Getting all networked up in New York City

I’ll be at tomorrow’s Networked Journalism Summit in beautiful scenic midtown Mannahatta tomorrow, completely amazed at the level of talent, skill and intelligence that will be around.

I plan to stare slackjawed at y’all like the upcountry yokel I am.

That’s not exactly true. I’m sure I’ll find something to talk about.

But I am particularly excited to hang around folks from all corners of the MSM/blog/citizen-journalism world. Here’s a list of 56 write-ups of attendees, and here’s the full list of people expected to show their mugs.

It’s hard to cherrypick names from the list and say ‘Darn, I sure hope I get a chance to talk with ______,’ but if it gives me a leg up and reminds them of who I am when they spot my name tag tomorrow, let’s just throw a few names out there:

  • Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle
  • Dan Pacheco of Bakersfield.com
  • Lisa Williams of H20Town
  • Derek Willis of the Washington Post
  • Rick Burnes of FMAtlas
  • and of course, the hosts, Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine and David Cohn of ‘OMG I can’t believe we still have to write a thesis after all this.’ 😉

Track me down, send a Tweet @gort581, leave a comment here, find me on Facebook, or just look for the guy with the, uh, gray shirt, and glasses, and hair. Yeah, I’ll just find a sharpie and write my URL on my forehead or something. We’ll chat. It’ll be fun.

I don’t care what journalists are reading; I care what they’re writing

Scott Karp and friends (and those are some pretty smart friends) are up to something interesting, but I sure as heck can’t tell what it is based on a rambling post at the new publish2.com.

It sounds like something that’s supposed to clean up all the doubling and overlapping of social networks the media blogger scene is enmeshed in at the current moment.

Whatever it is that Scott’s up to, while I was trying to figure it out, an idea popped into my head. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, because I feel like I heard this idea passed through the filter of something like New Assignment at some point:

I want to know what journalists are writing.

Right, right, I know, I can scan Google News and read the papers and all that, but what I mean is I want to see trends develop on a large scale across the country (and yes, world) by tracking what stories journalists are working on.

And then I want the people formerly known as the audience to have a space to vote for what they wish journalists were working on.

Picture it as a mashup of Twitter and Digg, where reporters are constantly answering the question “What are you working on?” in a broad way so as not to tip off their competition — or editors. 😉

For example, I might post something like “Organic certification” without much detail about who I was pulling FOIAs on and what hunches I had about what I would find.

The algorithm (which someone else would program, eh?) would find common terms in other journalists’ posts and move topics up the list on the homepage a la Digg based on the number of reporters working on a topic:

::::::23 journalists are working on stories about organic certification.::::::

With space for comments, folks to add links, reporters to talk to each other about past stories, non-reporters to add information, etc. Suddenly there’s a thread of conversation built up for everyone working on a given topic to play with.

On the other half of the homepage, everyone answers a question like “What’s missing from your news?” to basically request coverage on a certain topic or issue.

And yes, users vote topics up and down the page, add comments and links and conversation a la Digg.

Fact is, there are a million little aggregators out there for the news that already exists, to filter information and bring the good/important/weird/salient stuff to the surface.

I don’t need another filter — I need a sounding board and a request line.

If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll pursue this a little further down the line, or maybe you’ll just point me to the place where this already exists. Either way, I think it’s an idea worth chasing down — even if it were just internally at a newspaper company.

How would that be – a network of news organizations full of journalists that actually talk to each other! Ha!

Just the FAQs, please

Jeff Jarvis on the Local Challenge:

“The biggest challenge facing local news organizations today is figuring out how they can gather more and produce less. That is, how can they help other people produce, so the news organizations have something worth gathering?”

Gather more and produce less, indeed. It’s hard for lifelong newsroom types to see layoffs one day and reader participation initiatives the next and not feel a bit slighted. But we’re not just talking about event calendars and little league reports here, although I love ’em, we’re talking about your newspaper as the platform for local information and interaction.

So it’s not just “send us your events and we’ll shovel them where they belong,” it’s “post your own events on your calendar which other users can add to their calendar, and tag your event with a number of useful categories that will help others find it.” Then let readers add their write-up of the event, and photos, and video.

This isn’t new, and it’s obvious enough. Apply that model to any information you want the community to have: Reviews of local businesses, parking lot maps or detailed notes on bus routes. (Did you know that if you’re quick about it, you can snag some free wi-fi access at one of the Scotts Valley stops on the Highway 17 Express Bus? It makes for a good moment to refresh your RSS reader.)

And a thousand other things. What are the frequently asked questions in your community? Answer those questions, and write a FAQ for your newspaper site that answers them with articles from your archives, links to all those maps and databases you’ve created, and aggregate local blogs that answer some of the same questions. Your reporters are resources here, as gatherers of information and mainlines to the institutional memory you’ll need when you try to answer these questions.

Jarvis goes on to say that one platform might not be able to handle all the hyperlocal information your town needs. I disagree. I think your newspaper can, should, and will be the information aggregator for your community. If that’s not our function, then what is?

The Internet is for democracy

The Center for Citizen Media has lifted the curtain on what it’s planning to do with a Sunlight Foundation grant.

It’s a political transparency project, with the goal of gathering everything there is to know about this year’s race for the 11th congressional district here in California, featuring incumbent Richard Pombo (R-Tracy).

All nonpartisan caveats aside, the presence of Pombo will make this a great example of what can be done with online tools when citizens decide to make a difference.

Why? Because Pombo has Jack Abramoff connections and favors the always-popular-in-California duo of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and undercutting the Endangered Species Act.
It should be an interesting, well-funded, moderately ugly election campaign, which makes for good copy and better research.

The kicker for me, of course, is who is going to be managing the whole online citizen-reporter shindig:

“The material we collect will be posted online. The site will be designed, built and initially maintained by the students in an online journalism class (J298) this fall at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley. Assisting the students will be co-instructors Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, and Bill Gannon, editorial director at Yahoo!, as well as Scot Hacker, webmaster at the journalism school.”

That’s right, the Berkeley online journalism class will be playing with real live political information, audio, video, and most certainly databases.

Sounds like fun.

Two takes on the storypushing idea

…wherein the readers push the story ideas up the rankings until a pro journalist takes over to do some reporting on the topic and turns out an article…

So I was imagining this Digg-ish thing where readers would vote for story ideas, adding their own research and insight along the way, preferably with some data wherever possible.

And I’ve now seen two sites that, well, don’t do that exactly, but they do something.

First, I heard Jason Calacanis on the Bloggercon lunch Gillmor Gang this morning talking about the new Netscape.

It’s essentially a Digg clone, but after hearing Jason lay out the reasons why that’s okay, I’m not going to worry too much about that. The point is this: Calacanis has a posse of “anchors” who supposedly are doing bits of fact-checking and follow-up on stories that are posted. It’s an interesting approach, but trying to get a comment from the congressman who told Colbert that he’s into cocaine and hookers is not exactly what I’d call performing a useful public function.

Nevertheless, Jason promises more, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this.

Then I noticed a link to something called AskQuestions.org in the comments of Jay’s post.

Readers, er, ask questions, then vote for the story ideas they like. The folks behind the site seem familiar and credible enough, and I like the simple feel of the site, especially the “Me Too!” button, which is a far more human touch than just coming up with another made-up word for “Digg.”

It looks like they’ve got a pair of writers and a crop of researchers, but no articles have been posted since June 2005, so maybe this is a bit dormant at this point. Either way, it looks like they tried a piece of what Jay is talking about.

The key to this might be keeping it local. Is it really feasible to have a reporter tackle a national issue based on user requests? Maybe, but the army of distributed researchers would have to stretch pretty wide to give any credibility to the results of an investigation. On a smaller, local scale, the information from contributors should be far more detailed and accurate, not to mention easier to confirm, plus you’d have the advantage, hopefully, of a more passionate core of researchers who care about their neighborhood. Maybe.

What do you think?

Are you prepared to ask your readers to help generate and research stories? On what scale? Does this belong on the front page of your newspaper, or off in a hyperlocal corner where the folks most interested can get at it without disrupting anyone else’s ideas about credibility?

A framework for networked journalism

Jay Rosen lays all his cards on the table, posting his plans for NewAssignment.net, a to-be-constructed site where reporters and The People Formerly Known As The Audience can party together.

And by “party together,” I mean the masses can use all their social bookmarking/tagging/networking power to point to the stories they want to see covered more and/or better.

So instead of using all these great new Web 2.0 tools to let “users” point other people to the already-extant content they like (a la Digg, Newsvine, etc.), Jay is proposing we use the new toolbox to let “readers” be the assignment editors, pushing for the stories they want to know more about.

But more than that, now the “readers” get to play along at home, doing some distributed journalism of their own, for example, tracking the price of a prescription drug in their neighborhoods to figure out whether it’s being priced differently in different parts of the country. From Jay’s example:

The users help find out what a drug costs “everywhere.” It would be hard for a reporter to do that alone. Journalists are hired to get answers to questions developed by users, filtered through editors, who in turn enforce a certain standard of excellence, fairness and transparency that is indistinguishable from New Assignment’s reputation.

The masses of interested citizens drives not only story selection, but provides a paid journalist with information and ammunition to seek out the answers to their questions.

There’s plenty more of this in Jay’s post.

For even more, listen to the Citizen Journalism session from last month’s Bloggercon.