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Who's news?

"Can large groups of widely scattered people, working together voluntarily on the net, report on something happening in their world right now, and by dividing the work wisely tell the story more completely, while hitting high standards in truth, accuracy and free expression?"  Of course, this is the dream of citizen journalism advocates and Assignment Zero is the latest effort to achieve that goal. 

The official site is here with more information on how you can get involved.  It's the kickstart project for NewAssignment.net, which you'll recall was launched back in August.  Maybe it's just my respect for Jay Rosen as a smart guy, but this doesn't feel like it's going to another one of those trendy more-theory-than-substance projects that fizzle out in the cold harsh light of reality.  (Read Rosen's review of FiredogLake's reporting on the Libby trial to rediscover that "OMG! It's a revolution!" feeling that was particularly present a couple years ago during things like Rathergate and the London bombings.)

Speaking of bloggers leading the news, the U.S. Attorney story/scandal is indeed another scoop by Josh Marshall.  We don't really bother to keep track anymore but this is one of those stories that really came from the blogosphere first.  And by the way, Marshall is still at it.

Speaking of roots in blogs, I try to stay away from inter-news-channel bickering (mostly because I don't think any of it is relevant to anything other than more inter-news-channel bickering) but the Las Vegas debate story has an interesting facet and roots in a blog campaign so it's worth mentioning here.  I think this all came to a head while I was away last week, but in short, Fox Newschannel wanted to host a debate for Democratic presidential candidates.  Democratic bloggers objected on the grounds that Fox Newschannel is not a news outlet but advocates a position (and an anti-Democratic one at that).  Mickey Kaus has a good brief encapsulation of the issue here.  I also clicked this item about Air America jokingly offering to host a debate, again as a way of redefining Fox News as not news.  Finally, last night I clicked Matt Stoller's explanation of what they're trying to do.  (He's one of the main progressive netroots activists.)  Maybe I'm being too dramatic but I think it's fascinating that newsmakers could freeze out a news (or "news") outlet - especially in this day an age of media whoredom.

Jason Kottke teaches Editor & Publisher how to write a headline:

They're both about a recent eye tracking study of what people look at on a Web page and for how long.

Politics bloggers are buzzing about the No Child Left Behind Act.  I read some of the debate starting with Kevin Drum about whether the NCLB is really a trick to label public schools a failure.  Conservatives are talking about a new proposal.

While I generally think it's better to write about gadgets that are already here than ones that are "coming soon" Slacker has made such a splash at SXSW that people are calling it the (an?) iPod killer.  For now, until the player device is released, it's basically an online radio station.  (I'm listening to the SXSW channel.  Mostly indie rock, but a good way to discover bands you're not familiar with.  I'll be looking up Tokyo Police Club later.)

"Globally, dead skin accounts for about a billion tons of dust in the atmosphere. Your skin sheds 50,000 cells every minute."  I wonder if buying skin lotion can count as an environmental offset.

"Squirrel's weight on feeder activates a motor which gently twirls him off!"

I was perfectly willing to accept that this story about a woman's investigation of harassing letters sent to bisexual students was a work of fiction.  She did study creative writing after all.  It's a pretty good story about hunting a person down using the Web and in part the writer wrestles with whether the investigation is as creepy as the letters the guy is sending.  But then I read the Digg comment thread about the story and saw how that community tried to figure out the real name and other information about the creepy guy in the story and realized what may be scariest of all is the potential for an online mob to form from the provocation of a single magazine article.

Yesterday was Pi Day.

Pedal powered roller coaster in Japan.  Has kind of a Flintstones quality I think.  Really though, shouldn't they only have to pedal that first big hill?

Even the best thinkers can't solve question on premium-rate TV quiz - Apparently in the UK there are game shows that you can play from home by calling a toll number.  In this case there's bit of a scandal because the game show is being accused of requiring an answer that no one's able to figure out -- or at least explanations for the answer that people have been able to give are rejected as incorrect.

9 Confessions From A Former Enterprise Rental Salesman - Living in the city, I don't own a car.  I have a motorcycle but I can't very well bungee the family to it, so we rent sometimes.  Since we recently moved we've been using Enterprise because it's closer to our house to pick up a car.  So far we have no complaints but I did learn one lesson from last week's vacation.  Whatever the car was that we had ordered wasn't available so they upgraded us to a Cadillac with a still-new smelling leather interior.  Reflexively we said yes to the fancier car, but in the end, we definitely didn't need to be gassing up a V8 and toward the end of the week we picked up a scratch on the bumper and I lived in dread for the rest of the trip that we were going to stuck with a fat deductible on an overpriced fancy car scratch repair.  That didn't happen and there really isn't any indication that upgrading us to a luxury car was any kind of scam, but still, next time I'll take the crappier car at a lower rate.

Sphere is one of those maddening hunt-around-the-room games.  I found a bunch of stuff so far but I don't really know what to do with it.

Don't feel like thinking that much?  LineTo experimental is simple trippy fun.

"A ficlet is a short story that enables you to collaborate with the world."

The video of Lindsay Lohan allegedly hitting a paparazzo with her car doesn't show the point of impact so we can't see what really happened.  I don't really care anyway.  But the video did leave me thinking about how weird it is that a group of people could chase after a woman in a car as she literally flees them creating a very dangerous situation on the streets of a major city and yet as a society we don't really have a problem with it.  I know these celebrities make their own drama so they probably don't deserve any sympathy, and maybe I'm old fashioned, but seeing a group of men hounding a woman in the middle of the night is really troubling to me.

Speed painting with ketchup and french fries.

Nine Inch Nails continues to explore new online marketing ideas, this time offering the GarageBand files for their new song.

Superhero Kills the President - There's a longer piece here with images from the graphic novel.  Super hero philosophy isn't something I gave much thought to until I read an essay arguing that if Superman really wanted to help man kind he'd stop wasting his time on petty thugs and instead use his super strength to turn a turbine and generate some free electricity or something.  This is a little more earthbound but still interesting.

There's a big campaign among anti-war bloggers to pressure Democratic members of Congress who aren't supporting the current Iraq bill because it contains a deadline for exit.  There's nothing particularly unique about this campaign so I almost didn't mention it at all, but I thought this was a pretty significant item.  The blogger addresses his representative in a blog entry and gets an answer.

Flying robot dog fights, yes!  (Make sure Sarah Connor is wearing eye protection.)

Commuter Click: South by South-BEST - I saw a lot of people linking to it and so far I've only read that little bulleted part in the middle.  Sounds funny enough to give a full read.

Speaking of SXSW essays to print and read later, folks are fawning over the Will Wright keynote so I'm going to make that a commuter click tomorrow.

Torture isn't Christian.