Weighing In on Rosen’s Audacious Proposal

NYU's Jay Rosen has a bold idea: reader-generated, reader-supported online enterprise journalism.

In a long post yesterday — yes, even longer than usual — Jay Rosen at Pressthink introduced an idea he’s clearly been contemplating for a long time: an online venture called NewAssignment.Net that would go around the mainstream media’s process of creating journalism. In a nutshell, readers will be able to suggest subjects they want to see investigated, contribute some initial research themselves and, if they wish, donate money to a reporter and editor to flesh out the project and report back with definitive results.

This is all still in the idea stage, but, Rosen writes, “If I can improve it, get the funding, find people who know how to operate in the more open style, NewAssignment.Net would be a case of journalism without the media. That’s the beauty part. Reporter + smart mob + editor with a fund get the story the press pack wouldn’t, couldn’t or didn’t.”

Jeff Jarvis, who never heard a new idea he didn’t like, writes that the project depends on a few hypotheticals, or “articles of faith,” as he puts it: “First: The public will support journalism and investigation. Second: The public will then want more of a voice and a role in that reporting. Third: Given the opportunity to have more of a voice and role, the public will contribute more support. It’s a virtuous circle, if it works.”

Jarvis is a believer, and he implores his readers, “this is your chance: You’ve said you wonder why some stories are not getting covered. Well, now you can gather together and get them covered. You’ve wanted more of a role in journalism. Now you can be involved from start to finish. You’ve known facts that would matter in news coverage if only you could be heard. Now, you can.”

Rosen thinks that this new model, of reader-generated and reader-supported enterprise journalism, might be one answer to the question, “Where’s the money going to come from to support real reporting in this brave new media world we’re building?”

And on that question there is some dissent. David Weinburger, for example makes a good point when he writes, “The charity model — even Jay’s non-dogmatic charity model — means that NewAssignment is going to be, as Jay says, a ‘boutique’ firm that will cover stories otherwise being ignored. NewAssignment instead responds to the question, ‘How can journalists and citizens work together, in public?’ NewAssignment may validate that hybrid, networked journalism gets the job done. But as a charity, it is not — and Jay is clear about this elsewhere in his post — the business model for the future of journalism.”

But it is on this very question of making the enterprise a non-profit one that some think Rosen is on to something. “I think Jay’s real breakthrough is conceding that journalism is not — and in fact never was — a for-profit business,” writes Scott Karp on his blog. “Journalism has always been subsidized, whether by the pure commerce of classified ads or the mass media monopoly of the old network newscast. But in a fragmented, contextual world, nobody wants to advertise next to stories of death and despair in the Middle East. But those stories need to be told as a public service — and what better way to fund a public service than through a mission-oriented nonprofit.”

CJR Daily’s Steve Lovelady also commented on the thread following Rosen’s post, worrying that, “The proposed system is one where money talks, and big money talks loudest. In that sense, is it susceptible to being hijacked by any loon with too much loot on his hands?”

But anyone can point out possible problems, and we think readers should welcome Rosen’s idea and its implementation. God knows commercial journalism has its own pitfalls, enough so to keep us here at CJR Daily World Headquarters busy all day, every day. The model that Rosen says inspired him was Chris Allbritton, the freelance journalist who raised money online from readers to cover the stories from Iraq they weren’t seeing in the mainstream press. That worked out well, and his Back to Iraq blog to this day serves as an interesting model for what could be achieved. And there is no shortage of stories out there.

Let’s give it a whirl.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.