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Open source journalism project gets backing of Craigslist founder

An experiment which would bring together professional and amateur journalists to produce stories has been unveiled in the US. Jay Rosen, a leading proponent of civic journalism, has got a donation of $10,000 from Craig Newmark, of Craigslist, to help get it underway.

Rosen, who is an associate professor at New York University’s department of journalism, launches the idea in a 5,500 word post on his PressThink blog. He explains that it is:

In simplest terms, a way to fund high-quality, original reporting, in any medium, through donations to a non-profit called NewAssignment.Net.

The site uses open source methods to develop good assignments and help bring them to completion; it employs professional journalists to carry the project home and set high standards so the work holds up. There are accountability and reputation systems built in that should make the system reliable. The betting is that (some) people will donate to works they can see are going to be great because the open source methods allow for that glimpse ahead.

In this sense it’s not like donating to your local NPR station, because your local NPR station says, “thank you very much, our professionals will take it from here.” And they do that very well. New Assignment says: here’s the story so far. We’ve collected a lot of good information. Add your knowledge and make it better. Add money and make it happen. Work with us if you know things we don’t.

But I should add: NewAssignment.Net doesn’t exist yet. I’m starting with the idea.

Rosen continues saying the site is for:

People who are interested in the news, online regularly and accustomed to informing themselves. They would come because New Assignment does stories the regular news media doesn’t do, can’t do, wouldn’t do, or already screwed up. And it allows for participation that is effective.

A sub-group of “customer” would be donors, wherever they are found. One of the major unknows is whether such donors exist.

Finally, professional journalists with the required skills and a commitment to truth. They would be there looking for contract work.

He says the journalists who contracted with New Assignment would be paid and work with the “smart mobs” who gave rise to the assignment.

It is a fascinating idea although it is clear there is a lot of working out of the details to be done, as Rosen says.

Dan Gillmor, author of We The Media (free download if you can’t get hold of a printed copy) and director of the Center for Citizen Media which is affiliated to the graduate school of journalism at Berkley, California, is supporting the idea. In an message to Rosen he said:

I continue to believe that the people who could pull this off best are the traditional media, and that there will soon be some amazing examples. But the media business can’t do everything, and we need to see experiments of this sort. I’ll be helping Jay as much as I can on this, and hope you’ll participate, too.

That also pretty well sums up my thoughts. Many of the best investigative stories in the past, such as the Thalidomide scandal, have been collaborations between journalists and “smart mobs” of experts and campaigners. The internet clearly increases the scope for collaboration, and if New Assignment can make it work to produce new stories it will be an important achievement.


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  1. Wordblog » Blog Archive » Open source reporting experiment gets boost from Reuters says

    […] There have been smaller donations previously including one of $10,000 from Craig Newmark of Craigslist which I mentioned back in June. […]