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Lessons Learned: Week 1 Representative Journalism Blog

Last week I started the Representative Journalism blog. The most important lesson I learned during the first week is that Representative Journalists, and indeed all journalists, if they want, will be closely linked to their communities via established tools like Digg and Twitter and emerging tools like Publish2 and ReporTwitter.

 Audiences will easily be able to see developing stories unfold in real time and could be an active part of the story development process. Since many Representative Journalism communities will be communities that get no coverage now, there will be little fear of the competition getting a jump on stories.

Equally tied into this transparency, this  weaving together of audience and producer are both crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. On a mechanistic level it will be easier to raise money than it has been in the past.  And the same thing might be said about the ease of developing ideas.

David Cohn pointed us to a NewAssignment.net interview with Alpheus Bingham, co-founder of Innocentive which Eli Lilly helped launch. A key question was asked: How did a pharmaceutical giant invent something as radical as crowdsourced R&D in an industry burdened by protocols and status quo?

Part of the answer, and this is key to why crowdsourcing works, is that certain research areas, even within a giant like Lilly, have only a few researchers. Their frame of reference is just too small to compete with all the other knowledge that resides in the whole R&D crowd.

Now if Lilly with its, let’s say, five cloistered researchers in a unit, can’t get maximum information in their field of expertise, how then could only one journalist. The journalist will need the crowd, need the Representative Journalism community.

 Here is Bingham talking to interviewer Randy Burge:

Critical mass is also related to the diversity — how different the group is, how well you fill the cognitive space. The different thought processes, the different experiences, the different educational training, all those things somehow contribute to the “Eureka!” moment when you have insight into a particular problem. I want to get as much diversity in that process as I can.

So there is another lesson from the first week: diversity of thought counts. However, Binghamsays, there are limits. After enough people contribute you start seeing the same ideas recur and the law of diminishing returns comes into play. He also points out that people in charge of running a crowdsourcing project have to define it well and be sure it is doable.

Here is more from Bingham:

It is not unusual for us to have answers come in to Innocentive from our solvers that cause the people who have been trained, who are skilled in the field, and who have read all the literature — the seekers — exclaim, “Wow, that is really a unique idea. We would like to acquire that idea. We think we can work with it. It is a process we had never considered before.” Some of that ingenuity you can only find by going out to a crowd.

One other take home message, the interview with Bingham was part of the NewAssignment.net project’s Assignment Zero, which some people thought was a failure….but was it?

2 Responses to “Lessons Learned: Week 1 Representative Journalism Blog”

  1. Randy Burge Says:

    I applaud your pursuits, Dr. Witt, in studying crowdsourced and/or representative journalism.

    Clearly, the impact of the blogger voice is changing the mainstream media and its outlets dramatically towards what may be called representative journalism. One person, one voice. Whether such initiatives meet the definitions of crowdsourcing provides points for further discussion and dissection.

    Collective aggregation or networking of those blogger voices is resulting in the modern day “presses” or “news channels.” These new channels are certainly representative of the people who take the time to blog their opinions, if not facts, happening in a community from the local to the global.

    One such example in Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA), my home base, is DukeCityFix.com, an effort organized by news-trendster Chantal Foster along with a number of other local bloggers, to rival the daily hit counts of the major regional newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal.

    No question, we are in a journalistic transition period where the old advertising-subsidized news sources are giving way to the new click-driven advertising-subsidized news sources. How successful the new news media will be, certainly at the local levels, is still a serious question.

    How a news source, whether a blogger in Biloxi or the New York Times, builds an audience is also dispersed into ever-smaller individualized fractals. It seems ironic that as we become more representative, we also become less certain of the validity of the news sources (or should be).

    I particularly like Patrick Moynihan’s quote in this case: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

    The definitional distinctions, in fact, most likely provide the analytical basis of whether Assignment Zero (A/Z) is measured as a success.

    Jeff Howe, the contributing editor at Wired magazine who coined the term “crowdsourcing,” suggests in his Crowdsourcing blog summary that the Assignment Zero effort suffered most from mission creep, where anything Web.2.0 seemed to fit under A/Z’s crowdsourcing umbrella. Perhaps the latest Web technologies blinded the A/Z creators and the coming crowd to the narrower definitions to be applied in the A/Z exercise.

    I do think there are important distinctions between crowdsourced and representative news sources, although there can be definitional overlap between them in some circumstances.

    One of the best and most developed examples of crowdsourcing is Innocentive, the company behind my interview with Dr. Bingham on AssignmentZero. Although it is outside of the journalism industry, per se, the model helps clarify some of the definitions about what crowdsourcing is and is not.

    Crowdsourced journalism is evolving along two trajectories, as are other types of applied crowdsourcing: the technological and the psychological. These factors also enable the emerging force of representative journalism.

    Enabling technologies in both cases are the Internet, its hardware and software infrastructures and protocols including the Web (a sub-component to the Internet), and the customer/user technologies like blogging tools.

    The psychological trajectory is one tracking market adoption by a specified sustainable audience. Just because you can shout in the forest doesn’t mean that you will be heard. Just because you organize your company’s technologies to support crowdsourcing doesn’t mean that the crowd will materialize to fulfill intended purposes.

    Success happens when these paths of technical capability and crowd response intersect and combine to form a worthwhile market or audience. The situational economics will demand that enough someones are willing to pay for the crowdsourced news or anything, whether paid for via advertising or some other method, if nothing more than stature, recognition, and acceptance as a fair deal.

    Innocentive benefits from diversity of thought, a power enabled and released by the crowdsourcing Net infrastructure. Complex adaptive systems study, a specialty of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), seeks to expand understanding diversity’s role in creating higher orders in chaos. SFI influenced the thinking that lead to Innocentive. Perhaps crowdsourcing is a first order step in applying some of these lessons in the real world.

    A final thought, crowdsourcing can be representative, but representative is not necessarily crowdsourcing. Caution should be employed in divining the differences.

    When things are in transition they are also most confusing and open to influence. The brackets around what crowdsourcing and representative journalisms will continue to clash, crash, and evolve towards the new future we all sense is coming.

  2. Leonard Witt Says:

    Hi Randy:

    Thanks for joining the conversation

    You wrote: A final thought, crowdsourcing can be representative, but representative is not necessarily crowdsourcing. Caution should be employed in divining the differences.

    You are definitely correct. Also I know about Bingham’s work, but will check out Complex adaptive systems study, a specialty of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI). Hope to hear more from you.

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    Leonard Witt

    Leonard Witt is the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University and the chief blogger at PJNet.org.

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