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Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the weblog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at Washingtonpost.com

Read: An extended Q & A

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003.

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

One hour radio program about objectivity in journalism, its history, nature and consequences, from WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio. Host: Gretchen Helfrich. Guests: Jay Rosen and sociologist Michael Schudson.

Here's a radio segment about blogging on Australia's Radio National with author Rebecca Blood, Jay Rosen and Lee Rainie, of Pew's project on Internet and American Life. (April 15, 2004; requires Real Player.)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, and frequently dead on. A must.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Halley's Comment, written by Halley Suitt. Week to week, among the the most original--and best looking--weblogs out there.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today. He also features a regular guest commentator, Our Girl in Chicago, which is a nifty thing to do. Girl writes well.

Someone said Eric Alterman of the Nation was "born to blog." This may be true. Very popular weblog at MSNBC and for good reason.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Of the many weblogs that comment on the state of journalism today, Tim Porter's First Draft is one of the most thoughtful.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media at UC Berkeley. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

The National Debate, written by Robert Cox, once took on the New York Times... and won. Its "where politics, policy and the media meet," he says. Cox breaks stories, and fills his blog with useful information for the heavy news consumer. Center-right perspective.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

TV Newser, authored by college student Brian Stelter, is a must-read for those who follow network news and its crew of highly-competitive people. Always has the latest ratings too.

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Mickey Kaus's kausfiles appears at Slate, the online opinion magazine. His thing is politics. His style is satirical. His eye for detail is accurate to the inch. He's fun to read and he's one of the original bloggers. LA-based.

Napsterization is a weblog from the Berkeley J-School, edited by Mary Hodder. It's officially about the current and future influence of file-sharing and peer-to-peer networks, but Hodder also comments on the digital media scene.

Siva Vaidhyanathan's Sivacracy. He's on the intellectual property beat, but with the soul of a democract. And he's a journalist with a PhD, well tuned to the Internet. Rare.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Nemark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Jarah Euston's Fresno Famous is "dedicated to making Fresno less boring." This is placed-based citizen journalism done in a fast, funny and highly effective way.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. Link-filled and consistently interesting.

The Jenny of Jenny D. was a journalist for 15 years. Now she�s getting a Ph.D in Education. Her blog records her discoveries. �Education, public policy and politics, middle-aged moms, life in the Midwest, life in the academy." Or just: life.

Former AP reporter Chris Allbritton's experiment in independent war reporting, online and reader-supported. Allbritton is in Iraq now, sending back reports. In 2003-4 he taught digital journalism at NYU.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at washingtonpost.com is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

JD Lassica's New Media Musings keeps the regular visitor informed about the frontiers of web journalism and publishing. He does not like to miss anything in his area. Such people are valuable.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

In 2005, CBS News launched Public Eye to help it cope with criticism. The idea is to have a blog that works like an ombudsman. It's a promising venture that bears watching.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Morph, the Media Center's weblog, is about digital media, convergence, and how society informs itself. Rotating pool of informed writers.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide.

Journalism.co.uk keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

The Huffington Post is a high traffic left-leaning group blog with more than 100 contributors, including PressThink's Jay Rosen and a sprinkling of Hollywood celebs. Mostly politics.

Digests & Round-ups:

If you're looking for a way to keep tabs on the best of the blogs, The Daou Report is a snapshot of the latest online news and buzz from across the political spectrum.

On del.icio.us, the social bookmarks site, a useful list of current links about citizen (participatory) media and journalism, by Shayne Bowman.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

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August 11, 2006

How Realistic is NewAssignment.Net?

"The key is going to be the trust that develops in the continuous back-and-forth between an editor and users. If it's based on an unspoken covenant to strengthen each other�s prejudices and find facts that support them, then, yeah, this is going to lead to big, big problems."

Amid the many reactions to my first two posts about NewAssignment.Net (Introducing and Problems With) some doubts and alarms have been heard that are worth exploring.

Two posts in particular have questioned how realistic my earlier sketch is. That is to say, they have done the idea a favor. In NuJournalism, Mitch Ratcliffe (who has a ton of experience in Net ventures) explains why he thinks NewAssignment.Net will fail. Mark Hamilton, one of my favorite press bloggers, thinks it will work, but he has several reservations, or as he puts it, a niggle or two.

Their major points are these:

  • Ideology will rule. The NewAssignment forum will degenerate into rival ideologies clamoring for their stories to be done. Ratcliffe: The best we can hope for is competing versions of reality funded by groups that want verification of their views. Hamilton: New Assignment could become yet another battlefield for the ideological wars raging across much of the blogosphere.
  • The news agenda is made hostage to the funding cycle. At Ratcliffe put it, story ideas will live or die on the basis of funders willingness to pay for the research and writing of each story.
  • The system creates perverse incentives for reporters. Future funding for will depend on delivering the story promised as against what the reporter found, which makes agreeing with the perspective of the funders more important than telling the truth. (Ratcliffe)
  • A storys worth cannot be judged ahead of time. Ratcliffe: No one knows what an important story is until after it has been reported, therefore you have to trust the judgment of someone who will occasionally ignore the wisdom of the crowd and go somewhere unexpected or unwanted.
  • What if, after investigation, it turns out there is no story? Ratcliffe: How do we fund someone if they decide, based on their best judgment and research, that there is no story? Dont we want that? Hamilton: Will those who invest energy � and money � willingly settle for a story that says there�s no story and here�s why?
  • By organizing around stories New Assignment slights the truthtelling force of committed reporters. Hamilton: So far missing from the equation is a way to capture the many, many great stories that begin with a reporter wondering �What if�� Ratcliffe: Without an investment in people and a process of self- and institutional-criticism rather than stories, there is no check on the worst behavior people can engage in, the pursuit of their own comfort level with the world.
  • Open methods give the story away before its done. The NewAssignment process, being open and accessible in order to make funders aware of stories citizen journalist/reporters want to tell, gives the subjects a heads up that they may soon be under investigation. (Ratcliffe)
  • NewAssignment isnt open enough. This concern cuts in a different direction. It came from Dave Leigh, a commenter at Ratcliffes post: My sketch doesnt trust the open collaborative process enough, he says. I dont think you can do this halfway and be successful. Too much control is given to editors and the funding process, making NewAssignment a lot like the media system it is trying to improve upon.

There are other concerns mentioned but these seem to me the major ones. Mitch Ratcliffe also had one great suggestion, which I will get to later.

First a general caution. Mitch and to a small degree Mark Hamilton have taken what is perhaps the sexiest, riskiest and most controversial part of my sketchusers donate to stories they want to see happenand treated it as if it were the heart and soul of NewAssignment.Net, the thing. Its not. The heart and soul is the connection, or bond, between a New Assignment editor and the community of users drawn to an editors portion of the site because they can participate in the coming together of important stories.

The key is going to be the trust that develops in the continuous back-and-forth between an editor and users. If its based on an unspoken covenant to strengthen each other�s prejudices and find facts that support them, then, yeah, this is going to lead to big, big problems. But that�s not journalism, and an editor who operated that way would not be welcome at NewAssignment.Net. If the interactive bond is based on, lets find out whats really going on here, then theres a chance this thing can work.

Mitch Ratcliffe in particular decided to ignore (I mean completely ignore) an important feature of the design: the editors reserve fund, which is supposed to correct for several of the problems he says will sink New Assignment. To me this is odd. Its sitting right there in the middle of my post.

Editors have to develop reputations or they�re sunk, I wrote. In order to do that, they have to be able to fund extremely promising or urgent ideas that for one reason or another are not a hit in the online fundraising stage.

It wouldn�t make sense to do kick-ass open sourcing and then lose it to the vagaries of Paypal. Even though online donations may work well much of the time, we cannot make good ideas hostage to that. So the editors have reserve funds. It creates flexibility for funders too because you can fund an editor directly. (Italics added.)

I explained that an editors fund would initially come from start-up monies NewAssignment would have to raise. (I am doing that now, so email me if you can help.) Funding editorsas opposed to storiesbecomes one of the ways supporters of the project can contribute. The more dollars in an editors reserve fund, the more freedom of maneuver she gains. That includes independence from the decision of someone with some money to pay for a report that justifies their world view, as Mitch put it.

Here is what I wrote:

So you�re not only talking about fundraising story-by-story, with click and contribute?

Right. NewAssignment.Net has no dogma about how the money comes in. It�s a charity and will raise funds for high quality journalism any way it can figure out that�s wise, that works and maintains the site�s independence and reputation. It may be that very good editors can raise a lot money for their special funds by developing a track record, knowing their donors, finding sponsors who want to be associated with the work, or buyers in the media who will pay the costs. New Assignment syndicates to Big Media and gets paid that way. Or it could accept sponsorships. We�ll see.

It could also accept advertising if the traffic got high enough, with most of the proceeds distributed to editors funds, further empowering them.

In another part of my introductory post I tried to get readers to visualize the front page of a New Assignment editors site-within-a-site. In the top right cornerin bright lights, as it werewould be a dollar figure, telling visitors how much is in the editors reserve fund. That means she can greenlight an idea herself, if the right one emerges.

My hope is that the more successful an editor is in creating great work that draws public attention, the larger that fund would grow, making possible bigger, better, and more consequential stories. Institutional funders (like foundations) would be more likely to support editors or the site itself, while individual users would be more likely to contribute to stories they want to see.

These are really two different funding streams. Syndication is a third, sponsorship of the published work a fourth, advertising a fifth. Its not known, of course, which of these will prove workable. It seems to me the chance of success are greater if New Assignment remains flexible and does not rely on one method.

I dont know why Mitch chose to ignore the reserve, especially since hes concerned that ideas will live or die on the basis of funders willingness to pay for the research and writing of each story. The venture fund is not a bell or whistle but an important structural element, one of the pieces holding up NewAssignment.Net. Possibly he considers it too far-fetched, as in no ones going to go for that. But as I explained in that first post, NewAssignment already has $10,000 in its first reserve fund, a gift of Craig Newmark.

As I pointed out in my second post, Josh Marshall offers a model of an editor with a loyal user base. He operates in the lets find out whats really going on here style. His readers have contributed to a fund for more investigative work springing from the ideas and concerns that Marshall blogs about. Thats not far from what I envision.

Here are my other replies to the concerns I listed:

Ideology will rule. Could be. It depends on how the editors operate, and what sort of user they bring to the site. Demagogic editors would draw demagogic crowds. New Assignment would try not to hire them. Editors with a world view who respect the rules of evidence and demand verification would draw a different kind of crowd. New Assignment would look for that kind.

This objection is partly based, as Mark Hamilton said, on how the political blogosphere works. Having an ideology isnt the problem; there are very few ideology-free citizens (or journalists.) Expecting the world to conform to your wishes and prior assumptions that is the problem.

All I can do is build in controls, and set expectations properly. Critics who points out the problem and ignore the controls arent helping me improve NewAssignment.Net. And thats sad because it needs to be improved. Its not good enough yet.

The news agenda is made hostage to the funding cycle. Not if the reserve funds work as intended.

The system creates perverse incentives for reporters. I could be wrong, but I just dont think its true that what will draw the most user interest, the most donations and the most praise are stories that bend the facts to conform to existing beliefs or validate a wish. I think it will be stories that tell us something we didnt know before, that explore what the major media leave unexplored, and that hold up under examination.

The essence of an assignment is the questions the reporter is charged with answering, which come from users filtered through editors. Users have a right to see their questions answered. They have no right to the particular answers they wish to hear. The site will have to make this very clear, especially to those who donate.

Im sure that some will flock to New Assignment.Net and expect to have their pre-existing ideas confirmed by any report they participate in or donate to. The question is what they will do when that happens. They cant get their money back. (No refunds.) They can decide not to return. Is that really a bad thing?

A storys worth cannot be judged ahead of time. Lots of times thats true. I suspect that one of the most successful fundraising streams will be contributions collected after a story is published. Want more like this? Contribute to the editors reserve fund.

What if, after investigation, it turns out there is no story? Could happen. As I said, the reporter and by extension the editor who gave out the assignment are responsible for answering key questions developed by the user community during the open stage. If the big question is: did the telcos cheat their customers? and the answer is: we checked it outwith the help of a lot of customersand they didnt cheat, then the contract has been met.

In that case there may not be a story worth publishing on the front page, or syndicating to clients. (Of course innocence could be a story in itself.) If theres no story, there would be a report to users and donors explaining the results. The conclusionno story warrantedwould have to be defended, just as a published story finding cheaters among the telcos would have to be defended.

By organizing around stories New Assignment slights the truthtelling force of committed reporters. Well, I think New Assignment is organized around editors and their user base. The site grows by adding editors who can grow the resources available for reporting. If New Assignment is very successful it could provide a decent living to reporters who are the most skilled in open style. Even at moderate levels of success it will provide an alternative way to break in and get noticed.

Mark is right when he says that we need a way to capture the many, many great stories that begin with a reporter wondering What if� If New Assignment were operating, that reporter e-mails an editor and the editor lets him guest blog for a while to see if an assignment emerges from the reporters what if

Mitch writes, Suggesting that we can freelance our way to an alternative media is missing the learning a reporter (citizen, professional or otherwise) gets from doing the job all the time, rather than just when a group of funders says Sounds good, well pay for it. I think thats a valid objection. Im not sure what to do about it. But Mitch had an interesting idea in the comments to his post. So how about this to deal with the problem of funding people, not stories.

The funders create a pool of, just for arguments sake, $1,000,000. The writers can borrow against a source of funds allocated to them by the funders (could be $1,000 or $10,000 or some other figure) in exchange for the rights to resell the story (though the writer retains rights in the story itself, so they could write a
book).

NewAssignment then sells the story and, after the loan is paid back by revenue generated by the story, the writer retains the rest, or, better, 80 percent of the rest so that some additional funds become available to NewAssignment.

Cool suggestion. More please.

Open methods give the story away before its done. This is another valid objection. There are certain kinds of stories that rely heavily on secrecy that just cannot be done in the New Assignment way. Is that fatal? Only if the site has to be all things to all people. I also believe that when NewAssignment starts operating reporters will have to keep certain things quiet, and not share with users until the work is done. After-the-fact transparency will make up for whatever secrecy is required during the reporting.

NewAssignment isnt open enough. Others familiar with open source efforts in the tech world have told me that it wont do to have editors who make critical choices. People wont participate, they say. It should be stated that NewAssignment.Net is not a purely user-driven site, and cannot present itself as such. Nor is it a pros in charge system; editors and reporters will have to understand that. Its an attempt at a creative hybrid, a mixed republic. Jeff Jarvis calls it networked journalism.

Now I think it would be fascinating to try to do investigative journalism with a swarm only (no editors) but I have no idea how to do that.

Finally, here is something incisive that Lisa Williams of H20Town sent me shortly after I introduced the idea.

NewAssignment.Nets Future Will Be Determined By Fewer than 300 People

I think the self-organizing swarm that automagically produces news is a myth. While we can break down newsgathering tasks to smaller size chunks, and distribute the doing of those chunks more widely than ever before, its still not small enough, and not closely related enough to life activities, to become like a market: the informational particles emitted by our everyday decisions to buy, live someplace, etc. Unlike a market, participating in something like NewAssignment.net is a conscious, not unconscious process (Im usually not aware of my effect on Kraft Foods stock price when I buy Goldfish crackers). Consciousness is at a premium.

All efforts online that demand conscious action from a distributed pool of users form a two-tier structure: a small nucleus of committed people donate a large amount of their consciousness to a project. What these people build make it possible for a far larger number of people to have casual contributions to the project. In this I include everything from blogging to Digg to Slashdot to Wikipedia.

Kari Kraus, reporting on a talk by Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, is a good
demonstration ofhehWilliamsLaw:

Although Wales pitched his talk to the uninitiated, I got the sense
that most of us in the audience were already converts. I went with the expectation that Id hear a lot about bottom-up and distributed knowledge, emergence, and social software. To my surprise, though, Wales took pains to distance Wikipedia from the emergent model (EM) and opted instead to classify it according to what he called the community model of production (CM).

Im not sure, but my sense is that he was reacting to parodies of Wikipedia as a pseudo-Darwinian enterprise, one in which only the strongest or fittest or most adaptive content survives. So hes using completely different language to brand Wikipedia: its a community of thoughtful users*a few hundred volunteers at its core, many of whom know each otherrather than an object lesson in swarm intelligence. He noted, for example, that over half of all Wikipedia edits are done by one percent of Wiki users; and 72 percent by just two percent of users.

Wales argued that numbers like these make reputation mechanisms like those at Slashdot and Ebay superfluous and unnecessary; reputation on Wikipedia, he said, is a natural outgrowth of human interaction. In the EM, users are tiny and have no power; in the CM, by contrast, users are powerful and must be respected.

Getting the community rightthe rewards and disincentives for the
core of the communityis a make or break issue.

I think thats very wise. Thanks, Mitch; thanks, Mark. And on we go.



After Matter: Notes, reactions & links

Chris Anderson, a PhD student at Columbia J-School with a background in Indy media, put together a typology of what he calls actually existing citizen journalism. From earliest to latest, they are personal home pages, Indy media, blogs, hyperlocal sites, Big Media citizen journalism efforts, and finally networked journalism. Andersons treatment allows us to see the lines of evolution very clearly. He concludes this way:

We should keep in mind that networked journalism is a retreat from the more expansive, utopian claims of (some, not nearly all) of the citizen journalists. Not only are we no longer talking about replacing professionals, but we are actively putting them at the center of the new journalistic model. Although its common now to repeat the refrain that no one wants to replace professional journalists I dont know if this is true. Indymedia, as part of a much larger critique of hierarchy, takes a more radical line where this is concerned. So do the anti-MSM partisans of the right.

Dante Chinni in the Christian Science Monitor on NewAssignment.Net.

While NewAssignment relies on those great democratic levelers, the Internet and citizen journalists, it actually proposes a less democratic vision of the blogosphere. Rosen says his idea is journalism without the media, but its actually journalism functioning within the idea of a new kind of Media - with a capital M.

After all, there will be editors. As his site says repeatedly - and correctly - Rosen thinks good editors are essential for his idea to work. And if citizen journalists agree, that in itself will be an interesting development in the changing media landscape.

It will mean that even those who decry the big media recognize there is something to the way those organizations are structured. And the new citizen journalist media age may look less like a revolution than the next step in evolution.

Writing from Italy, Robin Good is enthusisatic:

While I am not betting myself on its sure success as a media project that will last over time and produce tons of great content, I am sold already on its ability to make people think and consider aspects of new media journalism under new and different lights. And this by itself is worth for me the price of entrance

NewAssignment.net is a lesson in media innovation, future-thinking and in remixing the best of our journalistic heritage with the new emerging ideas that the Web has allowed to grow in recent times.

Mark Glaser on Oldthink vs. Newthink. Spelling Out the Media Shift.

Extra, extra. PressThink regular Steve Lovelady quits as editor of CJR Daily because Columbia J-School Dean Nick Lemann wants to slash his budget in half to pay for a direct mail campaign for CJR, the print magazine. Theres this:

Mr. Lemann�s decision to transfer money from the site to a small-circulation print magazine would seem to run counter to some of his own writings on the importance of the Web.

He wrote recently in The New Yorker, �As journalism moves to the Internet, the main project ought to be moving reporters there, not stripping them away.�

In the interview, he said redirecting money to the magazine did not contradict that view because he was still maintaining a relatively large online staff.

�We�re making a powerful commitment to the Web because we really believe in it,� he said. But he said he also believed in print.

�I don�t think print is going away,� he said. �Keeping the print magazine brings in revenue, and print can do some things that the Web can�t.�

Jay Rosen, a blogger and journalism professor at New York University, said the move was a �strategic error� and that the review should drop its print version to reduce costs and go entirely online.

�I�m sure their current subscribers want it in print, but you have to look at your potential subscribers,� he said. �Since the profession is going toward the Web, in the long run, that�s the smarter move.�

Jeff Jarvis gives his take: Investing in steam, coal, and paper.

Dan Kennedy: Im astounded. Techdirt has more. Nick Lemmans statement. David Hirschman of Editor & Publisher has the best analysis I saw.

Bruce Nussbaum of Businesss Week calls it the extraordinary mistake just made by the prestigious Columbia Journalism School.

John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro:

I cant imagine responding favorably to a subscription solicitation for a monthly publication as it is designed today. And I doubt many of my colleagues would either.

I wonder about the role one of the leading journalism schools could play in helping us ink-on-paper wretches better understand and grow into the future (and the present, for that matter). This aint it.

Terry Teachout: Ink not included. He thinks Lemann is cracked. I now spend more time reading blogs than magazines. Maybe its just me�but I doubt it.

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 11, 2006 1:23 AM   Print

Comments

Q: Where can you find stories that can be done by numbers?
A: They are to be found *in* numbers.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce to you the mighty and glorious Statistical Abstract of the United States. This thing slaps an almanac around and makes it cry.

You can find out the number of racetrack operations on page 1,241, characteristics and numbers of employees in US space programs on page 788, and on page 189 you can face the chilling fact that if you are to die at someone else's hands, those hands are a lot more likely to be passing the butter at your Thanksgiving dinner than hands of a stranger.

For the dreamer of assignments there is no finer trove of wonders to be found between two covers. Have I mentioned it's a mere $29.95? Add it to your Amazon wishlists, o networked journalists of the future.

Most story ideas today start from the particular -- hey, I heard about this incident -- and work toward the general: this incident is part of a pattern. But that's an artifact of the technique: how else can you do it if the story's being written by only one person? Distributed journalism can do it the other way around: start from the general and use the many to work toward the particular.

Question: How many of the returning troops who are now amputees have gotten the proper prostheses, and are they getting good ones or cut-rate ones? Your assignment, should you choose to accept it: Please call your local VA hospital and ask the following questions...

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 11, 2006 3:06 AM | Permalink

Perhaps this is disingenous, but I'll say it anyway; when a story has obvious pros and cons why not do two stories from radically separate points of view?

Or if only one reporter is available, provide links to other approaches.

Posted by: Trudy W. Schuett at August 11, 2006 5:54 AM | Permalink

Trudy,

I think that's right in those certain cases.

When the LA Times launched its ill-fated Wikitorial, I blogged at the time that rather than trying to use a collaborative medium about a subject over which there is no collaboration in America -- Iraq -- they should have launched two wikis: one pro, one con. Let it operate like an Oxford debate: bring forth your best arguments and let the best arguments -- and facts -- win.

Now in reporting, this should not be the case. Fear not, I'm not going to start arguing for objectivity. But I will argue for intellectual honesty: you put forth the facts, no matter whether they support your view or not. So in that sense, having two stories from two viewpoints is a journalistic copout. Your story should give the facts you can muster and your mission should not be to deliver the truth but to help the public decide the truth.

Yet I can see cases where the best presentation -- emphasis presentation -- of a complex story can be to provide reporting from two viewpoints to help the public see the story from each side of the prism and decide. Take policy stories like universal health insurance or the inheritance tax: It's not about uncovering a tale but about mustering arguments and facts.

I'm not sure I'd start there with NewAssignment, for those kinds of on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand presentations are really what we used to call clip jobs (but can now call link jobs, I suppose): find the best expressions of each viewpoint and present them.

NewAssignment, I think, is about what we used to call show-leather reporting: getting and and digging what is not now available and not knowing what you are going to find before you find it. (I had an editor at the Chicago Tribune who wrote the headlines for investigations before assigning the investigations; green hack that I was, i was shocked).

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at August 11, 2006 6:25 AM | Permalink

U.S.- IRAQ ProCon.org

Posted by: Tim Schmoyer at August 11, 2006 7:51 AM | Permalink

Jeff says:

(I had an editor at the Chicago Tribune who wrote the headlines for investigations before assigning the investigations; green hack that I was, i was shocked).

Yep, a lot of stories feel canned, don't they?

And trend stories are the worst; when a journalist calls me about blogging I often feel as though the story's already written and they need colorful quotes to fill in the blanks. But nothing I say is actually going to change the story, which is, in effect, already written; the quotes are strictly ornamental. I could furnish a quote about Thomas the Tank Engine as long as the sentence contained the magic word "blog." ("Did you know there's a hyperlocal blog for a little place called the Island of Sodor run by this colorful character called, get this, Sir Topham Hatt?")

But if you have limited resources -- and what's more limited these days than the cash for investigative journalism, or any journalism at all? -- then having a goal to begin with makes sense in terms of resource allocation. In fact, as budgets shrink, it becomes a requirement to do stories at all, because who has the money to pay for the long "fiddling around but not making any progress yet" that is the hallmark of the early stages of any creative, scientific, or creative endeavor?

Such processes are a lot like making software: for a very long time it seems like you're getting nowhere, and then, ta-da! it all compiles and runs.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 11, 2006 9:37 AM | Permalink

As a part-time reader of PressThink and other media-oriented blogs, I have to say the volumne of commentary and posting on such topics is intimidating. My job and family prevent me from keeping up with the flurry of discussion, much less participating.

Will my fate be the same in this open-source world of journalism? Only the interested and leisure class will have time to be a smart-mob?

I also wonder whether too much is being hung on the "good editors" mantra. There are undoubtedly a few gifted, passionate, and multi-talented folks out there who could fill this role. I think of the early 19th century rise of the penny press when "great editors" created a new form of journalism. Of course, it only became a new form of journalism because the economics of the penny press worked so well that even "doltish editors" could pull it off.

I'd also be more comfortable with a system that was created with the assumption that people are going to be less than angelic and try to build robust checks into it from the start. My experience is that humans are sinful creatures and large groups of them even more so. Best to control that from the beginning. I think we call it checks and balances in US Government 101. Counting on brilliant editors and smart mobs may not be enough there.

On another front, as a former MSM reporter, the description of how a story gets assigned by the editor/mob sounds to me ominously like the manner in which my editor used to hand me. He would say, with a gleam in his eys, here is the story, here is what it will say. I'm putting it on the front page.

Reporters hate this for many reasons. One of them is that finding out "what a story is" often requires reporting. You only learn what the story is in the process of reporting and writing it. Indeed, as you are writing, you sometimes discover things that you never thought about earlier.

The entire NewAssignment model seems to be buying into a very linear model of the reporting and writing process that just does not seem to match my experience of what journalism entails.

Finally, I second heartily the worry posted previously about the lack of a strong institutional support for things like lawyers. We all hate them until our source is threatening to sue or refusing to turn over documents.

Posted by: John at August 11, 2006 9:58 AM | Permalink

Clearly I am not explaining myself very well if my description sounds to John like "here is the story, here is what it will say. I'm putting it on the front page." I just don't get that at all.

I've said several times that the heart of an assignment that's been open sourced are the questions users are owed anwers to. Questions, as in real questions, not rhetorical questions. Questions we don't know the answer to. You know, like... questions. With a question mark?

Probably some of this is due to my use of the term "smart mob." People just read right past the "smart" and go to "mob."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 11, 2006 10:59 AM | Permalink

Jay...

I've been *very* surprised that there hasn't been more discussion on the editor's position.

Lisa Williams and I talked about it recenctly at BlogHer and said to each other that we'd be really interested in meeting the persons who would be interested in coming into a project like NewAssignment and that it might be a great experience to work with, provide assistance to, and learn from them.

The people who take these editor positions, in the beginning, will need to be super-dedicated and willing to make sacrifices (monitarily and in other ways, too). They will certainly be challenged. Which makes me wonder what type of individual is going to be willing to not only make sacrifices but also be challenged?

Still, when I thought about it further, the editor's position reminded me alot of what I know of some protestant ministers and how they work with their congregations (in my early professional career I worked with ministers and other theologians). If one minister, with a couple of good assistants, can channel the "wisdom" of his/her "crowd," be an effective leader and make the right sermon decisions, there's no reason why an editor can't do the same. It's not rocket science inasmuch as it is having a certain kind of character.

And Mitch's ideas about the of a story being judged beforheand, as well as limiting the "truthtelling" of the reporter--I'd like to ask Mitch if he's ever worked as a freelancer. As a freelancer, the "worth" of your stories are judged all the time by gatekeeping editors. Even if you the frelancer has had great input from the wisdom of your crowd, you've got a better than even chance of getting your idea, your truthtelling, your research, shot down by an editor. What's the difference between having it shot down by one editor or shot down by a group? Personally, I don't see any difference. If the idea is all that great, then just take it and pitch it somewhere other than NewAssignment.

Awful news about CJR, too. Sounds like Lemann's manifesting the disdain he demonstrated in the New Yorker piece. If other journo school deans feel as Lemann does, it's no wonder so many journalism profs are feeling hamstrung and in a bit of despair over not being able to move the profession forward in their classrooms.

T.

Posted by: tish grier at August 11, 2006 11:00 AM | Permalink

Sorry Steve L.

While its not temporary for you, let's hope it's a temporary fart that will dissipate in the wind at CJR, and they'll find resources to bring to CJRDaily.org. I just read about that via MediaBistro e-mail.

-temple

Posted by: Temple Stark at August 11, 2006 11:49 AM | Permalink

John,

You ask if the leisure class may be the only ones who are able to participate in the production.

It might be true, but in that case, we're diverting that class's energy towards something that helps the public rather than only themselves, and that's not such a bad thing.

It's also the case that there are lots of people with what might be called "involuntary downtime." Like, for example, Steve Lovelady, who has tons of skills. Or me, who had the time and initiation energy to start H2otown and some other projects because I have a short period of time in my life where I'm home with two small children before they go to school. And then, the vast majority of Americans who have jobs that take way, way, way less than 100% of their brain to do.

There's excess intellectual capacity out there; that's why there's 66 million bloggers. And not all of them are people who can easily be dismissed as rich, well...nitwits.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 11, 2006 1:05 PM | Permalink

Tish: I think what we're dealing with here is a failure of imagination on the part of some, and my failure to make the job of New Assignment editor vivid enough, or explain it so people can see it.

I think Mitch knows how it works with freelancers. He's expecting NewAssignment to be an improvement over the news media, so it is appropriate to ask ask: where's the improvement?

I can see, though, that diminishing returns are going to soon set in on the discussion based on my sketches and people's predictions--projections--of what will happen.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 11, 2006 1:32 PM | Permalink

The only bright side to the CJRDaily news is that now Lovelady can spend more time posting here.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at August 11, 2006 1:34 PM | Permalink

Jay...

was being a bit facetious about the Mitch comment...keep forgetting that some stuff simply doesn't translate over the 'net...still, the rejection of stories is just part and parcle of any form of writing--fiction, journalism, whatever. Unless we decide to give every kid a trophy and ribbon for trying, some things won't change.

I'd be more concerned about a cliquiness developing among successful editors and reporters--but that happens in the real world too. Guess there's just no escape from some of the terrors of human nature ;-)

Posted by: tish grier at August 11, 2006 2:24 PM | Permalink

"As a part-time reader of PressThink and other media-oriented blogs, I have to say the volumne of commentary and posting on such topics is intimidating. My job and family prevent me from keeping up with the flurry of discussion, much less participating." Ditto for me.

I think that there are some very valid concerns that Jay brings up in this post. A site like New Assignment must avoid succumbing to a model where it reinforces people's prejudices. I am sure that professional journalists dread the notion that any information source would try to attract a community simply because its reporting conforms to the community's world views. That is why I think it is important that such services ask and answer questions in a way that at times may seem unwanted or unwelcomed.

However, there is potential to this idea. We all have backgrounds, experiences, and education that don't span the globe, and any reputable news site must work to bring things to people's attention that would otherwise evade their radar screens. My radar screen covers a little different territory than your�s; if enough of us come together, our collective radar screen can span a great area. Also, such services must present sides to an issue that challenge one's thinking. For instance, U.S.- IRAQ ProCon.org looks like a great site. Partisan views are great when they are coupled with their opposites in a neutral forum where both get attention.

Also, concerning Lisa William's concerns that a community will consist of a small group, Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz addresses how a rather small crowd that controls most of digg's activity. Including a large and diverse crowd on such a site is important. How do we do that?

Posted by: Steve at August 11, 2006 4:33 PM | Permalink

Jay,

I love the general idea and I think Craig did a very good thing by providing funds to help kick start your project. But I just think it is unwise to create the expectation that all expenses will be covered at all times. Or that anybody would necessarily be paid for all of their efforts. It completely changes what the project ends-up being about.

To me, it only makes sense to secure �angel funds� at the point where they are truly needed. Covering any and all expenses related to a particular project changes the dynamics and the reason people would get involved.

You want people to get involved primarily because they are excited about being part of this project. If that's the case they would have no problem contributing the work and related minor expenses that they are able to contribute on a "pro bono" basis.

I suspect plenty of people (professionals or just good amateurs) would not mind doing at least *some* of the work for free... and that is the part that would really build a sense of community � of being in this together. At a minimum, things like initial leg work before a story is even taken into consideration (just plain looking into things: making a couple of phone calls, doing some initial interviews if they are easy and cheap to come by etc.)

Of course, to reach it's potential, the project definitely needs someone like Craig (and hopefully others) to step in and basically help out at the point where pursuing a worthy story becomes prohibitively expensive (in terms of time, money etc.) . But *only* at that point...

Anyways, good luck with everything!

Posted by: Delia at August 12, 2006 3:26 AM | Permalink

From Dan: A Letter to the Bayosphere Community

My friend Esther Dyson says, wisely, "Always make new mistakes." Did I ever. But I learned from them, and from what did work. Here are some of the lessons:
  • Citizen journalism is, in a significant way, about owning your own words. That implies responsibilities as well as freedom. We asked people to read and agree to a "pledge" that briefly explained what we believed it meant to be a citizen journalist -- including principles such as thoroughness, fairness, accuracy and transparency. Although some cynics hooted that this was at best naive, we're convinced it was at least useful.
  • Limiting participation is not necessarily a bad idea. By asking for a valid e-mail address simply in order to post comments, you reduce the pool of commenters considerably, but you increase the quality of the postings. And by asking for real names and contact information, as we did with the citizen journalists, you reduce the pool by several orders of magnitude. Again, however, there appears to be a correlation between willingness to stand behind one's own words and the overall quality of what's said.
  • Citizen journalists need and deserve active collaboration and assistance. They want some direction and a framework, including a clear understanding of what the site's purpose is and what tasks are required. (I didn't do nearly a good enough job in this area.)
  • A framework doesn't mean a rigid structure, where the citizen journalist is only doing rote work such as filling in boxes.
  • The tools available today are interesting and surprisingly robust. But they remain largely aimed at people with serious technical skills -- which means too ornate and frequently incomprehensible to almost everyone else. Our tech expert, Jay Campbell, did a heroic job of trying to wrestle the software into submission to our goals. We still felt frustrated by the missing links.
  • Tools matter, but they're no substitute for community building. (This is a special skill that I'm only beginning to understand even now.)
  • Though not so much a lesson -- we were very clear on this going in -- it bears repeating that a business model can't say, "You do all the work and we'll take all the money, thank you very much." There must be clear incentives for participation, and genuine incentives require resources.
  • On several occasions, PR people offered to brief me on upcoming products or events that they hoped I'd cover in my capacity as a tech journalist, but were happy to give the slot to our citizen journalists. This testifies to a growing recognition among more clued-in PR folks that citizen journalism is here to stay.
  • Although the participants -- citizen journalists and commenters -- are essential, it's even more important to remember that publishing is about the audience in the end. Most people who come to the site are not participants. They're looking for the proverbial "clean, well-lighted place" where they can learn or be entertained, or both.
  • If you don't already have a thick skin, grow one.

Posted by: Tim Schmoyer at August 12, 2006 7:57 AM | Permalink

Tim Porter echos Dan Gillmor's thoughts

Posted by: Tim Schmoyer at August 12, 2006 7:59 AM | Permalink

Delia: Thanks for your comments.

About this: I just think it is unwise to create the expectation that all expenses will be covered at all times. Or that anybody would necessarily be paid for all of their efforts.

Where did you find me saying everyone will be paid for every little contribution? That is not the model. Assignments are open sourced, and my assumption is that many minds would contribute without being compensated. At a certain point the project is in the shape where it can be assigned to a reporter who works on it full time. That person--who could be one of thousands--would be compensated. See part one of my introduction.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 12, 2006 9:35 AM | Permalink

Jay,

Well� why pay a reporter by default� � I�d first see if I could get someone who would be able and willing to do the job for free (and I suspect that in many cases that would not be hard to do�).

As to your �part one,� here are some things that seem to be leaning in the wrong direction (at least for me):

�Finally, professional journalists with the required skills and a commitment to truth. They would be there looking for contract work.�

Well, not primarily and not necessarily� if your model would only financially compensate at the point where (quality) free work could not be had -- interested parties (professional or not) would be there to do whatever is in their power to do (mostly to help) bring to light worthy stories that for whatever reason mainstream media does not cover.

Yes, *sometimes* people would be paid but only when that would be necessary� (e.g. no point in paying a reporter, if an adequate and willing one could be had for free). I think saying �[professional journalists] would be there looking for contract work� creates the expectation of compensation where there did not need to be one. And that�s not just bad from the financial point of view � it�s bad for the community you expect to create.

Just the way I see it, of course�

Posted by: Delia at August 12, 2006 11:33 AM | Permalink

Paying when necessary is the operative principle, yes.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 12, 2006 12:58 PM | Permalink

OK! I�d first worry about building the community � maybe start a database of people willing to help (who are they? when would they be available to help and with what? What would be their upper limit? e.g. professional journalist so on so would be willing and able to help with general investigative research, 2 hours a week)

Posted by: Delia at August 12, 2006 2:52 PM | Permalink

Steve:

Most websites that seem like a big phenomenon are a bit like The Wizard of Oz: The site is the great and powerful wizard, but it's an illusion controlled by a little guy (or, in this case, a small number of mostly guys but some women) behind the green curtain.

Taking Jimmy Wales' own numbers that 50% of edits are done by 7/10ths of a percent of the users -- well, how big is that group of people doing the work? Answer: a little over 600 people. Produce. Half. Of. Wikipedia.

So, is that a bad thing? Maybe. But look at it this way: 600 is more than any newsroom that I know of. Sure, most of those people are volunteers and aren't working full time, but 600 is a pretty big number, even if not all of them are working away all the time. Big enough, in any case, to produce Wikipedia. We don't need as much as we think we need to make big changes. Remember: to win a race you don't have to be the fastest person on the planet: you just have to be a tenth of a second faster than who you're competing against.

BTW: this also means that the angle on so many Internet trend stories is dead, flat, wrong: it's not about thousands of millions of faceless people participating on the net: it's about a much smaller, knowable group of committed people.

The contributions of a few committed people make the casual contributions of a lot of people possible. At H2otown, I do most of the work, but because H2otown is there, others can try their hand at doing more than just consuming information.

The other good news is that that number -- 600 -- is about the size of a decent-size urban high school. It's not easy, but it's possible, to create a community with shared values if you have a relatively small and knowable pool of contributors. Ya just need a really good principal.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 12, 2006 3:12 PM | Permalink

"It might be true, but in that case, we're diverting that class's energy towards something that helps the public rather than only themselves, and that's not such a bad thing. "

Gosh. How nice of them all to do something for the little people. Reading your subsequent posts, it appears you approve of the knowledgeable class acting for free on behalf of the masses. It's for their own good, after all.

Anyone who works for free is doing something only for himself. It may or may not benefit the public.

****************

I keep reading about this project hoping to find that this project will have a revenue stream other than angels or readers. I haven't seen it. Apologies if I missed it.

If I didn't miss it, and that's the plan, I'm confused. Angels funding a money-losing media project is nothing new. See The New Republic, The New Yorker, National Review, and The Weekly Standard, just for starters.

Expecting users to pay for media has a history of about 10 years. It's a dismal story, too. What evidence do you have that people will actually pony up for stories?

This probably leads back into Lisa Williams' "leisure class working on behalf of the masses" line. Ironic if both the money and the work comes from the same small group of people.

If you're planning on supporting this through advertising, terrific. I'd love to see that mentioned more, and I apologize again for missing that post.

Add me to the list of people wondering what Lemann's smoking.

Posted by: Cal at August 12, 2006 4:13 PM | Permalink

Cal,

�Expecting users to pay for media has a history of about 10 years. It's a dismal story, too. What evidence do you have that people will actually pony up for stories?�

Well� how many stories are we talking about? What kind of stories? How often?

Now if you *needed* to be rapidly churning �expensive stories� left and right� Yeah! You�d probably need a constant stream of funding coming in but I don�t see that as being necessary -- doing what you can, with an emphasis on volunteering and good enough quality and building up from there seems like the healthiest start to me.

I don�t think you need to worry about volume or excessive sophistication before getting the interested volunteer people together and seeing what can be done. I�d give it plenty of time to reach its potential and keep learning from experience and keep improving�

Posted by: Delia at August 12, 2006 4:47 PM | Permalink

Cal: From the present post:

My hope is that the more successful an editor is in creating great work that draws public attention, the larger that [editor's reserve] fund would grow, making possible bigger, better, and more consequential stories. Institutional funders (like foundations) would be more likely to support editors or the site itself, while individual users would be more likely to contribute to stories they want to see.

These are really two different funding streams. Syndication is a third, sponsorship of the published work a fourth, advertising a fifth. It�s not known, of course, which of these will prove workable. It seems to me the chance of success are greater if New Assignment remains flexible and does not rely on one method.

"Angels funding a money-losing media project is nothing new." True. But who said it was? I really don't get this kind of observation. When someone tells me that this or that portion of what I am suggesting is "nothing new" (which happens repeatedly in the course of a year) what are they trying to say? To me it's baffling. I have nothing invested in the absolute originality of any of this. I've tried to point out that there are plenty of precedents that lead me to believe it can work. But the nothing-new's keep comin'.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 12, 2006 9:05 PM | Permalink

Cal,

I think you're reading a little too quickly. My guess is that the small number of people who have made Wikipedia a success, or the community that have made digg a success, aren't trustafarians: My guess is they're students and young people, mostly guys under the age of 30, many in the tech industry or in what's sometimes called "knowledge work."

I guess you would prefer the leisure class to stick to buying Jaguars? *Shrug.* Okay. Whatever they do they're unlikely to be more than a tiny minority of any pool of people contributing labor, anyway. But the whole thing seems a bit [Ayn] Randian, that people *only* do things for themselves. That's a notion I have a hard time taking seriously.

My personal experience with volunteer contributors? My most prolific contributor is our town's taxi dispatcher.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 12, 2006 9:35 PM | Permalink

Jay,

In order to get excited about your project, people familiar with previous (somewhat) similar projects that have failed expect you to show them how your project would prevent the same mistakes from happening (because if it would not, it would presumably end-up in failure as the other ones did�).

Delia

Re: �When someone tells me that this or that portion of what I am suggesting is "nothing new" (which happens repeatedly in the course of a year) what are they trying to say? To me it's baffling.�

Posted by: Delia at August 12, 2006 9:49 PM | Permalink

Okay, possibly that's it. Strange way to get excited about something.

As for not making the same mistakes, Dan Gillmor's lessons and the other post Tim pointed are decidely more helpful than "nothing new here."

"At H2otown, I do most of the work, but because H2otown is there, others can try their hand at doing more than just consuming information."

Amen, Lisa. Amen.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 12, 2006 10:30 PM | Permalink

Jay,

Well, not that strange if you ask *me* � definitely not uncommon or all that hard to understand�

I mean� as of now, nobody�s really figured-out how to make this thing work -- not really� Yeah, Dan�s lessons are great but he does not have (neither does he claim to have) the recipe for success.

So something �new� (in one way or another) needs to come about in order to make such projects work. Granted �nothing new here� can come across as harshly dismissing and it may have been meant that way (I don�t know�). And sustained unsympathetic criticism does end-up being emotionally draining.

However, the criticism behind that statement (whether it was meant well or not) seems to be of value: you *need* to come-up with something new (as opposed to the things that have already been tried and proven unsuccessful).

But I think that whatever that �new thing� will end-up being, it is much more likely to come through the process of starting and learning from experience than from dreaming-up some magical formula ahead of time. So�yeah� in that sense �nothing new here� is no big deal at the *beginning* of the enterprise�

Delia

P.S. OK� I better go to bed, now� Let me know if you are still interested in translations of French blog entries that talk about your project (it�s always good to get different cultural perspectives).

Posted by: Delia at August 13, 2006 12:48 AM | Permalink

Lisa,

You make some great points. It is important to remember that some of the coolest sites on the net now are not bringing masses of faceless individuals together in a virtual forum. You're right, this does not have to hamper its potential. We just need to make sure that the small group of active participants are managed in a way that benefits all people, stories, and angles.

In a way, I think it is better for those who participant to have passion. Those who interact or involve themselves with out true devotion can cause more harm than good.

Posted by: Steve at August 13, 2006 1:36 AM | Permalink

Delia: I agree completely that the solution is much more likely to come through the process of starting and learning from experience than a magical scheme, and I have tried to be clear in my postings that NewAssignment.Net isn't good enough to work yet, but... Open sourcing the assignment stage so as to involve people in a way that should increase the chances that some of them will be persuaded to contribute and make true pro-am collaboration possible in the production of high quality enterprise reporting, the results of which can serve as an argument for support to big contributors and be syndicated to Big Media sites, further defraying the costs... this has been tried before and it failed? I did not know that.

Answer is, yes, I am still interested in the French translations of those posts, if you would be so kind. Thanks.

Also, to go back to something Cal said,"Angels funding a money-losing media project is nothing new."

Strictly speaking, NewAssignment can't lose money. If I don't raise the dollars to hire an editor to start things off, there is no editor, and no expense to employ said editor. If the editor can't raise from contributors or doesn't have enough in her reserve fund to fund a story, then no one is contracted for to complete it. Instead of losing money, which is made up for at the end of the year by a deep-pocketed rich guy (like the New York Observer, the New Republic), NewAssignment just remains at the scale its current funds make possible.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 13, 2006 9:18 AM | Permalink

Jay--I saw that. I just guess I hoped against hope I'd missed something sensible in an earlier post. In fact, I now see this, here:

"It could also accept advertising if the traffic got high enough, with most of the proceeds distributed to editors� funds, further empowering them."

Which you didn't quote in your response, and I didn't see before, either. I don't know how I missed it--I even searched for the phrase "adv".
Still, advertising seems an afterthought, rather than the one relatively unbiased and reliable source of funding.

"But who said it was [something new]?"

I can't think how I got the idea that your many posts explaining a project called NewAssignment.net was anything new. No doubt all the extensive commentary from other sites were well aware that this was the same old thing, too.

Sarcasm aside, you said the project and its revenue stream was fundamentally new and different. Several times, over and over. I guess I would have expected something like "The funding, of course, is nothing new. Like many political magazines, I'll rely on angel funding if the users don't pony up as much as I hope they will". But then, I could have missed that as well.

However, your ready admission of it brings up another point. All angel-backed media publications have a strong ideological bias, yet you reassure people that the site won't have a bias because you'll have good editors. Presumably, the New Yorker, Weekly Standard, National Review, and America Prospect have good editors. That doesn't prevent ideological bias.

Or, as Delia said:

"In order to get excited about your project, people familiar with previous (somewhat) similar projects that have failed expect you to show them how your project would prevent the same mistakes from happening (because if it would not, it would presumably end-up in failure as the other ones did�). "

Do any straight news organizations have angels?

"I guess you would prefer the leisure class to stick to buying Jaguars? "

Buying a Jag and donating your time to work for free are both luxury spending and therefore equivalent. I expressed no preference for your spending habits. But I do get sarcastic when a dilettante enraptured with her dogooding (dogooding that appears to be funded by her husband, unless you live off your own interest income) gets righteous about working for the "public good", particularly when she says " we're diverting that class's energy towards something that helps the public rather than only themselves".

And to Jay: Lisa is precisely the sort of reason why I'm skeptical about the second half of your funding scheme (the readers). She's entirely correct about the relatively small number of people who become the core users/funders of any volunteer work effort. But like all charity workers, they have very clear ideas of what's acceptable and not acceptable, and just like the angels, they won't fund you with work unless the goal is one they approve of.

In the best case, your venture ends up as a clearing house/marketplace, allowing angels to find reporters for their own pet causes and reporters to come here with ideas, looking for backers. But you won't need an editor in that case--in fact, the site wouldn't need to provide content at all. Once they have funding, reporters would want to sell the end result to the highest bidder.

Posted by: Cal at August 13, 2006 9:27 AM | Permalink

I just realized something. I said:

"Sarcasm aside, you said the project and its revenue stream was fundamentally new and different. Several times, over and over."

I guess that was only for the reader-funding aspect? If so, fine--but the rest of my pont still applies.

Posted by: Cal at August 13, 2006 9:30 AM | Permalink

Cal: The open-sourced assignment part is new, so far as I know. I haven't been able to think of a news organization or citizens journalism experiment that does things quite that way. Thus NewAssignment.Net. However, if someone has an example of one that does I would be happy to withdraw my claim. That's just one part of the model; other parts, I have tried to suggest, have lots of precedents.

Here's how I put it in my original post, explaining the name:

All assignments emerge from open source (we could also say collaborative) methods. They bring into investigative journalism what Net-based social networks can know. Our hunch is you can break stories that way if you don�t try to control it too much. Or too little! Second, the money is raised, and the journalism is completed after that �open� stage has been run. The site seeks funding for assignments that have been well-defined, vigorously discussed and are part-of-the-way there because they were open-sourced successfully (failures having fallen away).

I haven't stressed advertising because until you have relatively major traffic, advertising is not going to provide much. Possibly it will work well enough that advertising pays the bills. If so, great. If click-and-contribute doesn't work, but sponsorship does, great.

By the way, Cal, certainly the most likely outcome of this project is that it will fail. Most new ventures do. I am well aware of that. I do bristle I bit when people tell me they know in advance it will fail. I don't think that's warranted, and in any case it's an anti-experimental attitude.

"All angel-backed media publications have a strong ideological bias, yet you reassure people that the site won't have a bias because you'll have good editors." I didn't say the site will have no bias. I said predictions like �The best we can hope for is competing versions of reality funded by groups that want verification of their views" are unwarranted at this stage. That's not the best we can hope for. Here is what I wrote:

Ideology will rule. Could be. It depends on how the editors operate, and what sort of user they bring to the site. Demagogic editors would draw demagogic crowds. New Assignment would try not to hire them. Editors with a world view who respect the rules of evidence and demand verification would draw a different kind of crowd. New Assignment would look for that kind.

I did say New Assignmemt will have good editors. I didn't say New Assignment will have editors without discernible ideology.

Do any straight news organizations have angels?

An example, cited in my first post, is the Center for Public Integrity, which I called "donor-supported, high quality investigative journalism." The Christian Science Monitor would be another example, though it has struggled lately.

The rest of your response to too ugly to reply to.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 13, 2006 10:31 AM | Permalink

Jay,

"Open sourcing the assignment stage so as to involve people in a way that should increase the chances that some of them will be persuaded to contribute and make true pro-am collaboration possible in the production of high quality enterprise reporting, the results of which can serve as an argument for support to big contributors and be syndicated to Big Media sites, further defraying the costs... this has been tried before and it failed? I did not know that."

That particular *combination* of things sounds novel to me... I think Cal is just having a field trip with the bits and pieces of it.. (which *individualy* might not have worked so well previously).

Cal,

I think some of the points your are bringing-up are definitely worth thinking about but the *way* you do it can come across as harsh and dismissing of the *core ideas* of this project (which I think is pretty solid).

I hope I wouldn't be annoyed with you if this was my project and you'd be giving me this kind of feedback, but we are all human afterall...

Jay again,

OK! I'll see what I can do... (re: translation French blog entries about your project). Do you want them posted here or...?

Delia

Posted by: Delia at August 13, 2006 11:22 AM | Permalink

Yes, right here would be fine or if by then there is a new NewAssignment-related post, then there. Thanks!

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 13, 2006 11:26 AM | Permalink

In point of fact, H2otown pays for itself, and although I'm the one at home with my kids, it's not the case that I don't have what you might call a "real job" -- I'm a property manager for a number of residential real estate units whose mystifying ancient plumbing keeps me very busy. This allows me to, as someone once said, "put food on my family." H2otown is produced much in the way that Scott Adams produced Dilbert in the early years: early in the morning or late at night.

However, contempt for women who are at home with their kids, and characterizing them as parasites, is, sadly, common in the larger society. Looking at the vicious attacks on mommybloggers seems to indicate that a lot of people think "children should be seen and not heard" applies to their mothers, too. When women write about their own experience or dare to go beyond it, it's dismissed as trivial or obscene.

*Shrug.* That hasn't done much to stop us.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 13, 2006 11:48 AM | Permalink

Can anyone explain this reference? "Shades of Snow Crash: NewAssignment.net..."?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 13, 2006 11:55 AM | Permalink

Jay,

re: Shader of Snow Crash

Not at this point, I just started to read that book... but I think Craig would be a good person to ask (he's familiar with both the book and your project).

Delia

Posted by: Delia at August 13, 2006 12:09 PM | Permalink

Hi Jay:

Some suggestions:

1. Provide a very succinct inspirational mission statement. For example, Jimmy Wales says Wikipedia is "an effort to create and distribute a multilingual free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language."

2. Provide us a drawing of the Ecosystem, perhaps something that people can add to or subtract from online. Let us see all the players including the potential funders, editors, authors, audiences, and distributors. It doesn�t have to be perfect, but a nice visual representation would help see the bigger structure. It is sort of like civic mapping, a way to see who the players are and what roles they might have in the project.

3. Lisa Williams at H2oTown has answered the question below in the affirmative, but Jay, have you? And how might your first developer, editor answer it? Linus Torvalds the founder and master motivator behind Linux open source software, said about developers, �The first consideration for anybody should really be whether you'd like to do it even if you got nothing at all back. And if you answer �yes� to that question, then it is probably a project you'd enjoy doing, and one where concerns like how much you'd get out of it personally really are rather secondary.�

4. You have a solid idea; now you must move to the action stage. Here is Eric Raymond in his groundbreaking essay the Cathedral and the Bazaar: �It's fairly clear that one cannot code from the ground up in bazaar style. One can test, debug and improve in bazaar style, but it would be very hard to originate a project in bazaar mode. Linus didn't try it. I didn't either. Your nascent developer community needs to have something runnable and testable to play with.�

Posted by: Leonard Witt at August 13, 2006 11:07 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Len. Apt points, all. I am well aware that we need to move to the action stage. I'm working on it, trust me.

I need to mention Len's truly excellent paper at First Monday, Constructing a Framework to Enable an Open Source Reinvention of Journalism. In this section he's quoting Yochai Benkler of Yale Law School.

Given the right conditions, people will share. However, one consideration is contribution size � what�s being asked of them. A stranger asking directions to a bus stop will get a lot more positive responses than one asking for a ride downtown. Although, given the right conditions either could be fulfilled, the former has the bigger chance of fulfillment.

Benkler [20] writes, �... when a project of any size is broken up into little pieces, each of which can be performed by an individual in a short amount of time, the motivation to get any given individual to contribute need only be very small. This suggests that peer production will thrive where projects have three characteristics ...

1.) �They must be modular. That is, they must be divisible into components, or modules, each of which can be produced independently of the production of the others. This enables production to be incremental and asynchronous, pooling the efforts of different people, with different capabilities, who are available at different times.�

2.) �For a peer production process to pool successfully a relatively large number of contributors, the modules should be predominately fine�grained, or small size. This allows the project to capture contributions from large numbers of contributors whose motivation levels will not sustain anything more than small efforts toward the project ... In addition, a project will likely be more efficient if it can accommodate variously sized contributions. Heterogeneous granularity will allow people with different levels of motivation to collaborate by making smaller � or larger�grained contributions consistent with their levels of motivation.�

3.) �... a successful peer production enterprise must have low�cost integration, which includes both quality control over the modules and a mechanism for integrating the contributions into the finished product,� while defending �itself against incompetent or malicious contributors.�

Comments?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 14, 2006 12:42 AM | Permalink

Jay,

Here is my English version of the �Nanoblog� entry (http://www.nanoblog.com/past/2006/07/newassignementnet.htm) -- the initial French blog you mentioned earlier on. I tried to simplify things (especially syntax) without altering the message � it just tends to come across better for English speakers (French seems to take the �scenic route,� while English usually takes the highway � just my personal take on it). I�m sure it�s not perfect but it should give a good idea.

NewAssignment.net

NewAssignment.net is a new project by Jay Rosen, expert in journalism and blogs. He describes it in detail on his blog.

The project builds on the idea of �OpenSource journalism,� meaning media financed by users. But it�s not only about asking for donations, it�s also about having the public participate in the production of information, which remains largely produced by professional journalists.

Even if there have been some precedents, the concept is pretty novel. I think it�s a real alternative for the future of media and for citizen journalism.

Citizen journalism is interesting, but models of production/consumption/financing of information are even more so. Certain entries in my blog are picked-up by Agoravox, one of the major French-language �citizen media� sites. That gives them visibility but that doesn�t change things for me or the information conveyed. Agoravox works well as an article aggregator, mostly for blogs. But how could I do more with my product? Why would I go to the trouble of putting together a long article or producing a reportage at the end of the world to just have it published on Agoravox? Maybe some would do it just for their ego or simply for the pleasure of being read. But when you are a professional journalist there is nothing in it for you and few independent journalists could afford such a luxury.

Jay Rosen proposes a very different model: citizen journalists can submit story ideas and collectively develop them by providing information, donating their time or co financing the production. The professional journalist does his job, pretty much as usual, just that instead of being paid by traditional media, he/she is paid by the people who would like to see such projects done. The �best journalists� are identified through a reputation system.

Although it�s still in the preparation stage, NewAssignment.Net seems exciting to me. At a time when parts of the media are in a crisis and journalists� salaries seem to be free falling, NewAssignment.Net offers an attractive alternative. Also, like some other projects on the web, NewAssignment.Net would enable internet users to be actors as well as spectators. Finally, it offers an alternative to simple citizen media. Speaking of which, it seems to me that many haven�t understood that the real point of citizen journalism isn�t as much to develop new ways of producing information but to come-up with economic models capable of giving life to new forms of media. Finally and above all, Rosen�s project makes perfect sense: why should media intermediate between the public and the information producers?

Delia

P.S. Jay, if you ask me� this is a standing ovation! Let me know if you want me to translate the trackbacks too or maybe something else?

P.P.S. If you plan on discussing French blog entries in here it might be nice to invite those people to come over� I mean� it�s been a while since they posted the stuff and they may have changed their minds or something� (kidding:)� No� but, I think they might like to be present and would probably have interesting things to add.

Posted by: Delia at August 14, 2006 2:55 AM | Permalink

Lisa--I didn't say your husband funded H20town, but your do-gooding. If you are able to fund your and your daughters' lives out of your work as a property manager, then terrific. I withdraw the remark. If, on the other hand, you bring in a nice little second income but you would make very different professional choices if you were the sole breadwinner, then my remark about your own personal backer stands.

Again, I didn't bring it up out of the blue, but rather in response to your self-congratulatory remarks about doing this "for the public good" and declaring it superior to "buying a Jaguar." You are indulging in a luxury. Enjoy it. Just don't expect everyone else to think your willingness to work "for free" is objectively a public service or superior to other luxuries.

As for the contempt that stay at home moms face, I expressed no contempt for them. But had I done so, here's my response: my gosh, you're right. This society celebrates working mothers exclusively. I'd completely forgotten that only non-working mothers face condemnation. Poor dears. And "blogher", last I checked, was for all women, not just stay at home mothers.

Jay--I know that you think your idea has enough staying power to at least be an interesting failure. I enjoy your blog, but I can't share that opinion.

As for my comments about volunteers, which you seemed to think unduly harsh, I advise you to reconsider. People who give time or money to a volunteer effort have high expectations of value.

So, for example, if you genuinely strive for a value-neutral news site, in which all political and ideological voices are equal, then you are very unlikely to get many ideologically-driven volunteers. They'll go to sites that openly cater to their pov. Instead, you'll get the much smaller number of people who are drawn to the idea of keeping things absolutely evenhanded. The smaller pool radically reduces your odds of picking up much talent--and evenhanded people are boring, by and large (David Broder, anyone?).

That's just one possibility; there are plenty other negative outcomes. But the fact is that volunteers/donors expect payment of some sort, and you'll have to deliver them emotional satisfaction.

On advertising--again, why not use affiliate advertising? You could magnify the effect of your donors, who could make normal purchases while you pick up a piece of the action.

Posted by: Cal at August 14, 2006 8:53 AM | Permalink

Not just a failure but a boring failure. Gotcha, Cal.

Volunteers/donors expect payment of some sort, and you'll have to deliver them emotional satisfaction.

Seems like there's some emotional satisfaction in delivering those predictions, as there was in calling Lisa Williams a "dilettante enraptured with her dogooding (dogooding that appears to be funded by her husband...)" without of course knowing a thing about her or her family. Ugly emotions.

Delia: Thank you very much. Here and here are links to other posts in French if you are willing.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 14, 2006 10:05 AM | Permalink

(apologies if this has been covered already; I'm reading quickly at lunch and haven't read all of the commments)

The reserve fund Jay speaks of seems analogous to "general operating support" or "core operating support" in the nonprofit world. These grants are given to an organization to support its activities generally, rather than allowing a funder to pick and choose which project he/she likes.

In the nonprofit world, foundations have increasingly relied on project-specific grants rather than operating support grants. A project grant says "I trust you to paint my house because you promise to go to Home Depot and buy paint and a brush and hire one painter." An operating grant say "I trust you to use your best judgment to fix up this house."

This is relevant to New Assignment because only funders who are comfortable giving operating support grants are going to be willing to donate to a reserve fund.

These are some reasons that I've heard funders give for making project grants:
- It gives me greater control
- It allows me to see exactly what line items my money is being spent on
- It allows me to be sure my money is not being spent on "inappropriate" (high-profile, controversial, etc.) work
- It gives me deniability ("no, no, my money doesn't go to support THAT!")

These are reasons that nonprofit organizations DISlike project grants:
- It encourages funders to micromanage budgets ("Do you really need a new laptop? I don't want an 'equipment' line item on this budget")
- It encourages funders to view teamwork as piecemeal ("I'm paying for a social worker - why should I cover 10% of your receptionist's salary?")
- It opens the door to long arguments about what is legitimate.

For New Assignment to be successful in getting reserve fund money, I think it will need to have 1) editors that people trust enough to give "discretionary" money to; 2) goodwill enough as an organization that people trust it to spend money wisely (a la the Red Cross pre-Sept. 11), and/or 3) extremely enlightened (and non-typical) funders.

I hope you'll have a lot of people in category #3 - wise donors who are NOT necessarily linked to foundations or other institutions. And I think the best way to do that is to build up NA in category #2. Reputation matters.

Posted by: Amanda at August 14, 2006 1:46 PM | Permalink

I think that analysis is dead on. Thanks, Amanda.

The way I tried to deal with this is locating a lot of the trust in editors. Funders wouldn't be funding "general operating expenses," they would be funding Donna Jones, NewAssignment's Work and Family editor, who has a track record, a user base, a blog and an operating style the funder can check out.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 14, 2006 2:29 PM | Permalink

However, funders do give to specific topics areas especially in public broadcasting for example medical coverage, environmental coverage or coverage of Japan.

Here is something I pulled from an online public radio PR release for Marketplace:

"Business of the Arts reports are made possible by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Global coverage on Marketplace is funded in part by Phillips Petroleum Company and Guidant Corporation. Marketplace Japan coverage is made possible by grants from the U.S. Japan Foundation, the Center for Global Partnership and the Freeman Foundation. Support for Technology coverage is provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The Health Desk on Marketplace is supported in part by a major grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation."

Of course, public broadcasting has a fairly high trust level. So that consideration will not change.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at August 14, 2006 4:25 PM | Permalink

Here's my stab at a one-sentence description:

New Assignment.Net tries to spark innovation in journalism by showing that open collaboration over the Internet among reporters, editors and large groups of users can produce high-quality work that serves the public interest, holds up under scrutiny, and builds trust.

And a second sentence of elaboration:

A second aim is to figure out how to fund this work through a combination of online donations, micropayments, traditional fundraising, syndication rights, sponsorships, advertising and any other method that does not compromise the site's independence or reputation.

Editing suggestions welcome.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 14, 2006 11:04 PM | Permalink

The money-producing aspect and what some people might be wondering

Jay,

I�d make it very clear to people that the ONLY point of accepting/charging money *ever* would be to do more and continue to increase quality in the future � if that�s the case... I think at least some people might be wondering what are your long term plans in this respect.

The thing is that there are some wonderful projects out there (that have made very good use of volunteers) that seemingly against all odds turned-out to be very profitable. The persons who started such projects probably never contemplated such developments (so they seem to be innocent) but the fact is that there are volunteers out there that regret having spent a big chuck of their time and energy unwittingly building someone else�s empire� And I can�t blame them�

Of course, nobody would expect you to cover administrative expenses yourself and the non-profit set-up allows for normal salaries etc. for those employed (including you) but what happens if this project ends up making a lot of money in the distant or not so distant future? Would you ever make it a for profit? Would you ever personally profit from it in other ways (I mean *financially* profit)?

I think nowadays people who would consider spending a lot of time and resources on this kind of project would want to know that ahead of time. And I�m not saying that you would not still be able to find *some* volunteers even if � let�s say� in case it ends-up being a big financial success you wouldn�t mind financially benefiting from it...

It�s just that the pool of people willing to just pitch in and help would probably be much smaller and you�d probably end-up having to pay for a lot more things but that would just be fair� And I don�t see anything wrong with it as long as you are upfront about it.

After all you came-up with an original model and if you wanted to (and you haven�t considered it so far), you might be able to get a patent for it � something like a business model patent maybe. And you probably plan to spend a fair amount of your time on this project for a good long while� so� it would be perfectly understandable if you didn�t necessarily want to keep it non-profit come what may�

Delia

P.S. I do want to do those translations for you, Jay. I just might need a couple of days. I thought this topic was more urgent since you seem to be putting down important things about your project.

Posted by: Delia at August 15, 2006 12:24 AM | Permalink

Good points, D.

Nope, it's non-profit all the way and will never become a commercial enterprise. I wouldn't be interested in a patent if it ever came to that. This is a Creative Commons, gift economy type thing; that's crucial to the kind of trust involved in the whole effort.

If New Assignment ever made money (which I highly doubt) it would all go into the journalism-- meaning do more journalism, do higher quality work, employ more journalists, give them health insurance, buy libel insurance, etc. And, yes, that will be clearly spelled out from the beginning. I don't think you can ask people to donate their time, knowledge & enthusiasm for something that enriches the "owners."

Take your time on the translations, and if you don't have the time, no problem.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 15, 2006 12:42 AM | Permalink

Jay, reading your first two drafts of description made me realize something: They're pitching process, not product.

That's going to be persuasive to folks who think about the structure of things, whose own critiques about the mainstream press include a narrative about why the current process leads to an imperfect product. I'm very sympathetic to this crowd -- it's related to the Freedom to Tinker and the Free Culture philosophies, and the thinking that says that if your ideology and process are pure, your end result will be too.

But lots of people AREN'T intersted in the structure or the process. They really don't care. They just want to see a high-quality product. And talking through my hat here, I think this is 90% of the world.

Persuade the 10% in the first group and you have your early adopters/supporters. But it's the 90% in the second group that NA will need to sustain itself. My friends don't use Craigslist because they like the ideology or they have some reasoned critique of the old newspaper-classifieds model. They use it because it's cheap, easy, and effective.

Organizations like the Christian Science Monitor and the Center for Public Integrity consciously pitch themselves as against the tide. In my opinion, one of the reasons the CSM (not sure about CPI) consistently struggles financially is because they often pitch their process and the integrity of it, rather than "neutral" outcomes like the speed, relevance, and depth of their international reporting. It's the "Buy our product because it's worthy" rather than "Buy our product because it's the best."

Posted by: Amanda at August 15, 2006 9:30 AM | Permalink

I think that's basically right.

But here's my reasoning: The 90 percent you're talking about will come to NewAssignment.Net for the published work, and won't even look at something like a "mission statement," which wouldn't matter to them even if they happened upon it.

The description I drafted is really for potential supporters, funders, brainstormers, strategists (and journalists). At this stage, that's what needed. When we have product, the situation changes.

Now the part of the mission that might matter to the 90 percent was described thusly in my original post:

For whom would the site exist? Who are the customers?

People who are interested in the news, online regularly and accustomed to informing themselves. They would come because New Assignment does stories the regular news media doesn�t do, can�t do, wouldn�t do, or already screwed up. And it allows for participation that is effective.

Maybe I should work some of that into my one-sentence.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 15, 2006 11:35 AM | Permalink

Here's a model for raising money from readers for investigative journalism. It's from The Tyee, a British Columbia-based web magazine.

http://thetyee.ca/Views/2006/02/19/FellowshipsLaunched/

Posted by: Amanda at August 15, 2006 11:38 AM | Permalink

Institutions, no matter how loosely organized in the beginning, become institutionalized.

Is there a provision imagined for running the story past a real expert--as oppposed to the guy at the next desk--to answer the question, "Is this the kind of thing half our readers know better than?"

(New paradigm, right? Take risks. Be bold.)

I hope this effort is like pulling up the ladder and rowing smartly off. But it could be like sending song requests to the orchestra on the Titanic.

Behind you, the wire services, and by extension, their customers, are being systematically flayed for faking and staging pictures, along with misrepresenting the subject and context.

Bias is one thing. Ultimately, it's not demonstrable in any tangible sense.

But this stuff is lies.

Flat lies. Demonstrable.

Glenn Reynolds is asking the question others have asked: If you can't trust a journalist, why pay for his work?

Hope you guys can start fresh.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at August 15, 2006 1:33 PM | Permalink

Jay,

Well� if you let the model go straight into the public domain (so anybody can use it) I think it�s quite likely that *somebody*� s going to end-up making quite a bit of money at some point� (by taking what you�ve done � the model *plus* all the hard work done within the project -- and figuring-out how to apply it commercially�) Assuming you can make it work, of course� (and I think you *can*� if you just stick with it� -- I don�t think Craig was wrong when he picked your project :).

If I were in your shoes, I�d see if I could get a patent and use licensing fees as a source of funding (at the point where others would want to use the model). That would not only provide some built-in funding but would also allow you to control who gets to use it and how� If you don�t like the ethics of a company (they can�t be trusted), they don�t get a license� To get a license, you could require that companies build-in a gift for the local communities (say, free coverage of major political events). And you could give away licenses to non-profits if you wanted�

I just think that this alternative would give you a lot more to work with than the CC type of thing� (I could be wrong, of course�).

Hiring more journalists:

Again, I�d only hire people when the volunteer community (someone or other or a whole bunch of people) couldn�t get the job done and even then I�d do it with an eye on strengthening the community: say you need a reporter (the volunteer reporters you have don�t have some critical skill needed to cover this particular story�OK, then! You need to go out and find someone who can do the job *and*� also train the interested volunteer reporters -- at a minimum, through job ghosting).

It might be tempting to just get some money, go out and hire the best journalists you can get, let them do their job �unencumbered� and have very high quality work from the start. I don�t think that would be particularly smart� because that doesn�t do anything for the future of the community (the skill set of those who would have liked to volunteer remains inadequate and they will have no chance to do this kind of job next time around).

OK! Here�s some more of that translation (I picked the shortest of the two articles for now; I�ll try to post the other one tomorrow night):

http://www.universmedias.com/article-3437839.html

NewAssignment.net -- an experiment in new journalism

Jay Rosen, Journalism Professor at New York University, expert in citizen journalism just started NewAssignment.net (see on his blog, Press Think, in English), a totally innovative journalism project.

Jeff Mignon explains on his Media Caf� blog:

�It�s a simple idea: doing high quality �open-source� journalism. How would it work?

Anybody will be able to request a reportage, an investigation� on an internet site: NewAssignment.net. Professional journalists, employed by the site, take on these projects. With public participation, they help better define the request.

Journalists and Citizens joining forces

In fact, citizen participation (readers, internet users, information seekers) is essential to Assignment.net. They are the ones who define the questions they want to have answered and also the ones who finance the journalistic investigations.

Ideally, it guarantees a journalism perfectly attuned with the readership and independent of big money or advertising.

The idea of putting journalists and readers together, on equal footing, (using personal knowledge, the readers can correct an investigation while it�s going on) is very timely. It answers the question posed by Benoit-Raphael�s blog motto: �Tomorrow� will we all be journalists?� Well, of course! *Can* be done� at NewAssignment.net.

Except that, as opposed to Agoravox � the ambitious citizen journalism collective project started by Carlo Revelli and Jo�l de Rosnay -- NewAssignment.net gives the choice of subject to the citizens but delegates the editorial job to paid professionals.

Rather exciting, no?

Obviously, the project poses a number of questions: what level of funding would set the journalistic inquiry in motion? Who proposes the subject of the investigation: NewAssignment or the readers? Would the readers suggest pertinent questions? And finally, always the same question at the end: is the project economically viable?

To finish with something I completely agree with, here is a part of Damien �s commentary on the Media Caf� blog: �[�] I think it�s even cooler to imaging the editing handed over to the clients (which for the first time would not be the advertisers) where the topic of discussion would be what interviews to go get, everyone bringing to the table their knowledge and motivation. What a vote of confidence for the journalists and, above all, what confidence builder to know that you got the community backing you up when you use your press pass to go ask the bothering questions: �Prime Minister, I got 350 people paying me to ask you this question�� Rather exciting, no?�

Delia

Nighty night, all�

Posted by: Delia at August 16, 2006 12:58 AM | Permalink

Cool. Thanks, Delia. I still don't see anyone making money with the model, though.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2006 12:45 AM | Permalink

Jay,

Maybe not exactly the way you have it right now (chance are you are going to find out that some parts just wouldn�t work the way you thought) but I think you probably already have the key elements.

If you did want to go after a patent at some point, I�d make sure the claims would be as broad as possible (to cover all possible ways of using it commercially, even if you never contemplate doing that). But that�s just what *I*�d do�

Delia

P.S. I got about half of the long article done (I figured I�d wait until I can post the whole thing � hopefully tonight).

Posted by: Delia at August 17, 2006 8:37 AM | Permalink

Jay,

I looked over my previous article translation�hmmm... definitely not perfect! Missing �s�- es, �which� instead of �who,� infinitive-gerund �mash-up�� oh, well� I hope everybody understood� (if not, just ask � I could redo the parts that seemed to make no sense, if any�)

And here is my translation for the other link:

http://oliviertredan.wordpress.com/2006/08/01/le-renouveau-du-public-journalism-via-internet/

�Public Journalism� Renaissance by means of the internet?

The is a follow-up to Cyril Fievet�s blog entry on NewAssignment.Net, an experiment in citizen journalism. It�s a reaction to the idea of novelty:� Even if there have been some precedents, the concept is pretty novel and I think it�s a real alternative for the future of media and citizen journalism.� Jay Rosen, the initiator of this project, is a promoter of �Public Journalism,� a movement that would like to reform journalism. The internet, the most revolutionary ways of producing of information seems to be the means to reactivate this initial project.

At the end of the 1990s, the moral crisis with economic repercussions sweeping US media has engendered a renewed attempt to local journalism involving �the public� (those traditionally regarded as the listeners) in the process of information production. The dream of �Public Journalism� is to contribute to social debate by redefining the legitimate speakers and also to question the higher status of experts and elected officials when it comes to selecting the topics of debate.

Rosen defines Public Journalism as a set of principles, a professional reality and a movement.

Here are the key four principles:
-- a priori, the readers of printed media are active citizens
-- the press can help the citizenry address public problems
-- the media should do more to improve the quality and utility of public debate
-- the press plays a crucial role in public life

According to Rosen, the �function� of media is to contribute to a better �rendition� of democracy and to profoundly revise fundamental journalistic practice. Politically, this movement is a kind of a continuation of the American �progressivism� from the end of the 19th century, resisting partisan politics take over. It expresses the exasperation of journalists over the political figures� ability to control media, the decrease in public debate who resembles a �board game� between candidates. It also reacts to the public�s malcontent with the written press by providing an alternative to the competition among audiovisual channels. �Public Journalism� aims to give rise to an �opinion agenda� regarding issue hierarchy and choice of solutions to be interpreted by the citizens. It�s rooted in a procedural vision of democracy where the confrontation of opinions gives rise to deliberation and choice, the journalist becoming the facilitator not caught-up in the exchanges.

Thierry Watine (Le mod�le du � journalisme public �) analyses public journalism in issue no 35 of Hermes (�The Journalists, do they still have power?�). Here is a summary of his article: �In spite of reservations of a part of the profession since the apparition in the united States at the end of the 1990s, public journalism experiences today a spectacular blossoming. A large study done in July 2001 involving about 360 American newspapers shows that two in three editors have knowledge of the principles of the new paradigm and almost half of them regularly apply the main techniques (serious talks, focus groups, citizen forums, polls, new feedback procedures etc).

According to Jay Rosen, founder of this �rethinking approach� to the profession, public journalists must contribute more to the quality of democratic life, notably by renewing the confidence bond and thus having real dialogue with the citizens. Aside from the relevance of specific facts to current events, these citizens are expecting concrete solutions to big societal dysfunctions and to certain personal problems concerning their daily lives. In the absence of such solutions, most of these citizens continue to turn away from traditional media.�

However, let�s not forget that although it consecrates media�s position as central to democratic play, �Public Journalism� is a movement largely motivated by economic issues. The issue Cyril Fievet points-out is and has always been fundamental: �coming-up with new economic models, capable of giving life to [forms of] media.� The other side of this issue has to do with the possible use of the public (through opinion polls, for example � assuming that public opinion exists and is not just an artifact) and serves journalistic ends more than those of citizens. Is underestimating the reality of the social divide and doing journalism born of political demands of citizens not the danger of this type of journalism? As a consequence, this movement, instead of clarifying the social debate, doesn�t it open the door to creating a confusion between journalism and the representative function [of government]? It seems to me that lack of political autonomy (that becomes all relative) during the process of public action is a necessary evil when compared with the illusion of transparency that the proposed change can entail.

Posted by: Delia at August 18, 2006 3:33 AM | Permalink

Found NewAssignment.net from Nicholas Lehmann's article in recent New Yorker. Great idea!

However, haven't found the word "auction" yet to describe possible funding of topics. Setting up auction funding would be quick and easy via PayPal, and would allow contributors to bid on existing topics or seed money to create new topics of their own.

But enough talk already! If MoveOn.org can raise $100's of thousands for simple political issues in a matter of days, then there's a bright future for NewAssignment.net. Let the auction begin...

Posted by: Doug at August 19, 2006 4:10 AM | Permalink

Thanks again, Delia. Your help is much appreciated. Weird, but all of a sudden people are talking about civic journalism again. I wonder why...

After Labor Day I hope to have some anouncements about NewAssignment.Net that show progress.

I can see, however, that talking about it in the abstract is having diminishing returns.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 19, 2006 12:09 PM | Permalink

You are very welcome, Jay! glad I could help... I'll try to keep an eye on your blog, it's just that I'll probably be in Europe in September and will have little time (if at all) to spend online. But I will be checking email once in a while. Of course, you'd be welcome to email if you'd like (you do have the email address I enter when I post comments in here, right?).

Just to make sure I told you everything I had to say (at least for the moment): I'd move away from "labeling" people (re: professionals v. amateurs). Who cares what they are? as long as they want to help and bring skills and dedication to the project, the more (and the more varied) the merrier!

I think that if you focus on building a volunteer community of people who are united to bring to life worthy stories that the mainstream media doesn�t cover you will be very likely to succeed (as long as you earn their trust, of course). You want to be the Craigslist that never went commercial or the Wikipedia that never spawned Wikia. Don�t get me wrong, I think both Craig and Jimmy are ok (I don�t think they �planned it all� or anything�)

Also, since it�s a community service sort of thing -- if at all possible, I would avoid having anybody pay to access the information (it would sort of defeat the purpose: you want to bring to light valuable information, so it should be out there for anybody to see�).

At this point, this is probably the last thing in your mind but I think it�s important that you keep the communities small and localized (so they can actually meet each other and do other things than just work � hang-out, go celebrate when a project comes through etc.). A host of problems would be avoided if you could do that�

OK! I�m glad I� bumped into you blog:) Take care! D.

Posted by: Delia at August 19, 2006 11:56 PM | Permalink

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