Jay Rosen and his team at NewAssignment.net, a sort of citizen-journalism or “open source reporting” lab, have unveiled their first project: Assignment Zero, a coproduction between Rosen’s group and Wired News. The focus of the work is an attempt to create a comprehensive study of the phenomenon known variously as “crowdsourcing” or distributed peer-production. This is precisely the form NewAssignment.net’s journalism takes. So, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or -empty type, there’s either a lovely form-follows-function dynamic happening, or the whole undertaking is hopelessly involuted and self-referential.
I’m betting that Jay’s idea is worth pursuing. There’s stuff to be learned here. Eventually this technique needs to be cut loose from introspection and trained on topics that are less “meta.” That, of course, is already taking place informally — most vigorously and impressively, to me, over at Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo. But I can see the value for NewAssignment to get its feet wet with one immersive overview of the field before it takes a deeper plunge.
I’ve been on the site’s advisory board from early on, and now I’ve volunteered to take on one of the literally hundreds of assignments the project has been broken down into — manageable morsels of reporting that will eventually be assembled into a tapestry of information. There’s lots of work for NewAssignment still in making its site easier to use; that will come in time. In the meantime, Rosen’s looking for more volunteers — pros and amateurs, people who want to do reporting and people who want to help organize the project.
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