An experiment in open-source reporting

Archive for September, 2006

Big News for New Assignment: Reuters Gives $100K

Posted by Jay Rosen on September 20, 2006

I announced today at PressThink and the Guardian’s blog, Comment is Free, that Reuters is giving $100,000 to NewAssignment.Net. The money will underwrite the costs of hiring our first editor, who will start in early 2007. There’s reaction already from USA Today’s tech blogger, Angela Gunn.

It’s heartening to see one of the old-line news organizations put up some funding for this thing. Believe me, all but the most head-in-sand among us journalist types know our industry’s got to change. A lot of us are looking forward to it — it’s an exciting time to be telling the news and the possibilities are invigorating, if you’re not scared to death (and sometimes even if you are). But journalism, like too many other industries, is in many respects too hidebound to generate revolutionary change from within…

Which has something to do with this grant, I’m sure.

From Editor & Publisher’s coverage:

Reuters says it will have no editorial control over the site’s projects, and it will not hold right of first refusal for any of the stories that the site is covering.

We felt it was best to keep it clean.

Jason Boog at The Publishing Spot: “In the surprise marriage of the year, a big time newswire just hooked up with a band of citizen journalism upstarts….”

Here’s’s coverage.


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Developments with New Assignment, Aug. 20-Sep. 9

Posted by Jay Rosen on September 9, 2006

* Hey… new funder!

On September 7th, PressThink announced that NewAssignment.Net has received $10,000 in underwriting support from the Sunlight Foundation, matching the gift from Craig Newmark that got us started. Ellen Miller, the Executive Director of the Foundation, said at her blog on the Sunlight site: “I feel like Jay’s project is on the cusp of making some very big waves.”

We appreciate her support. We’re going to try small waves first. Like Newmark, Sunlight is underwriting the test project we plan to undertake in 2006. Meanwhile, we’ll be raising other money and building the site in stages, hoping for an early 2007 launch. I have been consulting with my advisers about how to go about the test project for which we now have $20,000. There’s nothing to announce yet, but I hope to have news on that soon.

* On the air: “Show us the Money”

Bob Garfield of NPR’s On the Media interviewed me about NewAssignment.Net. You can listen here. I think it turned out pretty well.

* Suggestion capture

Mark Glaser, who writes the Media Shift blog for, asked his readers what they would like to see investigated by projects like NewAssignment.Net:

Whether it’s the Iraq War, the events of 9/11 or the Department of Homeland Security, government conduct (or misconduct) is what you’d like to see investigated most. I asked a very open-ended question to you last week, “What investigative report would you like to see done?” Your answers included many bread-and-butter issues such as health care, education and real estate. But the overriding issue was government conduct…

One of the suggestions Glaser got was from Russ Walker, an editor at Walker wrote:

There was much consternation about electronic voting in some quarters after the 2004 election. Were the results manipulated? Do the machines record votes properly? Can someone hack into the machines and change results later? What voting machinery you use depends on where you live, by and large. Local governments generally have the final say on what type of machine you will use. After the 2000 election mess, Congress approved billions to help states and local governments acquire updated machines. So here’s the project: Let’s build a database to identify what voting machines are in use in every precinct in the nation. That will be our baseline data set, from which we can attempt specific reporting projects after the 2006 midterm elections.

Glaser adds: “Perhaps could help in such an effort?”

* Your Local Temple of Democracy: A Polling Places Project (Sketch)

I told Mark Glaser that “I could imagine a polling place project that tries to gather good information about every place Americans vote — who runs it, how it is equipped, who works there, how the votes are collected.” And I could certainly imagine partners.

Here’s a quick sketch of a possible “new” assignment. We’re not ready to do this for 2006, but it’s worth describing anyway.

The polling places project: Information about every place in the U.S. where Americans vote for Congress.

Meaning lots of information, collected by our increasingly able network, which contributes to an increasingly robust data base. Starts with the actual places where we vote, the street address, and builds outward to take in more and more from actual politics.

Who actually runs these places where our sovereignty is transacted? How are they staffed? What do they look like? (Photos from users.) What’s the scene likely to be when I go there to vote? What is the ballot going to look like when I go to vote?

What equipment will be used that day, how was it bought, how is it secured and controlled, who gets it there? What happens to our votes on election night, and what is the route they have to take to get counted? Precinct by precinct, the project can tell you, with increasing accuracy and plenitude.

Possible add-ons:

Securing the vote. Networked journalism about the state of the art in ballot protection, worldwide, compared to practices in the US, vs. protections in use at your polling place.

Capture the air war. Help us capture the ads that “land” on the heads of the people who vote in YOUR precinct so we have them online and anyone can examine them. You paid for these ads if you’re a contributor. Or someone else paid to reach you. Here you can examine the bombardment your district has experienced from the air in the race for Congress. (Political data from the receivers point of view. The ads that have landed on your head, where you live. Big networked journalism project just to get the stuff and have it available online.)

Dirty tricks in my district. Election news, “black arts” division. Networks of voters and users try to report on elusive scams we know happen in every election like “push polls,” phone jams, and other shadow tactics that (some) campaigns will have conducted for them at one or two removes. Of course the same networks would be in a position to find out about new or previously unreported tactics in the black arts division of the campaign.

The Boss files The way we figure it, if you’re in charge of my polling place I need to know a thing or two about you. Who controls these places on election day? NewAssignment.Net wants to talk to the people who operate the ballot boxes– not the machine, but the person. You can help. See what basic facts NewAssignment.Net has on the officials in charge in your precinct. If nothing, what are you waiting for? Volunteer to find out. We’ll show you how. Or… Go see the person-in-charge yourself. Do an interview and write about it as a concerned voter.

Day of the vote: Help us report to your friends and neighbors about what happens at the polling place. We’ll keep track of any irregularities and help you check them out yourself. It’s networked journalism done in real time on election day, users-know-more-than-we-do reporting gone live.

And like that….

* Reserve army

From the comments at the previous post comes this from Allan Macleese:

The key thing to me, a retired newspaperperson, is that there are, I would guess, hundreds of us our there that would dearly love to be turned loose on a good honest project. We were what could be called pros, and we are sitting here, idle, dinking about with this and that, and want to return to the action. So we used to be in the MSM, but don’t discount us, we will work for nothing, as many of us agreed, in esence,to do when we went to work on newspapers in the first instance.

He’s right. We definitely have to figure out how retired journalists like Macleese can be returned to action by NewAssignment.Net. In fact, there’s gotta be at least one retired journalist in every election district, right?

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