Over the summer NYU's future-of-journalism guru Jay Rosen announced a new participatory news venture. NewAssignment.Net would organize a new form of what he calls "pro-am" journalism: bringing together journalists, bloggers and other members of the "amateur" public who aren't professional journalists to work on investigative reporting projects.
Today, Jay announced on his blog PressThink and on the Guardian's Comment is Free that Reuters will be supporting NewAssigment.Net, to the tune of $100,000, so that Jay can hire a full-time editor to make the whole thing work. An excerpt of Jay's post:
NewAssignment.Net is a not a plan for a company; in fact, it’s closer to a charity, an editorial engine anchored in civil society itself, rather than the media industry or journalism profession. As today’s announcement shows, New Assignment can be on friendly terms with Big Media, which it is is not trying to destroy or supplant.
One of outstanding facts of the Net era is that the costs for like-minded people to find each other and work together are falling rapidly. Someone has to figure out what the consequences of that fact are for original reportage. This is what NewAssignment plans to experiment with if it can find a few more supporters like Reuters and a lot more participants...
Jay writes extensively on NewAssignment.Net's operating philosophy and how it is likely to work. You should read his whole post. But here is another excerpt:
NewAssignment.Net will use the Web as both a “collaboration medium,” the way Berners-Lee intended, and a publishing tool, which he also intended. The site will begin as a niche producer that tries to do one kind of work only: open source reporting projects in the pro-am style. It will follow a middle path between good old fashioned we-bring-you-the-world journalism and the new forms that have exploded on the World Wide Web: blogging, citizen journalism, and what the Neterati call social media. (Social because they connect people horizontally to one another, not vertically to The Media.)
Reuters' Chris Ahearn, who also made the decision last year to fund Global Voices Online, the project I co-founded and which has just won the Knight-Batten Innovations In Journalism Grand Prize, wrote about his support for both of our projects in today's Huffington Post. The news industry is in a crisis, he admits up front. "Without corrective action, we are in danger of the public losing faith in the fourth estate," he says. "As professionals, we need to support good journalistic ideas, encourage broader public participation in the reporting process, and explore different newsgathering business models."
I imagine a lot of Reuters journalists and bureau chiefs wish the money had gone to their operations instead, given that Reuters operations are all run on fairly tight budgets. But Chris makes a rather good case for the need to support innovation outside traditional newsroom and news bureau structures:
While encouraging good journalistic ideas is a worthy goal in itself, Reuters believes that supporting new and varied networks of creators with different perspectives is good for both journalism and business.
Ultimately, journalism is about the story and the pursuit of truth; it is not about the news industry, a j-school or a traditional newsroom structure. By building bridges and finding new ways to augment and accelerate the creation of quality journalism, we believe that ultimately the public will benefit and perhaps change their minds about the noble profession of journalism.
Jay asked me in an email what I thought about Reuters' motivations. I wrote back:
Reuters top management clearly understands that news organizations need to re-think themselves. On one hand, the principles of good journalism are timeless: good journalism should provide the information - accurate, timely, and with the necessary context and background - that we as individuals require in order to conduct our lives in our own best interest. But while the point of journalism remains the same, the accepted methods of achieving these aims are now broken or badly discredited.
The challenge is: How do you do good journalism while at the same time participating in a give-and-take, a conversation about events, which in turn helps to inform your journalistic work? Reuters realizes the answer is not as simple as getting some of their journalists to blog. In fact that may not be the answer at all. What’s more important is to help journalists figure out how to interact with the blogosphere— that big global, interactive, viral conversation about the things that matter to people. How do you interact with these conversations in a way that makes your journalism more relevant, more useful - and more true to the point of journalism in the first place?
Unfortunately, news organizations today are so stripped-down and budgets are so tight, journalists barely have time to cover their beats properly, let alone learn new things about the internet, figure out ways to innovate, or learn about RSS readers and trackback pings. There is very little R & D happening in news organizations today - and usually it’s being done by the tech people, not the reporters, photographers, writers, and editors. Ironically, information media innovation is not being driven by professional journalists who are actually paid full-time salaries to create media. The innovation is coming from citizen media creators: the people who blog, who podcast, who use YouTube, who edit Wikipedia, and who write open source code in their spare time.
...and in other related news, Mark Glaser at MediaShift has a piece about the new human rights video partnership between Global Voices and Witness.