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Giving structure to citizen journalism

Jay Rosen has just announced that Reuters is giving $100,000 to NewAssignment.Net, which provides a more structured model for open source journalism, bringing together amateur and professional media creators. The money will be applied to hiring a full-time editor for the site. Jay gives some background to why Reuters is choosing to support this project:

Part of the background to the gift is a speech given March 2nd 2006 by Reuters CEO Tom Glocer to the Online Publishing Association. It was called “The Two-Way Pipe.” Glocer said the news industry “faces a profound challenge from home-created content-– everything from blogging and citizen journalism to video mash-ups.”

In 2005 he and his colleagues were worried about a shift in power they saw coming, but “it was about the consumer as editor,” Glocer said. “You get the news you want when you want it, either pulled by something like an RSS feed or a Tivo box or pushed by the media company.” This was a legitimate demand. And while companies like his are still catching up with that demand “our audiences have already moved on-– now they are consuming, creating, sharing and publishing.” Consumers as producers! That’s a power shift more confounding than the explosion of choice.

His puzzle: “If users want to be both author and editor, and technology is enabling this, what will be the role of the media company in the second decade of this century?” As Scott Karp pointed out (his blog is about the next era in publishing) Glocer’s answers to that question weren’t very revolutionary.

But some of his observations were keen. “On the day the Tsunami struck, Reuters had 2,300 journalists positioned around the world, mercifully none were on those beaches,” he said. “On that fateful day we also had 1,000 stringers around the globe – but none of them were there either.” The only way to get the story was from amateurs to whom the tools of media production had been re-distributed. His conclusion: “You have to be open to both amateur and professional to tell the story completely.”

NewAssignment.Net is explicitly joining traditional and social media in creating a “pro-am”, or professional-amateur model. For example, amateurs can collectively be given fact-checking tasks, or issues identified by amateurs can be passed on to professional journalists. For a long time I’ve believed that what is happening and will happen is a merging and integration of traditional mass media and emergent social media. In our Future of Media Report, we explicitly discussed how the “professionalism” of traditional media both provides standards and expectations, and is also a limiting box. NewAssignment.Net looks like a particularly promising model, though the details are not yet clear. However irrespective of how successful it is, the space in which it is playing, of bringing together the resources and capabilities of amateurs and professionals, is where much of the action will be moving forward in the world of media.

[UPDATE:] Chris Ahearn, head of media at Reuters, has posted his comments on the deal. An extract:

Professionals and amateurs will cooperate to produce work that neither could manage alone, using “open source” methods to develop assignments and help bring them to completion. The idea is that people will contribute to stories that they believe will make a difference.

While the Internet is rapidly transforming the world of traditional media, it also presents amazing new possibilities in terms of strengthening the investigative arm of journalism. The Internet is the perfect vehicle for galvanizing the public to become more involved in reporting.

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Ross Dawson is globally recognized as a leading futurist, entrepreneur, keynote speaker, strategy advisor, and bestselling author. He is Founding Chairman of AHT Group, which consists of 3 companies: consulting, publishing, and ventures firm Advanced Human Technologies, future and strategy firm Future Exploration Network, and events company The Insight Exchange.

Ross is author most recently of Getting Results From Crowds, the prescient Living Networks, which anticipated the social network revolution, the Amazon.com bestseller Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships, and Implementing Enterprise 2.0. (click on the links for free chapter downloads). He is based in Sydney and San Francisco with his wife jewellery designer Victoria Buckley and two beautiful young daughters.

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