Blogging has been called the art of posting. As we launch OffTheBus we are at the same time starting to define that art-- for this site.
Over the next few days we will ask people to begin writing OffTheBus posts, not about any star in the campaign sky but specifically about our first project, Eyes on the Money. If Eyes on the Money is productive there will be some "discoveries"-- OffTheBus material to report and observe upon. That's a good post, and we're going to start with posts like that.
The basic method: Using our strength--lots of people, working separately and in teams--we find things out, or piece a pattern together. Then we turn this material into news and informed commentary that has our stamp. Whether we go to the scene, dig into the data or just talk to the right people, posting for OffTheBus starts with reporting.
Inquire--discover--then inform others. And that's an order!
The conventional image of blogging as opinionated reactions to the news originating elsewhere--self-published letters to the editor with links and comments--is not what we're after at the start. We don't want your latest rant at Bush or dig at the Clintons. Sounding off at some stray headline won't cut it. A good, solid OffTheBus item springs from new information, a discovery worth sharing with the broader political public.
In addition to posts about Eyes on the Money, we invite contributors to submit "informational" posts about campaign developments, especially those neglected elsewhere, but in draft form only. If we feel you're on the right track, we'll let you know. Email your draft post to us, with bio and photo.
Authors who have published posts that rock will be featured on the front page and eventually they will be given greater latitude. This is the only way we can set a standard for all contributors to hit.
Simultaneously, we are recruiting people who want to develop specialized beats for OfftheBus. A beat, which means tracking a single part of the campaign story over time, is a bigger commitment than "general reporting," but the payoff to OffTheBus is also bigger. And we know from our email that some contributors are up for that. If that's you, we need to know now so we can begin to work with you in finding and developing a beat, or, if it's more practical for you, sharing a beat with others, which we expect will be an intensely collaborative experience.
First step for newcomers who want to contribute posts: go to the sign up page and check the appropriate boxes.
* I am primarily interested in general reporting
* I want to go beyond general reporting and develop my own beat
* I am primarily interested in being on The List to be notified for group reporting projects
* I am an expert in a particular subject area that OffThe Bus might need.
(Important detail: If you are already on our list and getting emails from us then you can't use the sign-up form. So instead email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your preference: general reporting, develop your own beat or expert in a subject area. Please put "preferences" in the subject line. Thanks!)
Here it helps to understand how we see the parts of the project fitting together. There are three ways to participate. You can join in one, two or possibly all three.
First, there's the alert list. If you contacted us about contributing to OffTheBus that means you're on The List. We contact you by email about special reporting projects that require groups of people working together. If you want to get involved, there's stuff to do. If you just want to remain in the loop this is a good way. We already have more than 1,000 people on our alert list, so a community is starting to form.
Second: the OffTheBus reporting corps, divided into two catgeories of bloggers: general reporting and beats.
Third part: Experts on call. We want to develop a separate list of people with special expertise or unusually deep knowledge who can help our contributors by being on call if their advice, consultation or feedback is needed.
So...If the diggers on the list make juicy discoveries then OffTheBus bloggers will have original material to write about. Meanwhile bloggers tracking stories will develop good ideas for the list to tackle. Experts on call can help both groups. When all three parts are working together OffTheBus will start rolling.
Rules and Guidelines for OffTheBus Posts
Here are some basic guidelines for those who decide to post for us. Expect them to be revised as we go.
Offer an alternative. It all starts with the name, OffTheBus. We're trying to offer an alternative to the campaign coverage we've grown accustomed to from the traditional, on-the-bus press. Not to displace or duplicate what the press corps does but to take a different, more varied--and hopefully more interesting--approach.
No favored genre, no official style. OffTheBus welcomes news reports presented in "just the facts" style. It welcomes extremely articulate rants. It values informational blogging and opinion blogging. An eyewitness account is good, an interpretation of other accounts is also good. We do not elevate one genre or style over others. We're open to all forms of reporting and commentary that meet our standards and obey these guidelines. (Oh and data is good, too.)
Feeds and front pages are edited by OffTheBus. The front page of OffTheBus, the items featured there, plus section pages and candidate feeds we will later develop, are edited products. That means we filter posts for quality, relevance and timeliness. We will try to be as clear as we can about our editorial priorities, but ultimately we are applying our judgment, which is subjective.
No single starting point. In campaign coverage as we've come to know it, a single master narrative tends to dominate. Sometimes called "the horse race," this is not a story but a device for generating lots of stories. In the horse race narrative the overarching question is always, "who's gonna win?" and the day-to-day question is, "who's ahead?" New developments are interpreted for how they affect the likely answers to those questions.
The appeal of the horse race is obvious: it's easy to understand, durable from election-to-election, and it turns reporters into savvy interpreters of the candidates' moves. Perhaps a subtler reason is that it limits competition: if there's a consensus narrative then everyone on the bus can compete with each other within known bounds. At OffTheBus, we don't want to copy the consensus narrative or replace it with our own "master"; instead we think no single frame should prevail. Diversity of perspective is better. Lots of ideas for what constitutes a good campaign story. Lots of different starting points.
Don't run away from traditional approaches. There's nothing wrong with a sharp "who's ahead?" analysis but it should not be the lens through which the whole campaign is viewed. There's no reason to avoid events that interest the press pack, as long as we can provide a different perspective. We're not seeking to eradicate from our coverage all signs of traditional journalism because that isn't necessary for what we are trying to do: provide a compelling and practical alternative.
Original content is prized. OffTheBus offers original content. Never present someone else's work as your own; that's cheating and grounds for being banned. We place a premium on news that hasn't been reported yet and material that cannot be found elsewhere, because it was created specifically for OffTheBus.
We urge you to specialize, and claim a beat. OffTheBus will be most effective if our bloggers develop specialties and stick with them through the campaign. That could mean specializing in a particular candidate, or an issue that cuts across candidates (poverty, tax rates) or an aspect of campaigning that interests you (Internet fundraising.) There are many other possibilities. Later this summer, we'll be announcing our beat blogging project, in which we formalize the assignment of beats and assist bloggers who want to develop their own beats. Claiming a beat is not required, not does having a beat preclude you from occasional posts on other topics. We just think there is a lot of potential in network of campaign bloggers with individualized beats, some of them sharing the work of one beat.
Principles of pro-am journalism. Dan Gillmor, formerly of the San Jose Mercury News, now director of the Center for Citizen Media, recently set down some universal principles for journalists, whether amateur or professional. We adopt them as our own. "The media creator who wants to tell other people small or large things about the world in any remotely journalistic way, should recognize [these] principles," he writes.
Thoroughness. Reporters try to learn as much as they can about a topic. It's better to know much more than you publish than to leave big holes in your story. The best reporters always want to make one more call, check with one more source.
Accuracy. Accuracy is the starting point for all good journalism. Get your facts right, then check them again. Know where to look to verify claims or to separate fact from fiction.
Fairness. Whether you are presenting a balanced story or arguing from a point of view, your readers will feel cheated if you slant the facts or present opposing opinions disingenuously.
Independence. Being independent can mean many things, but independence of thought may be most important. Professional journalists can be relatively independent of conflicts of interest, but sometimes they're so beholden to their sources, and to access to those sources, that they are not independent at all.
Transparency. Simply, if you have a horse in the race, say so. Reveal -- if relevant to what you're talking about -- your motives, your background, your financial interests.
Tell us where you're coming from! Gillmor's last principle is critically important. It's vital for OffTheBus bloggers to understand the connection between transparency and trust. We're not trying to keep out of our system anyone who may have an investment in the campaign, or a rooting interest in one of the candidates. For example, it you gave money to a candidate that's enough to get you in trouble in a lot of newsrooms but it does not disqualify you from having a blog at OffTheBus. However, you must disclose (at your blog) any interest, stake, investment or involvement that might be relevant to users of our service as they evaluate your report and decide how much weight to give it. If we discover that you failed to disclose a meaningful connection that is grounds for being banned.
Tell us who you are. Related to transparency is your OffTheBus biography. It helps enormously to know who you are, what you have done in life, where you have lived, how you have earned a living, as well as any special skills and interests you may have. We're not asking OffTheBus bloggers to be "above" or "outside" politics, so the more you can tell us about your political perspective, the better. Please put some time into your bio; it's important.
OffTheBus, NYU and the Huffington Post. OffTheBus is a collaboration between NewAssignment.Net, a non-profit pilot project based at New York University's Department of Journalism, and the Huffington Post, a for-profit news and information site. Bloggers on our platform are not employees of the Huffington Post or NYU, and should not claim to represent either one of those institutions. If you are gathering information for use in an OffTheBus post, you should tell people that's what you are doing, and send them to your blog and bio if they wish to know more. (You can also send them to these guidelines.) Thus: "I work for the Huffington Post" is not a true statement. "I'm with the NYU Journalism Department" is not a true statement. "I'm an independent blogger for OffTheBus, a campaign news site affiliated with Huffington Post and NYU..."-- that's a true statement.
No party line, no favored candidates. OffTheBus covers the entire campaign for president, and candidates in both parties. The site does not endorse candidates, or favor one over others. There is no official ideology. There is no party line.