Gillmor on Distributed Journalism

Dan Gillmor provides us with some food for thought:

I think of distributed journalism as somewhat analogous to any project or problem that can be broken up into little pieces, where lots of people can work in parallel on small parts of the bigger question and collectively -- and relatively quickly -- bring to bear lots of individual knowledge and/or energy to the matter. Some open-source software projects work this way. The important thing is the parallel activity by large numbers of people, in service of something that would be difficult if not impossible for any one or small group of them to do alone, at least in a timely way.

The potential for distributed journalism to be a key part of tomorrow's news strikes me as immense. We in citizen journalism -- and, if we're smart, in professional journalism -- can focus the energy and knowledge of regular folks, and especially their willingness to do some small amount of legwork to help feed a larger whole, on all kinds of things.

Suppose, for example, that we assemble a nationwide group of volunteers -- lawyers who are familiar with statutes -- and ask each of them to take a small section of one of those immense congressional bills that the members of Congress don't even read themselves. Suppose, further, that we could get this analysis posted before the House and Senate did their final votes. We might catch a lot of sleazy stuff before it became law. Today we're lucky if we know about any of it before it actually passes.

It will be interested to see how our society adapts, and integrates these emerging web-based institutions. For example, will there be a day where high school and college students recieve community service hours by participating in distributed journalism, or other online projects?