Is this the future of journalism?

With theories abound on just exactly how print and online media convergence will affect their respective models, there’s an “experiment” currently going on that could...

With theories abound on just exactly how print and online media convergence will affect their respective models, there’s an “experiment” currently going on that could provide a glimpse of the future. A New York Times story posted today profiles Assignment Zero, a collaboration between Wired magazine and NewAssignment.Net, an experimental journalism site founded by Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor.

“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?” Rosen wrote last week on Wired.com.

Inspired by the open-source movement, Assignment Zero applies a “pro-am” approach to journalism, combining the forces of professional and citizen (amateur) journalists. Basically, it comes up with assignments that anyone can contribute to, whether it be through research or writing, and a small team of editors provides guidance and organizes the production of the story – a collaborative effort it calls “crowdsourcing.”

The first assignment: “Assignment Zero is trying to evolve the practice of crowdsourced journalism by investigation the art of crowdsourcing itself.”

Put even more simply on Assignment Zero’s About page: “We're covering it and doing it.”

If successful, the experiment offers a possible solution to newspapers’ disinvestment in editorial quality and investigative reporting that PRWeek reported about February 26. In fact, in that story, Rosen told PRWeek: “Investigative reporting has never been a 'key element' in the business the way business minds see it. The prospect is bleak for that kind of reporting being supported by metropolitan newspapers."

Could crowdsourcing be a way for those newspapers to support such reporting? The Times article also claims, “Consider that Gannett is in the process of remaking the newsrooms at its 90 newspapers into “information centers,” a place where readers are given access to all the tools of journalism including, yes, the journalists themselves.” It quotes Gannett's Jennifer Carroll, VP of new-media content, saying: “This is a new approach to watchdog journalism. Crowdsourcing is engaging the wisdom and expertise in our communities early on in the reporting process.”

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