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Monday, November 22, 2004

Can "Distributed Reporting" Save the MSM?

You might think, since I am an aging ink-stained wretch, that applying the Internet's distibuted intelligence capabilities to the daily tasks of journalism would be a foreign concept to yours truly. I don't doubt that most traditional journalists in the MSM either know nothing at all about this concept or fear it, if they do. For me, though, hardly anything gets me more excited than thinking about how to harness the incredible reporting power available to journalists of all kinds using distributed reporting.

The idea is simple: Just as the distributed intelligence of a network of software engineers or automobile designers can bring to bear on a technical problem a vastly larger range of skills, experience and knowledge, distributed reporting can focus an incredible spectrum of "sources" or "stringers" on the news-gathering process.

Think of it this way - who is more likely to nail a complicated story, one intrepid MSM reporter backed up by a small staff of fact-checkers and a bevy of over-worked, underpaid, griping desk editors, or a network of thousands of individuals with varying levels of knowledge, experience and contacts and the ability to bring those assets to bear in cybertime?

You can find more detailed discussions of this concept here at The American Thinker and here with The Belmont Club, with both discussions being focused on the Blogosphere's role in the Dan Rather/Bush National Guard Memo scandal. Also, check out Dan Gillmor's superb book, "We the Media" here.

But how can we apply distributed reporting to the newsroom of a traditional daily or a broadcast news outlet? BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis has an interesting observation in this regard:

"Distributed reporting:
"Finally catching up with email and read a neat notion from Jay Rosen. He noted that Josh Marshall was getting his readers to call their representatives to see whether they had voted for the DeLay Rule since (a) the votes weren't recorded and (b) the reps would be more likely to level with voters than with reporters. "Great example of blogging doing journalism one better," says Jay. Right. It's distributed reporting: The people do the digging.
"I can imagine a score of stories where this would work: You ask your readers to call their congressmen to find out a stance and put together a chart (a wiki would work better for this than blog comments, by the way). You have your fellow bloggers each tell you whether the newspapers and TV and radio stations in their town covered a story you think is important and even have them all call the papers' editors to ask why not.
"I think a lot of our open-space tax dollars are wasted on space nobody'd want anyway, so I could ask people to take pictures of stupid open space purchases near them. But it's not restricted to bloggers alone: A smart reporter could start a blog and ask readers what's happening in the communities they cover."

A similar approach could work whenever Congress gives itself a pay hike without having a direct yes or no vote on the amount. The way the system is rigged now, an individual congressman only has to not vote to allow a pay hike to become law. How many Members of Congress would continue to go along with this charade knowing every one of them will be forced on the record one way or the other by a distributed reporting network in the Blogosphere?

Maybe I am naive, but I think this concept could be the salvation of the MSM and the key to a restoration of the kind of genuine independent watchdog journalism the Founders envisioned when they approved the First Amendment.