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A Small Breakthrough as Dallas Paper Asks Readers' Help on JFK Assassination Documents


The Dallas Morning News implores its readers, “Help us examine the lost JFK files.” Why?

Given the volume, we haven’t been able to review most of the files. That’s why were calling on you. Here’s your chance to review never-seen-before materials related to the JFK assassination.

This is a breakthrough in the traditional media — though as Jon Garfunkel notes in his comments below, the implementation leaves a huge amount to be desired.

Some organizations, notably several Gannett papers, have asked for audience help in looking into issues. But as far as I know this is the first time one of them has asked the readers to help analyze a pile of documents.

Nothing new elsewhere, of course; Talking Points Memo has done it many times, to good effect. To see a Big Media company wise up to the audience’s potential, however, is excellent.

Should the DMN pay people who come up with the best material? Yes, as they’d pay freelancers. Complicated, but the right thing to do.

Whether they do or not, this is still a great move.

4 Comments on “A Small Breakthrough as Dallas Paper Asks Readers' Help on JFK Assassination Documents”

  1. #1 Jon Garfunkel
    on Feb 24th, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    It’s a mess. The DMN should work a little harder before they’re given praise.

    There’s a big myth that the “wisdom of crowds” just happens. I studied this in the aformentioned Talking Points Meme article. The mining of the document dump didn’t happen as many people think it did. Read this note from Marshall. After Mike Allen at the Politico broke the news about the 18 day gap, Marshall hunted around the thread and realized that somebody else had discovered that overnight. But, due to the unscaleability of single-threaded comment displays, nobody noticed it, least of all Paul Kiel. The first thing that Kiel did in the morning of March 20. 2007 was read the newspapers to see what they’d found. (Another

    But DMN doesn’t even have a discussion thread. So there’s no way for people to work together once they find something.

    Here’s what they should do.

    One, people needs to go through the source material and tag the data — which are handwritten notes, which are typed notes, which are print clippings (along date, from, to, etc.). This can be done in parallel as long as the researchers follow a common taxonomy.

    Two, you need to OCR the handwritten and typed notes. You can outsource this abroad, or you can do it in a distributed fashion via ReCAPTCHA. A.H. Belo (owner of the DMN) could make a token donation to CMU to get these at the front of the queue. (Also note: if you want to preach the gospel of distributed knowledge capturing, you must install ReCAPTCHA on your blog without delay.)

    From there, if you have all of the primary source material in plaintext and metadata-tagged, it becomes much easier for a historian to grok through.

  2. #2 - Blog - Scene Digitali » Blog Archive » Crowdsourcing e appunti al volo
    on Feb 25th, 2008 at 5:19 am

    […] invece a una segnalazione di PaferroByDay vengo a sapere che il Dallas Morning News , venuto in possesso di una grande quantità […]

  3. #3 Čtenáři Dallas Morning News zkoumají dokumenty o JFK : Online žurnalistika
    on Feb 25th, 2008 at 6:02 am

    […] A Small Breakthrough as Dallas Paper Asks Readers’ Help on JFK Assassination Documents. Dan Gillmor. […]

  4. #4 Dan Gillmor
    on Feb 25th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Jon, you’re entirely right. Thanks for the comments.