Wired and NewAssignment.net have started a cool new open collaborative journalism project called Assignment Zero. “Crowdsourcing” is the method originated by open source software developers to freely collaborate on projects. SourceForge is a good example of software development by self-organized teams of interested participants. But, using web technology, that method quickly spread to other subject areas, and is especially useful in journalism, where collectively the audience usually knows more than the writer.
Assignment Zero will take crowdsourcing as its model and its first topic. They built an attractive and functional-looking web platform for the project and already have several leads and next steps outlined. Anyone who is interested can join and work on a subtopic; they suggest that teachers can assign their classes to a chunk of the story. There are still editors but what is investigated will not be centrally controlled. The contents will be under a Creative Commons license rather than owned.
One of the most interesting aspects of crowdsourcing is how social dynamics take over in the absence of explicit power relations among the team members. There is definitely less coercion involved in, say, a SourceForge project than within a commercial software development company. In journalism, there is fairly little focus (at least explicitly) on the story as a solution to an engineering problem; rather journalists still think of themselves as exposing the truth. I wonder how this idea will change when the story itself becomes radically dependent upon a diversity of subjectivities.
I’m very curious what Assignment Zero will come up with. Whether the result is good or bad, something will be learned about the workings of the process, laying the groundwork for a whole new way of clarifying and putting together our collective knowledge.