Jay Rosen launches Beatblogging

NewAssignment.net creator and journalism prof Jay Rosen’s latest venture just went live: Beatblogging is an attempt to improve the coverage of specific news areas or “beats” by using social-media such as blogs and wikis. In effect, Jay and his team — led by the indefatigable David “DigiDave” Cohn — want to help beat reporters use “crowdsourcing” methods (like Jay’s project with Huffington Post, the political-reporting effort OffTheBus.com) to draw knowledge from various sources.

The list of 13 participants is at Jay’s site, PressThink, and also at the MediaShift Idea Lab site that is part of PBS. It includes Wired digital-music writer Eliot Van Buskirk, a science reporter at the Houston Chronicle, a public-school reporter at the Dallas Morning News, a basketball writer at ESPN.com and a technology reporter at the Seattle Times. The San Jose Mercury News has some thoughts about why it’s taking part.

I think Jay’s idea is brilliant, and it will be fascinating to see how it develops. I wish there were some Canadian newspaper reporters taking part.

Jay Rosen’s new project: Beat blogging

I’ve been meaning to mention this before, but Jay Rosen, the brains behind NewAssignment.net and its various spinoffs — including OffTheBus, the citizen-journalism political reporting venture with Huffington Post — has a new project that he told me about when we met for a drink while he was in Toronto for the Online News Association conference (he told the conference about it too).

In a nutshell, Jay’s idea is this: take social-media tools such as blogs, wikis, social-bookmarking and so on, and use them to help “beat” reporters at newspapers improve their coverage of that beat, by allowing sources to contribute their knowledge in a variety of ways. As Jay describes it:

“Maybe a beat reporter could do a way better job if there was a “live” social network connected to the beat, made up of people who know the territory the beat covers, and want the reporting on that beat to be better.”

I think this is a great idea, and I hope Jay finds enough reporters (and newspapers) who want to participate. He says he has 7 or 8 of the 12 he is looking for already signed up. As I said to Jay when we met in Toronto, my only reservations are that some sources may not want it known that they are sources, and reporters may not be comfortable opening up about how they do what they do.

That said, I think it will be a fascinating experiment in Journalism 2.0, just as Assignment Zero (the joint research project between NewAssignment and Wired magazine) was.

Quit reviewing us online, café says

Greg Sterling at Screenwerk has an interesting post about a local café in his home town of Oakland called Rooz, which has posted signs saying “No Yelpers” — in other words, no customers who plan to bitch about the service or the food on the Yelp.com customer review site. Greg asked about the sign and got this response:

“What I was told, in a nutshell, is that the café staff has encountered a stream of would-be critics “with attitude,” predisposed to take issue with or be critical of the business.”

Greg says the staff argued that some customers were being deliberately snotty in their reviews “for entertainment reasons or to impress the Yelp community,” and weren’t being respectful of the impact their reviews might have on a small business like the café. The response from some of the Yelpers in question (not surprisingly) has been unapologetic:

“How DARE you ban my opinion?? And for this, I shall not return. EVER. Not the best business plan in the world buddy.”

As Greg notes, it seems a bit odd to pick a fight with your customers, even the snotty ones who give your place lacklustre reviews on a site such as Yelp. Maybe this café owner has enough customers, and doesn’t need to attract any more.

Jay’s lessons on news “crowdsourcing”

I’ve been meaning to get to this for days now, but I wanted to post about Jay Rosen’s lessons from Assignment Zero, the “crowdsourcing” journalism experiment he put together between his NewAssignment project and Wired magazine, with help from a team of people that included Dave “Digi-Dave” Cohn and Tish Grier. On a related note, Dave has also been working with Jeff Jarvis on the Networked Journalism mini-conference Jeff just finished putting together, and has a list of interviews with people who are involved in what might broadly be called social media in one way or another.

Among other things, Jeff admits that the trend story that Assignment Zero chose to focus its efforts on — the impact of crowdsourcing itself, and other “open source” approaches to media — was a little too “meta” and a little too big and subjective for the first project. And he quotes from Derek Powazek’s advice in his review of Assignment Zero lessons (which is here):

“Start with clear, simple tasks. This isn’t because the crowd can’t handle complicated ones – they can – it’s because they haven’t decided if it’s worth doing them for you yet.

People won’t do what you say because you just told them to. You have to inspire them to want to participate.”

Many of the issues that came up with Assignment Zero (and Wired writer Jeff Howe has his own take on the lessons here and here) didn’t have to do with the idea or even the execution so much as the co-ordination of volunteers and contributors. Finding out what people’s motivations are, how much they can do, what they want to do, and then dividing the work up amongst them is hard, Jay says.

“Dividing up the work into tasks people can and will do is among the trickiest decisions the project will have. Expectations have to be extremely clear or a crowd will generate a limitless number of honest misunderstandings.”

One of the potential solutions Jay talks about is having what the open-source movement calls “super-contributors,” whose job it is to help find and co-ordinate other contributors. While he says Assignment Zero did not “crack this case,” Jay told me that he thinks Off The Bus — the networked journalism project that NewAssignment is working on with The Huffington Post — is closer to a solution.

Assignment Zero and Off The Bus co-ordinator Amanda Michel writes a bit about participation levels here, and gives an example of the work Off The Bus is doing with “citizen journalists” here.