EXCLUSIVE: Craig Newmark on investment in NewAssignment.net

INTERVIEW: Craig Newmark, Founder, Chairman and Customer Service Representative, craigslist, calls “NewAssignment.net


Craig Newmark, Founder, Chairman and Customer Service Representative, craigslist, calls NewAssignment.net “a new approach to networked journalism.”

Newmark comments on the new initiative, led by Jay Rosen, Associate Professor, NYU Department of Journalism, at his personal blog, craigblog:

Journalism's evolving, and we're seeing the convergence of professional journalism and citizen journalism. Today, Jay Rosen's moving this forward, announcing a new way of doing investigative journalism that networks groups of journalists, mainstream and community, that I feel is really important…

I think we'll see great journalism emerge from experiments like this, including new ways for journalists to earn a living.

Rosen characterizes his vision for collaborative journalism as “enterprise reporting goes pro-am”:

Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn’t, couldn’t or didn’t. They raise the money too.

Rosen underscores the non-profit nature of the NewAssignment.net initiative and the need for “charitable” donations to support it:

Alright, what is it? In simplest terms, a way to fund high-quality, original reporting, in any medium, through donations to a non-profit called NewAssignment.Net..

So you plan to raise money for this?
Yes. Enough to try it out. And if you’re reading this and want to help with funding, e-mail me at PressThink. Editors have to develop reputations or they’re sunk. In order to do that, they have to be able to fund extremely promising or urgent ideas that for one reason or another are not a “hit” in the online fundraising stage. It wouldn’t make sense to do kick-ass open sourcing and then “lose” it to the vagaries of Paypal. Even though online donations may work well much of the time, we cannot make good ideas hostage to that. So the editors have reserve funds. It creates flexibility for funders too because you can fund an editor directly.

So you’re not only talking about fundraising story-by-story, with click and contribute?
Right. NewAssignment.Net has no dogma about how the money comes in. It’s a charity and will raise funds for high quality journalism any way it can figure out that’s wise, that works and maintains the site’s independence and reputation. It may be that very good editors can raise a lot money for their special funds by developing a track record, knowing their donors, finding sponsors who want to be associated with the work, or buyers in the media who will pay the costs. New Assignment syndicates to Big Media and gets paid that way. Or it could accept sponsorships. We’ll see.

Rosen reports that Craig Newmark is supporting the NewAssignment.net initiative by contributing to its “first reserve fund”:

Yesterday I got word from Craig Newmark that he’ll give $10,000 for an initial test. It’s coming from the Craig Newmark Foundation, his personal charity, not the company. That means we can hire an editor and a reporter and actually do some networked journalism with users. It’s our first reserve fund.

I asked Newmark to share his thoughts on the significance of NewAssignment.net. Here is what he said:

Mostly, this is my way of participating in the evolution of sustainable journalism. I figure there'll be a number of experiments, a few will work, but we don't know which ones.

On evaluating the “return” on his “investment” and a timeframe for measuring success:

I don't see a way to evaluate this, and I guess I'm not too concerned, since this project I figure will mature in the two to twenty year time frame. Sometimes, you gotta stand up, and have confidence in others.

On the convergence of professional journalism and citizen journalism and “equal partnership”:

The convergence, which is already happening, just provides the opportunity for the more effective and trustworthy reporting to be visible to more people. I think we'll see such a profound merging of both forms of journalism that they're really won't be "sides."

On possible reporter subjectivity or biases:

In the current environment, there's more opportunity for someone self-published to speak (their idea of) truth to power. What readers will want to read will be driven by trust and reputation.