Assignment Zero

Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, has been working on ways to involve the public in journalism creation for more than a decade. Now his Assignment Zero has captured attention – and the interest of journalism companies. Assignment Zero is the first project of Rosen’s newassignment.net initiative. Basically, it’s a ‘crowdsourcing’ experiment which involves knowledgeable and curious members of the public in the reporting, editing and writing of stories.

From the site’s "about" page:

New Assignment.Net is a non-profit site that tries to spark innovation in journalism by showing that open collaboration over the Internet among reporters, editors and large groups of users can produce high-quality work that serves the public interest, holds up under scrutiny, and builds trust.

A second aim is to figure out how to fund this work through a combination of online donations, micro-payments, traditional fundraising, syndication rights, sponsorships, advertising and any other method that does not compromise the site’s independence or reputation.At New Assignment, pros and amateurs cooperate to produce work that neither could manage alone. The site uses open source methods to develop good assignments and help bring them to completion. It pays professional journalists to carry the project home and set high standards; they work closely with users who have something to contribute. The betting is that (some) people will donate to stories they can see are going to be great because the open methods allow for that glimpse ahead.

Lots more information at the site, including video interview, podcast, a five-part series about the plans, and how to get involved yourself if you’re interested. I’m glad the first project was a bit delayed from the target launch date of 1 April 2007, never an auspicious day/month combination to start anything.

Back to the Futures

Futures is the award-winning science-fiction section of Nature, currently in abeyance in Nature itself but being published each month in Nature‘s monthly sister title, Nature Physics.

Henry Gee, the Futures architect and Editor,  writes:

In response to public demand, Futures will be returning to Nature in September 2007 as a weekly back-page feature, as well as continuing each month in Nature Physics. The Futures column in each journal will forge its own identity: a story in one journal will not be reprinted in the other, although authors are free to express a preference and choose for which journal their story should be considered.

Although contributions are sometimes commissioned, unsolicited stories are welcome for both journals. Each story should be an entirely fictional, self-contained piece between 850-950 words in length, and the genre should, broadly speaking, be ‘hard’ (that is, ‘scientific’ SF) rather than, say, outright fantasy, slipstream or horror.

Each item should be sent as a Word (.doc) attachment to futures@nature.com, giving full contact details along with a brief (approximately 30-word) autobiographical squib that could be appended to the story if published. Unsolicited artwork is not considered. Presubmission enquiries are discouraged: instead, prospective authors are advised to read earlier Futures stories in Nature and Nature Physics. Selected examples are available here for free, and the entire Nature back archive is available here (subscription or site licence required).

Authors whose stories are published in Nature or Nature Physics will be paid at the same rate irrespective of journal. The payment is commensurate with the brevity of the stories and is probably enough for a meal for two (with wine) at an establishment whose modesty will correlate either directly or inversely with the current sterling-dollar exchange rate, depending on the location of the restaurant. Publication is also subject to signature of a Nature Publishing Group author agreement, terms of which are often negotiable, and specimens of which can be seen on request.

Should you have read as far as this, you might be interested to learn that Futures from Nature, an anthology of 100 past Futures stories, will be published by Tor this November, and can now be ordered from any reputable online bookstore.

This is a public announcement which you are encouraged to disseminate as widely as you see fit.

Yours faithfully

Henry Gee