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Assignment Zero August 17, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Assignment Zero.

I had never heard of Assignment Zero until it was mentioned in class on Monday.

So I shouldn’t have had any expectations. Still, I was surprised to see what I found.

Assignment Zero describes itself as the following:

Inspired by the open-source movement, this is an attempt to bring journalists together with people in the public who can help cover a story. It’s a collaboration among NewAssignment.Net, Wired, and those who choose to participate.

The investigation takes place in the open, not behind newsroom walls. Participation is voluntary; contributors are welcome from across the Web. The people getting, telling and vetting the story are a mix of professional journalists and members of the public — also known as citizen journalists. This is a model I describe as “pro-am.”

The “ams” are simply people getting together on their own time to contribute to a project in journalism that for their own reasons they support. The “pros” are journalists guiding and editing the story, setting standards, overseeing fact-checking, and publishing a final version.

In this project, we’re trying to crowdsource a single story, and debut a site that makes other such reports possible down the road. But we don’t know yet how well our site and our methods work. Our ideas are crude because they are untested. By participating, you can help us figure this puzzle out.

Interesting concept. If citizen journalism truly is alive in an age of digital media, then there should be a forum where citizen journalists can organize and collectively create news.

However, when looking through the tracker (where you go to look through recently filed reports), it seemed that much of Assignment Zero was focused on — surprise — citizen journalism. In a word, meta-journalism.

Two of the articles I looked at were “The Audience has the Power” (from the assignment “contextualize Bankler’s work”) and “A Contributor’s Perspective on Crowdsourced Journalism.” Both articles look that the study of community journalism. The first comes in terms of a summary of The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen, while the second takes an empirical look at community journalism, citing political journalism crowdsourcing on the Daily Kos and TPM Muckraker; group endeavors with individual appeal, such as Assignment Zero; and geographically distributed local watchdogs.

All of this is interesting. However, I don’t think it lives up to the full promise and potential of the site. It may be that the premise is flawed. Maybe journalism works best when there is a single content creator synthesizing facts from multiple sources.

I’m not sure. We’ll have to see how this experiment plays out.