
3. Design Observer is probably the leading design blog out there. It was co-founded by William Drentell, who designed the look and logo of PressThink in 2003. He recently wrote
Design Observer, inspired by Jay Rosens NewAssignment.Net, is looking for a design story of national or international importance where our network of readers can provide sources, data, information, journalism. Send ideas to william @ winterhouse.com.
Ill let you know if they come up with something. In the meantime, heres a design challenge for Drentell and his gang. One of the keys to whether networked jouralism works is going to be ease of use: making it easy to participate, to donate knowledge, and to see how your piece fits into a larger picture. When mrs panstreppon came forward with her facts about the Glaucoma Caucus Foundation it would have been better for the project if she could easily see how many earmarks in her area remained unidentified, and how many recipients of Federal money have yet to be checked out.
4. The Economist wrote about NewAssignment.Net in its cover package on the future of newspapers. (Newspapers are making progress with the internet, but most are still too timid, defensive or high-minded.) Its only a matter of time before some papers start shutting down, the magazine argued.
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, said a companion essay. The internet has expanded this court.
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 Millers national conversation will be louder than ever.
The Carnegie report on non-profit approaches is here: When newsgathering isnt tied into company profits, does journalism�and the public�benefit? Non-profit makes sense for NewAssignment for a multitude of reasons, the most important of which was stated by Dan Gillmor: It bears repeating that a business model cant say, You do all the work and well take all the money, thank you very much.
5. The Washington Post reported on Robert Greenwalds success in raising money over the Net for his documentary on war profiteering in Iraq. Hes a political filmmaker and the director of Outfoxed: Rupert Murdochs War on Journalism and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Greenwald tapped a new funding source: the audience, the Post wrote. The article tells the story of Jim Gilliam, 28, who persuaded Greenwald to give it a try.
The usual bankers of political documentaries left-leaning organizations and high-roller liberal donors werent rushing to write Greenwald any checks. Greenwald doesnt know why. Maybe Im a lousy fundraiser, he says.
Then Gilliam had his idea. Robert, why not go on the Internet and just ask for the money? I thought he was crazy, Greenwald says. I thought this would never work.
But it did work. Gilliam sent out a mass of e-mails to thousands of people who had bought DVDs of Greenwalds films or expressed interest in his work. They raised $267,892 in 10 days. It is my dream to pull this off, Gilliam told the Post. To figure out how to fund movies out of the control of corporations. Our goal is to fund and distribute any movie we want to make completely outside of the system. Thats what I meant when I said that if NewAssignment.Net worked it would be a case of journalism without the media.
From the pitch Gilliam used in his e-mails:
To start shooting, we need money. Overall, the film will cost $750,000. We can expect about $450,000 to be offset by DVD sales, selling foreign rights, and an advance from our retail store distributor, but we still need $300,000. A generous donor just stepped up and will contribute $100,000 if we can match it with $200,000 from someone else. That someone else is you! 4000 people giving $50 each. Well put everyones name in the credits.
Theres another design challenge for NewAssignment.Net: putting everyones name in the credits. The site will have to explode the whole notion of a by-line.
6. Solana Larsen, an editor for the London-based openDemocracy.net: Now, I agree Jay Rosen�s (NYU) NewAssignment.net website is a really good idea. But shouldn�t we wait and see what they come up with before everybody starts raving about it. There is nothing on the site yet!
I agree completely, Solana. Thanks for saying that. Keeping expectations in line with reality is going to be extremely important for this project. For starters, I need to state clearlyand keep saying itthat NewAssignment.Net is not a citizen journalism site, and it does not propose to put users in charge in some ultimate sense. Its a pro-am site that puts editors in charge. Editors, in turn, have to be open (well, very open) to users and the vital contributions they make.
7. So will it work? My attitude is not all that different from Mathew Ingrams (he writes geekwatch for The Globe and Mail): As an old-media hack who thinks there is a whole lot that could be improved about the way that journalism works � including opening it up to just about any blogger or vlogger who feels like taking a crack at it � Jay�s idea has everything going for it. Except that I�m not sure it�s going to work. Other than that it�s a great idea.
Im not sure either. Ill let you know when that feeling changes.
Ingram asks why I think New Assignment will get any more traction than Dan Gillmors Bayosphere. Excellent question, one that many have asked me. One answer is that I have Dans lessons learned post, a masterful self-examination. He didnt have that when he started. (See Ingrams failure is educational. Also Tim Porter: making new mistakes.)
This part in particular seems crucial. Dan writes: Citizen journalists need and deserve active collaboration and assistance. They want some direction and a framework, including a clear understanding of what the sites purpose is and what tasks are required. (I didnt do nearly a good enough job in this area.)
Hmmm. Suppose you came to NewAssignment.Net and actually got an assignment? (Check out the earmarks for your state and then call your congressman is a pretty clear assignment. Taking Earmark Research To The Next Level is pretty good assistance.) The other answer I have for Mathew Ingram is PressThinks number one law of citizen journalism: Creating Net capacity (even if its amazing and innovative) does not create civic activity. A site that does wonderful things isnt a reason to do wonderful things with it. NewAssignment.Net knows this. It is trying to learn the lessons of that law.
8. Anyone want to help out with the launch of NewAssignment.Net? Go to this site, and carefully examine it how it works, whether it works, what does and doesnt work, and why Be sure to look at whats been written and said about it, too. Then write a post capturing the key lessons for NewAssignment.Net. Publish it at your bloglike mrs panstreppon didand I will link to it, mentioning your name and giving thanks. Or put it in the comments here, or send it to me. (If youre taking this on do let me know.)
9. I need PressThink readers to help me out by thinking about stories that would be right for a New Assignment test run later this fall. By right for a NewAssignment.Net test I mean something that:
- is under-covered, poorly covered or not covered at all by the major news media;
- lends itself to distributed reporting, where a bunch of peopledispersed but connected by the Netcould contribute knowledge in a manner that would be hard for a reporter or even two or three to duplicate;
- is a story of national, international or regional importance newsworthy, in other words;
- is doable in about six weeks time;
Its the second bullet, the lends itself to distributed reporting part that seems to be the trickiest. Many readers of my blog and a good number who wrote to me after the first wave of publicity for New Assignment suggested stories that were under-covered and possibly newsworthy, but had no distributed reporting dimension to them at all.
In my introduction I used the example of prescription drug pricing, which was originally Gillmors idea. A network of users tells us what a critically important drug costs all over the U.S. (or the world for that matter.) Another suggestion I got (from Amy Gahran) was having thousands of eyes on the chemical-transport-by-rail safety issue, a huge hole in the whole homeland security thing. Not bad.
What are your ideas for a good test story?
10. Post-script: Danny Glover of National Journals Beltway Blogroll suggests an assignment in the comments. It has been a decade since the enactment of the welfare reform law. Very little has been written about the impact of the law, especially not within given communities. It would be a great project for citizen journalists to dig into and cover region by region.
Thats one well take under advisement. Danny: can you phrase it as a question? The one the networks would be trying to answer.
: Notes, reactions & links
The blog swarm works: The Secret Holder Is Sen. Ted Stevens. Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker has more.
In case it matters, Ill be in San Francisco Sep. 14-15 for meetings about NewAssignment.Net. And I will speaking at the News & Record in Greensboro, NC Oct. 4 at 4:30.
The Blog Reader did a profile of PressThink. Its by Alex Dziadosz. Begins: Nothing about Jay Rosen�s blog PressThink is simple. Ill take it!
I also recommend the Blog Readers profile on Paul Graham. And Grahams essay: The Power of the Marginal. Heres an interview with Graham.
David Weinberger reports on a foo-camp session on the future of news where NewAssignment.Net came up.
I found NewAssignment.net today. First glance, First thought - how is this different from wikinews? The rest.
Wired News asks readers to help edit an article:
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do the job of a Wired News editor and whip it into shape. Dont change the quotes, but feel free to reorganize it, make cuts, smooth the prose or add links whatever it takes to make it a lively, engaging news piece.
Mathew Ingram says it wont work.
For a solid preview of the newsroom reactionarys response to NewAssignment.Net see this post by Patrick Ross at the Progress and Freedom Foundation blog. (Ross says hes an ex-journalist and a defender of Old Media.) Id like to place a bet here - the first story that is pitched and funded at NewAssignment will be an expose on George W. Bush, with the imaginative premise that his ties to the oil industry led us into Iraq. That will trigger the pitching and funding of a second story, one that seeks to document Hillary Clinton as a politician to the left of Vladimir Lenin.
Andrew Cline: NewAssignment should tell a different story about politics: the story of citizens experience with policy and governance more than the story of politicians political wrangling.
Andy Carvin has a new job, senior product manager for online communities for NPR in Washington. Ill be spending a lot of time analyzing the Web 2.0 universe, with particular interest towards things like online social networks, citizen journalism and networked journalism. I cant predict where all of this will lead, but Im very excited that NPR has asked me to help them blaze new trails with them. He told me hes excited about NewAssignment.Net and will be studying it carefully. So maybe down the road there could be collaborations with NPR online, which would be cool.
Len Witt says Jeff Jarvis: Dont kill off citizen journalism!
Kitchen Democracy looks interesting: simple and effective. The husband-and-wife founders e-mailed me when they found out about NewAssignment. The idea is to make it possible to participate in the decisions at city hall when you cant make the meetings. They have an excellent FAQ page. Heres an article from the Berkeley Daily Planet. The key to it, I think, will be officeholders. If they start listening, then the site has power. Bears watching.
Ellen Foley, an editor at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, comments at Buzzmachine on the Economists Who killed the Newspaper? cover story:
It�s 6 p.m. Friday after a long week of threatened tornadoes and hail the size of grapefruit. I am surprised that of all of you, I, an editor at a medium-sized paper with visions of cost cuts dancing in my head, is the upbeat one. I do have to say that when you work in a lively newsroom such as ours, the future doesn�t seem as bleak. We are looking at the great fun and opportunity we are going to have. We spent all week talking about how to reorganize so we can truly be open to the changes around us. I know many other editors of newspapers and newspaper websites who embrace my optimism and are having fun blogging and creating the community conversations our readers/users deserve.
Agoravox, the French citizen journalism site that seems to be pretty successful (the name means voice of the public square, roughly) is starting an English-language edition. Commenting at the NewAssignment.Net site, Didier Toussaint says:
Unlike yours, it does not seek funds and contributors are volunteers. Surprisingly, the level of contributions is rather high and it is a great opportunity for debate.
Now, it is also true that most articles are more opinion-oriented than informative because no one will dedicate time or money to investigate. However, some specialists have things to say that the public would not find out by itself.
Heres an Agoravox entry on NewAssignment.Net
Also from the comments at NewAssignment.Net comes this from Allan Macleese:
The key thing to me, a retired newspaperperson, is that there are, I would guess, hundreds of us our there that would dearly love to be turned loose on a good honest project. We were what could be called pros, and we are sitting here, idle, dinking about with this and that, and want to return to the action. So we used to be in the MSM, but don�t discount us, we will work for nothing, as many of us agreed, in esence,to do when we went to work on newspapers in the first instance.
Hes right. We definitely have to consider how retired journalists like Macleese can be returned to action.
Web 2.0 Newspapers is a new blog about the changing role of newspapers, their adaptations to Web 2.0 and the ways in which newspapers present content in both print and online media. It covers a lot of topics Im interested in, and seems professionally done.
But theres something odd. All the items are written by staff. The blog is a commercial venture by a Canadian firm, Really Big Networks, which says its a Web 2.0 marketing company. Then theres logic behind its blog network, explained thusly: Original, professional niche content produced around the latest SEO best practices and developed according to sophisticated keyword analysis, RBN blogs combine the credibility of the blogosphere with the sophistication of the latest Web CRM and targeting techniques. Odd because my understanding of credibility in the blogosphere is that its built around people and what they make. Search engine optimization, which is mostly a bogus field to begin with, doesnt make for trusted content. Neither does staff.
UPDATE, Aug. 29: Jonathan Rothman comes out as the author of Web 2.0 Newspapers. Youre right: I should have identified myself from the start, he says in the comments. Let me assure you I am human, and have some cred related to the job Im doing. To that end, Ive taken the hint and expanded on who I am and who I work for in a more direct way on the blog. Im not sure why I chose to keep quiet at first, but no longer. Heres his bio, which is up now at the site.
Thats a start. More here.
Posted by Jay Rosen at August 27, 2006 12:15 AM
"Nor does it offer much to those that would do the work."
I just don't know how you know that. And to speak with such confidence!
From my point of view the site doesn't exist yet and not a single story has been done. No journalism... yet. There are no forums yet where "those who do the work" can speak about the work worth doing, and form alliances around an idea. No call for reporting volunteers has yet gone out. No appeal from a New Assignment editor has been heard. No votes have been taken on which stories are worth developing. No decisions have been made about how much weight to give those votes, or when they should be taken, or how to blend them in with other forms of popular voice. No New Assignment editor--picture a good blogger with a war chest and an intelligent user base--has struck up a conversation with the readers and listened to what they think. No advisory committees from the community of people interested in the experiment have been formed. No bonds among them have been discovered to exist.
The whole thing lies ahead in this sense, which is good, but the sort of good that spoils after a certain date.
Right now I am asking myself: what am I willing to promise at the start about where editorial sovereignty lies. I am extremely concerned not to over-promise on something like that. It's both an abstract question, and a practical--indeed, political--one. I took at look at the situation and all its variables. I decided to try pro-Am journalism on the open web, and in my universe, which is a mixed republic... In the beginning there is the editor!
They are going to create NewAssignment.Net. The editors. You'll see how if you stick around.
I agree that it's unknown how many will want to participate. I quite agree that someone else will do the bolder thing. Or someone already is, elsewhere and effectively on the Web. I certainly hope so, as we need experiments that go in different ways. New Assignment I already described as a hybrid, not boldly one thing or the other. It is taking a middle path. It will take a while to see how it works. I also described it as a "niche" producer.
I'm getting closer to making some decisions about the test run in fall '06, and then we'll start to have fun. What I mean is: it will be more fun to argue about what we're doing, rather than a sketch.
And we'll see where sovereignty lies and truth begins.
re: " 'Nor does it offer much to those that would do the work.'
I just don't know how you know that. And to speak with such confidence!"
1 - how I know that: it's NOT bottom-up
2 - where my confidence comes from: the fact that the following is set in stone (at least that's what your language suggests): "For starters, I need to state clearly�and keep saying it�that NewAssignment.Net� does not propose to put users in charge in some ultimate sense."
re: "the site doesn't exist yet and not a single story has been done. No journalism... yet. "
right! but you've set the *philosophy* (and that's what gives it a soul or not): the way you set it up, the possibility of having "advisory committees" and what not serves journalistic ends (not those of the people that might want to spend a lot of their time and resources on this) -- they would have no power whatsoever, they would have some *influence* at best (influence that can be rescinded at any time).
re: "I decided to try pro-Am journalism on the open web, and in my universe, which is a mixed republic... In the beginning there is the editor!"
that is the *choice* you make, Jay -- I think it's the wrong choice to make, but of course this is YOUR project so all I can do is tell you what I think (and I've probably done too much of that already...)
OK, just one last thing since I've already started this:
re: "NewAssignment I already described as a hybrid, not boldly one thing or the other."
the bold part is giving power to those who would do the work, being a hybrid does not preclude that from happening
Hi Jay & Co.,
I'm Jonathan Rothman, the blog writer behind Web 2.0 Newspapers. Let me "speak" to your mention of the blog and of RBN.
First off, if the blog seems "professionally done," great. Thanks for the nod, even if it's a tentative one.
Ah, the anonymity question. You're right: I should have identified myself from the start. Let me assure you I am human, and have some "cred" related to the job I'm doing. To that end, I've taken the hint and expanded on who I am and who I work for in a more direct way on the blog. I'm not sure why I chose to keep quiet at first, but no longer. Link.
Now, RBN is exactly what you've said: a Web marketing company. So, marketing or journalism? Well, yes and yes. The job I'm doing involves two sides: producing the same type of news spin as bloggers like Jeff Jarvis to whom I often link, and then getting it out there, hence the marketing bit. (No, I don't think I am offering what Jarvis offers in terms of media commentary and analysis. I'm saying he's one of the people setting the bar, which is not news.)
So yes, I am paid to do this. But so are reporters -- they just have the advantage of an established, trusted name behind them. And in a way, with the buzz this site (the recent Economist feature, the media-on-media coverage incl. the blogosphere,) has generated, NewAssignment has more than begun to build that trusted name, too.
Oh, and so far, we've mainly had comments from journalists and bloggers (and few, if any, from marketers), which has been my intention from the get-go. (Though I welcome all readers, of course.) That includes Jay: he corrected me, once, and referred me to John Temple's Rocky Mountain News article on the print/Web media shift.
Thanks, Jonathan. Using your name and telling us who's writing the blog is a good start.
This column is such a perfect example of the newsroom reactionary style it's a shame it didn't come from someone working in a newsroom. It's from Patrick Ross at the Progress and Freedom Foundation blog. Begins with an attack on Craig Newmark.
Newmark has done more than perhaps any other individual to undermine the finances of the newspaper industry through his free online classifieds service, Craigslist. While bad for newspapers, Craigslist has been good for consumers. Now, however, Newmark is banking on an online venture that will have reporters investigate news only after volunteers have assigned the stories and put forward the funding. This won't be good for consumers. The only likely winners will be well-heeled Internet activists with axes to grind, and savvy public relations officials who bankroll flattering stories.
This "open source" model of journalism, called New Assignment, comes to us from New York University's Jay Rosen, whose reporting background is limited to a college internship. Rosen, with Newmark's money, is creating NewAssignment, where anyone can put forward a story suggestion. Any idea that receives sufficient donations is adopted. A freelance reporter is hired to write the piece, working closely with the web surfers who suggested and funded the story.
Rosen writes that NewAssignment will produce "stories the regular news media doesn't do, can't do, wouldn't do, or already screwed up." He says reporters will work hand-in-hand with online "smart mobs," performing "journalism without the media" but instead with "the people formerly known as the audience."
Let's not forget that the smart mobs Rosen refers to are in fact largely a reactive force. A careful reading of political blogs reveals that new lines of discussion frequently are prompted by a newspaper article. If what is on the mind of a smart mob member more often than not is triggered by the mainstream media, why would we count on them to come up with original story ideas?
Still, with the Internet Rosen has found the right place to enlist participants hostile to modern media. "The liberal media is out to destroy our president and our country!" "Our lazy media reprints lies fed it by the Establishment!" That is what members of the "smart mob" routinely post in the comment fields of political blogs.
I'd like to place a bet here - the first story that is pitched and funded at NewAssignment will be an expose on George W. Bush, with the imaginative premise that his ties to the oil industry led us into Iraq. That will trigger the pitching and funding of a second story, one that seeks to document Hillary Clinton as a politician to the left of Vladimir Lenin.
I wouldn't want to be the reporter working either of those assignments. Nor would I enjoy the repercussions if the story I produced didn't match the predetermined conclusions of the smart mob, my financiers.
Rosen says reporters don't listen to the average Joe. But no self-respecting reporter would overlook a source with information, whether that source is a high government official or simply someone who knows someone. The advantage of a newspaper reporter, however, is that she and her editor can sift through the sources and facts, make determinations on credibility, and move forward accordingly.
What is a NewAssignment reporter or editor to do when given questionable, possibly biased information by a source, and that source is also the assignment editor and the principal source of funding?
Perhaps Newmark is disillusioned by recent newspaper plagiarism scandals. Who isn't? Perhaps he feels reporters are too biased or too passive. Some likely are. But handing over control, from funding to assignment editing, to any individual so inclined to visit a web site does not seem to me a positive direction for journalism. It's a large leap from Newmark's current web site, which helps one find an inexpensive futon, to the one he's funding now, claiming to provide reliable, unbiased investigative journalism while handing power to the unaccountable.
No newspaper curmudgeon could have said it better. (Bio: Ross is senior fellow and vice president of communications and external affairs at The Progress & Freedom Foundation... spent the better part of twenty years as a journalist, the last decade covering the growth of the Internet and related regulatory policy. Before joining the Foundation, he managed Washington Internet Daily and wrote for Communications Daily. He also was the first Washington bureau chief for CNet News.com.)
Welfare reform and its impact? Good idea. Which is why the subject has received a lot of coverage in the mainstream press. How can Danny Glover say little has been written about it? One minute on Lexis-Nexis pops up the following stories and op-ed pieces and barely scratches the surface.
There may be better ways to approach the topic. But to say it hasn't been addressed is myopic.
WELFARE REFORM: 10 YEARS; Three strive to succeed - Part 1 of 4
The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio), August 20, 2006 Sunday, NEWS - INSIGHT; Pg. 01C, 2353 words, Stories by Catherine Candisky and Encarnacion Pyle, The Columbus Dispatch
A Decade After Welfare Overhaul, a Fundamental Shift in Policy and Perception
The New York Times, August 21, 2006 Monday, Section A; Column 1; National Desk; Pg. 12, 1319 words, By ROBERT PEAR and ERIK ECKHOLM
10 years after, welfare reformers look to build on gains
The Washington Times, August 21, 2006 Monday, PAGE ONE; Pg. A01, 1346 words, By Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Welfare reform succeeded because it trusted the poor
The Detroit News (Michigan), August 29, 2006 Tuesday, OPINIONS; Pg. 9A, 528 words, Anthony B. Bradley
SUPPORTS STILL NEEDED; AFTER A DECADE OF REFORM, WELFARE RULES ARE ABOUT TO GET TOUGHER
The Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York), August 29, 2006 Tuesday, EDITORIAL; Pg. A8, 502 words
IN DEFENSE OF WELFARE REFORM
The Boston Globe, August 28, 2006 Monday, OP-ED; Pg. A11, 745 words, BY CATHY YOUNG
WELFARE REFORM, 10 YEARS LATER
The Boston Globe, August 22, 2006 Tuesday, OP-ED; Pg. A11, 721 words, BY RACHEL GRAGG AND MARGY WALLER
Dave: What I wanted to know from Danny is: what questions about welfare reform have not been answered?
Margaret: your question about verification is a key operating challenge for NewAssignment.Net. There is not going to be one answer to it, but the answers we do find will be basic to making the thing work. It would be criminally naive to just assume that what you get from citizen contributors is true. But NewAssignment won't be starting from zero. Other sites that rely on such contributors have had to figure out reliability measures that work for them.
The simplest answer is: everything gets fact-checked before it is published as finished work, which is closer to the way good magazine journalism works. (Fact checking could itself be a volunteer task.) This allows the site to collect "unverified" information, to label it as such for an interim period, and then to change that designation as we grow more confident in it. Another answer: reliability ratings for contributors that over time tell you who can be trusted. Some stories will rely on networks of people we know from having worked with them before, so we won't be re-inventing the verification wheel each time.
Third answer: redundancy systems. More than one person on a given assignment allows you to cross check what contributors give you. Here's Zephyr Teachout at the NewAssignment site with another answer: notarized statements. Who knows? Maybe we'll experiment with our own version of "sworn" statements.
Shouldn't the site treat facts supplied by a user whose real name, working email address and phone number we know (stored confidentially, of course) differently from facts supplied by an anonymous user we have no way of contacting? Of course it should, and it will.
Through a mix of different systems, the problem can, I think, be solved. But the way it's actually going to be solved is case by case, project by project, measure by measure.
What some do is come upon a problem like this, throw up their proverbial hands because they don't see an easy solution, and from there it's a straight shot to: "It can't work. You can't trust information collected by just anyone..."
What they�re skipping over is the problem-solving stage, where we try to go from bug to feature.
Margaret: How will you know whether the information is verifiable in some way? How will you verify it?
Margaret, thank you for asking this question. I too had the same question, posted in the comments here.
Jay - After reading your response to it, I feel somewhat emboldened. I had thought that there's some tried and tested practice of verifiability in the journalism profession that everybody knows, and felt slapped on my wrist when no one appeared to take that question seriously:-(
Now I understand that this verifiability problem still need to be "solved." From your comments it is clear that your thinking is on top of it, so that's good.
Thinking aloud. With "reliability ratings" line of thought, expect to walk into the vagaries of reputation management like schemes, their ins and outs. By that I mean, in specific, that most of these "ratings" are, for want of a better technology, discrete (as in from 0 to 5 etc.) Perhaps that is ok but I wish a necessity like the NADN would lead to a bit more of a more apt invention.
aa) Perhaps one should start thinking about some sort of an "analog" or a "continuous" type of reliability rating system (call to technologists). But we don't want to unleash a technology-for-its-own-sake initiative here, I know. Instead of simply saying "here's a rating of 4 for this person on this project" perhaps we should be allowed to say, "here's a rating of 4 with 80% confidence." Just something to ponder.
bb) A reliability rating that not simply says "here's an overall rating for this particular individual," but also ties it in closely to the type of assignment, to the type of expertise etc. I am thinking that someone with a background of sportswriting would perhaps be better at it than the same person writing about elections/politics. If such is the case, then the reliability measure should reflect that.
cc) In the area of verifying intellectual property, that legal method of notarized statements etc., didn't fly in the technology sharing in the past. Lots of indemnification clauses, issues etc. Perhaps it may help in NADN case, if we assume that all the parties involved are bound by the US laws (but again, the other day I saw a senator or somebody waving his fist on TV saying journalists - talking about that NY Times article on SWIFT - are not bound by the constitution or US laws, only politicians are, or some such nonsense. But that's another story.)
Bottom line, the problem of verifying whether something is really a fact or not could be as difficult as fighting spam, or internet security, or tracing the true identity of an individual on the internet: no one silver bullet seemed to be working. Need several components working together.
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over:
"Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Bush to Press: "You're Assuming That You Represent the Public. I Don't Accept That." "Bush and his advisors have their own press think, which they are trying out as policy. Reporters do not represent the interests of a broader public. They aren't a pipeline to the people, because people see through the game of Gotcha. The press has forfeited, if it ever had, its quasi-official role in the checks and balances of government." More...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience: "You don�t own the eyeballs. You don�t own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don�t control production on the new platform, which isn�t one-way. There�s a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the user�s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
News Comes in Code: Judy Miller's Return to the Times "Just one man's opinion, but now is a good time to say it: The New York Times is not any longer--in my mind--the greatest newspaper in the land. Nor is it the base line for the public narrative that it once was. Some time in the last year or so I moved the Washington Post into that position." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
The Migration: "So while people in the old press pack up, and tell stories about giants they knew in the era when, they are also asking each other: where headed? As in: How are your people planning to make it across? And as the preparations are made the headlines keep landing, where they have for years: 'Newspapers struggle to avoid their own obit.'" More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
The Net Knows More Than You: An Open Letter to the People of CBS News "Public Eye, if it works, is going to reveal when there are no good explanations� or none that make sense beyond newsroom culture. Transparency, you see, does not automatically increase trust. It could raise the curtain on an explanatory show that flops." More...
The Jerk at the Podium: Scott McClellan Steps Away: "McClellan, Bush, Cheney, and Rove proved there were other ways. Replace news management with press nullification. Drop the persuasion model, in favor of the politics of assent. Choose non-communication to demonstrate that you ought not to be questioned (it only helps our enemies.)" More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Of Course Ted Koppel Was Making a Political Statement. So What? "Koppel and his producers took a kind of political action Friday night. But the language they have for explaining that action does a pitiful job. And so they are attacked for 'being political,' and hypocritical-- and their replies to the charge only compound the original error." More...
A Little Detail in the Sale of About.com to the New York Times: "The Post's links don't expire, you see; links to the New York Times do. The Elliot column couldn't embed itself in the Web, and sink proper roots. It's effectively "gone." From Elliot's point of view, he loses a potentially huge readership for his work. Can he afford it?." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Rather's Satisfaction: Mystifying Troubles at CBS: "Dan Rather and CBS took the risky course, impunging the motives of critics, rather than a more confident and honorable one: Let's look at our sources and methods. What can explain such a blind reaction? Here is my attempt."More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
THE WEBLOG, THE WEB and JOURNALISM TODAY
PressThink's Blue Plate Special Launches. We Name the Top Blogging Newspapers in the U.S. "Number One is the Houston Chronicle, Number Two the Washington Post. There's more. And there's a big chart. So check it out. More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer '05 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldn�t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today�s journalism comes out of the market economy." PressThink's most linked-to post. More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
Editors Rock Who Let Weblogs Roll: "When you're sitting at your desk and there are things strange, wonderful and new on your screen, you may have to re-decide what journalism 'is' and is finally about, in order to cover the new class of cases that arise when you're doing it live online." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...
CAMPAIGN POLITICS AND THE PRESS, 2004, HIGHLIGHTS:
Politics in a Different Key: "It is the politics of the savvy class. Its members are the insiders. They are the pros. They are the pundits, handlers and funders, vultures and parrots who run and staff the campaign story, which is above all the inside story of how you get elected in this country. Its outstanding feature, Joan Didion wrote, is "remoteness from the actual life of the country." They are the people of this remoteness." More...
A Politics That is Dumber than Spam: "I remember the moment when presidential campaigns turned from just maddening and absurd to completely empty for me. It might have happened years before, but I am a believer in politics. So it took until the fall of 2000. Bush and Gore were then fighting it out, not by opposing one another in any kind of argument, but by running virtually the same campaign, on the same issues, pandering to the same groups, advancing a rhetoric that sounded the same but for a few catch phrases." More...
Private Life, Public Happiness and the Dean Connection: "Somehow it had all gotten away from them. Presidential campaigns had drifted out of alignment with most Americans. The ritual no longer seemed like something the country did for itself every four years, but what a professional cadre did, and sold back to the country as 'politics.' But it wasn�t, really. At least it wasn�t democratic politics at anything like capacity." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Down at the Tick Tock Diner, I Caught Up With CNN: "'Nobody had ever asked to anchor convention coverage from the floor,' Feist said as we shared a booth-- like real diners. CNN got the new gear, tested it out, and made the request to the Democrats. The Democrats said yes. And right there the sky box era at conventions came to an end."More...
Stark Message for the Legacy Media: "Journalists find before them, with 50 days left, a campaign overtaken by Vietnam, by character issues, attacks, and fights about the basic legitimacy of various actors-- including the press itself, including Dan Rather. It's been a dark week. And the big arrow is pointing backwards." More...
Every Four Years Journalism "The Every Four Years headset is like outdated software still running because it's an expensive decision and major disruption to replace a piece of press think so big, with so many parts. There is no agreement on a new 'think' system. And there is every incentive to keep the old program going for another election cycle, even though the world has moved on." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...