Jay Rosen teaches Journalism at New York University, where has been on the faculty since 1986. He is the author of PressThink, a weblog about journalism and its ordeals, which he introduced in September 2003. In June 2005, PressThink won the Reporters Without Borders 2005 Freedom Blog award for outstanding defense of free expression. In July 2006 he announced the debut NewAssignment.Net, his experimental site for pro-am, open source reporting projects. The first one was called Assignment Zero, a collaboration with Wired.com. A second project is OfftheBus.Net with the Huffington Post.
Question: If you were a print reporter at a mid-sized newspaper in a mid-sized American city, what would you do?
Jay Rosen: I’d ask for a bit, I’d ask for blog and I’d develop a network of about a thousand people to help me do both of them, and I’d talk my newspaper editor into defining my job as producing content but also connections on the web that can yield important work in the paper. And so, my bit would be based online and it would also produce pieces for the paper and I would go about collecting my network of people to help me do my job.
Question: Is that open source journalism?
Jay Rosen: Well, that approach, the approach I would recommend for a bit reporter at a Mid Western Daily Newspaper is Pro-Am. It’s professionals working with networks of amateur contributors who have reason to join in a search for truth and a search for facts and better reporting. It might be a network of local bloggers that’s helping you keep your eye on the public schools, for example. So it’s neither professional, amateur or so I mean [IB]… Excuse me. It’s neither professional journalism the old way which is a close system nor simply citizens doing the best they can to report on things here and there. It’s an attempt to find the hybrid forms that might work best.
Question: What is the difference between Pro Am and Open Source?
Jay Rosen: Well, each of these terms helps us notice something else, something different, so we don’t need to throw any of them out, we don’t need to equate them either. Open source software is partly based on the idea that thousands of contributors are better than one. Thousands of eyes and ears and programming minds can actually do a better job than a small team of closeted professionals. And so that spirit taken over into journalism is an important thing. Pro-Am journalism is an attempt to find a regular means of production that draws on the strength of both disciplined professional journalist and knowledgeable amateurs, and I think we’re at the beginning of understanding how to do that.
Question: Are any newspapers already doing this?
Jay Rosen: Well, there’s plenty of examples of reporters who using simply tools like blogging and social networking and Twitter and other new extensions of their [art] are beginning to tap into knowledgeable outsiders to do their work and learning the benefits of operating in that way. Kent Fischer who is a Dallas Public Schools reporter for the Dallas Morning News has a blog that’s beginning to operate like a network, and that it can react to things that he has learned and tell him, “That’s a big change in the grading policy. You should do a story on that,” and magically, story appears. So there are reporters who are starting to realize that Dan Gillmor, my friend who used to be a technology reporter of the San Jose Mercury News, was right when he said my readers know more than I do. That’s always been true, that was true in the 1950’s. What’s different now is that the cost for that distributed knowledge to come together and begin to inform a reporter’s work has been lowered so dramatically that my readers know more than I do is now a method for succeeding in journalism, whereas before it would be a nice idea but impractical.
Recorded on: 08/19/2008