An experiment in open-source reporting

Lessons in scale from

Posted by Jay Rosen on October 10, 2006

I have said several times that a key fact giving rise to the idea of NewAssignment.Net is the falling costs for like-minded people to locate each other, share information and work together. Personal Democracy Forum recently published an interview that was all about that. It’s with Martin Kearns, executive director of Green Media Toolshed. He’s launched a new service called MediaVolunteer, which uses volunteers to construct and maintain an up-to-date national media database that non-profit groups can use to get their stories out. More than 20,000 people have contributed to the effort, which can take fewer than 15 minutes. Some key quotes from the interview:

At the core of, we are looking at the scale of the internet as a platform for new organizing and new business models. The founders of eBay looked at the scale of the internet to reinvent the scope and reach of yard sales. Google’s founders looked out at the internet and realized that digital content needed to be organized. We are looking out to the edges of the keyboards (the people). We use the web to aggregate skills and intelligence into projects for the common good…

Virtual volunteers only spend 12 minutes on the project. They aren’t going to be asked for money or personal information.’s model doesn’t fit with the standard idea of volunteering and so I think people have almost been scared of this type of model…

In this day and age, people are constantly strapped for both time and money. They don’t have the freedom to participate in a volunteer project that requires a ten hour, weekly commitment or something close to that volume. People forget their community service efforts in an effort to keep up with life. The volunteers that we are getting seem to enjoy the work and are grateful for an opportunity that can fit into their daily lives…

Mass volunteering and coordinated distributed activism are the wave of the future. These actions are going to give organizations the power to confront issues and deal with problems that would have otherwise been entirely out of their reach for financial reasons…

You don’t have to give your name or email. We will not ask for money or ask you to talk to an elected official that will likely blow you off. It would be a great service if your readers go to and finish as many tasks as they can. I am asking. It will make a difference. It will only take a few minutes. You can go home and know you volunteered today.

These are lessons NewAssignment.Net will probably have to incorporate if it wants to succeed in using volunteers to do reporting projects.


7 Responses to “Lessons in scale from”

  1. “Mass volunteering and coordinated distributed activism are the wave of the future.”

    Very Interesting, exciting and yet worrying.

    I think we need to make sure single voices are not drowned out by trying to automate ‘news’ or activism just because we can. Or making people fit into generic boxes just so they can get get a voice in the new peopels media.

    We have already seen internet based social networks brought down by single people using automated attacks. The last thing we want is the same to happen to our home grown news damaging what is already seen as non mainstream news or filler material.

    The little woman/man – the letter writer, the child who asks why, the person who phones his/her MP, the blog writer, the activist who camps outside of an office or climbs a tree.

    They are already a stronge force becuase they buck the trend of fitting into groups and start the questions of why did are you doing this to me.

    How do they fit into this mass automated world?

    Disgusted with Tunbridge Wells

  2. Marty said

    I agree with your theme. The mediavolunteer project is about three things.

    1. Can we figure out how to engage the millions of people that may only want to “help” but they don’t want to join or donate? Can we find ways and strategies to help them contribute to the resources available to the grassroots?

    2. Can we blow a hole in the barriers that keep small groups from having access to the outreach and media tools needed to speak to larger audiences?

    3. Can small contributions of skill and intelligence be aggregated into projects of great value for people working on social change?

    It is not really trying to “automate ‘news’ or activism”. I actually think we are opening the variety of ways people can contribute. In a larger sense, we are trying to break new ground to make sure that the movement develops strategies and finds new ways to help the network to become self-serving, self-healing and scalable with ways for everyone to participate.

    Thanks for the feedback. Please volunteer for a few minutes at

  3. Letting christmas fade off to the past and going thru some of my bookmarks…I was here before because I have this blog bookmarked…. But Ido not recognize it, so you must have made some serious changes in the design?

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