Sunday, December 10, 2006

Jay's New Assignment idea (what got me into this...)


I love the general idea and I think Craig did a very good thing by providing funds to help kick start your project. But I just think it is unwise to create the expectation that all expenses will be covered at all times. Or that anybody would necessarily be paid for all of their efforts. It completely changes what the project ends-up being about.

To me, it only makes sense to secure “angel funds” at the point where they are truly needed. Covering any and all expenses related to a particular project changes the dynamics and the reason people would get involved.

You want people to get involved primarily because they are excited about being part of this project. If that's the case they would have no problem contributing the work and related minor expenses that they are able to contribute on a "pro bono" basis.

I suspect plenty of people (professionals or just good amateurs) would not mind doing at least *some* of the work for free... and that is the part that would really build a sense of community – of being in this together. At a minimum, things like initial leg work before a story is even taken into consideration (just plain looking into things: making a couple of phone calls, doing some initial interviews if they are easy and cheap to come by etc.)

Of course, to reach it's potential, the project definitely needs someone like Craig (and hopefully others) to step in and basically help out at the point where pursuing a worthy story becomes prohibitively expensive (in terms of time, money etc.) . But *only* at that point...
Anyways, good luck with everything!

that was just my first post -- there are plenty of them following under the same Press Think blog entry, just scroll down if you'd like to see them)


Well… why pay a reporter by default… – I’d first see if I could get someone who would be able and willing to do the job for free (and I suspect that in many cases that would not be hard to do…).

As to your “part one,” here are some things that seem to be leaning in the wrong direction (at least for me):

“Finally, professional journalists with the required skills and a commitment to truth. They would be there looking for contract work.”

Well, not primarily and not necessarily… if your model would only financially compensate at the point where (quality) free work could not be had -- interested parties (professional or not) would be there to do whatever is in their power to do (mostly to help) bring to light worthy stories that for whatever reason mainstream media does not cover.

Yes, *sometimes* people would be paid but only when that would be necessary… (e.g. no point in paying a reporter, if an adequate and willing one could be had for free). I think saying “[professional journalists] would be there looking for contract work” creates the expectation of compensation where there did not need to be one. And that’s not just bad from the financial point of view – it’s bad for the community you expect to create.

Just the way I see it, of course…

OK! I’d first worry about building the community – maybe start a database of people willing to help (who are they? when would they be available to help and with what? What would be their upper limit? e.g. professional journalist so on so would be willing and able to help with general investigative research, 2 hours a week)


"Expecting users to pay for media has a history of about 10 years. It's a dismal story, too. What evidence do you have that people will actually pony up for stories??"

Well? how many stories are we talking about? What kind of stories? How often? Now if you *needed* to be rapidly churning "expensive stories" left and right? Yeah -- You'd probably need a constant stream of funding coming in but I don't see that as being necessary -- doing what you can, with an emphasis on volunteering and good enough quality and building up from there seems like the healthiest start to me.

I don't think you need to worry about volume or excessive sophistication before getting the interested volunteer people together and seeing what can be done. I'd give it plenty of time to reach its potential and keep learning from experience and keep improving?


In order to get excited about your project, people familiar with previous (somewhat) similar projects that have failed expect you to show them how your project would prevent the same mistakes from happening (because if it would not, it would presumably end-up in failure as the other ones did…).


Re: “When someone tells me that this or that portion of what I am suggesting is "nothing new" (which happens repeatedly in the course of a year) what are they trying to say? To me it's baffling.”


Well, not that strange if you ask *me* … definitely not uncommon or all that hard to understand…

I mean… as of now, nobody’s really figured-out how to make this thing work -- not really… Yeah, Dan’s lessons are great but he does not have (neither does he claim to have) the recipe for success.

So something “new” (in one way or another) needs to come about in order to make such projects work. Granted “nothing new here” can come across as harshly dismissing and it may have been meant that way (I don’t know…). And sustained unsympathetic criticism does end-up being emotionally draining.

However, the criticism behind that statement (whether it was meant well or not) seems to be of value: you *need* to come-up with something new (as opposed to the things that have already been tried and proven unsuccessful).

But I think that whatever that “new thing” will end-up being, it is much more likely to come through the process of starting and learning from experience than from dreaming-up some magical formula ahead of time. So…yeah… in that sense “nothing new here” is no big deal at the *beginning* of the enterprise…


P.S. OK… I better go to bed, now… Let me know if you are still interested in translations of French blog entries that talk about your project (it’s always good to get different cultural perspectives).


"Open sourcing the assignment stage so as to involve people in a way that should increase the chances that some of them will be persuaded to contribute and make true pro-am collaboration possible in the production of high quality enterprise reporting, the results of which can serve as an argument for support to big contributors and be syndicated to Big Media sites, further defraying the costs... this has been tried before and it failed? I did not know that."

That particular *combination* of things sounds novel to me... I think Cal is just having a field trip with the bits and pieces of it.. (which *individualy* might not have worked so well previously).


I think some of the points your are bringing-up are definitely worth thinking about but the *way* you do it can come across as harsh and dismissing of the *core ideas* of this project (which I think is pretty solid).

I hope I wouldn't be annoyed with you if this was my project and you'd be giving me this kind of feedback, but we are all human afterall...

Jay again,

OK! I'll see what I can do... (re: translation French blog entries about your project). Do you want them posted here or...?



re: Shades of Snow Crash

Not at this point, I just started to read that book... but I think Craig would be a good person to ask (he's familiar with both the book and your project).



Here is my English version of the “Nanoblog” entry ( -- the initial French blog you mentioned earlier on. I tried to simplify things (especially syntax) without altering the message – it just tends to come across better for English speakers (French seems to take the “scenic route,” while English usually takes the highway – just my personal take on it). I’m sure it’s not perfect but it should give a good idea. is a new project by Jay Rosen, expert in journalism and blogs. He describes it in detail on his blog.

The project builds on the idea of “OpenSource journalism,” meaning media financed by users. But it’s not only about asking for donations, it’s also about having the public participate in the production of information, which remains largely produced by professional journalists.
Even if there have been some precedents, the concept is pretty novel. I think it’s a real alternative for the future of media and for citizen journalism.

Citizen journalism is interesting, but models of production/consumption/financing of information are even more so. Certain entries in my blog are picked-up by Agoravox, one of the major French-language “citizen media” sites. That gives them visibility but that doesn’t change things for me or the information conveyed. Agoravox works well as an article aggregator, mostly for blogs. But how could I do more with my product? Why would I go to the trouble of putting together a long article or producing a reportage at the end of the world to just have it published on Agoravox? Maybe some would do it just for their ego or simply for the pleasure of being read. But when you are a professional journalist there is nothing in it for you and few independent journalists could afford such a luxury.

Jay Rosen proposes a very different model: citizen journalists can submit story ideas and collectively develop them by providing information, donating their time or co financing the production. The professional journalist does his job, pretty much as usual, just that instead of being paid by traditional media, he/she is paid by the people who would like to see such projects done. The “best journalists” are identified through a reputation system.

Although it’s still in the preparation stage, NewAssignment.Net seems exciting to me. At a time when parts of the media are in a crisis and journalists’ salaries seem to be free falling, NewAssignment.Net offers an attractive alternative. Also, like some other projects on the web, NewAssignment.Net would enable internet users to be actors as well as spectators. Finally, it offers an alternative to simple citizen media. Speaking of which, it seems to me that many haven’t understood that the real point of citizen journalism isn’t as much to develop new ways of producing information but to come-up with economic models capable of giving life to new forms of media. Finally and above all, Rosen’s project makes perfect sense: why should media intermediate between the public and the information producers?


P.S. Jay, if you ask me… this is a standing ovation! Let me know if you want me to translate the trackbacks too or maybe something else?

P.P.S. If you plan on discussing French blog entries in here it might be nice to invite those people to come over… I mean… it’s been a while since they posted the stuff and they may have changed their minds or something… (kidding:)… No… but, I think they might like to be present and would probably have interesting things to add.

The money-producing aspect and what some people might be wondering


I’d make it very clear to people that the ONLY point of accepting/charging money *ever* would be to do more and continue to increase quality in the future – if that’s the case... I think at least some people might be wondering what are your long term plans in this respect.

The thing is that there are some wonderful projects out there (that have made very good use of volunteers) that seemingly against all odds turned-out to be very profitable. The persons who started such projects probably never contemplated such developments (so they seem to be innocent) but the fact is that there are volunteers out there that regret having spent a big chuck of their time and energy unwittingly building someone else’s empire… And I can’t blame them…

Of course, nobody would expect you to cover administrative expenses yourself and the non-profit set-up allows for normal salaries etc. for those employed (including you) but what happens if this project ends up making a lot of money in the distant or not so distant future? Would you ever make it a for profit? Would you ever personally profit from it in other ways (I mean *financially* profit)?

I think nowadays people who would consider spending a lot of time and resources on this kind of project would want to know that ahead of time. And I’m not saying that you would not still be able to find *some* volunteers even if … let’s say… in case it ends-up being a big financial success you wouldn’t mind financially benefiting from it...

It’s just that the pool of people willing to just pitch in and help would probably be much smaller and you’d probably end-up having to pay for a lot more things but that would just be fair… And I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as you are upfront about it.

After all you came-up with an original model and if you wanted to (and you haven’t considered it so far), you might be able to get a patent for it – something like a business model patent maybe. And you probably plan to spend a fair amount of your time on this project for a good long while… so… it would be perfectly understandable if you didn’t necessarily want to keep it non-profit come what may…


P.S. I do want to do those translations for you, Jay. I just might need a couple of days. I thought this topic was more urgent since you seem to be putting down important things about your project. (


Well… if you let the model go straight into the public domain (so anybody can use it) I think it’s quite likely that *somebody*’ s going to end-up making quite a bit of money at some point… (by taking what you’ve done – the model *plus* all the hard work done within the project -- and figuring-out how to apply it commercially…) Assuming you can make it work, of course… (and I think you *can*… if you just stick with it… -- I don’t think Craig was wrong when he picked your project :). If I were in your shoes, I’d see if I could get a patent and use licensing fees as a source of funding (at the point where others would want to use the model). That would not only provide some built-in funding but would also allow you to control who gets to use it and how… If you don’t like the ethics of a company (they can’t be trusted), they don’t get a license… To get a license, you could require that companies build-in a gift for the local communities (say, free coverage of major political events). And you could give away licenses to non-profits if you wanted… I just think that this alternative would give you a lot more to work with than the CC type of thing… (I could be wrong, of course…).

Hiring more journalists:

Again, I’d only hire people when the volunteer community (someone or other or a whole bunch of people) couldn’t get the job done and even then I’d do it with an eye on strengthening the community: say you need a reporter (the volunteer reporters you have don’t have some critical skill needed to cover this particular story…OK, then! You need to go out and find someone who can do the job *and*… also train the interested volunteer reporters -- at a minimum, through job ghosting).It might be tempting to just get some money, go out and hire the best journalists you can get, let them do their job “unencumbered” and have very high quality work from the start. I don’t think that would be particularly smart… because that doesn’t do anything for the future of the community (the skill set of those who would have liked to volunteer remains inadequate and they will have no chance to do this kind of job next time around). OK! Here’s some more of that translation (I picked the shortest of the two articles for now; I’ll try to post the other one tomorrow night): -- an experiment in new journalism

Jay Rosen, Journalism Professor at New York University, expert in citizen journalism just started (see on his blog, Press Think, in English), a totally innovative journalism project.

Jeff Mignon explains on his Media Café blog:

“It’s a simple idea: doing high quality ‘open-source’ journalism. How would it work?
Anybody will be able to request a reportage, an investigation… on an internet site: Professional journalists, employed by the site, take on these projects. With public participation, they help better define the request.

Journalists and Citizens joining forces

In fact, citizen participation (readers, internet users, information seekers) is essential to They are the ones who define the questions they want to have answered and also the ones who finance the journalistic investigations.

Ideally, it guarantees a journalism perfectly attuned with the readership and independent of big money or advertising.

The idea of putting journalists and readers together, on equal footing, (using personal knowledge, the readers can correct an investigation while it’s going on) is very timely. It answers the question posed by Benoit-Raphael’s blog motto: “Tomorrow… will we all be journalists?” Well, of course! *Can* be done… at Except that, as opposed to Agoravox – the ambitious citizen journalism collective project started by Carlo Revelli and Joël de Rosnay -- gives the choice of subject to the citizens but delegates the editorial job to paid professionals.

Rather exciting, no?

Obviously, the project poses a number of questions: what level of funding would set the journalistic inquiry in motion? Who proposes the subject of the investigation: NewAssignment or the readers? Would the readers suggest pertinent questions? And finally, always the same question at the end: is the project economically viable?

To finish with something I completely agree with, here is a part of Damien ‘s commentary on the Media Café blog: “[…] I think it’s even cooler to imaging the editing handed over to the clients (which for the first time would not be the advertisers) where the topic of discussion would be what interviews to go get, everyone bringing to the table their knowledge and motivation. What a vote of confidence for the journalists and, above all, what confidence builder to know that you got the community backing you up when you use your press pass to go ask the bothering questions: ‘Prime Minister, I got 350 people paying me to ask you this question…’ Rather exciting, no?”


Nighty night, all…


Maybe not exactly the way you have it right now (chance are you are going to find out that some parts just wouldn’t work the way you thought) but I think you probably already have the key elements.

If you did want to go after a patent at some point, I’d make sure the claims would be as broad as possible (to cover all possible ways of using it commercially, even if you never contemplate doing that). But that’s just what *I*’d do…


P.S. I got about half of the long article done (I figured I’d wait until I can post the whole thing – hopefully tonight). (


I looked over my previous article translation…hmmm... definitely not perfect! Missing “s”- es, “which” instead of “who,” infinitive-gerund “mash-up”… oh, well… I hope everybody understood… (if not, just ask – I could redo the parts that seemed to make no sense, if any…)

“Public Journalism” Renaissance by means of the internet?The is a follow-up to Cyril Fievet’s blog entry on NewAssignment.Net, an experiment in citizen journalism. It’s a reaction to the idea of novelty:” Even if there have been some precedents, the concept is pretty novel and I think it’s a real alternative for the future of media and citizen journalism.” Jay Rosen, the initiator of this project, is a promoter of “Public Journalism,” a movement that would like to reform journalism. The internet, the most revolutionary ways of producing of information seems to be the means to reactivate this initial project.

At the end of the 1990s, the moral crisis with economic repercussions sweeping US media has engendered a renewed attempt to local journalism involving “the public” (those traditionally regarded as the listeners) in the process of information production. The dream of “Public Journalism” is to contribute to social debate by redefining the legitimate speakers and also to question the higher status of experts and elected officials when it comes to selecting the topics of debate.

Rosen defines Public Journalism as a set of principles, a professional reality and a movement.
Here are the key four principles:-- a priori, the readers of printed media are active citizens-- the press can help the citizenry address public problems-- the media should do more to improve the quality and utility of public debate-- the press plays a crucial role in public life,

According to Rosen, the “function” of media is to contribute to a better “rendition” of democracy and to profoundly revise fundamental journalistic practice. Politically, this movement is a kind of a continuation of the American “progressivism” from the end of the 19th century, resisting partisan politics take over. It expresses the exasperation of journalists over the political figures’ ability to control media, the decrease in public debate who resembles a “board game” between candidates. It also reacts to the public’s malcontent with the written press by providing an alternative to the competition among audiovisual channels. “Public Journalism” aims to give rise to an “opinion agenda” regarding issue hierarchy and choice of solutions to be interpreted by the citizens. It’s rooted in a procedural vision of democracy where the confrontation of opinions gives rise to deliberation and choice, the journalist becoming the facilitator not caught-up in the exchanges.

Thierry Watine (Le modèle du « journalisme public ») analyses public journalism in issue no 35 of Hermes (“The Journalists, do they still have power?”). Here is a summary of his article: “In spite of reservations of a part of the profession since the apparition in the united States at the end of the 1990s, public journalism experiences today a spectacular blossoming. A large study done in July 2001 involving about 360 American newspapers shows that two in three editors have knowledge of the principles of the new paradigm and almost half of them regularly apply the main techniques (serious talks, focus groups, citizen forums, polls, new feedback procedures etc).

According to Jay Rosen, founder of this “rethinking approach” to the profession, public journalists must contribute more to the quality of democratic life, notably by renewing the confidence bond and thus having real dialogue with the citizens. Aside from the relevance of specific facts to current events, these citizens are expecting concrete solutions to big societal dysfunctions and to certain personal problems concerning their daily lives. In the absence of such solutions, most of these citizens continue to turn away from traditional media.”

However, let’s not forget that although it consecrates media’s position as central to democratic play, “Public Journalism” is a movement largely motivated by economic issues. The issue Cyril Fievet points-out is and has always been fundamental: ‘coming-up with new economic models, capable of giving life to [forms of] media.” The other side of this issue has to do with the possible use of the public (through opinion polls, for example – assuming that public opinion exists and is not just an artifact) and serves journalistic ends more than those of citizens. Is underestimating the reality of the social divide and doing journalism born of political demands of citizens not the danger of this type of journalism? As a consequence, this movement, instead of clarifying the social debate, doesn’t it open the door to creating a confusion between journalism and the representative function [of government]? It seems to me that lack of political autonomy (that becomes all relative) during the process of public action is a necessary evil when compared with the illusion of transparency that the proposed change can entail.

You are very welcome, Jay! glad I could help... I'll try to keep an eye on your blog, it's just that I'll probably be in Europe in September and will have little time (if at all) to spend online. But I will be checking email once in a while. Of course, you'd be welcome to email if you'd like (you do have the email address I enter when I post comments in here, right?).

Just to make sure I told you everything I had to say (at least for the moment): I'd move away from "labeling" people (re: professionals v. amateurs). Who cares what they are? as long as they want to help and bring skills and dedication to the project, the more (and the more varied) the merrier!

I think that if you focus on building a volunteer community of people who are united to bring to life worthy stories that the mainstream media doesn’t cover you will be very likely to succeed (as long as you earn their trust, of course). You want to be the Craigslist that never went commercial or the Wikipedia that never spawned Wikia. Don’t get me wrong, I think both Craig and Jimmy are ok (I don’t think they “planned it all” or anything…)

Also, since it’s a community service sort of thing -- if at all possible, I would avoid having anybody pay to access the information (it would sort of defeat the purpose: you want to bring to light valuable information, so it should be out there for anybody to see…).

At this point, this is probably the last thing in your mind but I think it’s important that you keep the communities small and localized (so they can actually meet each other and do other things than just work – hang-out, go celebrate when a project comes through etc.). A host of problems would be avoided if you could do that…

OK! I’m glad I… bumped into you blog:) Take care! D.

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