Across the country, news budgets and newsrooms are shrinking. Newspapers are going out of business. Meanwhile, the government is propping up Wall Street with a massive bailout that will cost the public billions, and planning to invest billions more in infrastructure, green jobs, health care reform, sustainable energy, etc. In all this, there are many opportunities for critical collaborative-reporting projects that will engage thousands of people who want to make themselves useful to the press. The Obama administration may have thirteen million e-mail addresses, but together the media—both old and new—have more. The timing for a new social contract between the press and the public could not be better. There will be no reason to mourn the loss of its audience if the press fully understands and exploits the new reality that its audience can now be its ally.

Amanda Michel directed OffTheBus, and is now the editor of distributed reporting for ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism outlet based in New York.