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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 blog'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

Read: Q & As

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

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

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

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

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, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

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.

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.

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.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. 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.

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.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

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.

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 Newmark'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.

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. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

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 is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

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.

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.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

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.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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March 19, 2007

Assignment Zero, Day Six: Help Wanted Section

I'm looking for amateur-friendly pros who can work with the people who have joined up with us. Five days ago we launched AZ. We now have 450 contributors--each with a profile and a blog--slowly filtering into the site. What do we do now? they're asking. That's where you come in...

“We’re going to take one big, moving story—the spread of crowdsourcing and peer production methods across wired society—and with your active assistance break it down into reportable parts,” I wrote at last week. “Some of these parts we already have. More of them is what we need. Then we’re going to develop those parts — in the open, at the site — into pieces we can formally assign to contributors.”

It is a hybrid form of journalism—pro-am, I call it—now playing at our site. So far there’s been strong response from the am side. We had 450 volunteers by Sunday. We will soon have 500 people who have joined Assignment Zero and our partnership with Wired. That means they’re willing to contribute to the nuanced telling of one sprawling (but manageable) trend story.

In this we’re ahead of where I thought we would be.

And so today I need to recruit more pros who can work with the Assignment Zero team, and with contributors like Michael Ho, who joined up over the weekend. He says he works in IT but had an interest in journalism back in college. “I am a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area and would be able to assist you with background or interviews throughout the area.”

Exactly. Put a pin in the map. Now that we have Michael Ho interested and able to assist, we need to get him something to do that advances the story. (A newsroom phrase I like.) But that’s not enough. The small piece he’s working on has to clearly connect with the larger narrative. The beta site we launched last week has most of the architecture required for breaking a big story into parts so contributors can improve those parts. (The developers were ChapterThree, specialists in open practice.)

But the site needs a lot of work. It also generates a lot of work when people start using it. Lauren Sandler, the editor of Assignment Zero, can’t easily guide 500-plus contributors to their best contributions and 75-plus pieces to completion. She needs help. I’m betting there are curious professionals out there who would like to contribute on a voluntary basis. I mean experienced and talented journalists who…

  • are first of all comfortable on the web (though you need not be a webbie, or use RSS)
  • understand what we’re trying to do with Assignment Zero (go here, here and here if you don’t…also here)
  • think that with the right mix of openness and controls pro-am reporting projects can work
  • bring particular editorial skills and useful experience to the project
  • have spare cycles, hours per week, to take on some of the work generated by the participation we are starting to get.


1. Editors who can provide oversight of topic pages as they evolve from suggestions into stories in our open newsroom. An example of a topic is No. 669 on Crowd Sourced Film. Right now the page is quite undeveloped. For Assignment Zero to work these topic home pages have to be way more effective.

The idea is that some in our swarm of 500 will want to contribute what they know about crowd-sourced film (as I did here.) Meanwhile, if those who love indie film gravitate toward their interests, they’ll find topic 669. We have to be ready with our Things to Do list when they land on this page— which we will re-tool and develop as soon as we can. But mostly we need someone to care for it, and work with contributors who want to add to a story percolating there.

2. Reporters who can work on the right side of a page like this one. It’s 583, Open Source Religion. Is there anything to it? This is typical of what the ams can help us find out. See that list on the right? (“Sketch out the big picture.”) Right now it’s pretty weak. But a reporter with experience covering religion could make it a whole lot better. We need people like that.

3. Web-savvy journalists with multiple skills who can learn our system quickly and solve problems, put out fires and handle discrete tasks for editor Lauren Sandler, who is learning as she goes. (Fast.) You simply report for duty and she assigns you to work needed now. A lot of it will be communicating with “am” contributors so they know what to do and can do it. Here we need pros who are flexible and play well with others. Willing to be sent where needed. You have to be able to work independently, and report in with updates.

4. You don’t have to be a journalist for this category. Amanda Michel is not a journalist. She’s Director of Participation for NewAssignment.Net. Her background is in online organizing. As DP for Assignment Zero, it’s her job to solve the problems people have when they try to contribute. She’s supposed to lower the barriers to entry for the people we want to attract, and actively recruit new people, while equipping the ones we have with better and better tools. (As well as voice.)

Big job. Impossible without help, especially when you have a team of 500-plus people. What kind of help? Super organized people with experience on the net. People who are good at meshing with volunteers. People who have worked with teams to collaborate via the web, and who know how to keep track of complex projects with many players. Journalism by the many, edited by a few, requires great efficiency and strong systems. Help us out if you understand what’s required.

Do I have your interest?

EDITORS: Volunteer your editorial eye and oversee, O-fficially, one or more topic pages for us. Just send me an email telling me who you are, and where your interests lie. Reality check: seven hours a week to devote to it should be enough for one page (… ten is better.) We’d like to know what you can donate per week for the next 5, 6, 7 weeks. And a bit about why you’re interested in making a contribution like that. Retired from the game with strong editing experience and good Web literacy? We’re interested.

REPORTERS: Donate to Assignment Zero your reporting skills and sense. You’ll be helping to scope out a story and break it down, which means right-sizing Things to Do for our crowd of contributors (while taking their suggestions) and sorting them into two kinds…

  • “Open” tasks. Things anyone passing by can do, a kind of participation we know about from Wikipedia. An example would be collecting background links. Anyone can do it.
  • Assignments with authors. When someone connected with the project is asked to complete something, and we specifically note who that is, it’s an assignment with an “author.”

We want you to help develop bite-sized reporting tasks in both categories for distribution through the Assignment Desk. Do some of the reporting yourself, and show contributors your tricks. Comment on what they are doing. Work with them backstage. We anticipate that volunteers will want to learn from you, as this is one of the benefits of the pro-am style.

For experienced reporters thinking about raising a hand, five to seven hours a week would be enough of a donation for you to materially help us, and get something out of it. Send me an email telling me who you are, what you have done, and why you want to join up with Assignment Zero. My best guess is it will be frustrating (because we’re at such a crude stage) and fun (because we’re at such an early stage.)

WEB JOURNALISTS with flexible skills. Ready for some serious real time philanthropy? Donate free hours to editor Lauren Sandler, and let her deploy you where you are urgently needed. Just write me an email telling me who you are, and why this sounds like something you’d want to do.

SUPERBLY ORGANIZED PEOPLE with Net sense and common sense. Volunteer to work with Amanda Michel, director of participation, as she figures out the social architecture we need to do this assignment. Its not obvious how you organize a big meet-up in editorial space with a moving story, an open platform and hundreds of amateur contributors. Can you assist? Send me an email and explain all. I will forward it on to Amanda.

COMPANIES, PROFESSIONAL NEWS ORGANIZATIONS. Give us one of your staffers, a journalist who is most interested in Assignment Zero. Let him or her work for us for a while, and we’ll return to you a journalist more educated in the possibilities in many-to-many reporting and pro-am investigation. Deal? Write me with an idea.

DRUPAL DEVELOPERS with a feel for what we’re up to. Help! Work with me and, possibly, Chapterthree as we try to make this site rock. There’s a lot to do. (And check out the critique from Andrew Nachison: “I’ve had this feeling before with sites built on Drupal - a powerful open-source publishing system that seems to inspire complicated sites.”)

FINALLY, FUNDERS: We need $1.5 million over two years; we’ve raised about $450,000 of that. Take a look at who’s supporting us— MacArthur Foundation, Craig Newmark, Reuters among them. Do contact me if you can assist.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

For his media business column in the New York Times (March 19) David Carr wrote about Assignment Zero. I liked this part, about readers knowing more than Carr…

This past season, I wrote a blog about the movie business that would flick at topics that I was either too uninformed about or too hard-pressed to nail down. Inevitably, readers would begin buzzing around in comments, a hive that sent out a swarm that eventually, through conversation, argument and annotation, yielded valuable insights and hard facts.

That would be his Carpetbagger blog, about the Oscars and more. One of the first serious attempts at doing a blog for the New York Times.

A lot of people have been telling me about the “readers know more than we do” reporting that Josh Marshall and his gang have been doing so successfully at Talking Points Memo and TPM Muckraker. Well, yeah. I have been writing about Marshall’s methods since 2004. Here’s a recent Los Angeles Times article about his success. And here’s Paul Kiel at TPR Muckraker (March 20), discussing how to sort through 3,000 pages of emails released by the White House in the ongoing scandal over the firing of United States Attorneys:

Josh and I were just discussing how in the world we are ever going to make our way through 3,000 pages when it hit us: we don’t have to. Our readers can help.

So here’s what we’re going to do. This comment thread will be our HQ for sorting through tonight’s document dump.

In my introduction at Wired I wrote:

An “author” in our system can be an individual writer, a two- or three-person team. A class could get an assignment. A blog, plus users, could do one

Well, Debbie Galant and Liz George of the pioneering local news site, Baristanet (Montclair, NJ, and environs) announced today that they will run to daylight with Assignment Zero. (Both have written for PressThink.) They and their readers—which include a lot of writers—plus anyone else who wants to join will tackle… Crowd sourced traffic and transit. Can commuters avoid jams by going peer to peer?

From Baristanet today.

Our friend NYU J-school prof Jay Rosen has just hung a great big “help wanted” sign on his blog. He’s looking for journalism pros to volunteer to join the biggest reporting team in the history of journalism.

The overall story is crowdsourcing — think Wikipedia — or as the folks at Assignment Zero put it,”how the Web makes it possible for the crowd to be the source of good ideas.”

Barista-in-chief Debbie Galant was inspired by “Conductor Josh’s” experiment in distributed transit news, and will be working on Assignment Zero’s transit-traffic crowdsourcing story. Join the team of 450+ journalist-volunteers here. And tell them Baristanet sent you.

I look forward to working with Debbie and Liz, two of the most creative Web journalists I know.

Those testy copy editors get all cranky on AZ.

Lauren Sandler on Carr’s column… “I wanted to know, after the sheer amount of reporting I knew he had put into this 1,004 word column, what he opted to quote or directly reference and what simply informed his writing and thinking about what we were doing.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 19, 2007 7:06 AM   Print


Folks, you might want to try posting these "job openings" over in Bangalore. Seems like a better fit, salary-wise and such.

Posted by: Peter Fisk at March 19, 2007 5:44 PM | Permalink

Mr. Rosen, You probably don't remember me but I accosted you over in AssignmentZero territory with some pretty broad strokes and very little deference. I apologize. Now that I have read your Intro to PressThink I realize you are a man after my own heart. You are the second person I have run into in 30 years whose writing I almost recognize as my own. The last time it was Bob Hull of Cuyahoga Falls, Oh. I threatened to sue him for stealing my style and he later included me in one of his epic regional histories.

I now have great respect for you and pledge my obedient service to your AZ undertaking. If I can help let me know. I am enjoying both the Newsvine and the AZ side of my participation.

Posted by: Jerry Firman at March 19, 2007 9:34 PM | Permalink

I appreciate that, Jerry. Thanks. When I have something right for you I will let you know.

Peter: I think your reference to Bangalore is cheap. But this project is not. It will probably cost more than $40,000 all told. Jobs shift to Bangalore when production is cheaper there. Do you think that's a threat in this case?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 20, 2007 9:40 AM | Permalink

Jay: You say here in the comments section that the project "will probably cost more than $40,000 all told," but you stated above that you've already raised $450,000 and that you are seeking a total of $1.5 million over two years. Please clarify those numbers, and also please give us a better idea of what $1.5 million is needed for if the workers won't be receiving any compensation.

You used the word "philanthropy" in describing the volunteer work that professional journalists would be doing for you. Is your organization registered as a nonprofit charity?

Will you be selling ad space? If so, how will that ad revenue be spent?

Thanks, Jay. People will likely want to know the answers to these and other questions in deciding whether to volunteer their time and talent for your project.

Posted by: Peter Fisk at March 20, 2007 11:16 AM | Permalink

Please clarify those numbers, and also please give us a better idea of what $1.5 million is needed for if the workers won't be receiving any compensation.

We have spent the money we have raised so far on salaries for editors, including my salary since I am on leave from NYU, and the costs of building the site. Were we to raise the entire amount, we would probably have some money to pay some contributors. But it still won't compensate all workers, to use your phrase.

Is your organization registered as a nonprofit charity?

Legally speaking, NewAssignment.Net is a research project of mine at NYU, and NYU is a registered non-profit, so dollar contributions to NewAssignment.Net are charitable contributions.

Will you be selling ad space? If so, how will that ad revenue be spent?

No. At this time we are not. And I do not have plans to sell ads. If we ever did, we would have to figure out some revenue split.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 20, 2007 12:06 PM | Permalink

And... "Peter Fisk"... How's about answering my question? I assume that's a clever pen name. But you aren't a one-way medium, are you?

I said Wired has spent close to $40,000 on production and will get, in commodity terms, one cover story and some exciting sidebar material out of it. Modest bump in traffic is possible, but not a factor in the financial equation. Overall they are a net sender of traffic to NewAssignment, not the other way around.

Jobs shift to Bangalore when production is cheaper there. I asked you: Do you think that's a threat in this case?

Are there people in the news industry eyeballing this very project and salivating over the cost cuts they could wring? Definitely. It's no secret that such people exist in the biz. I know from my own correspondence that they're aware of what we're doing. They might have that dream. But they should talk to Evan Hansen of Wired.

My long-term goal is to pay for certain levels of quality, which really means degree of difficulty. If you publish with us a kick-ass, crowd sourced, heavily reported Q and A, we pay you for that. We pay if you're a "pro," we pay if you're an "am," we pay if you're a cactus bush.

We're not there yet. But we're not in Bangalore.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 20, 2007 2:32 PM | Permalink

Jay, instead of AZ (which I confuse with the Post Office's state code for Arizona), how about A∅?

Posted by: Tim at March 20, 2007 2:50 PM | Permalink

Jobs shift to Bangalore when production is cheaper there. I asked you: Do you think that's a threat in this case?

Jay: I didn't answer that question because its meaning is unclear.

If the question means A.) Is there a market incentive to move these proposed zero-compensation journalism jobs to India?, I reckon the answer would be no, these non-paying jobs would probably be pretty safe from offshoring. (And presumably, if U.S. autoworkers decided to work for free building cars in people's back yards ... well, never mind.)

If the question means B.) Is there a chance that it would be cheaper to move Assignment Zero's headquarters and its handful of paid top-managerial jobs to India?, I would have to say yes, that seems like something to watch out for.

Or is there some other meaning in your question that isn't coming across?

p.s. My dad says thanks for the kind words about my name, but he's not sure what's so clever about it. Seemed pretty straightforward at the time, he says.

Posted by: Peter Fisk at March 20, 2007 3:11 PM | Permalink

Thanks for correcting me: Peter Fisk is no pen name.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 20, 2007 4:48 PM | Permalink

Jay: I don't question your motives. I'm just trying to understand a few things. Like, why would professional journalists *want* to donate their time and effort to something like this? … How could you ensure that the information you publish is accurate, fair and useful? ... How will you ensure that the project isn’t infiltrated and manipulated by the PR departments of large corporations to serve their own narrow self-interests? How will you know if some of your news "contributors" aren't really just flacks for, say, Exxon and Halliburton?

Posted by: Peter Fisk at March 20, 2007 5:32 PM | Permalink

And what happens if you publish libelous material submitted by your citizen journalists? Who gets sued? Who's accountable?

Posted by: Peter Fisk at March 20, 2007 5:42 PM | Permalink

Why would professional journalists *want* to donate their time and effort to something like this?

That's something you can ask some of the 25 or so pros who wrote to me, once they are up and visible on the site.

How could you ensure that the information you publish is accurate, fair and useful?


How will you ensure that the project isn't infiltrated and manipulated by the PR departments of large corporations to serve their own narrow self-interests?

Could happen. I mean I wouldn't rule it out. We'll guard against it in every way we can. Editors on the lookout, fact checkers swarming over the story before publication. We'll ask any contributor who gets a by-line whether they have an interest or stake in the story and if the plant/flack says no and we discover the answer is "yes," that's a PR disaster for the firm involved because we will make noise about it. That will deter some.

And what happens if you publish libelous material submitted by your citizen journalists?

We're an edited publication that tries very hard not to do that.

Who gets sued?

I think that's a question best directed to the imaginary plaintiff's attorneys. An attorney can try to sue almost anyone, as I'm sure you know.

Who's accountable?

Editors are responsible for edited content and what they write, contributors are accountable for what they post.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 20, 2007 11:58 PM | Permalink

"Debbie Galant and Liz George of...Baristanet ...announced today that they will run to daylight with Assignment Zero."

for the sports-challenged, definitions from the web:

Run to Daylight (football term suggesting one should focus all efforts on the option most likely to produce success)

'run to daylight' verb: to run a path that goes slightly backward and away from the line of scrimmage before coming back toward the line of scrimmage as in a swing pass route

...Boston where we warn out-of-state drivers that an amber light means that five cars will go through...and a red light will mean two more. In Boston, the football term: "Run to daylight" has a vehicular meaning.

Posted by: anna haynes at March 28, 2007 3:06 PM | Permalink

From the Intro