June 22, 2006
It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?
(Related post… Case Study for an Unconference: Ken Sands brings spokesmanreview.com to BloggerCon IV.)
BloggerCon IV, San Francisco
June 23, 10:30-11:45 am
Dan Gillmor’s famous insight, “readers know more than I do,” makes great intuitive sense. But making sense is not enough. In fact it’s not clear yet how we can take ideas and developments like… distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am production, decentralized newsgathering, we media… and turn them into actual investigations, published reports that draw attention because they reveal what was previously unknown— you know, news.
In this session (here’s the BloggerCon IV schedule and the participants) we are going to figure out how we can use the Net to actually do readers-know-more-than-we-do reporting (also known as open source journalism) and break news with it. Because if users really do know more than “we” do; if it really is possible to tap that kind of distributed knowledge and inform a larger public with it, then we should be able to do stories with these methods that would elude more traditional forms of reporting… Right?
But how? I mean exactly how? That will be my question. By attending you affirm that you may have part of the answer.
It doesn’t have to be a big national ground-shaking story right off the mark. We need more demos, interesting little projects. They can be modest as long as they’re real. They might begin with local stories or matters of interest to a specialized public. The first story ever described as open source journalism (see Andrew Leonard’s 1999 article for Salon) was about cyber-terrorism. It was published in Jane’s Intelligence Review, the “international journal of threat analysis.” But first it was Slash-dotted and improved; therein lies the tale. The readers knew more than Jane’s did, and the editors decided that was a good thing.
Bingo. Seven years later we’re still trying to collect for having bingo back then.
I’m the discussion leader for this one. If you come, don’t expect to debate whether it’s desirable or possible to do reporting in the “distributed” style. John Dvorak can stay home. We’ll assume that it is desirable (because we need better journalism) and it is possible (or why did god give us the Internet?) Then we will tap the intelligence in the room and try to advance the ball on how users-know-more-than-journalists reporting can start to payoff in the currency of news.
That means asking:
- What kinds of stories can be usefully investigated using open source and collaborative methods?
- Which user communties are good bets to be interested enough to make it happen?
- What will it take to start running more trials that could yield compelling and publishable work?
- What needs to be invented for this kind of journalism to flourish?
- What tools already exist, and how can we adapt them?
- How relevant to open source journalism are previous tech chapters like open source software?
- Which questions already have answers in earlier attempts to do this kind of journalism (Wikinews, Oh My News)?
- If we hired you to prove that, properly done, readers-know-more-than-I-do journalism can work, how would you propose to do it?
I see it as a “put up or shut up” moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. So come to this session if you want in on that.
Now in no way am I suggesting that open source journalism is untried, a “new” idea or that it’s tabula rasa out there. There are cases on record. If you have one that’s illuminating, let’s hear it. Right now the need is for more trials, more fire, and many more collaborations going on so we can see what difference social networks make in the art and science of investigative reporting.
Any given BloggerCon is about advancing the art and science of weblogs. Poo-bah Dave Winer says the theme for this is “empowering the users.” In October 2005 I tried to imagine a project that would demonstrate how big the potential gains were, if you could empowers users. My blue-sky, not-entirely-original proposal then: “A blog-organized, red-blue, 50-state coalition of citizen volunteers who would read and attempt to decipher every word of every bill Congress votes on and passes next year.”
And of course tell the nation what’s really in its laws. No news organization has ever done it. I don’t think anyone outside the industry knows how… yet. On Friday we just wanna advance the ball.
As usual with the BloggerCon “unconference” format: no experts, no panels, no speeches, no lecturn. (Dave Winer explains: “First, you take the people who used to be the audience and give them a promotion. They’re now participants. Their job is to participate, not just to listen and at the end to ask questions. Then you ask everyone who was on stage to take a seat in what used to be the audience…”)
Going to be at BloggerCon? Introduce yourself here, please. And if you’ll be there and want to help out, great, e-mail me. If you have ideas, suggestions (links to look at) but cannot be there, that’s why god invented comments. More next week….
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
See the case study for the BloggerCon discussion. It’s from the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, an innovative newspaper that wants to do more. Online director Ken Sands wrote it.
Wanna listen? Here’s the MP3 file for the BloggerCon discussion. (1 hour 12 minutes.)
Amy Grahan at Poynter’s E-media blog gives it a thumbs-up review (July 14): “I just got around to listening to the podcast of the Bloggercon IV session on citizen journalism, held June 23 in San Francisco. Wow! If you want your mind blown in a ‘what is journalism’ way, definitely [have] a listen.”
Also see the comments to Amy’s post.
The editors at Washingtonpost.com asked me to look across ten years of Net journalism. The results were posted June 19: Web Users Open the Gates.
Newspaper, radio, television … Web! It made sense at the time. But in the 10 years following the birth of washingtonpost.com, the Net and its publishing platform, the World Wide Web, have proved harder to master, scarier to get wrong and more thrilling to get right than expected. Wilder, and discontinuous with the past in a way those coming out of traditional journalism never could have imagined.
Among the items covered: the “re-purposing content” error in the mid-90s, the effect of all sites being equi-distant from the reader, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the power shift from producers to users, the huge expansion in press criticism, Andrew Heyward’s “end of omniscience,” Mark Cuban’s blog, Washingtonpost.com’s live chats and the Tsunami coverage. Plus: “If the unthinkable cannot be ignored, professional correctness loses its power.” Read.
There’s also A Brief History of washingtonpost.com, part of the same package marking the Post site’s tenth birthday, along with As the Internet Grows Up, the News Industry Is Forever Changed by Post staff writer Patricia Sullivan.
They said forever.
From the BBC’s Kevin Anderson, writing at journalism.co.uk: “The London bombings of 7 July 2005 were a watershed moment for ‘user-generated content’.”
It’s important to note that most so-called citizen journalists don’t consider themselves journalists, just members of social networks that share information of interest amongst themselves.
See also Anderson’s post responding to this one at Corante, “We used to talk about broadcast networks, but the future is obviously in social networks. What is the role of the journalist in the age of social networks?”
And a further follow-up from K.A.: Technical and cultural issues for ‘Networked Journalism’ Part I.
“Networked journalism” is the term Jeff Jarvis says should replace “citizen journalism.” Read why:
“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news.
…Julian Sanchez of Reason said in email that he’s using “distributed journalism” and I agree with that. I use it, too, in certain company. Only problem is, when I say that in front of newspaper folks, they think trucks.
Amy Gahran at Poynter:
When I talk to people about citizen journalism and other kinds of participatory media, often people who are above the age of 40 or who are print or broadcast media veterans contend, “Well, most people don’t care about participatory media, so it doesn’t matter. You’re talking about a very small world.”
…To which I generally respond, “Well, ‘most people’ would rather watch Wheel of Fortune or Days of Our Lives than World News Tonight. But then, quality journalism is rarely intended for indiscriminate, lowest-common-denominator audiences. Participatory media matters because it’s where the most influential part of the mainstream media’s audience is increasingly turning, now and in the near future. And the news business does — and should — should care very much about the influence it wields, directly and indirectly.”
Good reply to something I also hear.
Susan Crawford—new media law professor and blogger—heard Jim Lehrer of the PBS Newshour on “On Point.” She also read this post. Suppose we asked him the question: “Can we take good ideas like… distributed knowledge, social networks… and put them to work to break news?” Crawford:
Jim Lehrer’s answer would be, “No way.” No such thing. Professionals gather news and assess what’s a story and what isn’t. Just a small matter of finding a sustainable business model, but we’re not leaving.
More Susan channeling Lehrer: “There will always be a demand for high-quality, professional news reporting. And so therefore it will always exist. Yes, people fire off emails and bloggers do their posts, but what they’re all doing is reacting to the news — and where did the news come from? From professional reporters.”
I’ve heard it too many times to even listen any more. But I’m glad Susan is.
Dan Gillmor, head of the Center for Citizens Media, in the comments:
What we’re discussing here are projects that can be broken down into little pieces where lots and lots of people can ask one question, or look at one document, or solve on piece of a big puzzle. Then the results are aggregated, parsed and reassembled into a coherent whole. It’ll almost always require some folks at the center. We used to call them editors.
Lex Alexander of the News & Record in Greensboro, NC reacts in the comments: “At the local level, we’re still struggling to find a way to do this. Leading a group of nonprofessionals in an investigative project for the N&R and participants’ respective blogs is my dream gig at this point.”
Mark Howard of News Corpse raises a problem in comments: “Once an investigative project is put on line in an open forum (in order to exploit the knowledge of a broad community), the story is also revealed and can be either usurped by other ‘reporters’ or pre-debunked by partisan opponents.” It’s an issue. But there are answers to that. See Paul Lukasiak’s reply.
In Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media (Sep. 29, 2005) I discussed an example of “distributed reporting” and what happened when traditional news professionals reacted to it.
In November of 2004, Josh Marshall got mad when Republicans voted to change ethics rules to benefit their Majority Leader Tom DeLay: (“There was a vote. It wasn’t recorded. There’s no official tally. But everyone who was there was asked to say yea or nea. Why shouldn’t they be willing tell their constituents what they said?”) So he asked readers of his blog who live in Republican districts to call their Congressperson, as a constituent, and try to get an answer: was it yea or nea on the rules change? If you get a reply or a clear refusal to say, e-mail us, Josh says. We’ll make a list and tell everyone else. And by such means—distributed fact-collection—he and his readers tried to get the vote recorded.
I told them this story. They liked it. It made “citizens journalism” a lot less abstract. And they insisted that Josh’s callers would be less reliable than journalists. Blog readers wouldn’t know when they were being fed a line. Because they’re partisans suspicious of DeLay, they would hear only what they wanted to hear. Dan Gillmor tried to inform them that Talking Points Memo was widely read on Capital Hill. Staffers for a Republican Congressman would know if Marshall had screwed up. They’d fire off an e-mail right away to correct the record. This information made no visible dent. Big Media was adamant. One could not trust information gathered by amateurs.
Stephen Baker wrote about it today at his Business Week Blog: “But how reliable was the reporting, media execs asked. Who were their sources? How about if one of the citizen reporters had it in for one of the Republicans? I didn’t add my two cents on that point at the meeting. Here it is now: As a reader, I’m happy to look at that citizens’ reporting. It’s additive. There was nothing. Now there’s something. True, the anonymous reporters are not accountable for their work. So I wouldn’t cite it, journalistically, as evidence that a certain Republican voted one way or another.”
But the exercise Marshall and crew undertook wasn’t designed to answer the question: who voted which way on exempting DeLay? That information was lost to recorded history. Marshall said so at his blog. He was asking: was there pride in the vote? (“Why shouldn’t they be willing tell their constituents what they said?”) In his scheme, Congress people and their staffs are met with a second decision: what to say to constituents about the first? Who’s willing to stand up and be counted? The object was to re-establish accountability—and minimal transparency—after the majority party put them on holiday. I thought it was great journalism.
Josh Marshall is recruiting readers to help track “where various politicians stand on the Net Neutrality bill making its way through the Senate.” See the list.
I was a guest on Christopher Lydon’s Radio Open Source June 14, discussing whether “truth with edge” reporting, a construction of NPR’s ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin, was an adequate formula for the press as it struggles to get beyond “balance” and he said, she said logic. Other guests were Dvorkin, Brent Cunningham of CJR, and William Powers of National Journal.
“The truth telling system has been overwhelmed by the party in power, people understand that,” said I. “How much innovation has there been in the news business in the art of telling complex stories?”
Posted by Jay Rosen at June 22, 2006 1:06 PM
What do you mean by "break news with it"? If you mean "citizen journalism finding its way into the mainstream media", then from where I sit, its been happening for at least two years now -- to both good and ill effect. But it wasn't happening six years ago.
I'm talking about, of course, my pet project "The AWOL Project". When I published my first piece in the series, I mentioned it at Salon.com's "Tabletalk" group devoted to the subject of Bush's military service. This was noted by blogger Dave Niewart at Orcinus. Professor Michael Froomkin of the University of Miami, who reads Niewart's blog, wrote about it on his own blog, Discourse.net. Froomkin, as it turns out, is the brother of WP blogger extraordinaire, Dan Froomkin, who wrote about it in his blog. Eric Alterman at MSNBC.com subsequently picked it up as well (once Froomkin wrote about it, it was picked up by the major "liberal" bloggers like Drum and Marshall, so I don't know where Alterman saw it first.)
That's major media penetration, IMHO, and it happened slightly over two years ago. As I continued to publish, I began to receive calls/emails from other media outlets. It never became a "huge" story for two reasons -- first, the "media" in general thought the whole "AWOL" story was over, second was my refusal to promote the work in a personal fashion. While I was willing to explain what I had written to journalists, I was unwilling to be quoted about it. My position was that I am "just some guy from Philadelphia" who did some digging and came up with some facts -- I presented those facts, and wanted them reported as facts, and not as the theories of "some guy in Philadelphia". (For instance, I turned down an offer to appear on Alan Colmes radio show.)
Most reporters are so stuck in the he said/she said narrative that they seem unable to do what I wanted them to do -- verify the accuracy of the facts I had dug up, and then write about it themselves. Without the he said/she said framework, most journalists seem at a loss for what to do with facts.
If there is are lessons to be learned from my experience, they are these
1) Co-operative research work. During the research phase of my work, one of my correspondents was Col. Jerry Lechliter. While Jerry and I differ on some of the details of our conclusions, our correspondence sharpened both our understanding of the documents and their relationship to contemporaneous law and military regulation. Lechliter published his own analysis, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times, and was extensively quoted by the LA Times (and, IIRC, US News) in articles on Bush's military service.
2) "Celebrity" matters. When this question was raised by Glen Greenwald at (I think) YKos, someone answered that Greenwald had to accept and promote his status as a "expert" and "celebrity" -- and be willing to promote himself as vigorously as he worked on his extremely insightful analyses of national security issues.
3) Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. Slogging through my writing was hard work -- I'm a lousy writer to begin with, and I tried to make the presentation of facts as accurate and precise as possible so I used the specific military "jargon", while simultaneously "pre-rebutting" counter-arguments. The result was prose that is practically unreadable, and that requires a great deal of commitment to get through. That guy at Little Green Footballs sat down at a typewriter, created a document that looked similar to the Killian memos, told a few lies (like proportionate spacing was unavailable on typewriters in 1972) and screamed "FORGERY!" -- and the media picked up the story almost immediately.
I guess what I'm saying here is that, while my "exposure" in the "mainstream" media may simply have been the result of a happy accident (the Froomkin relationship), in the past two years the expansion of the blogosphere, and its "connectedness" and "viral" nature, has made it possible if not inevitable that "newsworthy" information will get noticed, and written about -- and that when the mainstream media ignores a story about which the blogosphere is buzzing, they will hear from blog readers. (e.g. the Downing Street Memo story -- it wasn't "broken" by the blogs, but the mainstream media ignored it at first, under the bloggers and their readers started screaming about it.
Generally speaking, what we're discussing here are projects that can be broken down into little pieces where lots and lots of people can ask one question, or look at one document, or solve on piece of a big puzzle. Then the results are aggregated, parsed and reassembled into a coherent whole. It'll almost always require some folks at the center. We used to call them editors.
Reading all the laws is a great project, but I think it's too big to chew on except as a long-term goal. I'd suggest paring it down to something smaller and much more essential: The next time Congress gets ready to pass an appropriations bill of any sort, we need an army of lawyers and others who understand legislative language to parse it *before* it's passed.
This may not be possible, of course, given the leadership's increasing tendency to force members to vote on bills they haven't had time to read, and after injecting last-second stuff that no one except a few staffers and lawmakers knows about.
The way to experiment with this is to take it down a level, to the state legislature. Pick a state that's relatively uncorrupt and do roughly the same thing. The project will be more manageable, though you'll probably find less, if much at all, of the material that turns into headlines.
Last fall, by the way, I proposed that major media organizations bring in the citizens for a project on the Katrina reconstruction. No takers, unfortunately, but I still think it was a good idea. (One organization is still thinking about doing this but hasn't acted.)
I also, more recently, suggested that the Wall Street Journal expand its brilliant coverage of the stock-options scandal and do a thorough, citizen-driven database of how widely (or not) this sleaze has spread. Stay tuned on this one.
As to the question of whether it's a good idea to tell your competition what you're working on, this depends on what you want to accomplish and whether it matters if the thing is done in full view in the first place. Is the goal to do good journalism, to serve the public? Or is it a professional scoop? Wouldn't someone "stealing" the idea be seen as a thief, if he/she used the material gathered under your wing without credit? And aren't there many kinds of investigations where it's just fine to let the targets know they're being investigated?
I don't expect Seymour Hersh to tell us ahead of time precisely what he's working on. But many, many kinds of investigations are better done in the sunlight. Some -- like the ones we're talking about here, where there's no way to do them without massive help from the community -- should be done that way.
My concern boils down to: How do you author a breaking story if anyone and everyone has access to your research and notes while the story is still being developed?
I think the pursuit of the "Jeff Gannon" story is instructive here. Gannon caught the attention of the liberal blogosphere when he lobbed an ideologically biased softball question during a Bush press conference. A couple of people at DKos started looking into the mysterious, and pseudononymous, Mr Gannon and his employer, Talon News. As they found out more and more about Talon and who was involved in it, and published their info in Daily Kos diaries, more people got involved in doing research -- and as Dan suggests, an ad hoc organization was created with someone functioning as an "editor" keeping track of who was investigating what aspect of the story.
The story "broke" when someone discovered pictures of "Gannon" promoting himself as a male prostitute. While the mainstream media paid no attention to real story (How did someone with no background in journalism, working for a "Potemkin" news service, gain access to the White House?), it couldn't ignore the "scandal" of a male prostitute with easy and frequent White House access.
(It should be noted that, once the effort became organized, not all "knowledge" was available to the general public. You had to sign up with the ad hoc organization to gain access to their resources.)
So, in this case, you "break" a story by finding a titillating tidbit that can't be ignored.
I think that Mark's concern is misplaced -- people involved in this kind of "citizens journalism" are not looking for a by-line on a scoop, they are looking for exposure of information. These "citizen-journalists" are first, and foremost "citizens". The people involved in the Gannon investigation would have been delighted if some major media organization had "stolen" what they had dug up about Talon news and its political connections and used it as the basis for a story. You can't "steal" what people are trying to give away.
aside: This was posted on the bloggercon website on Wednesday by Dave Winer...
The webcast has always been the hardest part of BloggerCon, it's an expensive proposition to do right, we thought we had it covered this time, but I found out late this afternoon that we don't.
We need some organization to provide the webcast transmission for us (we will provide the production and engineering), or find $8000 to pay a vendor to do it for us. We're only doing audio, not video.
If you want to make a contribution, you can use the PayPal account, or contact me directly. For donations of over $1000, we will find an appropriate way to thank you during the conference.
Basically, if we don't raise the money, there won't be a webcast.
...and, imho, needs wider exposure if there is to be a webcast. (I hope I'm not violating any rules by using the comments section to post a plea for money/resources jay. And I wouldn't have done it were it not directly related to the topic at hand.)
Thanks to all for some really good comments.
Just to clarify: In this session (and this post) I am not talking about "citizen journalism" in some general way. I welcome the idea that amateurs and independents have a lot to contribute, and it's true they are doing just that in a variety of ways today.
At BloggerCon we're going to focus only on one kind of citizen journalism, one idea for how to tap its potential. It's the distributed knowledge and collective effort part. Dan Gillmor put it well: "Projects that can be broken down into little pieces where lots and lots of people can ask one question, or look at one document, or solve on piece of a big puzzle. Then the results are aggregated, parsed and reassembled into a coherent whole."
That's what I call users-know-more-than-we-do journalism. Lisa is right that it isn't needed at the scale she is working on. She might have added that it doesn't apply to all stories, and often can't be done without money, or professional expertise being involved somehow.
Paul's personal labors in the AWOL project are not an example, but the DailyKos investigation of Jeff Gannon is.
Mark Howard asked: "How do you author a breaking story if anyone and everyone has access to your research and notes while the story is still being developed?" This is one of the most common objections I have heard to "open source" reporting projects.
Dan, Lex and Paul had, I thought, good answers, especially: "You can't 'steal' what people are trying to give away." But the Howard question is going to keep coming up.
It's interesting that when I disuss these ideas with professional journalists, one of the things they keep stumbling over is their mistrust of amateurs who clearly have political commitments or strong feelings about an issue. They are convinced that TPM users and redstate.com users alike would cook the books, and so if you ask them to do some knowledge collection the knowledge you get back will be unreliable.
It's interesting that when I disuss these ideas with professional journalists, one of the things they keep stumbling over is their mistrust of amateurs who clearly have political commitments or strong feelings about an issue. They are convinced that TPM users and redstate.com users alike would cook the books, and so if you ask them to do some knowledge collection the knowledge you get back will be unreliable.
This sounds to be like a red herring -- the answer is that you don't trust it, as a professional journalist you treat it as a credible rumor, and verify it and (if it is true) write about it. Currently, Josh Marshall is using his readers to determine the position of each Senator on the "net neutrality" bill. A jounalist working on that story can go to Marshall's website, see which Senators are listed as taking which positions, and call their offices to verify the information.
I think there are two separate and distinct issues here...the first is how do you do "distributive knowledge jounalism" (i.e. distinct from "citizens journalism" which would include the kind of stuff I did which is outside the subject), the second is "how do you get the results of distributive knowledge journalism widely distributed."
To the first issue, there appears to be three models...
1) The "ad hoc" effort (e.g. the Gannon story)
2) The "leader" effort (e.g. Marshall's involvement of his readers)
3) the "pre-organized" effort (what Dan is proposing, and what it sounds like Lex is doing.) This category should be broken down further into "internet based" (basically, a "wiki" approach to investigative journalism) and "traditional media based" (Dan's proposal)
All three efforts have their advantages and disadvantages, and IMHO should all be considered acceptable "models" for distributive knowledge journalism"
The second question is, for me, more intriguing? How do you "break" a story in a way that will have an impact?
The right wing seems to have this one solved --- a "network" that includes mainstream media types that will tranmit the results of citizen's "journalism" to a wider audience (via right wing talk radio, Fox News, etc.) to the point where the "traditional media" can't ignore the story. (e.g. the Killian memos thing.)
So to me, the real question is "How do people excluded from the right-wing network get their efforts noticed by the traditional media"?
I have a hunch that there is great promise in Gillmor's concept of "projects that can be broken down into little pieces where lots and lots of people can ask one question, or look at one document, or solve on piece of a big puzzle. Then the results are aggregated, parsed and reassembled into a coherent whole."
But I also have no idea how it would play out in practice.
Consider this: In the spring of 1989, Don Barlett and Jim Steele, then of the Philadelphia Inquirer, were awarded the Pulitzer prize for national reporting for their 15-month investigation of "rifle shot" provisions in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The series essentially exposed the "reform" act as just one more giveaway to politically connected individuals and businesses, and it aroused such widespread public outcry that Congress ended up remanding most of the sweetheart tax breaks.
That happened because Barlett and Steele were the only two reporters in the land who were willing to undertake the drudgery of actually reading the 900 pages of footnotes and appendixes to the falsely-named "tax reform" act. And then they went out and tracked down the recipients of each and every special tax treatment, one by one by one.
That is tedious, tedious detail work, and that is why it took all of 15 months for two reporters and a researcher to compile the whole sordid story.
I'm trying to imagine what would unfold if, Josh Marshall-style, 900, or 90, or even 9 citizen journalists had been set loose on the same task. Would they have come up with the same incriminating data ? If they had, would they have had the patience to hold their fire until they had the whole jigsaw puzzle put together ?
Or would they have offered up the evidence piecemeal, laying out individual cases for the mainstream media to pursue -- or to not pursue ? And how would that have played out ?
I have no idea what the answers to those questions might be.
But I'm real interested to find out.
You ask: “How much innovation has there been in the news business in the art of telling complex stories?”
I asked you a number of complex questions during my interview with you, and told me afterwards, "I'm not sure how you're going to edit this." And to be honest, I wasn't completely sure how I was going edit it either.
I was trying to show how the media failed to handle complexity leading up to the Iraq war, and so it has been a process of trying to figure out the best way to communicate these uncovered complexities. Needless to say, I quickly ran into the limitations of the linear storytelling paradigm after realizing that many of the answers that I was receiving from you and others indeed cannot fit within the constraints of a 90-minute film or traditional news story.
This is what drove me towards investigating collaborative post-production possibilities that could engage the audience with these complexities in a more interactive way. And since the build-up to the war in Iraq is a controversial topic, I also wanted to tap into the collective wisdom of a diverse group of collaborators in order to incorporate and account for many different perspectives and interpretations of the source material. So I had to not only figure out how to collect such a body of data from participants, but also think about out how to digest, synthesize and make sense of this type of feedback.
Here's a dilemma to think about: I believe that innovations around telling complex stories requires a number of paradigm shifts that can't be fully comprehended until a working proof of concept of them exist.
I think that I have a potential solution that I've been trying to describe and communicate for a while now, but it hasn't been until I have a prototype demonstration that people are now just starting to really intuitively understand how rating, tagging and playlisting can be combined to break complex problems into component parts and to start connecting the dots between them.
And I don't expect people to really understand it until they can participate and see it working firsthand, which I hope to have ready within the next month or two.
But my approach can go beyond collaborative film editing and can be expanded to collaboratively implement intelligence analysis techniques such as Richards Heuer's Analysis of Competing Hypotheses. So methodologies exist for handling complexity, but they first need to be implemented with tools that have an intuitive and self-explanatory user interface. And then there needs to be compelling complex content that creates a desire for people to want to participate.
Jay asks: What are "the cases where a distributed, open source, wisdom of the crowd approach is better, and more likely to bring results than traditional reporting methods?"
* Stories that involve combing through the public record
* Controversial stories that cannot be resolved when written from a single perspective
* Stories that gain legitimacy when a diverse set of participants have an interest in participating in an intellectually honest collaborative process.
Award-winning investigative journalist Jonathan Landay says that, "A lot of the most important stories I've done haven't relied on secret sources or leaked documents. There's a lot out there in the public domain that merely needs to be scrubbed and read over."
Landay has proven that dots can be connected without secret sources or official statements, and there is already an overload of official information that needs to be put into context and honestly evaluated by an equally representative group.
So is there an Open Question that could be answered if only a bipartisan group of participants were willing to comb through the public record? Phase II of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation is supposed to be looking into "whether public statements and reports and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information."
There have been already been a number of independent efforts to answer this question by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Congressman Henry Waxman's Commitee on Government Reform, and National Security Researcher John Prados.
There is classified information involved, but the above investigations indicate that most of what is needed to answer this question may already be declassified into the public record. But these independent investigations never gained broader traction within the political dialogue because they were never endorsed or vetted by the Republican party. So they became one-day stories and quickly forgotten.
Mainstream journalists have shown that they have neither the time nor resources to adequately or convincingly investigate and answer this type of question. They see that official Congressional investigations the only possible that it could be answered -- maybe because they've learned that such a news story would fail to "bring results" either politically or to their bottom line.
If this is true, then what if Pat Roberts keeps delaying the official investigation and it never happens?
What if a bipartisan group of citizen journalists decided to take on this question, then what would it take for their results to be peer reviewed and legitimized by a mainstream news organization?
Or what if the results didn't serve the interests of either the Republicans or Democrats, then would they have the power to delegitimize the results by either ignoring them or attacking the process?
Bill: I meant no news organization had ever tried to read and decipher all the legislation and proposed legislation in a given year of a U.S. Congress. Others have tried to tell the nation what's in its laws, of course.
Bingo: If I included the Swift Boat Vets in my overview of ten years of Net disruptions in journalism (Web Users Open the Gates, June 19th) you can be pretty confident that I see it as a seminal event. Of course my view of what happened in that episode would be different from yours, but for purposes of my Post piece that does not matter.
There, I tried to describe what happened from what Wikipedia calls a "neutral point of view." Here, my interest in re-fighting the facts of that case is zero. I did write about it once: Swift Boat Story a Sad Chord.
Kent: I think many journalists and others would be surprised how much could be "discovered" just by working with the public record-- available facts that no one has ever run down, totalled up and put together. Massive comb-throughs and collating operations that try to answer big questions might just work.
On Chris Lyndon's Open Source last week, I suggested that the big national news organizations should try to take on some of the big controversial questions hanging over the Bush years, and dig into them so that they can come out with an answer: Yes, we were misled into war. No, we weren't. (For example.) Or... Okay, who had responsibility for the screw ups in Katrina and after? How much (in percent, but also via a narrative) for the feds, how much for the state, how much for the city, and how much to the gods of fate.
I said they should come to some conclusions, and take the heat for them (since someone will be pissed off...) Rather than abandon balance, they could practice "serial" balance by publishing rebuttals to their reports a few days later, where warranted. Even better (I didn't mention this on air) they could publish a few weeks later a corrected and clarified version taking into account what was learned after publication, including from critics of the work.
By not trying to take on more difficult feats of truthtelling with bigger payoffs for the public record, the national press is hurting its reputation for category leadership. Where's the innovation?
Program note: I get my first taste of Washington Post Radio tommorow, with Michael Moss and Jim Brady, 9:10 or so. I will be curious to find out what it's like.
God I love this thread.
First, let me amplify something Lisa Williams and others here have touched on: the results of distributed journalism might not look like what we think of as journalism today.
By this I mean: if you ask a 40-something newspaper guy to imagine a positive outcome of a big distributed journalism project, he's likely to describe something that looks like a Sunday 1A package or a three-day series. Dramatic, grabber leads. Killer graphics. Emotive photography. Because that what we DO.
But what if the output of such a project wasn't narrative at all? What if it produced, say, an authoritative, carefully sourced, currated database? Data is cheap. Cleaning data and organizing data is expensive. And besides: Is narrative always the best way of communicating every bit of information? I don't think so: Last year I produced a package on global warming that replaced the idea of a "mainbar" with a comparative grid.
Second, the organizations that might be best at producing these kinds of projects might not look anything like traditional media. Look at our assumptions here: narrative structures; editors; government stories. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but is this what we can expect lots of people to jump up en masse and volunteer to do?
Some time back, Jay wrote about how some of the best blog-based journalism was occurring in those places where people are truly interested in and excited about the subject. I remember that he talked about this in terms of "being in the groove." That stuck with me. Find the grooves.
One form of spontaneous distributed project might be the kinds that form around these grooves. For instance: Millions of people play games like World of Warcraft, but because these communities aren't geographic, traditional media don't cover them. But if somebody started some kind of WoW wiki, you can bet that thousands of people around the world would pitch in to cover their online community and solve problems that interested them.
Third, it's natural for those of us in the business to imagine this as a way of accomplishing things we might not otherwise be able to do. Who else is likely to have the organizing resources necessary to pull off such a project? But is a media-based organization the best way organize distributed projects, or it is just the most likely first step?
I'm inclined to believe the latter. If the core organizing principle of citizen-based, distributed journalism is a sense of common purpose and interest, then it makes sense that the best unit for accomplishing such a task might be the single-issue non-profit. Asking a for-profit entity like a newspaper to organize a voluntary effort is just structurally unsound.
Of course, non-profits produce all sorts of research resources and white paper reports that those of us in the media routinely ignore.
But what if we assumed a different relationship? What if news organizations published transparent and fair quality standards for data collection and invited groups to submit proposals for projects? What if news organizations agreed to partner with interest groups that met those standards? Rather than non-profits desperately pitching their already finished studies to flat-footed editors, groups instead proposed projects to news organizations early in the research process? News organizations wouldn't need to run the investigations, but they could set the standards they would require up front, and groups would be free to accept them or decline them.
Because, to be blunt about it, not every investigative piece pans out. It's hard to spend three months on a promising lead and then pull the plug -- but if you don't, you kill your investigative program. And the same thing needs to be true for distributed projects.
Anyway, sorry to write so long, but it seems to me that if we can: 1. acquire expertise from the people who have it; 2. activate and organize common interests for the goal of better understanding; 3. create transparent standards and methodologies; 4. form multiple relationships between organizations; and 5. employ the media to do the things WE do best (amplifying, clarifying, illustrating, packaging, distributing), then there's great potential here.
The process will have to weed out the Not Invented (discovered, broken, scooped) Here syndrome guys.
I expect most readers have the experience of trying to alert the local paper to a story only to be told, one way or another, to go away. My first attempt was zeroed, until the FBI started making arrests--not on my tip, I should say. I happened to be one of those citizens in a position of special knowledge, too.
But it was eff off.
When you break an issue down into a multitude of small parts, how do you assign them? Do you post a list of questions and ask those who feel they are competent to get to work on their favorites?
I think we have discussed media bias, or media predilections, or media tendencies, or whatever the phrase you find most acceptable to an extent that most folks will admit that something exists. The media are not robotic information passers.
The problem comes when the story idea, or issue, which is put out to the distributees has a presumption behind it and the result of input is that the presumption is completely wrong.
We've seen enough examples of excusing rotten journalism, just on this thread, to make the question legitimate. What do you do when the result is, perhaps, exactly the opposite of what you thought when you started?
If it's just a couple of reporters who find this out, nothing more need be said. But if dozens, or perhaps thousands, of citizens have been working on it, you can't very well ignore it until it goes away.
The promoter of such a process is going to have to make a serious commitment.
Citizen journalism (whatever that is) is more likely to evolve than it is to be designed. We have seen that with the Blogosphere, where the phenomenon, once enabled with suitable tools, simple appeared, and all sorts of things are stil going on there.
There are likely to be other technological advances which likewise enable citizens to interact and produce/share/discover information that then becomes widely available. Likewise, systems for quality control have already appeared, and more will come.
But citizen journalism is more likely to be correcting the MSM or bypassing its blindspots than contributing to it. The MSM has a firehose to fill with information - one that is continuously demanding more input, and an open source project isn't likely to help in that case.
Likewise, the MSM has its own rather narrow (and very visible) echo chamber biases, while the citizen world is evolving its own echo chambers, with some intersection of the sets (the effect of internet-enabled echo chambers on reducing dialog between factions and increasing divisions could itself be a major topic).
Today, the MSM digs up (or is handed) information, published it, and then the blogosphere exploits it - analyzing, criticizing, adding to it from personal experience or knowledge. This *IS* citizen journalism. The NYT can no longer frame the issues and define the narratives - thank goodness.
Likewise, expert knowledge can enhance reporting. For example, the MSM provides some informatino about the pending North Korean missile launch. Blogger with military, technology and spook backgrounds can and do provide much more information about this subject, and also correct erroneous MSM reports.
The national MSM seems highly focused on politics and controversy, while the citizen journalists can go beyond that - if you want to know everything about the abortion controversy, there are lots of citizen journalists providing facts - along with their biases. A bit of careful blog reading will provide a much greater depth of knowledge than any amount of ingestion of NYT or WSJ or ABC.
Citizen journalism will also provide depth to coverage. Today, I am interested in a forest fire near Sedona, AZ - a favorite place of mine. If the fire continues, citizens will create blogs and websites that will give us real information (maps, for exanmple) that the MSM doesn't consider important. In other words, blogs or web sites can excell in delivering facts at a level the MSM is not interested in.
It will be interesting to see what sort, if any, more formal cooperation develops between MSM and "citizen journalists," and how much citizen journalism simply replaces or bypasses the MSM.
first a minor point -
I'm not sure this post's title ("Users-Know-More-Than-We-Do Journalism") is apt, since what we seem to be addressing is more "Users have more eyes than we do" journalism, i.e. swarm or hive journalism; "everyone, ask your rep. how s/he voted" doesn't require that readers have any special knowledge.
But I agree with Daniel C., I really like this post - it's refreshing to see a practical "well, how _can_ we do it?" post rather than the more typical descriptive or an idealistic-prescriptive ones.
What I'd like to see:
I'd like to see "labor unions" of cit-j practitioners - in the sense that although an individual can be scorned or ignored, banded together we have the power to take on the powers-that-be. For example, attempts I've made to get specifics on syndicated columnist disclosure requirements and job descriptions have been countered with PR-speak assurances and stonewalls, whereas if I were one of a 50-member group seeking the same info, the results would likely be different.
To quote Scott Rosenberg: "The value journalists continue to provide in a 'disintermediated,' Net-enabled world -- when they are doing their jobs right, of course -- is to continue to ask public figures the uncomfortable questions that they won't choose to answer on their own."
It'd be nice if swarm journalism had the weight to accomplish this too.
I'd like to see a Metafilter-equivalent, that could be the go-to site for cit-j discussions (like this one) and alerts (to interesting cit-j reports - right now, HTH do we find them?) and solicitations for help (e.g. "I need someone to write a script that can analyze data in order to quantify Factor X") and suggestions for possible research topics.
(One such suggestion, if you journos can avoid rolling your eyes while running screaming for just one moment: an automated(?) newspaper bias-ometer, to view/quantify patterns of divergence between original AP articles' headlines and the ones that a newspaper used (over same articles). (Note to red-herring flingers - this would be informative whether or not AP=0)
I'd like for there to be a resource that Cit-J practitioners -or groups - could go to for advice - if you're inexperienced, and sifting through public records, and the parties involved are telling you that you're completely and/or libelously off base, how do you evaluate whether they're right?
Also transparency of process; when I send in a contribution, and get no feedback that it was received, I'd like to know whether the absence of response means that it _wasn't_ received.
(wish I'd known about this BloggerCon session; I'd have signed up, back when there was room...)
Okay, throw some imaginary specifics into the mix. Though I think John is right that open source journalism is more likely to evolve than it is to be designed, design we must to jolt our minds into awareness.
Let's say one day that Wal Mart caves in to political pressure and agrees to end employment practices bordering on the inhumane, and by a certain date. Big publicity moment for the company. Activists celebrate. The Huffington Post crows.
How does anyone know they're actually doing what they said they would do at thousands of Wal Mart and affiliated stores? You need people (or a team of people) who can find out by going into every store in the country and asking a few simple questions about changes in practice.
What might motivate them to do a good and careful job? Well, it's making Wal Mart answer for the changes it said it would make. Also, this kind of project is trying to be a "complete" survey (every store) and it's using citizen volunteers from the store's local customer base.
There are lots of people around New Paltz, NY who know the store in New Paltz, NY well (better than "we" do) and they may not be online, or coming to your experiment, but someone who knows some of those people is.
Citizens are told to use all their knowledge to answer the questions, and tell the rest of the story as they see it. When you start to put it all together it's going to be uneven, a mess. That's where editors come in.
But then as you give the teams more time you find they learn from other's methods of getting "inside" the store and finding out. This is after all not a group of atomized inquirers but a network. If we have the right tools, they communicate horizontally with ease and pool their knowledge effectively.
If checking up on Wal Mart (the distributed way) works, you can probably tell a story about the company the company itself does not know. It's a successul outcome if the company is keeping its word, and the journalism shows it. It's a successful outcome if the company is lagging or lying ... and the journalism shows it.
But remember: open source journalism is more likely to evolve than it is to spring from someone's design.
There seem to be some minor disconnects about how things work now in the world, at least, of newspapers.
The idea that a story doesn't pan out doesn't depend on someone's agenda (that agenda-based decisionmaking belief seems to be a pretty common.) It much more frequently depends on whether the speculative premise that prompted research turned out to have a basis in fact, and, beyond that, these days, a basis in facts which can be proven and which will stand up in court.
It's storytelling and investigation wrapped into one concept, the premise. "We're going to tell you about an abuse of power." "We've discovered an interesting conflict of interest." Whatever. Both the research, and then the story, have to prove the premise, so that when the readers are finished with the journey you're taking them on, they share the conclusions that made you think the story was worth telling in the first place.
Very often, when my gig was strictly investigative journalism, my method was to take the situation I was tasked with examining, and creatively take it apart on this basis: "If I was a crook, what things would I do to make illegal gains, and what kinds of tracks would I have to leave?" Then I'd look for those tracks. Might be a chain of deeds, might be mislabeled farmland. I once, no joke, found something described as a subdivision with streets and sidewalks that turned out to be a red maple swamp in New Jersey, used as loan collateral. But it didn't always prove out. Sometimes the "bad thing" was merely plausible but not really happening.
So here's the thing: If things don't pan out and the premise remains unsupported, there's no story. The only agenda in that case is a desire to be accurate.
My only other semi-salient observation is that the Wal-Mart example is actually my idea of how journalism can work in the face of stonewalling authority. I've never really craved being an insider journalist who is just the mouthpiece for whatever it is important people want to share. I've always enjoyed being the fellow who does go out to where the policy hits the little people and describes what the effects actually are, rather than what the big bugs want you to think is going on. I'm a troublemaking pissant at heart.
Actually, one more possibly salient thought: In the end, here's what matters: Can I, as a website publisher, blogger or anything else, depend on the truthfulness of those gathering information for this joint effort, from any source? Those who provide ideas, information and insight are ultimately culpable for what gets published, no matter what the venue. As an editor, I'm making that decision -- evaluating the accuracy and integrity of data -- several times a day already; I don't see it changing simply because data is coming in from more sources.
re: the role of traditional media in all this.
Let's establish this up front: Grassroots efforts that choose to do distributed journalism projects don't need traditional media to get their message out. They can bypass us entirely. They don't need our control, our printing presses, our editorial processes. They can go straight to the people via the web.
The question becomes, why might it benefit such a group to work in partnership with traditional media? And when you look at it this way, there are reasons why cooperation could be mutually beneficial.
Cooperating with trad media allows you to reach a larger audience; reach a different audience; be noticed by more media outlets more rapidly.
Additionally, no matter what you think of trad media, everyone knows that having "your story" picked up by the NYT or Anderson Cooper means your story is taken more seriously. This isn't necessarily logical, but it's true in the practical sense. To be covered by one of the majors is to receive an endorsement of significance.
So: in addition to wider, faster exposure, the benefits of cooperation with trad media also include greater credibility with a mass audience; better packaging; better promotion; greater opportunities for expanding the story across media forms.
We're talking here about how this stuff will have to evolve from the bottom up. Agreed.
But think about pole beans. I can't make them act like a bush, but if I put a trellis over a bean seedling, I can encourage that pole bean to climb it. The pole bean is more productive on the trellis than it would be spreading along the ground, so the pole bean plant "succeeds," but I succeed too because I get a larger, better crop. All I did was provide a structure, and the pole bean did what it does naturally.
If we work cooperatively with grassroot projects, providing a structure that serves both parties, media can benefit from such projects. The key is, it has to understand its new role in such agreements.
Exactly, Daniel. Keep going.
A vision very different from yours was put forward this week by the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a leading professional group with a strong and active membership. He writes in the Dallas Morning News about how irreplaceable investigative reporting by non-aligned news organizations is.
I would compare "we won't be replaced" to "re-purposing content" for its effectiveness in leading the press astray about the Web. Replacement thinking makes the mainstream press and what it does the starting point, not the World Wide Web and what it can do.
In order to establish this--"we won't be replaced, no way..."--he has to diminish what amateurs and independents can do..."...especially by those partisan windbags with modems, the bloggers." He gives no quarter on who has credentials. He sees trust as a fixed pie; less for you means more for me. But it ain't that way. Brant Houston hasn't heard of the possibility that networks of wired citizens can accomplish what investigative reporters can't (and vice versa). He's too busy being irreplaceable...
For too long, the news industry has regarded investigative reporting as too time-consuming and costly. (And that attitude continues. Just last month, Time magazine laid off two of the best investigative reporters in our time because they were "too expensive.")
Media owners also have seen investigative reporting as a "niche" kind of reporting: nice for the sake of public service and awards-gathering, but not really a daily concern.
But it's becoming increasingly clear that investigative reporting may be the beleaguered newspaper industry's best franchise for the future.
Investigative reporting distinguishes journalists from agenda-pushing bloggers, from advocacy talk shows that parade as fair and balanced, and from the shallow reporting that happens when Wall Street pressures newsrooms to cut staffs.
The worth of investigative reporting is not measured in constant bean-counting, but in how well it serves the public interest. Solid investigative reporting demonstrates the credibility of a vigilant press, as well as the need for one – a need that's greater than ever.
With the advent of the Web and the blogosphere, rumors and misinformation have run rampant.
Simultaneously, officialdom has grown more secretive, public relations and media manipulation have become more sophisticated, and the free press has suffered ever more relentless attacks by governments and corporations that don't want the public to know what they've been up to.
But good investigative reporting cuts through those rumors, misinformation and manipulative practices. Investigative reporting rips through veils of lies that hide corruption, incompetence and injustice. It reveals dangers that governments and businesses should disclose but fail to do. It provides accurate, useable information that ordinary people can use to protect themselves.
These stories are not the kind produced by those who approach the world from an opinionated point of view and fit the facts around preconceived conclusions. No, these are stories supported by detailed documentation and a multitude of interviews – and they often go further by making use of data analysis and social-science methods. You can't do these stories quickly or on the cheap...
Does your favorite blogger or TV pundit do this? No, only investigative reporters do.
Houston writes in the tone of "I can't believe I have to explain this again to these people."
Is it me or has there been more than the usual number of straw-man arguments against citizen-created media?
I mean, does anybody really think that Wikipedia's policy of Wikipedia's policy of protecting some entries merits A1 above the fold, as the New York Times did on Saturday? Especially since I think it's not really news -- I remember pages on John Kerry and George Bush being temporarily locked during the 2004 political conventions. Add that, of course, to the lampooning of Yearly Kos by Maureen Dowd and Ana Marie Cox, and a piece in this week's Book Review by, of all people, John Updike, who decries Kevin Kelly's vision of (I paraphrase) books turning into a collection of 400 word snippets.
I'd quote at length to you from the Updike essay, because it's not online yet; but it's on the nightstand, along with the Globe, The Herald, and the Watertown Tab, next to my sleeping mother, who does her best to be a significant percentage of the entire target market for Boston newsprint. The pieces by Dowd and Cox aren't worth your time; I'm sure most of you could write parodies of these pieces without having read them.
Then, Alexander Cockburn, in The Nation (subscribers only):
Is there any better testimony to the impotence and vacuity of the endlessly touted "blogosphere," which in mid-June had twin deb balls in the form of the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas and the Take Back America folkmoot of "progressive" Democrats in Washington, DC?...In political terms the blogosphere is like white noise, insistent and meaningless.
Ah, the sounds of the circular firing squad! How quaint and reminiscent of the Clinton years. CJR Daily also takes a couple shots, including this one.
I've had a suspicion that I've held for a long time but never voiced, but I will now: I suspect that some bloggers deliberately b**tchslap another blogger with more traffic than they have for the explicit purpose of getting that blogger to link to them and thus raise their profile.
Has the media caught on to this trick?
They have done so with no central organizing force, like a miraculous self-organizing swarm...oh, wait, isn't that what we say about le blogosphere?
I totally agree with Daniel (quoted below) about plenty of opportunity to find evidence of government miscues/misdeeds for anyone to research. You just have to know how and where to look.
I came upon this thread because I stumbled across Jay Rosen's story about "Web Users at the Gate" when I looking for another story on Washingtonpost.com ("Illegal Hiring is Rarely Penalized" 6/19/06) because I recently set up a yahoogroup to find out more about WHY, in 1999, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement essentially halted its effort to stop illegal employment of aliens, which now is considered as much or more than the border aspect for the increase in illegal immigrants.
I'm rounding up collaborators for the yahoogroup ("smart mob", as Jay says) and I'm pretty confident that we can find something more about this aspect of an important issue, because I am a former government insider (five agencies in 25 years) and I grew my listserv on "Reinventing Government" (REGO-L, 1993-95) to over 1,000 subscribers, many of whom were journalists based in D.C. (People had email, but no web-browser, so I gophered to the Wash.Post and cut-and-pasted text from their Federal Page.)
I may never find my way back here, so if you want to check in (sometime later) to see if my new experiment in "smart mob reporting" works, you can find it at:
vr, Stephen Buckley
Posted by: Daniel Conover at June 19, 2006:
I remember reading years ago that when he was with the Washington Post, William Grieder convinced the paper to devote a page to regular coverage of the federal regulatory process -- which, if you're unfamiliar with it, is where the bulk of the corrupt fixing goes on. I'm told it was a cool piece of journalism, but that it didn't get much interest, and was put to rest with little outcry.
I bring this up as an example because it represents a special class of investigative reporting: Not finding what is hidden in secret, but revealing that which is hidden in plain sight.
Ever since Watergate we've been addicted to the idea of the Smoking Gun. It's the journalistic equivalent of The CSI Effect on juries: today, if a jury doesn't have DNA evidence like they see on TV, they're more likely to have reasonable doubt. Same thing with investigations: If you don't have the president on tape talking about criminal activities, it's as if the rest of the evidence is immaterial.
Journalists do those kinds of high-risk, high-reward investigations, and I don't ever see a distributed team of volunteers replacing them in that function. But in the public watchdog role? Sifting through public records on which the volunteers might have some real expertise? Working cooperatively in conjunction with a news organization, but not under the control of a news organization?
Maybe. I can imagine that.
Posted by: Daniel Conover at June 19, 2006 08:36
Anyway, that's off-topic. Trying to steer it back...
How might trad media encourage some kind of new relationship with distributed, interest-group media?
Well, what if in addition to your regular news functions, you encouraged groups in your community to submit not only story ideas, but proposals for distributed reporting projects?
Let's use Anna Haynes as an example: She's been trying to understand this strange recurring event that seems to happen to her local water supply. So maybe Anna and her friends form a group, and they all agree to take samples from their taps at regular intervals, documenting all their steps. They could test these samples and look for patterns over time. In theory, taking a bunch of systemwide snapshots of water quality might offer insight into what is causing the strange, intermittant odors.
Anna's group could propose a joint project to the local paper. The newspaper could set its own terms and conditions, and projects that appear to meet those initial standards could be the subject of negotiations. Either party could walk away.
Then, along the way, there could be various deadlines and checks, with steps taken upon the satisfaction of each stage of the agreement. Say, Anna's group agrees to abide by certain quality control guidelines, and in return, the paper agrees to run stories and free ads soliciting volunteers for the study. Or to pay for series of tests. Whatever.
With the group showing its work to the paper during the research, the paper's staff would be in a better position to see where the results were leading. Maybe the paper assigns one of its most experienced editors or reporters to work with the citizens. Maybe when the citizens get stonewalled, the newspaper writes stories and editorials about the standoff, asks its lawyers to intervene, etc.
In other words, perhaps the news organization uses its institutional clout help keep the citizens' effort moving along.
In the end, regardless of whatever the paper published, Anna's group would be free to publish its findings online in any way it sees fit. And the newspaper would be free to publish its version of the story however it chooses, without Anna being able to veto it.
Where's the balance on abuse? What about this: an agreement that both the group's online report and the paper's online report would include mandatory mutual links.
I can imagine problems. BUT what about mutual benefits? I think so.