Earlier this month, our research manager Joshua Green sent me the Wired story about their new in-depth investigative series surrounding the phenomenon of using the crowd itself as a source. The catch: the project, called Assignment Zero, will be conducted both by the journalists on staff at Wired and readers as well.
According to the description on the Assignment Zero site, the project will examine "how the Web makes it possible for the crowd to be the source of good ideas. But instead of one journalist reporting, we've created a site where many people can work on the story, with editors as guides."
The initial announcement claims that the magazine's "hope is that a team of professionals, working with scores of citizen journalists, is capable of completing an investigative project of far greater scope than a team of two or three professionals ever could."
The Wired team points out that most of what is called citizen journalism coming from official publications involves opening up newspapers for citizens to comment on stories after the fact, but their philosophy is that projects could be completed with much greater scope--still using the official authenticity and reputation of the magazine and its professionals while also utilizing the scope and breadth and depth of the active portion of the readership who wish to contribute further.
Could it provide the best of both worlds?
Obviously, Wired hopes so, if we are to infer that this initial project's success could mean more "open source" news reporting in the future, with citizen journalists involved in the process of other major investigative projects of this sort.
In this case, the work of citizen journalists is not pitted against the professionals, with Wired reporters looking to lose their meal ticket to untrained reporters willing to do the work for free, even if the quality is lessened. This is what angered people about the situation with KFTY that I wrote about last month.
Instead, the idea is that the professionalism of the Wired staff will help temper citizen newsgathering, while the work of the readership will lead to much more professional coverage.
This is at the heart of the debate between Dan Gillmor and Ellen Foley that I wrote about back in October.
The reaction to Assignment Zero has been largely positive. Parmit Singh from India focuses on the results of one of the AssignmentZero stories, a look at "a new open source political party in Boston, based on the principles behind Social Media--such as Digg type voting."
Of course, there are cynics as well. Over at Spin Thicket, folks are questioning whether the first assignment for a collective intelligence journalism project should have been "something OTHER than a self-referential strange circle endless loop of citizen dogs chasing their own tails."
I, for one, applaud the effort. It offers the best of both worlds, as I've mentioned before, and it's a project of limited scope destined to get some attention and also to provide a meaningful experiment as to how citizen journalists and professionals can collaborate instead of compete.