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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 15, 2006

The Era of Networked Journalism Begins

Today marks a key moment in the evolution of the Web as a reporting medium. The first left-right-center coalition of bloggers, activists, non-profits, citizens and journalists to investigate a story of national import: Congressional earmarks and those who sponsor and benefit from them.

This is networked journalism (�professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story�) beginning to come of age, and it’s very much in the spirit in my initiative NewAssignment.Net.

The partners in the Exposing Earmarks Project are the Sunlight Foundation, Citizens Against Government Waste, Porkbusters, and the Examiner Newspapers, along with Club for Growth, Human Events Online, The Heritage Foundation, Tapscott’s Copy Desk— and you, should you choose to be involved.

An editorial in the Examiner explains:

Something new is happening today as The Examiner invites readers to help uncover which members of Congress sponsored the 1,867 secret spending earmarks worth more than $500 million in the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriation bill now before Congress.

These earmarks average more than $268,000 each. To our knowledge, The Examiner is the first-ever daily newspaper to join with readers, citizen activists from across the political spectrum and bloggers in this manner to uncover the facts behind government spending.

Check out Sunlights’s Google Map (“Show me the money…”). Here’s Porkbusters’ resource page. And The Examiner’s database, state-by-state. Instapundit has more.

The pro-am part builds on the method Josh Marshall used when he tried to get Republican House members to own up to their closed-door vote changing House ethics rules in the case of then Majority Leader Tom Delay (I discussed it here). Marshall asked his readers who lived in districts with Republican Congressmen to call their Representatives and ask how they voted on the Delay rules, then e-mail the results to Josh, who would collate and distribute them.

Again from the Examiner:

Check out the earmarks for your state and then call your congressman and ask if he or she sponsored any of your state’s earmarks. If the answer is yes, ask why the congressman’s name isn’t on the earmark. If you recognize the institution designated to receive the earmarked tax dollars, call them and ask them what they intend to do with your money.

Then email us at info@examiner.com with the subject line “Earmarks” and tell us what you found out. The Examiner will be asking more questions about who got the earmarks and why, so your information could be very important. You will be part of an army of citizen journalists determined to shine some much-needed light on spending decisions made behind closed doors by powerful Members of Congress.

Why is this project a significant marker in Web journalism?

  • It’s trying to bring new facts to light: “which members of Congress sponsored the 1,867 secret spending earmarks worth more than $500 million in the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriation bill now before Congress.” That information is a secret right now.
  • It’s the work of a coalition that crosses partisan lines— from Zephyr Teachout to Glenn Reynolds, if you will.
  • It’s about a fundamental matter of accountability in elected government: will members of Congress own up to their concealed actions?
  • The story is still in motion. As The Examiner said, “Congress may still modify the bill, approve it as is or reject it.” This is journalism in time to make a difference. As Dan Gillmor notes, “It could work to shame Congress people into at least telling the truth about their special favors.”
  • It enlists Net users across the country in the collecting and sharing of information of vital public importance.
  • Journalists in Washington do what they can do best (“Examiner reporters will be asking questions on Capitol Hill about many of these earmarks in coming days”) citizen-reporters do what they do best— contacting their Representatives as concerned constituents demanding answers.
  • It develops a pool of common data that different partners can interpret and talk about in their separate ways. Therefore they don’t have to see eye-to-eye on everything, just the importance of bringing these facts to light.
  • It has a clearly measurable goal by which to discern progress: More than 1,800 appropriations, the authors of which are unidentified. The more who are identified the more successful the project.
  • It shows that in newspaper journalism Web innovations are more likely to come from outside the established players— in this case billionaire Philip Anschutz’s Examiner chain (See Jack Shafer on Anschutz and innovation.)
  • It couldn’t be done without the Net.

I’m excited to see if this works. Pro-am journalism isn’t an abstraction any more. It’s happening today. But how did it come together? I asked Zephyr Teachout, National Director of the Sunlight Foundation, to answer some basic questions about that. Here’s our Q and A:

Why did the project begin with the bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments?

Zephyr Teachout: I think this began because there was a story in The Hill about how members were eager to pass this appropriations bill in order to help their reelection campaigns. Also, there was time. The minimum wage provision was inserted at the last minute, making it impossible for the bill to be passed quickly, creating an opportunity to actually review the proposed earmarks and create a database.

Why did Sunlight choose to partner with these organizations, most of which, as you know, would be seen as conservative leaning or hard right?

Zephyr Teachout: All the groups got involved over Porkbusters initially. We don’t necessarily agree, nor do we have to, about what happens when you get greater transparency. The point is that we do agree about greater transparency. The fact that a liberal like David Weinberger, a leading Democratic figure like Josh Marshall, and a Heritage Foundation alum can all swarm around this project says that this is not an ideological effort.

Did you ask any liberal good-government groups if they would join?

Zephyr Teachout: It was somewhat accidental how all this came together. There wasn’t any attempt to exclude or include anybody — we all had a shared interest and we wanted to get the project out in the open as soon as possible.

Did you ask any other news organizations, beyond the Examiner, if they wanted to be a part of this?

Zephyr Teachout: I guess its the same answer as above — I think the Examiner got involved because Mark Tapscott was on the call. I can’t underscore enough that this is a project we’re all really excited about, but came together out of more serendipity than planning.

This is a first run — we hope to be involved in making a similar project even better for the next appropriations bill!



After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

NewAssignment.Net now has its own site, a Wordpress blog set up by Jake Jarvis, son of the famous blogger and webmaster for Buzzmachine. Thanks, Jake!

Jeff Jarvis, a key adviser to New Assignment, writes his Guardian column (Aug. 21) on networked jouralism: The bloggers and journalists are comrades-at-keyboards.

Aug. 18: Some of the guys at ePluribus Media (“citizen journalism, for the people, by the people”) are having problems with NewAssignment.Net. It’s too top down and it won’t work, they say. Or they say, “Rosen’s model calls for the professionals (both reporters and editors) to take over each assignment at some point in the process. This, to ‘citizen journalists,’ is completely unacceptable.”

I understand that. A “takeover” is not what I had in mind, but I recognize the point of principle. My suggestion is that we need all three types:

  • Citizen journalism, roll your own, no pros.
  • Hybrid forms like NewAssignment.Net, which seek advantages in a mixed model. (Actual mix to be determined by what works in practice.)
  • And professional operations, in which citizens can talk back and interact but the pros run the show.

I’ll have more to say in reply to this criticism later, but I am guessing that my friends at ePluribus Media, being themselves pluralists, (and pragmatists…) would agree that these models have strengths and weaknesses. They express different truths about media, reporting, and the use of the Web for public interest.

In New Assignment (one project in a busy landscape) I’m trying out the mixed model— networked journalism. You guys are doing citizen journalism in its more original form. The Wall Street Journal is doing professional journalism in its classic form. They differ by who is included and where sovereignty lies. All need to make wise use of the Web. All need to treat users as citizens, and engage respectfully with people or the people won’t come back.

  • wanderindiana from ePluribus corrects me. He didn’t say NewAssignment won’t work, but that it is doomed to “limited success.” I stand corrected, shouldn’t have made that mistake.
    (Limited because “in your plan, the common folk aren’t getting a seat at the table - they are carrying water to you. Yet these are the people upon which the plan depends.”)

More here and another post here.

Aug. 17: I e-mailed Mark Tapscott, Editorial Page Editor of the Washington Examiner, for an update on what kind of response the paper has gotten to its editorial inviting participation in the Earmarks project. I received this reply:

We’ve received a dozen emails in response to our launch editorial, with half being reports on what they were told by their congressmen and the others being thank yous/other suggestions. Several look like promising leads, but we will of course verify independently any information we receive from readers. I feel disappointed but am not sure that’s actually the most appropriate way to look at the first couple of days.

It’s August and lots of people are on vacation, so everybody’s traffic numbers are down, plus Congress is on recess, so public and MSM attention are less focused on events here than would otherwise be the case. There was a good bit of discussion before this week among the coalition members about when to release the database. Some of us argued that we should wait till September when Congress returned, while others, notably Sunlight, wanted to move now while Members are back home in their districts and thus presumably easier to reach. Bottomline - I think it’s too early to tell whether the response is encouraging, discouraging, merely incomplete or the result of poor timing.

The Examiner will be reporting from time to time, either in editorials or news articles that identify sponsoring Members and/or otherwise advance information about receipients and their relationships to the sponsor. We will also update the database on Examiner.com to reflect the sponsor identities as they are confirmed.

I think that qualifies as a slow start.

Scott Rosenberg of Salon in the comments:

Why am I not surprised that the conservative Anschutz papers are looking at the earmarks in a social services appropriations bill? I’m sure there’s plenty to find there, it’s not a worthless effort, but… the unfolding details of the Cunningham saga, as in the eye-opening confessions of Brent Wilkes in the Times, suggest that the most outrageous earmarking (a k a “bribery”) is happening in the military appropriations area. Let’s see Anschutz go after that.

Mitch Ratcliffe (see my earlier post on his criticisms of NewAssignment.Net) adds: “I agree that this is a bracing example of what can be done, but Scott’s point underscores the concern I’ve raised about how funders drive the agenda. Ad hoc examples of networked or civic journalism are relatively easy to find, but making a system of journalism work without this kind of influence over what gets covered and when, that’s hard.”

Zephyr Teachout of the Sunlight Foundation replies:

This is not the last bill, but the first — which is an important point. This is the first draft of a process we want to make routine: citizen engagement in legislative review. And at Sunlight we’d like to make it better next time, so any advice is useful. How can we make this better?

This is, actually Scott, a nonpartisan project, brought together as a very very loose coalition that made this possible will probably change over time, though as with earmarks its always important to look at who is behind what. Though the people involved may have different motives, there seems to be a shared belief that we need to know where appropriations come from, and whether there are conflicts of interest in the process. At Sunlight, that’s our core goal — getting out from behind the veil of secrecy.

Its quite possible that most of the items in the bill are benign, but the problem is that there’s no review and no accountability.

Susie Madrak replies to that at Suburban Guerilla:

We have a war in Iraq that�s an outright boondoggle, with barely-concealed fraud and war profiteering on all fronts. We also have a poor economy, stagnant wages, massive underemployment and an administration which declines to enforce the few pro-labor laws somehow left on the books - and this �non-partisan� group decides their first big splashy project should be�.

Congressional funding of labor and social services.

Bill Allison of Sunlight on some of the early returns. More here and here.

Ellen Miller, Executive Director of Sunlight, says at the Foundation’s site that some have questioned: why do this with a Labor and Health and Human Services bill and not a defense appropriations bill?

The answer is quite simple — we started with the opportunity that presented itself, believing strongly that the principle of openness and accountability in earmarks is universal. That said, we recognize that this isn’t yet a truly across-the-political-spectrum coalition and we want to make sure that it grows into that. No doubt, if someone hands us the earmark list in the next defense bill, that may attract instant interest and energy from watchdog groups on the left, which would be great. We would hope that folks on the right side of the spectrum would be just as interested in digging into those earmarks too! A larger, and truly politically diverse coalition banding together, encouraging citizens to demand accountability to expose the good, the bad, and the ugly of what goes on in Congress — until we can pressure Congress to do be more open on their own — could truly be revolutionary.

(Aug. 18) Mark Tapscott replies to this post and its comment thread: Was Earmarks Project a Conservative Conspiracy to Undermine Social Services Spending?

John Bracken of MacArthur Foundation (I have a grant from them) checked out the earmarks going to Chicago and Philly:

Chicago�s cut of the federal pie seems pretty legit: funding for hospitals, housing assistance for homeless families, and education. The map for Philly lists a couple of projects that raise questions, but overall, I can�t complain about well regarded workforce training programs and health care. So, pork pickings are slim in two of the cities with with worst reputations for waste. Coincidence� or is there less pork than was feared?

National Journal’s Blogometer:

Perhaps it’s due to the GOP’s recent electoral success, but the right side of the ‘sphere continues to focus less on campaigns and elections and more on other (still political) projects. 8/16 is yet another example of the trend as a broad coalition of conservative bloggers and other established institutions join forces to promote an anti-pork spending project that, since the GOP’s in power, ought to bring embarrassment to GOP lawmakers in the midst of a tough cycle. With their current belief in partisanship at all costs (see CT SEN), would lefty bloggers ever put forward such an effort that had the potential to hurt so many Dems?

Instapundit has more on Blogometer’s observation.

Craig Newmark: “This has significance beyond exposing a little corruption, it’s a next step in a process where professional and citizen journalists work together to expose bad guys.”

Bill Hobbs is doing his part: “Already, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.’s press rep has responded and promised to get me the information tomorrow. Let’s hope he does. This is not a partisan project - and it isn’t really about spending so much as it is about accountability.”

Professional debunker Nicholas Carr debunks me (though not viciously) in The Great Unread. It’s elegant.

Chris Anderson, who’s in the PhD program at Columbia J-School, writes of the new focus on “expertise” in that school’s new two-year Master’s program:

So, is all this focus on a “new expertise” inherently conservative? Not necessarily, although, at first blush, it certainly is an attempt by a threatened profession to maintain its knowledge-boundary, which has conservative connotations. But as NewAssignment.net and other “networked” journalism projects have shown us, its possible to combine the expertise of the individual and the expertise of the group, at least in theory. The real question, in my mind, is how Columbia’s new MA students are being taught to regard “the expertise of the network.” Are they being taught that they, the “real experts” are a special caste, or, rather, are they learning that there exists such a thing as networked knowledge? These are empirical questions, and I hope to investigate some of them in the years ahead.

I’m chuckling because I’m pretty sure I know the answers to those questions, but I will await Anderson’s review. My suggestion to him is to look at the work of Malcolm Gladwell, and ask: what is he an expert in?

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 15, 2006 1:17 PM   Print

Comments

This is fine. But why am I not surprised that the conservative Anschutz papers are looking at the earmarks in a social services appropriations bill? I'm sure there's plenty to find there, it's not a worthless effort, but... the unfolding details of the Cunningham saga, as in the eye-opening confessions of Brent Wilkes in the Times, suggest that the most outrageous earmarking (a k a "bribery") is happening in the military appropriations area. Let's see Anschutz go after that. Of course, so much of that is secret/classified/"black budget" that our opportunity to review it is limited anyway.

Posted by: Scott Rosenberg at August 15, 2006 1:57 PM | Permalink

True, Scott.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 15, 2006 2:02 PM | Permalink

Scott, The Examiner didn't initiate the examination of the Labor-HHS appropriation but we were excited about joining it because of the paper's commitment to transparency in government whenever and wherever possible, including at the Pentagon. If you are interested in further understanding where the Examiner editorial page is coming from, you should check out my congressional testimonies on the Cornyn-Leahy FOIA reform bill and the Coburn-Obama Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act.

Link to the Senate Cornyn-Leahy testimony.

Link to the Coburn-Obama testimony. (Pdf)

Posted by: Mark Tapscott at August 15, 2006 2:13 PM | Permalink

I was just disappointed to learn how crappy my congressional delegation is at securing unnecessary spending for our state. We got all of .005% of the $500 million.

Posted by: Matt at August 15, 2006 2:13 PM | Permalink

Well, if you're going after earmarks you have to start somewhere. How about here, now?

Maybe a another newspaper with a similar spirit of cooperation but a different political bent will pick up the task of looking for earmarks in the military budgets.

Me, I don't care. Earmarks is earmarks. Wasted money all.

Posted by: Phil H. at August 15, 2006 2:14 PM | Permalink

I agree that this is a bracing example of what can be done, but Scott's point underscores the concern I've raised about how funders drive the agenda. Ad hoc examples of networked or civic journalism are relatively easy to find, but making a system of journalism work without this kind of influence over what gets covered and when, that's hard.

Posted by: Mitch Ratcliffe at August 15, 2006 2:16 PM | Permalink

Are they going to do more bills? Is this just the first one?

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 15, 2006 2:20 PM | Permalink

Hey!

Thanks for the great post Jay.

Lisa, this is not the last bill, but the first -- which is an important point. This is the first draft of a process we want to make routine, citizen engagement in legislative review. And at Sunlight we'd like to make it better next time, so any advice is useful. How can we make this better?

This is, actually Scott, a nonpartisan project, brought together as a very very loose coalition that made this possible will probably change over time, though as with earmarks its always important to look at who is behind what. Though the people involved may have different motives, there seems to be a shared belief that we need to know where appropriations come from, and whether there are conflicts of interest in the process. At Sunlight, THAT's our core goal -- getting out from behind the veil of secrecy.

Its quite possible that most of the items in the bill are benign, but the problem is that there's no review and no accountability.

Z

Posted by: Zephyr at August 15, 2006 2:58 PM | Permalink

The Sunlight Foundation map isn't working for me - but the Examiner's database (here) _is_ working.

ok, as a govt newbie, I'm confused - "Congress" means both "house of representatives" and "Senate", so does "call your congressman" mean "call them all"? or just call your Representative?

The last time I called my Rep's office, and asked, "What address should I use to email him a question?" I was told "use the 'contact your rep' form on his govt website", which I did, and (as yet) got no answer.

What's the best way to ask questions so as to get answers?
What's a reasonable amount of time to have to wait, to get an answer?

Posted by: Anna at August 15, 2006 3:39 PM | Permalink

On the "The Examiner's chosen this particular bill for examination due to ulterior motives" concern -

Think of the situation as akin to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's (pre-supreme court) strategy for equal rights - she'd argue anti-discrimination cases, where a _man_ had been discriminated against. Courts would find for the poor guy, which set a precedent, which then applied to everyone.

We're setting a precedent.

Posted by: Anna at August 15, 2006 3:47 PM | Permalink

Anna: Call the offices of Representative for your district in the House and both of your US Senators, and have the conversation with their staff people. Tell them that the practice of 'earmarks' is bad for the country, and that you expect them to join the efforts in both houses to put a stop to it. And if they don't, you'll remember that in November, this year or in two or four years, as necessary.

Posted by: The Monster at August 15, 2006 3:56 PM | Permalink

I called each of my state's nine congress members' offices and asked for the email address of the member's press secretary. I then email the entire list of Tennessee earmarks to all of them, in an email cc'd to each press secretary, asking for each to peruse the list and fess up to the earmarks their congressman sponsored. I also mentioned that it seemed natural to assume that earmarks were sponsored by the congressman in the district of the funding recipient, but that if that was NOT the case for a specific earmark, I would appreciate the congressman helping me identify the other congressman who sponsored it.

The way I see it, if all nine congressman/their staffs know that all nine have been asked for the information, they might be more likely to give up the info so as not to look silly if another congressman tells on 'em.

Anyway, it was worth a shot.

Posted by: Bill Hobbs at August 15, 2006 5:36 PM | Permalink

I'm sorry to say that this inaugural project poses a number of problems. The association with Club For Growth and Human Events is more than I can abide. And Anshutz is hardly interested in anything approaching bipartisan transparancy. Here's another profile of Anshutz that shines a little light on his priorities. An excerpt:

Named Fortune's "greediest executive" in 1999, the Denver resident is a generous supporter of anti-gay-rights legislation, intelligent design, the Bush administration and efforts to sanitize television...Anschutz heads a vast media empire whose assets include the Examiner chain, twenty percent of the country's movie screens, and a sizeable stake in Qwest Communications, the scandal-ridden telecom giant he formerly directed.

While there is a valid argument that all sides in the earmarking debate support openness, that doesn't mean that there is no prejudice in the selection of this project. At the completion there will be conclusions drawn that reflect pooly on the earmarkers. And I suspect the results of this project would show a larger group of liberal or Democratic earmarkers than a project researching an energy bill or one for the military as Scott noted.

The heavy representation of arch conservatives causes me to fear that there is a hidden motive to do damage to Democrats. That may not be the case, but the perception itself is the problem. That perception can have an impact on the participation of others, on funding, and perhaps even on the reporting. I can't be the only one to harbor such fears.

So what does this portend for the future of these experiments? If there are objections like mine to this project, there will certainly be objections on the other side to projects they think are liberally biased. I suppose it goes back to having responsible editors whose credibility adheres to the projects and gives confidence to the participants and donors. I don't have much confidence in this particular project.

Posted by: Mark @ News Corpse at August 15, 2006 6:50 PM | Permalink

An old-fashioned assignment desk log might help avoid the duplication of efforts by keeping track of which members of Congress and which institutions have already been contacted.

For example, I sent an email this afternoon to Dr. Kenneth Stahl of Convergent Knowledge Solutions, LLC in Weston, Florida asking about the proposed $150,000 earmark for "rural healthcare delivery in Alaska". I was curious about why a company in the Sunshine State would be up for an earmark that benefits Alaska. If the good doctor responds, then the information can be forwarded to the Examiner. End of story. However, the lack of a response is also worth noting. Yet, aside from mentioning it here in the comments section there is no way for anyone else to be aware of this initial contact.

Why not create a simple log or wiki where participants can list and spell out the nature of their fact-finding efforts for each separate earmark? The idea would not be to restrict more than one person from contacting a given institution or member. Rather, the idea would be to ensure the second, third and fourth person who do so have full knowledge of previous newsgathering attempts.

Perhaps this could be incorporated into the existing Sunlight map. You would click on a dollar sign and see the details of the earmark as well as details at attempts to gather information about the earmark.

Luis Clemens

Posted by: Luis Clemens at August 15, 2006 7:55 PM | Permalink

Now that I'm looking at graphs of earmarks by state on the graphs on the porkbusters site (which show overall totals, total per capita, etc.), I find myself wanting to see one other graph:

A breakdown of contribution to the national treasury by state. I'd like to compare what the people of the state contribute, compared with what they receive in return. I live in California (which is the state with the highest dollar amount in earmarks, as well as the highest per-capita earmark). I know that in other cases, such as the gasoline highway tax, California contributes far more than the state gets in return.

This thought exercise leads to other conclusions:

Boggle: Whoa. really? This is a set of earmarks for just one bill in congress?

I want context:

How many earmarks total in how many different bills?

How do earmarks differ from other forms of funding?

What does non-earmarked federal funding look like?

Heck, even if I don't do anything, but just begin to examine the data, I'm already more engaged in the nuts and bolts of public funding. (But since there's some money being earmarked for items in the city next door, I will prolly make some inquiries)

Posted by: Susan Kitchens at August 15, 2006 8:22 PM | Permalink

Luis Clemens - What you're suggesting might look very similar to an online wedding registry where you can see what the couple want and what has already been purchased (and in what quantities). For the purposes of this project there could be a list of members of congress from which you could pick your own, put him/her in your shopping cart, and everyone else would know that this member has been contacted.

Susan Kitchens - It would also be interesting to see a chart with the dollar value of earmarks sorted by the states/districts of congressional leaders and committee chairs. Do you think those members might be getting more pork than rank and file members?

Posted by: Mark @ News Corpse at August 15, 2006 10:03 PM | Permalink

"While there is a valid argument that all sides in the earmarking debate support openness, that doesn't mean that there is no prejudice in the selection of this project."

Mark@News Corpse, you literally do not know what you are talking about. There was no "selection." None. Zero. The Labor-HHS bill was literally the only bill available.
For the record, I would give both of my eye teeth to have a comprehensive listing of all the earmarks in all 13 appropriations bills, especially including the DOD measure. And that level of transparency will be achieved as long as there are smart, energetic people across the political spectrum who are not so blinded by ideological prejudice that they are incapable of seeing important common ground.

Posted by: Mark Tapscott at August 15, 2006 10:29 PM | Permalink

Sunshine and accountability, just in time for the fall campaign. I'd rather we expend the effort on lobbyists and campaign contributors at the moment than to hand the rightist greed-rocks orgs bullets for the firing squads for incumbent Dems. Scott and Mitch and Mark's concerns mirror my own and after viewing my state's earmarks, I'm even more convinced that this will have short term ramifications that I'll rue if I join in.

At a time when my country can't find the moral strength to stop the senseless killing of Iraqi civilians, after July's death toll there exceeded our 9-11 losses, it's time to check our soulmarks instead where the greater costs accrue.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden at August 15, 2006 10:39 PM | Permalink

I love the idea of putting more data in a visual format in front of people. I've often wondered what the impact would be if stories that involved a component of government spending were always accompanied with three numbers: the annual spending on that activity, what that breaks down to in terms of dollars per person, and the percent of the total state or federal budget it represents.

Over time, I'd be a lot more well informed reading a paper that went to the trouble. I imagine a system for reporters filing stories that allowed them to choose a spending category that applies to the story, and a backend database that would generate the numbers. It would be great if that database were available online, too.

I have one question: If we're going to declare war on earmarks, how are federal taxes going to be redistributed back to local efforts? Will it be all block grants, and won't that just push the problem down to the local level where it will be harder to track? (Or are we just declaring war on dumb earmarks?)

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 16, 2006 12:03 AM | Permalink

I agree with Susan, too, about context. How big is this bill in terms of the total expenditure?

Even among people who do read the news, I think a grasp of the basics of federal spending is pretty rare. If everybody had some rules of thumb about how federal tax dollars are spent, even if they were quite crude, this would be a big improvement.

I'm thinking of something like the Food Pyramid. I know that the Food Pyramid has been proven to be pretty flawed, but as an example of spreading information across a broad segment of Americans it was very successful.

Has anybody read John Allen Paulos' The Mathematician Reads The Newspaper? Paulos also wrote Innumeracy. What we're talking about is news/citizenship numeracy.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 16, 2006 12:11 AM | Permalink

Mark Tapscott: "you literally do not know what you are talking about. There was no "selection." None. Zero. The Labor-HHS bill was literally the only bill available."

Firstly, the Labor bill was not literally the only bill available. It may have been the only bill that fit your criteria. You could have selected a bill that had already passed, but that did not comply with your criteria. That is literally "selection," which you claimed there was none of. So I guess it's also not true that I literally don't know what I'm talking about.

Secondly, I know that my comment revealed my ideology, but that really wasn't my point, for which I was just using myself as an illustration. I'm more interested in what the potential effect of the concerns I expressed would be on the project. I gave examples from my own ideological perspective, but if you go back and read my post and reverse the ideology, the concerns remain: How do these kinds of projects proceed if one side or the other finds fault with their objectivity? A project focused on the DoD and supported by MoveOn and SANE might produce the same reservations by those on the right.

And I appreciate your clarifying the record by stating your interest in the other appropriations bills.

Posted by: Mark @ News Corpse at August 16, 2006 12:25 AM | Permalink

Mark: What kind of project would not be open to that kind of fault-finding? That's what I don't get.

Of course there was selection. There's always selection. Even when the only permissible code for explaining selection is "objectivity," or "we're professionals" or "this is straight news reporting," there's still selection.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2006 12:40 AM | Permalink

Jay,

Re: Selection. That was exactly the point I was making to Tapscott.

Re: What kind of project would not be open to that kind of fault-finding? I think this is a similar question to the one that was raised in Some Problems with New Assignment.Net.

"If people do step forward to fund these New Assignments, they will be interests with an agenda who only want results that support that agenda."

To which you answered, "Editors. Good editors."

I think that is the correct answer. In fact, I earlier advocated that it's the editors that should be funded, not the stories. In this particular example, the presence of such overtly partisan players like Club For Growth and Human Events, makes the fault-finding almost too easy. If the sponsors were more neutral, or there was more balance amongst them, this problem would be less troubling. If folks on the left have a problem with the Labor bill, and folks on the right have a problem with the Energy bill, then neither side would be satisfied unless they both respected the editors. Even then, ideologically prejudiced people like myself (as Tapscott tagged me) might still have a problem.

See also, "Ideology will rule" in How Realistic is NewAssignment.Net?

Posted by: Mark @ News Corpse at August 16, 2006 1:36 AM | Permalink

Selection. That was exactly the point I was making to Tapscott.

I know. I was agreeing with you.

I earlier advocated that it's the editors that should be funded, not the stories.

If we're discussing NewAssignment.Net, it employs both methods.

Just to be clear, I didn't have any involvement in the Exposing Earmarks project, and NewAssignment.Net (which isn't open for business yet, just a concept at this point) obviously didn't either. I learned about it from blog posts I read Tuesday (Aug. 15). I do think it's a significant effort, however, because it begins to put networked, pro-am journalism into practice.

I wouldn't call it non-partisan, as Zephyr does. I would say it's cross-partisan.

If the sponsors were more neutral, or there was more balance amongst them, this problem would be less troubling.

Could you give me some examples of a neutral--or more neutral--sponsor for something like this?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2006 2:00 AM | Permalink

great article; thank you;

Posted by: lobuzz at August 16, 2006 5:13 AM | Permalink

Wow this sounds like a great effort. It's a shame it can't help but be looked at as political, but to me, what's important here, is the methodology, the technology, and the participatory nature of it.

Let me say it again - Wow.

Jay, while your title is great, I would argue the era of Networked Journalism began a long long time ago - with the launch of AltaVista perhaps. When tools emerged that those interested could pull from multiple resources of information on the web and the barriers to sharing that information fell down to consisting only of time and knowledge. I tend to see all of this as an evolution of the foundations of the web itself, as a collaboration tool.

This is simply a terrific effort and one that will stand up as an example as what is possible.

Posted by: Karl at August 16, 2006 7:15 AM | Permalink

And I would say the roots of networked journalism started a long time ago, possibly with the launch of Alta Vista. You say "evolution of the foundations of the web itself, as a collaboration tool." I say "evolution of the Web as a reporting medium."

Not much difference. We agree that it's an example of what's possible, and "what's important here is the methodology, the technology, and the participatory nature of it."

But I would say the political reactions--or let's say reactions concerned about the politics of the partners and the possible fallout--are also important. They show us what will happen, and they illustrate that the architecture of trust is tricky to get right.

I wouldn't know how to do "objective" networked journalism; and I don't know how to find neutral partners for something like this. The only solutions I can see are a.) transparency and b.) criticism that raises questions that can be answered-- in other words, dialogue. Which is exactly what we find in this thread, from the very first post on.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2006 8:42 AM | Permalink

On selection:

This is the first list of earmarks any congressional source has provided to us to do such work on in advance of the bill passing. We would LOVE to get lists of earmarks on other bills if other congressional sources would like to shine a little more light on the process.

This is the dry run. We have no intention of holding back on any appropriations bill.

I can't speak for the other people involved, but I'm sure they'd say the same thing. And I'd love other people's involvement.

One issue that this method raises:

One of the things we're struggling with is how to do this in a distributed fashion without then losing the usefulness of a central data place.

I really believe the distributed method works best, but also am wary, for some of the reasons mentioned by other people, of having one place be the central repository (suddenly that place starts really owning the project, through owning the data, and ideology becomes alot more important).

I'd love to hear suggestions -- if 5-50 groups are all calling out for citizen input, and there's a sensible resistance to flowing all data to one place, how to manage? In the short term, Sunlight has decided that blog comments at least provide the assurance that everyone gets access to everyone elses' input, but its an arguably sloppy solution, and then we still have to go searching the web for any other input that comes in. We are looking at other ways for the next bill. Ideas?

Posted by: Zephyr at August 16, 2006 10:26 AM | Permalink

This is a fascinating experiment. I will be very interested to see how it goes - and if it has enough momentum to carry forward. Can the "network" stay together. Or can new networks form after this one has done its task.

How will the project report on the success/progress of the effort?

This is what we need, yes? Lots of people trying lots of things. Some will work. Some will fail.

Posted by: John at August 16, 2006 12:11 PM | Permalink

I don't know what objective journalism is either. I tend to think of think of journalism along the same lines as Adrian Holovaty. But that's because it speaks to my profession. Your two suggestions Jay, are two I believe in.

Zephyr, congrats on putting this together.

I'm a big fan of a distributed approach as well, but you're going to need centralized resources that can be locatable by all.

One thing to consider is old fashioned site mirroring.

If your reporting tools can be mirrored by multiple organizations, then it insulates you a bit from having someone considered a sole authority of control. This raises new issues having to do with freshness of the reporting data, but that's a solvable problem.

Posted by: Karl at August 16, 2006 12:14 PM | Permalink

A question I forgot when I was posting before:

How will the project track reports? And how will it verify?

If I say my Congressman wrote an earmark, how will the project know that I am telling the truth? I could see pranksters sending in false reports just to be pranksters.

Posted by: John at August 16, 2006 12:15 PM | Permalink

I knew you were agreeing with me about selection (thanks). I also knew that the Earmarks project was not a NewAssignment project (but thanks for clarifying if that wasn't clear).

There are plenty of more neutral sponsors (hell, Fox is more neutral than Human Events).

Common Cause
Judicial Watch
The League of Women Voters
Public Citizen

While many groups tilt ideologically one way or another, they are not necessarily partisan advocates. Even the ACLU, which many consider a liberal group, is pretty even-handed. They represent principles and have defended folks like Rush Limbaugh.

The goal of elimating bias may be too much to hope for, but balancing it shouldn't be that hard.

Posted by: Mark @ News Corpse at August 16, 2006 12:20 PM | Permalink

Common Cause looks very relevant to the Exposing Earmarks effort.

Posted by: Karl at August 16, 2006 12:33 PM | Permalink


The only solutions I can see are a.) transparency and b.) criticism that raises questions that can be answered-- in other words, dialogue. Which is exactly what we find in this thread, from the very first post on.

Yes. But we shouldn't get too upset about sponsors with an axe to grind. For some people the identity of the sponsor will be damning in and of itself. You can't argue them out of such beliefs.

Abraham Lincoln's advice works for me. Stand with them when they are in the right and part company when they are not.

Posted by: John at August 16, 2006 12:35 PM | Permalink

July 4, 2006 Comment

An online data base would monitor spending by Congress

"Now that you've got the Internet, you'll have tens of thousands of watchdogs," said Bridgett Wagner of the Heritage Foundation, who is leading a coalition of conservative groups that support the Coburn bill. "That's what people see in it."

Among the bill's leading supporters is Mark Tapscott, editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner, who has promoted it there and on his blog, Tapscott's Copy Desk. While most spending is already a matter of public record, Tapscott argues that it is often buried in obscure documents.

"The spending cannot be sufficiently scrubbed," Tapscott said. Whether the database causes spending to rise or fall (he guesses it will fall), "what's important to me is the principle of the public's right to know," Tapscott said.

A number of blogs popular among conservatives have praised Coburn's bill. Instapundit, among the most popular, has pushed it. Seeker Blog called it "the best news I've heard out of D.C. this year." Captain's Quarters demanded "Give us the Pork Database," and Porkopolis hailed the measure with the slogan, "Show Me the Money."
Jay Rosen: "I learned about it from blog posts I read Tuesday (Aug. 15)."

How is this effort different, progress, or a prelude to the July IHT story?

Posted by: Tim Schmoyer at August 16, 2006 1:10 PM | Permalink

"We would LOVE to get lists of earmarks on other bills if other congressional sources would like to shine a little more light on the process."

What keeps us from banding together and publicly asking a bill's sponsors for the list of earmarks in it? And name names, of those who aren't willing to provide the information.

There's no law keeping the info under wraps, is there?

It sounds like they're forgetting whose money it is.

Posted by: Anna at August 16, 2006 4:23 PM | Permalink

Is there an XML format for bills?

You may laugh, but there's tons of XML formats, like CaveML, which, no joke, allows speleologists (people who explore and study caves) to express what they've found in a standard way.

If there isn't an XML format for bills (or perhaps just the spending component of bills) perhaps one of the long-term goals of the Sunlight Foundation is to support and promote the development of such a format.

If all bills/earmarks were available in a standard XML document this would go a long way towards solving the centralization/distribution problem, because Sunlight's head start on manual data entry would no longer be relevant.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at August 16, 2006 11:39 PM | Permalink

I thought it was interesting that National Journal's Blogometer had a totally different take on the politics of this project.

8/16: Let The Sunshine In

Perhaps it's due to the GOP's recent electoral success, but the right side of the 'sphere continues to focus less on campaigns and elections and more on other (still political) projects. 8/16 is yet another example of the trend as a broad coalition of conservative bloggers and other established institutions join forces to promote an anti-pork spending project that, since the GOP's in power, ought to bring embarrassment to GOP lawmakers in the midst of a tough cycle. With their current belief in partisanship at all costs (see CT SEN), would lefty bloggers ever put forward such an effort that had the potential to hurt so many Dems?

Which is similar to what I thought reading this thread: you would never know from some of these comments that it's a Republican-controlled Congress.

Instapundit has more on the Blogometer item.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2006 11:50 PM | Permalink

Lisa: My understanding is that the reason this project came together at all is that a "source" in Congress provided the list of earmarks in advance of the bill passing. The source wasn't supposed to do that; normally it's not public information. Normally no one finds out until it's a done deal and even then the earmarks are not identified by sponsor (meaning the Congress person who stuck 'em in there.)

In other words, Congress is nowhere on the transparency scale for earmarks. That is why the project is significant.

Read between the lines of what Ellen Miller said (linked to in "After Matter"). She's appealing to other "sources" to come forward.

And she reports on what a "longtime colleague" (meaning Washington insider) said after looking at the list. Ellen has been working on money and politics issues in DC for... well, forever.

I think that this project is a breakthrough in the history of government watch dogging. Seriously. From now on legislation and spending will receive more scrutiny than it ever has in the past. That's bound to lead to more responsible spending, and it's surely going to kneecap K Street in the process.

So the net benefit -- on all fronts -- is huge. And if all who report on this type of stuff can use it to nab some bad actors, even better.

Zephyr Teachout in this thread: "This is the first list of earmarks any congressional source has provided to us to do such work on in advance of the bill passing."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2006 12:05 AM | Permalink

Jeez, that National Journal blurb has more crap in a single paragraph than I've seen all year.

"...the right side of the 'sphere continues to focus less on campaigns and elections..."
On what do they base that? The GOP has been escalating their campaign activities all over the country. With special elections in Ohio and California, the PA senatorial primary (featuring the Club For Growth's president, Pat Toomey), the races of Santorum, Chaffey, Allen, and record-breaking fundraising, hardly suggests less focus.

"...a broad coalition of conservative bloggers and other established institutions join forces to promote an anti-pork spending project..."
A broad coalition? If they are all conservative bloggers (of which I only see one, btw) and primarily right-wing institutions, how can they call that broad?

"...an anti-pork spending project that...ought to bring embarrassment to GOP lawmakers..."
Never mind that hard right Repubs like Mike Pence (Human Events 2005 Man of the Year) and John McCain have been pushing the anti-pork agenda for years. It didn't start in this election cycle.

"With their current belief in partisanship at all costs (see CT SEN)..."
This nonesense is directed at Democrats? How is a primary challenge of an 18 year incumbent an example of partisanship? And to extend this non-example to encompass a broader "current belief", again without basis, is just absurd.

"...would lefty bloggers ever put forward such an effort that had the potential to hurt so many Dems?"
Actually that's something lefties do all too well, and far too often.

Sure, a project that uncovers legislative pork is likely to reflect poorly on the party in power. But the far right has never been shy on this subject. In fact, they believe that the pork enablers in their party are the reason for their current polling woes. And as was said earlier, by focusing on the Labor bill, they will likely snare more Dems in their trap.

I'm all for greater transparency in legislation and am anxious to see projects develop that produce it. But I really don't see how the National Review's statement brings anything but confusion to this discussion.

Posted by: Mark @ News Corpse at August 17, 2006 1:29 AM | Permalink

National Journal, Mark. National Review is a conservative magazine. National Journal is one of those "neutral" sources you said you desire to see involved. Though technocratic might be a beter term than neutral.

If they are all conservative bloggers (of which I only see one, btw) and primarily right-wing institutions, how can they call that broad?

I thought "broad" meant many different kinds of conservative sites, from the hard right to the more moderate and libertarian right.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2006 1:34 AM | Permalink

Sorry, I meant National Journal. I got it right at the top. And I am not condemning the Journal, just this statement.

I also meant "the OH senatorial primary (featuring the Club For Growth's president, Pat Toomey)." I get sloppy when I'm excited.

I don't think the marks on the scale between the Club For Growth, Human Events, and the Heritage Foundation, are all that far apart. And despite my criticism of the Journal's statement, had they been involved in this project, I would have seen that as a measure of balance.

Posted by: Mark @ News Corpse at August 17, 2006 1:59 AM | Permalink

Wait a minute...I was right about PA the first time. Damn, I'm going to bed.

Posted by: Mark @ News Corpse at August 17, 2006 2:27 AM | Permalink

Porkbusters - a site that steals articles wholesale from other bloggers without permission. Me included. I e-mailed and asked them about this - never heard back. Theft is still a bad thing, right?

Nice start on the ethics there.

Posted by: Temple Stark at August 17, 2006 2:35 AM | Permalink

I should of course add two things.

1) The project has potential as a model. This is the future of blog-based journalism, not sock-puppetry and IP-stalking.

2) This is what you have up there, which hours after it was first posted was still not noted in comments or corrected : This is networked jounalism (�professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story�). The irony layers are loamy. :-)

Posted by: Temple Stark at August 17, 2006 2:49 AM | Permalink

I'd like to remind folks of another interesting effort here - GovTrack.

GovTrack is a mashup that pulls together data from various sources to provide views of information about bills, representatives, and conversations taking place about them them.

The interface is a bit complicated. Maybe that's why it hasn't earned the attention it deserves. But it is a powerful tool to look into what those who represent us are doing in Washington.

The service won Technorati's Developer Contest back in 2005.

Posted by: Karl at August 17, 2006 6:29 AM | Permalink

Dittos on Karl's mention of GovTrack.

I wonder if Joshua Tauberer might be interested in this or some future project. It would probably be smart to at least ask him about data structure and metadata.

Posted by: Tim Schmoyer at August 17, 2006 6:46 AM | Permalink

Temple Stark:

My apologies, I must have missed your email. My assumption has been that bloggers would not object to full posts being used at Porkbusters, given the not-for-profit focus of the effort. (In contrast, I do not use full posts in the summaries I provide on The Truth Laid Bear, which is a somewhat commercial venture.) Regardless, I always want to be responsive if bloggers object to the way I'm presenting their posts, so sorry about that.

I currently don't have the facility to force only partial summaries for just your blog, so in the interim, I've told my system to stop scanning your blog for posts. If I can implement a system that selectively uses summaries for specified blogs, I'll re-enable and switch your blog to that approach.

If you have any further issues, please contact me at bear@truthlaidbear.com, and be persistent, as I tend to get swamped and can miss mails.

Thanks...

N.Z.

Posted by: N.Z. Bear at August 17, 2006 10:29 AM | Permalink

From Bill Allison's report today at Sunlight:

One of the great advantages of tackling the Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill first is that, while the earmarks are anonymous, the recipients aren't. From figuring out where one of the beneficiaries happens to be, citizen journalists can ask the local representative about the earmark. And that's exactly what a lot people are doing...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2006 4:22 PM | Permalink

Jay, "back in the day" when I began racing open-wheel Formula Fords in the Sports Car Club of America, I soon learned the truth of a basic maxim of competitive motorsports driving - "slow in, fast out" of the corners always produces better lap times than "fast in, slow out." Yes, we are slow into the Earmarks Project but I am confident that come September we will be much faster. Another racing maxim has application, too. When you mess up a corner, you need to understand your mistake and the lesson it offers, then put that corner behind you because there's another one coming at you. We will learn from whatever mistakes we may be making this time around and apply the lessons to the next networked journalism project. I've been in this transparency "race" for a lot of years, but I am convinced our fastest laps are ahead of us.

Posted by: Mark Tapscott at August 17, 2006 10:17 PM | Permalink

Yeah. I like slow. Progress is slow.

Making new mistakes is slow.

There were a lot of those. Because it was improvised and opportunistic, this effort was poorly packaged and marketed. It lacked coordination. For example, no clear list of who the partners were and what they did. Everyone described themselves as being in a different partnership, which is not good for getting people to understand who's who. But sometimes it's better just to get going and improve it each time.

The resources offered-- map, list, state by state info--were a good start.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 17, 2006 11:44 PM | Permalink

Today in The Rural Blog, we at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, note this story and the important role local newspapers can play. Local newspapers often have easier access to members of Congress than do citizens. So, if local newspapers will get involved in this effort, then perhaps a media frenzy will take place and open the door for others to get involved too.

Posted by: Chas Hartman at August 18, 2006 12:09 PM | Permalink

Sorry, first time poster here. I realize my name is linked to our blog, but here's another link: http://www.uky.edu/CommInfoStudies/IRJCI/blog.htm. This effort is truly one with possibilities.

Posted by: Chas Hartman at August 18, 2006 12:17 PM | Permalink

That's an extremely odd assumption NZ. Enough off-topic tho'

Posted by: Temple Stark at August 18, 2006 1:29 PM | Permalink

Karl, Tim -- I'm always interested in new ideas and collaborations and would love to get GovTrack involved in these types of projects.

Posted by: Joshua Tauberer at August 18, 2006 2:10 PM | Permalink

Mark Tapscott replies to this post and comment thread:

Was Earmarks Project a Conservative Conspiracy to Undermine Social Services Spending?

Well worth your time.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2006 2:20 PM | Permalink

Jay,

Thanks for responding to our concerns over at ePluribus Media. You may be right that a middle way can succeed--and I hope you are. It might reduce the tensions between the professionals and the amateurs (among whom I count myself), tensions that often distract us from the real point of improving journalism as a whole.

Much of our hesitation comes from experience in organizations (not necessarily related to journalism) where a mix of volunteers and paid staff is attempted. Often, the volunteers end up as assistants--getting coffee, filing papers--while the staff does the "real" work. Often, too, the volunteer work is seen as a way for one to gain experience, so that person can get a job.

We citizen journalists don't want to serve, but we don't want to take over from the professionals, either. Our desire is simply to add to the breadth of news-media possibilities through our independent activities.

Power tends to go to money... so I have a suggestion that might make your middle way more palatable to citizen journalists: why not involve them in fundraising and management? Pair a citizen journalist with an editor when trying to get funding for a story, and make them both responsible for it. Or develop a system with a hands-on board-of-directors made up of citizen journalists who oversee a professional editorial director.

Like volunteers everywhere these days, citizen journalists are leery of committing too much to organizations where their work may become nothing more than an item on a professional's resume. For your project to work, you need to insure that such a thing cannot happen.

Posted by: Aaron Barlow at August 18, 2006 6:12 PM | Permalink

I appreciate that, Aaron. And I am mostly in agreement with you.

I don't think token participation has even the slightest chance of working in something like this. People will sense it instantly, and they won't want to be involved.

But look, most everything in how NewAssignment will actually operate isn't even close to being settled yet. It's just a concept at this point. I have drawn in only the outlines. I ask for a little patience. Or at least hold your fire until you see how we do things.

Just to be clear, I didn't use the term "citizen journalism" in my introduction to NewAssignment. To me this project is not a case of that. I said it was a case of networked journalism, "professionals and amateurs working together."

I understand why people bristle at the notion of the pros "taking over" something that is theirs. I also understand why professional journalists bristle at the notion that something that was theirs can be done by others.

Here are some passages I would like to underline for you, simply as a reminder that I meant them quite as seriously as some other passages that might have set of some alarms.

* "NewAssignment.Net doesn�t exist yet. I�m starting with the idea."

* "Is this about unleashing open source journalism, or hiring reporters to get the story? Rather than proclaim one over the other, give us the advantages of both."

* "My scheme isn�t advanced enough yet to go live. It�s in the development stage, quite unfinished. I�m hoping to improve it by a lot."

* "If I can improve it, get the funding, find people who know how to operate in the more open style, NewAssignment.Net would be a case of journalism without the media."

* "A more likely payoff is that, properly configured, journalists and volunteer networks of users can do some things better together than either could alone."

* "There can�t be one best way in the new political economy of newsgathering. We�re better off with many people trying many schemes, including some that sound crazy."

* "The design assumes no antagonism at all between 'citizen' users and 'professional' journalists. The assumption is we need both, and ways for them to work in tandem."

* "So if a correspondent builds up a track record, and gets assignments based on it, where does that leave the newcomer who has no record yet? Editors, again. They give new people a try in various ways, maybe as second correspondent on a two-person team. It�s partly a talent development job� not unlike what magazine editors commonly do now. Since NewAssignment specializes in collaboration, there are ways for newcomers to start slowly and get the hang of it. Just as new bloggers have emerged from comment threads, new journalists will probably emerge from the user base. Editors can hire anyone they want. If they think you can do the job, you may get the assignment."

* "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. It�s 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." (From my third explanation.)

Maybe you do. And if you do, then you should go ahead and keep developing it, and hopefully it will shine. I have no expectations whatsoever that those who are sold on the "no pros" style will want to invest time and energy in NewAssignment. I rather think they wouldn't, but then what's wrong with that?

You do your thing, I will do mine. I'm sure the sites will learn from each other.

I do want to clarify one thing: What I mean by "pros" or "professional" journalists (and I want you to ponder this...) is simply smart dedicated and skilled people who are getting paid, and so they can devote themselves more fully to the work. (Which isn't to say others cannot be dedicated to the work.) That's it. Having experience will help but it won't be required or enough.

What I don't mean by "professional" is board certified (of course there is no such board for journalism because it would violate the First Amendment) or people have jumped through this or that imaginary hoop, or those who have "Northwestern U. approved me" stamped on their foreheads. The most important qualification for a New Assignment editor or reporter will be the ability to work in the open style.

Thanks, again, Aaron.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2006 11:45 PM | Permalink

Jay,

Thanks for responding. My thoughts in turn are too long to be included here, but I have posted them at ePluribus Media.

Posted by: Aaron Barlow at August 19, 2006 10:55 AM | Permalink

Aaron writes: "One of my worries about NewAssignment.net was that it was an attempt to enfold citizen's journalism within professional journalism--something I would vigorously oppose. I am still concerned that this could be the end result of the success of the NewAssignment.net model--were citizen journalists to embrace it and, for whatever reasons, abandon their independent projects."

Aaron also writes: "I think the bazaar/cathedral image illuminates the differences. There is room for both Markos and Josh--they don't need to be combined. There is even room between them, but an attempt to meld them? That, as you say, will not likely work."

So, let's see if I understand: NewAssigment is not likely to work, and if it does that would be bad too. What am I missing?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 19, 2006 7:23 PM | Permalink

Jay,

You are taking those quotes a bit out of context. Also, as you are doing with this online conversation concerning your project, I am listening and learning as we go--so my opinions on your project may be shifting. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, the first quote is from a discussion of your own tri-part model where I am conceding that your project is worth the effort, though I still have questions about it. Note the use of "was," not "is." The sentence following that first quote from me is "I'm also unsure whether or not a middle route is needed--though I do recognize that a way for professionals and amateurs to work successfully together could benefit both." I follow that with my reservation that the plan does not place the amateur in a strong enough position within the organization.

If you had included the sentence of mine that I quote above, your point that I contradict myself would show itself as... well... stretching.

And at no time do I say that your success would be a bad thing. In fact, you have convinced me that it would be good--again, as I say in the sentence you omitted.

My doubts about the project remain, though I applaud you for trying to provide remedy for the malaise journalism has fallen into (and I make that quite clear in my post). When I criticize, it is not to get you to abandon the project, but (I would hope) to see you revise it in such a way that you increase the likelihood of success.

--Aaron

Posted by: Aaron Barlow at August 19, 2006 9:00 PM | Permalink

I'm revising every day, A. And, yes, criticism helps in that.

There's now a NewAssignment.Net placeholder site (very basic) with a basic description. Soon, I hope to have a click-and-contribute button up there.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 19, 2006 9:57 PM | Permalink

Jeff Jarvis talked about NewAssignment.Net on the Guardian's Media Talk podcast this week. Then they let their commentators have a go at it. They said it sounds like a good idea, and they raised two problems: Crazies on the Net will, for example, try to get the site to investigate whether Bush ordered the 9/11 attack; and if you have editors that filter out the crazies then how democratic is it, really?

And here's an interesting thread at a comment board: Journalists! What do you think of Jay Rosen's idea for New Assignment.net?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 20, 2006 10:43 AM | Permalink

Jay...

Aaron brings up some very good points about participation by volunteers, esp. the pairing citizens with editors and perhaps having citizen work on the fundraising or on the board.

As I look more at NewAssignment (and look mostly at all the conversations about the business end of things) I begin to become more concerned about where the new voices will be in this whole thing.

It seems that there really isn't any room for new voices--that no one will be able to be a volunteer and use that as a springboard into story writing and into other forms of journalism.

Perhaps I'm wrong--that New Assignment isn't about new voices, but just about a new way for professionally-directed projects to get more support than they might have if kept confined to the structures of corporate journalism.

Which means that those of us who are not content to spend the time writing for small local papers (or to keep hyperlocal citizen journalism sites) for indefinite periods of time--for low or no payment-- are still going to have to hustle, hustle, hustle.

(this is not to say that NA won't work--it's still got a good chance of succeeding because of the "authority" aspect of editors and reporters. that, in itself, gives it a margin for success.)

Posted by: tish grier at August 21, 2006 8:20 AM | Permalink

It seems that there really isn't any room for new voices--that no one will be able to be a volunteer and use that as a springboard into story writing and into other forms of journalism.

Did you just skip over this part, Tish? Conclude that I'm lying? Is it just PR to you, or what?

So if a correspondent builds up a track record, and gets assignments based on it, where does that leave the newcomer who has no record yet?

Editors, again. They give new people a try in various ways, maybe as second correspondent on a two-person team. It�s partly a talent development job� not unlike what magazine editors commonly do now. Since NewAssignment specializes in collaboration, there are ways for newcomers to start slowly and get the hang of it. Just as new bloggers have emerged from comment threads, new journalists will probably emerge from the user base. Editors can hire anyone they want. If they think you can do the job, you may get the assignment.

Geez.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 21, 2006 11:13 AM | Permalink

Jay,

Just read that discussion over at the ilx thread that you gave link to. Though the response to Ronan's query, and hence to the NADN, is skeptical at best, it is nothing out of the ordinary. Somewhere along the way in this long discussion thread, the basic purpose of NADN got all cluttered, without anybody's fault. I like that you parlayed the NewAssignment.net idea ahead of its materialization but I am not sure if you are getting anything concrete, anything usable, from this discussion.

If my own limited experience is of any relevance here, I believe until that next concrete step is taken and announced (by you I guess), it is harder to add anything more substantive.

Bear with me on this rough cut analogy: imagine you are living in a world before the Monalisa painting existed. Now you just announced to people of your plans for painting Monalisa, how it would look like, and what kind of creative process you are going to employ to bring this masterpiece to existence, how wonderful it'd be in the eyes of the beholders and how the world for them is going to be different forever. People would still, trust me, question the validity of your proposition, the relevance of such a painting, and the very need for such a painting. They would not be wrong, because they haven't seen Monalisa painting yet. And all they need is just a glimpse and all these questions seem suddenly resolved.

Anyway, my point is, first, it helps to keep the focus front and center: What problem are you trying to solve with NADN? Second: all you need is a demonstration of the first "case." You don't need the buy-in of the entire world, you just need one, that first success. Then the world changes, new questions will be asked and you rinse and repeat:-)

I'd say keep on trucking and you may like what you read here, a narrative of a silicon valley guy's experience, that may resonate with your current experience.

Regards
Crazyfinger

Posted by: Crazyfinger at August 21, 2006 5:47 PM | Permalink

Jay...

no, I remember that...but in the interum, I've got to wonder if the success rate will be higher in the beginning if editors pick reporters who are established...

established editors working with trusted reporters will gain significant donations from citizens who believe the project will be done the way they envision it...this will lead to successful projects.

and jeeper Jay! give me a bit of credit for being someone who's acutally found her way into paid media gigs via blogging. I kinda *know* how difficult it can be! That's why I raised the issue and why I get concerned about new voices.

geeze...

Posted by: tish grier at August 21, 2006 6:12 PM | Permalink

you can't expect blind trust

Jay,

If you are going to have any permanent positions (say an editor), I'd make those people accountable to the volunteers (collectively, the volunteer community needs to be able to "fire" them if they don't suit its needs).

Maybe don't *ever* give them power (you could have employed people act as if they were working for the volunteer community): they would be expected to put their knowledge forth and step out of the way... (leave the decision with the volunteer community).

Say a number of stories have been considered and looked into. Instead of the editor saying: this is the one we are gonna do! (period...), she would be evaluating and contrasting the stories for the benefit of community (this one is likely to cost this much, appeal to these many people etc.; maybe make a reasoned recommendation but not more than that).

Delia


Posted by: Delia at August 21, 2006 6:51 PM | Permalink

Blind trust?

No, I don't expect that, Delia. That would be ridiculous. There's nothing to trust yet.

In the matter of room for new voices, there has to be something better than either ignoring what I wrote in anticipation of that concern... or "blind trust" that Rosen or someone he picks will do the right thing.

How about engage with what has been said so far, and show what it fails to address, or what concerns remain? I don't think that's asking for the unreasonable.

Hey, tish: I'll give you credit for knowing how difficult it can be for new voices to break through if you give me credit for addressing it in my Q and A. Not solving it, addressing it. All I'm looking for is a, "what Jay said about this is..." before you conclude that there is no room for no voices. Deal?

Crazyfinger: I think you are absolutely right. It's hard to respond to something merely imagined. The answer is just to go forward, raise the money, run the test, raise some more money, hire the people, debut the site and let people react to the thing itself. Which is what I am doing.

I still think there's value in this discussion. It tells me what to watch out for. When I get exasperated with readers of PressThink, I tell them. That's the way I've always done it. It leads to misunderstandings now and then, and sure, some people get offended, but on the whole it's better than fake politesse.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 21, 2006 7:47 PM | Permalink

Jay,

All I meant to say was that you would probably save yourself a lot of time and frustration if (whenever you have something concrete to present to people -- after Labor Day, if I remember right)you make sure your chosen system puts the volunteers at ease (if you *want* to build a community of volunteers).

If you mostly want to go hire people and just hope that citizen journalists/volunteers would help you *find* the ideas, do leg work and then surrender everything and wish you luck with them... I'm afraid you are going to find that there would not be enough interested people for the long run (even the ones that would give it a try would not stay long...)

As far as what has been said, my suggestion was an attempt to solve the problems Aaron Barlow brought-up (which I think reflect the citizen journalist/volunteer part of things very well).

I don't know if you actually meant the "new voices" comment for me (doesn't seem to fit)... but this is about all I have to say at this point.

Good luck!

Posted by: Delia at August 21, 2006 8:27 PM | Permalink

I still think there's value in this discussion. It tells me what to watch out for. When I get exasperated with readers of PressThink, I tell them. That's the way I've always done it. It leads to misunderstandings now and then, and sure, some people get offended, but on the whole it's better than fake politesse.

that's the point--and sometimes opposing opinions or "what ifs?" can bring up what to watch for....I've said "hey, give it a shot," because most proposed projects deserve to be tried--even if it's simply to see what works/doesn't work.

and, yes, I've got no problem giving you credit for addressing (and discussing) the issue. Deal.

T.

Posted by: tish grier at August 21, 2006 9:34 PM | Permalink

Delia: Just a garden variety miscommunication. I thought your "blind trust" meant... well, it doesn't matter. I was way off.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I find it impossible to say how much should be placed in the hands of a "community of volunteers," because there isn't one yet.

My understanding of a community is not those in a given space, or users of a site generally, but people who share certain common beliefs, starting points, loyalties, passions or problems. There aren't enough believers in open source journalism, or pro-am reporting, or Rosen's Internet visions to make for a community of users; that much is obvious.

On the other hand there's Wikipedia; what kind of community is that? Believers in free knowledge and the neutral point of view?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 21, 2006 10:03 PM | Permalink

Jay,

No problem� Well, I don�t want to stress you out even more than you probably are :)� but I believe that you will win/lose the citizens journalists/volunteers on the concrete model you present after Labor Day. I�d make it as generous possible AND *mean* it� (it *needs* to be bottom-up).

And it doesn�t need to be something that can be implemented right away: I think people would understand that it might take some time to get there � they just need to know that the train they would be getting on is going in the right direction... So� no, there will be no community to speak of come Labor Day (your model is just going to have a place holder for it).

I think the relevant community (from the model�s point of view) is made-up of those who would do the work, use the site, provide funding or a combination of those. Ultimately, it *is* a community of belief (those who believe that worthy stories that mainstream media doesn�t cover *should* be covered) � I just think that from the *practical* point of view it makes a lot of sense to organize it geographically (the way Craigslist is).

I�d start with NY, of course, and make that geographic community work. I�d first see if I could get enough volunteers (professional or amateurs) to do one (not terribly hard to cover) story � something they, as a community, *want* to do. If people wouldn�t be rushing�I�d see if I could talk the NYU journalism students into participating (at least doing one easy project and see how it turns-out). And build-up from there. At the point where the community would want to pursue a �complicated story� and couldn�t (because they would be missing some critical skill), I�d go out and hire someone who could do the job *and* teach them.

If I remember right, Jimmy Wales observed that there was a certain size of a Wikipedia community where serious problems start happening (intimate social interaction usually keeps problems under control as long as the size of the community is small). You will probably find-out that something similar would happen with your communities. It�s hard to tell when that will happen, but you�ll probably know it when you see it�

At that point, I�d just split the community in half (for the same geographic area) � maybe have a politics branch and an economics branch (if that would suit them well). Of course, you would need to present this to the community and have their *approval*. The two new communities could of course collaborate if they wished but they would be two separate units.

Once NY would take off, I�d set my sights on Washington, DC� I think you see where I�m going :)�.

Delia

P.S. If you�d like my opinion once you get the concrete thing together, feel free to email.

Posted by: Delia at August 21, 2006 11:54 PM | Permalink

On Josh Marshall and the DeLay Rules - where's the final compilation? I'm having trouble finding it.

Posted by: Anna at August 22, 2006 4:43 PM | Permalink

Here ya go.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 23, 2006 12:29 AM | Permalink

From the Intro
Highlights