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March 27, 2007

Participate in Politics by Covering the Campaign: NewAssignment.Net and Huffington Post Team Up

More eyes and ears, more voices, and more people with more sources of information, more experts with more specialties, more writers on more beats, some of them quite offbeat...

Arianna Huffington and I are announcing today a new joint venture in campaign journalism. It will be a partnership between NewAssignment.Net, my experimental site for “pro-am” reporting, and the Huffington Post, where I have been an occasional contributor.

Our idea is not complicated: it’s campaign reporting by a great many more people than would ever fit on the bus that the boys (and girls) of the press have famously gotten on and off every four years, as they try to cover the race for president.

So instead of one well-placed reporter trailing John Edwards wherever he goes (which is one way of doing it) some 40 or 50 differently-placed people tracking different parts of the Edwards campaign, all with peculiar beats and personal blogs linked together by virtue of having a common editor and a page through which the best and most original stuff filters out to the greater readership of the Web, especially via the Huffington Post.

This was the idea I sketched for Arianna and her editorial team. “And we should do it for multiple candidates,” I said. I left it to them to decide how far down the probability scale we would reach.

Arianna’s announcement post from today has most of the details you’ll need. “We’ll have a Clinton blog, an Obama blog, an Edwards blog, a McCain blog, a Giuliani blog, a Romney blog, a Biden blog, a Richardson blog, a Dodd blog, a Kucinich blog, a Brownback blog, a Huckabee blog,” she writes. “The larger campaigns could have 50 to 100 or more people following them.” The group blogs will also feature a compendium of the merely useful information about each candidate, including latest speeches, upcoming appearances, new videos out, the official and unofficial ads, news coverage of course, and oddities like an organizational chart.

Sometime this spring, then, we’ll roll out twelve new pages at NewAssignment.Net with a mix of news, information, original reporting and views not-found-elsewhere. Behind each candidate page will be a contributors’ network built by hand, made up of people who would like to participate in the 2008 election by claiming a campaign beat and making their own news and commentary, in collaboration with others doing the same thing (but coming from a different place.) All overseen by an editor paid to make the whole thing run, and evaluated by how good the twelve pages are.

In our current plan, the new sites will be co-branded by the Huffington Post, but they will live at a section of our site, which is how Assignment Zero, our current project with, works. (Read David Carr’s column about it in the New York Times.)

So there’s a structure, and for the contributors substantial freedom within that structure. Some order, some chaos. There are editors filtering, but contributors post what they want at their own mini-blogs. We don’t pay you for your time if you choose to become one of our contributors. Neither do we own your work. A Creative Commons license will apply to it. There will be no ads at the NewAssignment.Net site, which is non-profit. The Huffington Post, which does have ads, will have the right to pull content from our 12 candidate pages.

The Huffington Post is going to cover the 2008 campaign in a variety of ways. It’s been hiring reporters to do original digging. It will have the normal range of contributors doing commentary for the HP blog. It will do quick investigations. And it will try the strength-in-numbers approach with NewAssignment.Net.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

If you’d like to be involved as a contributor, read Arianna’s post, then send your name, contact info, and which campaign you may want to follow to

More background: I did a guest post about the project at Mark Glaser’s Media Shift site: Escaping the Bubble in Campaign Journalism. (March 29)

For each candidate, we’ll have lots of correspondents outside the bubble tracking parts of the campaign that touch their own interests, or tap their own knowledge. Instead of hundreds of reporters on the bus, all doing the same beat, we’ll have hundreds of different beats (and melodies) coming not from the campaign trail but from different places in the United States where politics is part of life, and the presidential campaign “lands” on people every four years, as if from above.

The people on whom it falls are qualifed to write about the campaign, we feel. We don’t want them on the bus, except as visitors to a strange country they might describe with fresh eyes.

Danny Glover at National Journal’s Beltway Blogger: An Online Revolution In Campaign Coverage. “Coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign will be nothing like coverage of the past if bloggers Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post and Jay Rosen of NewAssignment.Net have their way…”

Frank Barnako at Huffington, NewAssignment.Net plan swarming campaign coverage.

It will be especially interesting to see how long these volunteers will stay on duty. If you’ve ever been on a campaign trail, you know how hectic and tiring - and ultimately boring - it can be to cover one candidate. Without a bi-weekly incentive, like a paycheck, it can be doubly challenging.

There will be some who have stick-to-it-tiveness. Odds are a few of the passionate and hard working will get noticed and, what do you want to bet, get hired by, oh, say

Ellen Miller at the Sunlight Foundation site takes notice: “I can’t help but wonder how we might apply this concept to some key Congressional campaigns in 2008.”

Aldon Hynes at Orient Lodge:

I hope that Jay and Arianna’s efforts will help people find their voice in the political discourse. However, I worry that it might be the same rich white ivy school educated young men that I run into on the blogs and the conferences across our country. I worry that the discourse might end up being not substantially different from the nasty, horse race, Coke or Pepsi type coverage that we see in the traditional mainstream media.

We’re going to try not to do that, Aldon, because that would be unfortunate, boring and dumb.

Over at PJNet, Len Witt interviews me about Assignment Zero and how it’s going so far. Excerpt…

Witt: Given the magnitude of the project and doing things on the fly, what’s the mood of your shop? How does it square with, shall we say, your feisty personality?

Rosen: Uh, well, we’re all learning as we go. Me included. But the mood in general is very high because we launched without a really major screw-up, and we’re underway. The immediate response from participants was also very invigorating and it told us we weren’t crazy to attempt to do a story this way. I think we’re all curious about how it works. One thing I found helps is when the experiment morphs from a very unfamiliar shape — 700 people on one story — into a very familiar shape from the practice of journalism. Like on March 22, Lauren Sandler gave out the first wave of writing and reporting gigs. All of sudden, what we’re doing looked very traditional. I like that: the “flip” from one to the other. The method I call “pro-am” is about moments like that. It sometimes looks very traditional, other times radically different.

Read the rest.

Last summer I wrote The People Formerly Known as the Audience. It got around. Apparently leading to this: The People formerly known as The Congregation.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 27, 2007 2:09 AM