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Assignment Zero Tests Pro-Am Journalism 52

Posted by kdawson
from the should-you-choose-to-accept-it dept.
Jay Rosen writes "Assignment Zero is a pro-am, open-platform reporting project. The investigation: crowd sourcing and peer production are a social trend growing well beyond tech. Why is this happening? Partners: NewAssignment.Net and Wired.com, with Newsvine. From the Wired essay: '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?' Wired.com: 'We want out readers and our sources to be one and the same. We think it will make for better journalism.'"
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Assignment Zero Tests Pro-Am Journalism

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  • A higher calling. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "Wired.com: 'We want out readers and our sources to be one and the same. We think it will make for better journalism.'""

    Yes it does [slashdot.org]
  • by jacquesm (154384) <j&ww,com> on Thursday March 15, 2007 @08:20AM (#18360317) Homepage
    A while ago a coup happened in Fiji, the wikipedia entry pretty much reflected events on the ground as they progressed, I thought it was pretty amazing that it took the 'real' news services sometimes more than a few days to catch up with the situation.

    • by Mikkeles (698461)
      '... the wikipedia entry pretty much reflected events on the ground as they progressed, ...'

      How did (and do) you know? Were you there, did you know someone who was there, or did you compare the descriptions after the fact with other sources?

      • by jacquesm (154384)
        Because I was to go and travel to fiji someone in the australian government
        inquired with the locals on our behalf.

        So, yes, I did compare, both during and afterwards and that is what I base my
        opinion on.

        Even down to the 'these are live events' headers on the page in all it was a
        remarkably neutral and cleanly reported event.

        Check it out if you feel like, you can view the complete editing history,
        then check out http://www.fijilive.com/ [fijilive.com] and http://www.fijitimes.com/ [fijitimes.com] as
        well as various international news sources.
    • by StikyPad (445176)
      Truely that was amazing. I learned that the population of Fiji tripled over the course of the story.
  • Truth (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @08:21AM (#18360319) Homepage
    They're partly doing this experiment to find out whether such news reporting would be close to the truth. However, what stakes do those who benefit from false reporting have, in involving themselves in this experiment?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shec0002 (141627)
      "Why is this happening?" I think people don't like the slant that the major news outlets put on stories in any direction, while other people don't think there is enough slant. Major news outlets gave up on journalism long ago. I think an open source view to journalism could really bring more solid facts and less political rhetoric. I agree this is an experiment, but I think they will be closer to the truth, as long as both sides are interested in adding to the information. The current news model says th
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by gavink42 (1000674)
        It's true that news organizations put their opinions into stories these days, but I'm not so sure we won't see the same thing from this.

        For that matter, even the already mentioned Wiki articles are biased by the views and opinions of the submitters.

        I just think it's the nature of the beast of journalism these days. If you truly want to get both sides of a story, you have to read several opposing sources and balance it all out yourself. A good example of this is CNN -vs- Fox News.
        • by maxume (22995)
          "If you want to form a viewpoint on something, you have to form a viewpoint on it."

          If a reader isn't interested in balancing their view, fifty sources isn't going to help them. Even someone actively and honestly seeking the truth will ignore something sufficiently incompatible with their existing world view.

          Me Fail English? That's Unpossible!
    • by Larus (983617)
      What separates truth and reality?
      Peer review can do little in either camp.
      In terms of truth, it persecuted Copernicus and Galileo.
      In terms of reality, it created more work for all.
      Stanislaw Lem's infinite story generator would be proud.
  • Wired.com: 'We want out readers and our sources to be one and the same. We think it will make for better journalism.'"


    No kidding. If you've ever been subjected to the "journalism" in Wired, you know they have nowhere to go but up. Whatever helps Wired, whether its "crowd sources" or monkeys and typewriters, is OK by me.
  • by qwijibo (101731) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @08:24AM (#18360343)
    So basically they want to get people to work for free? This sounds like a new management trend in the making. What better way to improve profits than to drive resource costs to zero? It's even better than slave labor - it's sucker labor! =)
    • There's a long-standing precedent for this: newspapers and other media have used "stringers" for years. These are people with some interest in subject/beat X and some ability to write articles about X who are hired on a per-article basis at below-market rates. (It's not free labor, but it's awfully cheap.)
    • by westlake (615356) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @09:12AM (#18360747)
      So basically they want to get people to work for free?

      The more important question to ask is whether these reporters will have the same rights and expectations as the pros? If one of these volunteers is sued or arrested will "Wired" stand by them, organize - and pay for - an effective defense?

      • by qwijibo (101731)
        I can't imagine any situation where a company that wants people to work for free would want to pay for a legal defense when they can just say that the person was acting without the explicit approval of Wired management. Realistically, would you want to spend 10's if not 100's of thousands of dollars defending someone whose only value to you is free labor? When the person isn't an employee, it makes the company even less liable for any problems that arise.
    • So basically they want to get people to work for free? This sounds like a new management trend in the making. What better way to improve profits than to drive resource costs to zero?

      Someone gets carpal tunnel, no Worker's Comp!

  • Wired is tech journalism's equivalent of the wild-eyed leering boy at the high school dance who wanted a dance with ALL the popular girls..... Nothing against collaborative user-driven journalism but honestly....Wired is the publication that thought barcode readers were the next big thing for electronic publication. They should stop whoring themselves with ideas and start thinking about what the publication's longer term tenets and principles are. Much like the Economist.

    Bandwagons will get you to next
    • by Dekortage (697532)

      When Wired's first issue came out, it was described as "Playboy for geeks." Goes right in line with what you said.

    • by maxume (22995)
      The tenets and principles of Wired are to chase after excitement as rabidly as possible and to use just enough reflective ink to be annoying.
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @08:49AM (#18360525)
    Why is this happening?

    Because most people, honestly, do not know that they're not very good at most everything. People don't have the critical thinking skills to separate quality work (say, reporting/editorial work) from amateurishness, and so they fancy themselves just as able to do anything that an experienced professional can do, if the subject matter is interesting to them. This is bolstered, these days, by 'reality' TV shows that make celebrities out of addled-brained twits, and by grade school warm-and-fuzziness that goes to great lengths to proclaim everyone a star at everything, regardless of actual merit, capacity, charm, motivation, DNA, or hard work.

    Collaborative "reporting" attracts only those people that have some vested interest or an axe to grind. That vested interest distorts most people's sense of whether their own opinion is valid or objective, and makes their contributions highly suspect (in terms of actual journalism). Someone truly objective is practicing a true skill/profession, and if they're any good at it, they're usually going to be looking for an actual job at it. And what makes someone who IS a professional journalist skip on over to a collaborative arena, for no pay, to work on some other material? Personal vested interest in that topic area, and the resulting lack of objectivity on that particular topic.

    So, you've got either serious, capable people who are good journalists, and capable communicators/researchers who are off on a project that isn't part of their career, per se... or, you've got what amounts to activists and fan boys who are solely motivated by the outcome of the reporting, usually as characterized by a glorious dollup of spin... or, you've got people who think they've got more to offer on this front than they really do, and get social validation from having their hands in it - and everyone's too politically correct to tell them that they're really not very good at it, actually. And since operations like Wired are really just looking to build more brand loyalty and eyeballs on their site, of course they're going to position this get-other-people-to-do-the-work effort as being a vital, fresh, hip, we're-really-all-journalists shrine to Web 2.0. Balls, I say.
    • by qwijibo (101731)
      I would expect most topics to attract people who have an axe to grind on each side of the issue. Is this really any worse than people who are paid to fake expertise in the subject of the story they were told to write?
      • by ScentCone (795499)
        Is this really any worse than people who are paid to fake expertise in the subject of the story they were told to write?

        Yes. Because someone who is intimate with the subject and has a personal interest in how it is spun will be handling it differently than someone who must get to know something about it in order to write about it, but who is not writing because of a specific agenda.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      I've said it before and I'll say it again, the best work is not produced by committee, it is produced by skilled individuals and tight groups. This is ESPECIALLY true when 70% of your population never even went to college (and even college is hardly a guarantee of decent writing or critical thinking skills).
    • Collaborative "reporting" attracts only those people that have some vested interest or an axe to grind. That vested interest distorts most people's sense of whether their own opinion is valid or objective, and makes their contributions highly suspect (in terms of actual journalism). Someone truly objective is practicing a true skill/profession, and if they're any good at it, they're usually going to be looking for an actual job at it. And what makes someone who IS a professional journalist skip on over to a

      • by ScentCone (795499)
        From these incidents, I've learned that I can't trust any one news source

        To the extent that it's because that one news source doesn't have the basic information, then you definitely need to turn to more sources. To the extent that they do have the information, and are deliberately spinning it (as in your good example of war coverage), then I would argue that those people should not be considered professional journalists, but rather activists. And yes, most of the people with the airtime are just that, yo
    • by Oxygen99 (634999) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:06AM (#18361311)
      I think you're wrong. Not only that, but I also think your comments are dismissive and patronising. Most people are capable of performing complex tasks pretty competently, especially if they're motivated enough to get involved in a collaborative journalistic venture. As noted above, the Fiji coup attempt on Wikipedia was covered about as quickly and accurately as on regular news outlets. And since when was professionalism journalism held up to be some shining beacon of honesty and trust anyway? I'd guess that there are more news outlets whose professional journalistic integrity can be questioned than not.
       
      I'm not saying that collaborative journalism is bound to succeed, or even likely to succeed, but dismissing it as you do seems pretty blinkered.
      • by ScentCone (795499)
        beacon of honesty and trust

        Why would you refer to someone who is NOT these things as a professional? Being in the mainstream media and being honest are not the same thing. Have a journalist's credentials and access do not equate to having integrity.

        the Fiji coup attempt on Wikipedia was covered about as quickly and accurately as on regular news outlets

        Doesn't matter how well an unusual event's coverage is enhanced by popular contributions. In a difficult spot, or one that doesn't have the infrastru
    • by Sibko (1036168)

      Because most people, honestly, do not know that they're not very good at most everything. People don't have the critical thinking skills to separate quality work (say, reporting/editorial work) from amateurishness, and so they fancy themselves just as able to do anything that an experienced professional can do, if the subject matter is interesting to them. This is bolstered, these days, by 'reality' TV shows that make celebrities out of addled-brained twits, and by grade school warm-and-fuzziness that goes to great lengths to proclaim everyone a star at everything, regardless of actual merit, capacity, charm, motivation, DNA, or hard work.

      Collaborative "reporting" attracts only those people that have some vested interest or an axe to grind. That vested interest distorts most people's sense of whether their own opinion is valid or objective, and makes their contributions highly suspect (in terms of actual journalism). Someone truly objective is practicing a true skill/profession, and if they're any good at it, they're usually going to be looking for an actual job at it. And what makes someone who IS a professional journalist skip on over to a collaborative arena, for no pay, to work on some other material? Personal vested interest in that topic area, and the resulting lack of objectivity on that particular topic.

      So, you've got either serious, capable people who are good journalists, and capable communicators/researchers who are off on a project that isn't part of their career, per se... or, you've got what amounts to activists and fan boys who are solely motivated by the outcome of the reporting, usually as characterized by a glorious dollup of spin... or, you've got people who think they've got more to offer on this front than they really do, and get social validation from having their hands in it - and everyone's too politically correct to tell them that they're really not very good at it, actually. And since operations like Wired are really just looking to build more brand loyalty and eyeballs on their site, of course they're going to position this get-other-people-to-do-the-work effort as being a vital, fresh, hip, we're-really-all-journalists shrine to Web 2.0. Balls, I say.

      You're kidding right? You honestly think the only good journalists are the ones that get paid? That your average joe on the street is so corrupt, and so stupid, that he cannot tell a story straight?

      Maybe you got things mixed up, because I could swear current media corporations do the very thing you say only joeblow reporters would be capable of. Agenda? Check. Spinning the facts? Check. Too politically correct? Check.

      • by ScentCone (795499)
        You honestly think the only good journalists are the ones that get paid?

        No, I think that someone who actually has the communications, research, and social skills to be an actually good journalist, and wants to devote a full week of their waking hours to that activity, pretty much has to make it a paying career so that they can eat and whatnot. There are plenty of dumb, idealogically motivated, lazy, and other-bad-things people paid to write/produce "news"-ish material. You'll notice I didn't describe the
    • by dr_labrat (15478)
      Virtual +1. An excellent article.
  • So...WikiNews? (Score:2, Informative)

    by SixFactor (1052912)
    That's what it sounds like to me.

    http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikinews.org]
  • Reputation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nephridium (928664) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @08:57AM (#18360589)
    Such a project would share many of the adventages and problems with sites like Wikipedia. Who will guarantee accuracy? What can be done against vandalism? A hierarchical structure (based on credibility) is required, but how to avoid cronyism and abuse?

    Though the anonymity of the net blows up the problem of whether a source can be deemed credible or not it is not unique to the net. If a 'meatspace' reporter screwes up his face will be associated with that screw-up. (Likewise a screen name will become stigmatized.) A good reporter, though, will consistently supply good stories, so his reputation rises and he becomes more popular.

    The same should hold true in cyberspace. A color code could be used to indicate the credibility of the author of that particular entry and s/he will get bumped up on the credibility scale as soon as his information can be verified as authentic. This way freelance jounalists could even remain anonymous and use unverifiable/secret sources - as long as they consistently provide truthful stories they get bumped up; in time more people will read them (and check) and in turn everybody will be better informed.

    I really hope this sort of alternative independent media becomes mainstream one day, but I fear that many governments will make them illegal to use because of "national security"(tm) reasons.
  • by MadCow-ard (330423) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @09:00AM (#18360633)
    Wikipedia is excellent at reporting events well, and historical events even better. Once the information is in the wild, it takes time to consolidate into a Wiki primarily because the contributors are not committed 100%, i.e. professionals, to their Wiki entry. Sure you might get a few that have little more to do then chat online entering up to date Wiki info, but is this who you want reporting breaking stories?

    The issue here is timing. If you want events as they are unfolding to be reported accurately you can do it in an open source format, but if you want them to be in "CNN" realtime, you can't rely on a non-paid community to take the time whenever it is required. They will do it, but that evening, or the next day when they are online. Even with "always on" internet connections, your coverage of events will still have a time lag in most instances.

    We need to pay people who will be both neutral, and available at a moment's notice, if we want a reliable news source. If we had a major news outlet, such as CNN or NYT online (or a new one), paying for up to date information with attached mobile phone photos, then we might be getting closer to a freelance/opportunistic approach to a paid open-source news outlet. But we would still have a problem with reliability and neutrality. That would be hard to solve without a large number of entries which you could "average" into a story.
  • So instead of contributing my time and effort to open community-based news sites such as Wikinews [wikinews.org] or The Independent Media Center [indymedia.org] I can instead donate my time to Wired and drive up profits for the fine folks behind "Teen Vogue" and "GQ?" [condenastmediakit.com] Sign me up!

    Too bad they didn't have this for Wired Magazine in the 1990s. It would have been fun to write in 17 different fluorescent-colored fonts per page.
  • Groklaw. Prefect example of community effort for a news site. Yes, PJ does do a heck of a lot of work, but she is not alone. There are a lot of people on Groklaw who pull apart the arguements made and explain them to people like me without any legal background. There are others who transcribe PDFs into text.

    In a community news site, there will be a core few who actually do a lot of the work.

    At the end of the day, yep, if there is enough there it will probably take off, but there will be a few people who do
  • ...actually, very much like ohmynews.com [ohmynews.com]
  • The site was built using Drupal [drupal.org].
  • It seems to me these guys are looking directly to applying "The Wisdom of Crowds". Just like slashdot where the inputs vary from a diverse range of abilities and users some from the shallow end of the gene pool right up to the selfless experts in their own lunchtimes.
  • What's this "high standards in truth, accuracy and free expression"?! Journalists regularly just make shit up, sloppily rewrite press releases and largely ignore obvious agendas.
  • Assignment Zero [newassignment.net] is an attempt to crowdsource journalism which has a great deal of long term potential. Crowdsourced journalism won't replace paid journalism but it will develop compelling content less influenced by corporate advertising dollars ... it's partnership with a for profit company might change this over time. In contrast, NewsCloud [newscloud.com] is a crowdsourced editorial site like Slashdot's Firehose effort i.e. aggregation by the people. Members pick and rank stories assembling the news of the moment in real

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