Assignment Zero (AZ) was an experiment in crowd-sourced journalism, allowing collaboration between amateur and professional journalists to collectively produce a piece of work that describes correlations between crowd-sourced techniques and a popular movement.
The goal of Assignment Zero was to create a publishable, edited story that is an amalgamation of input from various "real" sources. In Jeff Howe's "Guide to Crowdsourcing" on the AZ Site, the method of contribution is broken down into three categories:
- Tapping the Collective Brain
- The Crowd Creates
- The Crowd Filters
Collectively, these three categories attempt to illustrate a concept that: many people ("Crowds") by virtue of their size and diversity have the capability to contribute, create, and peer-review much of the content that is submitted to the project.
Wikipedia and Citizendium, both offering the capability for many people to contribute content for the masses, follow this basic model. The idea behind AZ is to implement this model with journalistic oversight, coupled with the ethics of journalism.
Origin of "crowdsourcing"
So far, the earliest use of the term "crowdsourcing" can be attributed to Jeff Howe's blog post which was published on 24 May 2006. This predates the Wired article that Howe wrote on the subject which appeared in the June 2006 issue.
Although Howe may have coined the term, it is apparent by virtue of Howe's research that the concept predates the word's first printed use. In a blog post by Howe, he references an article written for Wired by Thomas Goetz that discusses peer production itself. Howe notes that "while the fact of peer production itself was becoming well-documented... no one we were aware of had documented the ways in which corporations were employing intelligent networks to put peer production to work."
The following is a partial list of the individuals responsible for the execution of AZ:
- David Cohn - David Cohn is the associate editor for Assignment Zero. He is currently working toward a master's degree in Journalism at Columbia University, and holds a degree in Philosophy from University of California at Berkeley. David has also contributed articles to Seed Magazine.
- Steve Fox - Steve Fox is the regional coordinator for the Online News Association(ONA) in the Midatlantic Region, based in Washington, D.C. Up until late 2006, Steve was also the Politics Editor at Washingtonpost.com. He is also an adjunct instructor at the University of Maryland's School of Journalism.
- Tish Grier - Tish Grier was the Editorial Blogger at Corante Media Hub until October 2006. She has also contributed to The Huffington Post and writes at the blog the Constant Observer
- Evan Hansen - Evan Hansen was a writer for CNet's News.com, and a 2006 Finalist for UCLA Anderson School of Management's Gerald Loeb Award in the category of "News Services or Online Content." He is currently the editor-in-chief of Wired News and the consulting editor of AZ.
- Amanda Michael - Amanda Michael was the Communications Director for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School from March 2004 to November 2006.
- Jay Rosen - Jay Rosen is the Executive Editor of Assignment Zero. Rosen has been a member of the Journalism faculty at New York University(NYU) since 1986. He has taught courses in media criticism, cultural journalism, press ethics, and other subjects related to journalism.
- Lauren Sandler - Lauren Sandler was also a former producer and reporter at National Public Radio. In 2000, Lauren graduated from New York University's Cultural Reporting and Criticism program to launch a freelance career in journalism.
On 1 May 2007, a final draft of a piece on Citizendium was completed and submitted to Wired for on-line publication. The article ran on 3 May 2007, but it has not been subject to peer review. The article has generated some controversy, however, due to users editing the article after it was published.
The modification occurred on 6 May 2007, after an interview with Wales that was published on the Assignment Zero site on 4 May 2007 (two days previously). Michael Ho, the main writer of the original piece, noticed the adjustment on 8 May 2007, which spurred comment from both Jay Rosen, editor of Wired.com, and prompted a response attributed to Larry Sanger.
Additional selections from the contributors at AZ were published on wired.com on 9 July 2007. and ran through 13 July 2007 On 17 July 2007, a post-mortem was written by Jeff Howe about the conclusion of Assignment Zero. In the end, Howe considered Assignment Zero a "highly satisfying failure."
To be able to contribute to AZ, a user must first create a user account, providing a user name, a valid e-mail address, and a real full name in order to be able to take credit for any work that may or may not be sourced as a part of the final product. Thus, it is encouraged that each user populate their "Bio" by clicking on their "Column" and selecting the Edit tab. In this section a user may upload a photograph, update any contact or affiliation information they wish to make known to the public, and write a self-described biography. This is not a mandatory step and is not required by the site. The following notation is in the "Create New Account" section:
To take credit for your work, please provide your real name as your user name and your full name below.
This suggests that users who are not forthcoming with their real information will not receive any credit for work contributed. Indeed, some of the profiles that are listed in the User List are not complete and are missing information.
Additionally, there is a FAQ under the "Resources" tab that describes some of the "Why" and "How" of the project. Within this FAQ are three noteworthy points in regard to the expectations of user contribution and the accuracy of the information in the final product:
- I'm a journalist and want to get involved. Are there formal opportunities?
"As the assignment develops and grows we will certainly need more help. While we can't provide a job description at this point, we can guarantee that we will look for people who are reliably and consistently available (approximately 10 hours a week) and who work well remotely (we're all scattered all over the U.S. and communicate electronically.) We also need people who are willing to learn on the fly and who are passionate about exploring this new model. Other than that, people skills is a must."
- I really want to interview someone for Assignment Zero. It says that I have to apply. What qualifications are you looking for? What should I send in with my application?
"There are several criteria. Ideally we'd like interviews to take place face-to-face, so that contributors have the opportunity to meet with the people we're covering. That means that we'll favor candidates who live closer to the interviewee. If there's someone you want to interview and you'll be in their town in the coming months, feel free to apply and just note that. Otherwise, we're looking for people who have demonstrated interview experience and writing skills."
- How are you going to deal with fact-checking?
"When it becomes clear what information and material will be included in the story (insert link), then we'll work with our contributors to identify what content needs to be fact-checked. We're assuming that we'll be using a tool very similar to the Assignment Desk, except in this case, it'll be the 'Fact-Checking Desk.' "Do you have any ideas? If so, please share them on The Exchange. This is a really important element of the site and one of the most difficult conceptually. For many people it represents the real challenge of a pro-am model—how can we work together from start to finish to produce a story that is valuable, accurate, and timely."
The first two sections describe a rudimentary social mold that indicates the level of expected participation from contributors. The third section indicates that there will be a review of all material contributed to the final product, to ensure its level of accuracy.
The following sections exist for users to submit content:
- The Exchange - This is a forum where users can propose ideas, questions, or discuss topics.
- The Scoop - This is the section that is more or less represented in blog style, that presents recaps of existing topics and updates to the site. Posts are made by Assignment Zero staff and may be commented on.
Uses can find topics that they wish to contribute to by clicking on "Find Assignments by Interest." Once a desired topic has been found, a user may join the team for that topic by navigating to the "Topic Home Page" and following the "Join Team" link. This will add you to that reporting group.
Under the topic home page, on the right, a list of suggested actions formed by consensus is displayed and reporting may be submitted under any of the actions.
AZ has subject editors and topic editors that are assigned to be the lead on their respective projects. Those editors are responsible for communicating with the contributors that report on each topic either by email, telephone, or messaging.
Currently, there are editors that are assigned to the following subjects:
- Media and Publishing
- Open Source Car Design
Most topics, as of 26 April 2007, focus on concepts, events happening and subjects living within the United States. An international topic page does exist, and currently focuses on crowdsourcing ventures in Brazil, Europe, and Canada. International subjects are not discouraged, but currently there is not a predominate focus on them.
Contributors versus users
The AZ site maintains two lists of users. One list displays the profiles of all AZ Site Members and a masthead that shows a listing of actual AZ staff; the second list catalogs click-able profiles for Contributors.
AZ was a collaborative experiment between Wired Magazine, NewAssignment.net and other participants.
This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Assignment Zero", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.
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