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Web Ventures Tap Crowd Wisdom November 4, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Journalism, News, Trends.
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Two new Web ventures tapping wisdom of the crowd distributed journalism to report the US presidential campaign could change how politics is covered. OffTheBus.net is three months old and Scoop08.com is set to launch today. Both enterprises want to tackle imaginative, under-reported stories with armies of citizen reporters and editors who will be working for nothing.

The ambition of young Americans to have an impact on our political scene may be our saving grace. Bravo to Scoop08 co-founders Alexander Heffner and Andrew Mangino for kicking off “A New Kind of Newspaper,” where 400+ students will cover the 2008 presidential campaign. If you grow up with a sense that you can speak and be heard, you may bother to participate more throughout your life. Experiments of the sort that they are undertaking give reason for hope that the Internet may yet help to fuel the civic involvement of young Americans, now and into the future.

JOHN PALFREY, Executive Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Young Americans mark their growing engagement in politics with Scoop08, an ambitious daily online newspaper by and for college and high school students to fill a “void” in student journalism and provide imaginative coverage of the campaign in ways mainstream media does not.

Beats range from democracy, political theory and combat and conflict to financial aid and technology. Special correspondents cover ethics, social networking and rhetoric. The enterprise relies on the commitment of volunteer students, supported by an advisory board that includes established journalists.

Social networking sites, including Facebook and MySpace, are in the Scoop08 armoury as it prepares to compete with the mainstream media. They plan to use video clips, blogs and podcasts on the site, as well as more conventional reports, to draw in a younger audience.

There is an increasingly politically engaged generation that is able to network online and to work professionally, academically and socially in this venue.

ALEXANDER HEFNER, Founder and Editor, Scoop08

OTB is run by Arianna Huffington, who publishes OffTheBus along with Jay Rosen at New York University, who experimented with distributed journalism in NewsAssignment Net. It’s aim is to produce a more nuanced picture than one reporter could do.

For example, up to 100 people can work an hour a day over two days to produce work that would take a reporter two months to do. In one project that followed Obama organizers in a dozen states in a day of national canvassing.

Some two dozen OTB correspondents fanned out, filling out a uniform sheet (how many doors knocked on, etc.) and offering their observations. Like stringers in the field, they send back reports to be compiled by an OTB writer. An online organizer based in New York is creating a roster from a community of OTB’s 1,500 members. One volunteer built a Wiki compiling information on staff members of the campaigns.

Others involved examining financial data from candidates, looking at political polling and seeking people across the country to share experiences when a pollster calls. OTB editors learnt that citizen journalists need journalistic guidance and have hired an editorial director to set standards.

Whether these ventures sky-rocket or fizzle, their very existence reflects a social shift that politicians ignore at their peril. Young Web savvy voters, traditionally seen as apathetic, are becoming more active voters – and there are more and more of them. At least in America.

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