Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Wisdom of Crowds: What Can Be Learned?

Continuing from the last post . . .’s Goals is a joint project with They share the costs of hiring a professional editor and skeleton staff to manage the site.

Newsassignment was designed as a research project to ask the questions:

--What can be the consequences of investigative reporting – the core of journalism – when with falling costs for people to find each other, share information, and create value? What are the effects on what’s published?

--Can a publication take one trend story, break it up into parts, develop the parts online, distribute them to citizen journalists within the community, and publish the best of what results? What is the quality of the resulting news?

--Can a story be written with the contributions of hundreds of writers rather than two or three?

Jay Rosen suspects that an open source business structure would push forward a platform of a new kind of reporting. This open source reporting would have more value than the traditional competitive model that relies on individual insights.

Rosen decided to establish this project because the cost of learning is so low that it made no sense NOT to try it.

Journalism 1.0

Rosen calls blogging journalism 1.0. “Dan Gilmore did a great job to get individuals to do their own thing,” Rosen says, “Who DOESN’T have a blog, and how long did that take?”

However, Rosen says, what blogging doesn’t promote is the process of working together on one story. In fact, blogging is almost antithetical to such a practice. “You get a reputation for your individuality, your unique perspective, your attitude – and you can link to others who agree with you. But it’s rare to collaborate.”

Journalism 2.0

Rosen calls what’s happening now Citizen Journalism 2.0 because he feels that crowd-sourced information creates not only a better product than that of mainstream media but it also goes after articles that papers like the Washington Post would never attempt.

2.0 require fact checking, and so it’s not necessarily a cheaper journalism, says Rosen. “But it’s a better journalism that comes up with bigger stories and bigger truths.” The example Rosen gives is the Sunlight Foundation’s request to find out which members of congress employed his or her own family members. The question was posted on a Friday morning, and the results were published in edited form on Monday morning.

Rosen warns that it was not entirely citizen journalism because the foundation did thorough fact checking during the process and after. However, there were very few errors. Rosen feels that this vindicates the speed, breadth, and reliability of crowd-sourced work.

The Implications?

Regardless of the web’s impact on the last election and of Rosen’s convictions, the real implications of newsassignment’s process will not be clear until the public assesses the quality of the results. Perhaps crowd-sourcing is useful in some cases but not in others, perhaps mainstream media could take advantage of specialized firms to expand their reach, or the perhaps whole project might be too unwieldy to handle.

More on the results of this experiment after the presidential elections.

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