Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing

Assignment Zero – Crowdsourcing journalism

In recent months, technology magazine Wired in collaboration with NewAssignment.Net has embarked on unique project – to launch a reporting project that would focus on a particular trend or area of interest, and then open up its reporting process to outsiders, who would work with the Wired editorial staff to carry out interviews with key individuals in the area of interest being analysed. The project is called Assignment Zero, with the tagline ‘Pro-Am Journalism Opens on the Web’.

Appropriately enough, the first subject matter for the Assignment Zero participants was crowdsourcing itself. More than eighty interviews were carried out by the participants, and have since been published at A selection of the interviews, considered to be the most significant or well written, have also been published in Wired magazine.

Jay Rosen, Executive Editor of Assignment Zero, explained the philosophy behind Assignment Zero: “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.

” 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.”

Also on the professional team for Assignment Zero is Jeff Howe of Wired magazine, who wrote the original article on the topic which kick-started interest in the crowdsourcing concept. In a recent post on his own blog, he analysed the initial Assignment Zero project and described it as “snatching a qualified victory from the jaws of defeat”. He notes that a crowdsourcing project must have a central link (i.e. a person) who will control the flow of the project.

“Crowdsourcing projects are generally characterized as being the product of a few super-contributors and a mass of people who contribute some minor bits. I’ve heard this called the “dirty little secret of open source,” the fact that most of the heavy lifting is done, not by the crowd per se, but by a few select individuals from within the crowd. I’d like to posit another rule: Any crowdsourcing project must install one go-to guy (or girl) who will thanklessly toil day and night to keep the project on the rails.”

He also emphasises the importance of maintaining the community itself during the process:

“The plain fact is that in the future, journalists will have to develop these skills if they want to succeed in a future in which their readers are also their writers. The crowd does not contribute in a vacuum. They do so as part of a community of other contributors. I see this again and again in researching my book and, no surprise, it was true with Assignment Zero as well.”

The Assignment Zero project has produced a wealth of high quality interviews with key individuals who are influencing the direction of crowdsourcing in different ways. No doubt, other media organisations will have been following the Assignment Zero project to discover whether they can apply crowdsourcing methods to their own titles, or perhaps wondering at the back of their minds whether crowdsourced journalism might someday sweep them away entirely.

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