Story location:

March 14, 2007

Assignment Zero: Trend Reporting Gone Pro-Am

NewAssignment.Net just launched its first reporting project, a partnership with and Newsvine. It's called Assignment Zero. Here's the deal, and the links. Let me know what you think.

PressThink readers, I give you Assignment Zero. In it are a lot of the ideas I have been writing about over the years.

Besides the site itself, the main text is my essay for readers: Citizen Journalism Wants You!

We’re trying to figure something out here. Can large groups of widely scattered people, working together voluntarily on the net, report on something happening in their world right now, and by dividing the work wisely tell the story more completely, while hitting high standards in truth, accuracy and free expression?

If they can, this would matter.

The slightly geeky story we’re going to tackle using pro-am methods, open source principles and lots of volunteers:

We’ve chosen to look at a growing trend in use of the Internet, the sort of thing Wired magazine and cover. NewAssignment.Net is actually a part of it, but the story extends well beyond possible uses in journalism. We’re going to report on the spread of what’s called crowdsourcing and the larger practice it’s part of: peer production on the new information commons, in all of its forms.

Collaboration online — and why it works when it does — is an expansive and nuanced story with lots of locations. It lends itself to swarm treatment.

More from my Wired essay:

A professional newsroom can’t easily do reporting in the many-to-many style. It’s a closed system. Because only the employees operate in it, there can be reliable controls. That’s the strength of the system. The weakness is the newsroom only knows what its own people know or dig up. Which wasn’t much of a weakness before the internet made it possible for the people formerly known as the audience to realize some of their informational strengths. explains its participation: Wired Meets Assignment Zero.

Our hope is that a team of professionals, working with scores of citizen journalists, is capable of completing an investigative project of far greater scope than a team of two or three professionals ever could.

Will it all work? We don’t know any more than you do.

A critical fact to keep in mind. The deep background to why they’re doing it:

Wired News has been shifting resources to blogs since September 2005; our plan is to treat process as content by reporting what we know as soon as we know it. As in Assignment Zero, we want our readers and our sources to be one and the same. We think it will make for better journalism.

Since late last year, Wired magazine Editor in Chief Chris Anderson has been exploring what radical transparency would mean for the publication.

Here’s the press release.

The best way to keep up with Assignment Zero: editor Lauren Sandler’s blog, The Scoop.

Interested in contributing? Amanda Michel is the director of participation (DP). Read her welcome. (Professional journalist interested in contributing? See my March 19 post, Help Wanted Section .)

From my essay: “It takes both an editor (Sandler) and a DP (Michel) to complete the assignment when it’s open platform journalism.”

The rest of the team that built the site.

Wondering what these funny terms—crowdsourcing, pro-am, peer production—mean? Go see our glossary and get some clarity. It’s free.

Is it working? Well, it’s only been one day. But I can show you a part that’s working. Newsvine explained to its members why it’s a part of Assignment Zero. (“Newsvine is calling its contributors to join together in the first pro-am journalism project on the web…”) My idea was:

In an agreement with Newsvine staff, we are going to ship to them a “box” of assignments for their users to complete. It will then be up to the Newsvine community to figure out how to get those pieces done.

It happened in the comments to that post. By the end of the day they had a new user group formed, they had identified leaders, and they were thanking the Newsvine founders for the catalytic effects of the announcement.

I founded NewAssignment.Net to spark innovation in the “open” styles of reporting. The site we built is made for that purpose, but the innovation doesn’t have to take place at our site.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 14, 2007 11:48 PM