Rosen’s Launches First Citizen Journalism Project

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By: E&P Staff

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s pilot project, in conjunction with Wired News, has launched a new Web site, AssignmentZero, that takes an open platform approach to distributed reporting, the goal of which is “to develop a working model of an open newsroom,” according to a release.

Rosen, who founded in July, 2006, is serving as executive editor for the site. The project is based on the idea that future journalism will be best as a hybrid of professional and amateur contributions, calling the idea “editorial discipline within a climate of radical openness.” He has said that he wants to try to use the information-gathering capabilities of “smart mobs” in an organized way for specific projects.

The first story that the site will invite collaboration on is about the spread of “crowdsourcing” — in effect reporting on the very phenomenon the site is all about.

“An outstanding fact of the Net era is that costs for people to find each other, share information, and work together are falling rapidly. This should have consequences for reporting big stories,” said Rosen in a statement. ?Assignment Zero is pro am journalism because it’s reported by the many and edited by a few, who have to be constantly open to new contributions.”

There is a Newsroom section on the new site, which contains an Assignment Desk where contributors can find out about the story that is being covered, find out what angles have already been explored, and pick up a reporting or writing assignment. Another section, the Exchange, lets people correspond with one another, exchanging ideas and figuring out new ways into the story. In a section called The Scoop, editor, Lauren Sandler gives commentary on the latest developments on the stry being followed.

Assignment Zero, which is only the first of’s planned experiements in collaborative journalism, is also in collaboration with Newsvine, a platform developed for citizen journalists to share research and collaborate. While future have planned payment for journalists who participate, Assignment Zero is voluntary, welcoming contributions from anyone and everyone.

In a welcome note on the site, Rosen notes that the project depends on the idea that hundreds of people can be persuaded to do good work (what Rosen has called “acts of journalism”) for free.

“One day stories with a thousand people on the masthead might become routine, and we’ll know how to do them,” says Rosen in the note. “For now we just need hundreds, acting in the spirit of the enterprise, to help us take apart and put together a single, sprawling story. … Assignment Zero is a starting point, a base line. Who knows where we will end up. But if reporting in the open style ever comes into its own–at our site or someone else’s–that might very well change journalism and expand what’s humanly possible with the instrument of a free press.”

One question Rosen says he gets asked a lot is what would keep the site from becoming “a platform for blowhards,” or overrun with “bad information.” Rosen tells Washington Post blogger Joel Achenbach that there will be a “Department of Verification” and that most blowhards will likely be bored because “There’s not enough vitriol.”

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