If NewAssignment.net succeeds, the journalism community will learn a valuable and positive lesson on how to harness the public in gathering, creating, and disseminating the news: money continues to determine what gets covered.
Jay Rosen, a NYU professor and all-around citizen journalism enthusiast, and Craig Newmark, irascible founder of Craigslist.org and scourge of many press barons who believed his classified listings destroyed their revenues, have teamed up to deliver an "open-source" journalism platform called NewAssignment.net.
If I am understanding it correctly, users will submit story ideas they wish to be pursued (along with patrons who might donate funds to help cover costs of pursuing such a story) and a professional (and paid) journalist and editor would work with the community to write the story in a transparent way, disclosing information as they come across it. Presumably those "professionals" who provide good work will be asked to contribute again.
In theory, it's a fascinating approach to the concept of journalism. Unbound by deadlines or demands, reporters can turn in investigative pieces that many fear would be banished from mainstream reporting, due to budget cuts.
The concerns streaming in against NewAssignment.net revolve around the potential for advocacy journalism (which, of course, doesn't exist in traditional outlets). Rosen has deflected such qualms by writing, on his blog PressThink, that he's not even sure the donors (beyond, say, Newmark) exist, and that the editors will be in place to ensure it doesn't turn into an echo chamber of partisan pieces.
In any event, one hopes that the publishers and editors who truly think of journalism as an unyielding discipline that remains transfixed while the world changes repeatedly have accepted their bonuses and gone the retirement route. If journalism - the traditional kind based on an impartial view - is to remain influential, it needs to consider, perhaps embrace, ideas espoused by those who see today's journalism structure as a wilting plant, rather than a dinosaur.
While the NewAssingment.net concept has its share of detractors, the general sense approval about the project is in stark contrast to comments about other recent publishing projects.
Mark Cuban's for-profit enterprise ShareSleuth.com finally launched with an interminably long piece on Xethanol Corp and how its corporate direction is shaky. But prior to publication, Cuban shorted the stock. Cuban has been transparent in the fact that he will trade on information gleaned from the Web site.
The stock dropped 14% after the report, and Xethanol issued a statement condemning the publication, saying "the misinformation and disinformation contained in the ShareSleuth.com posting were so egregious that we felt we had no alternative but to respond."
What both sites may prove, perhaps paradoxically, is that journalism will still be financed by the wealthy. When it comes down to it, the generic lineup on Arthur Sulzberger, Mark Cuban, and Craig Newmark is quite similar. They're both rich men who now (or will) endow media sites.
The fact is that even Rosen isn't sure what NewAssignment.net will become. But what he seems to know - and I concur - is that all of these hybrid journalism entities out there are like the rocks thrown at a tree to dislodge the football. If not NewAssignment.net, something will dislodge that idea of how consumers, clearly engaged, can help influence how we see - and write - about ourselves.