Planning an event on curating news

Mindy McAdams does a wonderful job extending the definition and discussion of curation in the journalistic sense. It’s a word I’ve used a lot lately because I think it well describes the key role for journalists in a world of links and networks, selecting and organizing the best reports and best reporters. Mindy breaks out these roles: 1. Selection of the best representatives. 2. Culling. 3. Provide context. 4. Arrangement of individual objects. 5. Organization of the whole. 6. Expertise. 7. Updating.

I’m planning to hold an event at CUNY on curation and journalism (no date set; just planning). I will have a museum curator there and someone who curates events — any other ideas — with an editor and a link bloggers to compare worldviews and help illuminate this function in journalism.

I think it’s important now to bring in people from other disciplines to listen to their worldview of news and journalism and how they would go about it (and in many cases are going about it). At the New Business Models for News Summit, Tom Evslin made a point of saying he’s not a journalist and then did a wonderful job presenting network economics in a way that opened many eyes. At Davos last January, I ran a session with newspaper editors and technology CEOs (John Chambers, Reid Hoffman, Joe Schoendorf) who slapped the Eeyoreing editors out of their funk and made them see the opportunities they have.

Yesterday, I had coffee with Jay Rosen talking about his exciting (if competitive) Studio 20 program at NYU. As he gave his vision of how his students and their partners would work together on a big project, I said I thought it sounded a lot like agile development in technology and it occurred to me that such a developer could advise the project.

We’ve had too few new perspectives in journalism over the years because we thought our method was set. But today, as journalism changes or tries to, those new perspectives would be invaluable. So what would you add to the list here — curators, technologists, technology executives, agile developers…. Who else would have a valuable perspective on how the functions of news? Teachers, now that we have to be more generous sharing knowledge? Artists on creativity? Meeting facilitators on bringing out a group’s ideas? Hostage negotiators in negotiating? Researchers in navigating the value of peer review? Restaurateurs in gauging taste? Hoteliers in making strangers comfortable? Retailers in creating navigation? Cops in handling trolls? Who else?

They all know news. They were all what we used to call consumers. Some of them even write today. Journalism is in their hands. So I think it would do journalists a world of good to hear how they view news.

  • One thought about the function of news…what about turning it from consumable to usable. I think many consumers of news, information and advice look to take some sort of action to apply what they’ve read. Journalists and publishers have the opportunity to help make that happen by making their content more interactive.

  • The key insight in the McAdams post was not the general one that Jarvis explores here — how can journalists learn from teachers, artists, hostage negotiators, restaurateurs et al? — but the particular one about “curation” itself:

    Jeff has defined curation as “the need for editors to create order, to correct and vet,” and while that nicely distinguishes curation from reporting, it sounds a lot like plain old editing.

    What McAdams emphasizes is that a curator’s job is as much about design and presentation as about selection and assembly.

    The design of a news site is especially tricky under Web 2.0, since the interactive freedom offered by search often undercuts the curator’s guidance and expertise. Negotiating this trade-off, Tyndall Report, for example, emphasizes curation by limiting its videostream database to the network nightly newscasts while Daylife, by contrast, emphasizes collection by extending its content to an unfiltered universe.

    In either instance, the curator’s design function can be found in the subtlety of the search that is offered. Does search filter for quality as well as subject matter? How sensitive are the tags? Using McAdams’ terms, in a web design sense, how are the results of search culled and contextualized? In a graphic design sense, how are they arranged and organized?

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  • Jeff,

    Thanks for your ideas and for BuzzMachine.

    What about news librarians for additional perspective? Web curation would be a natural fit for them.

    John M.

  • Francis Burdett

    “curators, technologists, technology executives, agile developers….”

    all people first against the Wall ere the Revolution come…

    but seriously “curator” sounds such a bloodless title, the term puts me in the mind of white gloves and tweed jackets.

    (in keeping with the class warfare theme) Studs Terkel was never a “curator”, Mencken may never have been attending cocktail fundraisers at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

    As a function of assembling news, it may be an appropriate metaphor but ain’t it a bit twee?

  • I agree about the value of a librarian, particularly with skils in indexing.

    Classification can be make-or-break…these days it’s often called tagging.

  • Currating news: I reported a French experience different in principle from publish2: It’s linkblogging rather than linkjournalism.

    Almost a third of the participants are French journalists and others are not (academics, experts …), but all are bloggers. The principle of this project: sharing links selected by bloggers.

    Readers are familiar with these bloggers because they know their blogs and have confidence in them. They can interact with them on their blogs.

    The idea of this project is that the relationship between blogger and reader is more important than being a journalist or not.

    The credibility of the journalist is no longer accepted without proof. The credibility of the blogger is verifiable by his blog. If the blogger is a journalist is even better.

    If the blogger is credible for its posts, he is also credible to recommend links …

    This is not exactly the same philosophy as that of publish2 … No?

  • Lucas Cioffi

    News is a conversation. Here in the US, one great organization of conversation and mediation experts is the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation (

  • “Curation,” in common understanding, involves two sets of somewhat opposed ideas.
    First, you have curation as a form of collecting or indexing. (For instance: Stamp collecting)
    More important is curation as a form of expression or exposition: a set of actions that have rhetorical intent — an intent to communicate, teach, convince, to speak with a “voice.” (For instance: Communicating the horror of the holocaust through the art of concentration camp survivors…)
    Journalistic curators should be focusing on curation as a form of expression and authorship. Leave “stamp collecting” to folk like Google News or Daylife…

    Tools like Daylife, Google News, and other comprehensive news search engines do not “curate” in the most important sense in that they have no “voice” and no rhetorical intent. They simply collect. They are libraries, not voices or guides — and that is their greatest weakness. While they supposedly serve “readers”, these voiceless collection sites are probably best used as research tools for curators, journalists and the occasional reader who wishes to “research” some issue.

    In the future online world, we’ll see that attributes such as voice, quality and perspective are, in fact, the primary foundations of competition between alternative news sources. Conservatives will read one set of news, liberals another. Stock brokers will read one site, pharmaceutical executives another.
    In the paper world business success required reducing costs via economies of scale and thus required “objective” reporting that would be “acceptable” to everyone in a geographic area. But, success in the online world will depend on the subjectivity that curation implies. Successful online news sources will be those that target market segments, not those that serve all segments. Consider: If Daylife and/or Google News contain *all* the news (including what’s on Huffington Post or Politico), then why do so many people actually go directly to the Huffington Post or Politico site? Clearly, it is the “curation” and unique voice provided by those sites that makes them competitive.

    “All the news” is a commodity and thus will be provided “free” or close to free by whoever can scale the best. But, “Just the news you need or want” is a scarce resource — those who provide it, by having the best curators for their markets, will have pricing power and sustainable, differentiated, profitable businesses.

    bob wyman

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  • Newspapers have an opportunity to become a platform — online and offline — for news and information. Doesn’t the discussion need a broader perspective, especially now that most people don’t receive their news via paper? In my blog, I also ask the question: when was the last time a major newspaper bought something other than newsprint or another newspaper? The fact is, we live in a digital, interactive world. Is curating the most important discussion right now when the business model is losing ground?

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  • Tim

    In your list of representative of various disciplines it seems that all the people are on the news generation side, not measuring or evaluating the success or failure of the communication taking place between the producers and receivers of the communication. Marketing, testers and product evaluation experts should also be added to the list.

    The purpose of the comunication needs to be defined. Otherwise how does one select and evaluate the “best reports and best reporters.”.

    For example, if the purpose of the national media communication was the inform the electorate about the support each presidentail candidate was receiving at that point in time, they did an admirable job, if they were the report the positions that each candidate held and supported over a long period of time, they were not successful.

    “Best” for journalism must also be evaluated in the quality reaction, not just in the quality input.

  • For citizen journalism curating, my additions to the list: community organizers, political campaign managers and the like. See: Amanda Michel formerly of Off The Bus. Or the Obama campaign team. People who get people to do something tangible, valuable, constructive.

    As we’ve discussed there is a huge need for curation in citizen journalism– especially as these new media for transmitting information (twitter/qik/youtube/flickr) get more crowded and chaotic. We need people who can manage/organize PEOPLE– as well as information.

    GroundReport has been experimenting with this in a few ways– recruiting local reporters via twitter, putting out assignments based on geography/skill set, rewarding super users with special editor privileges– but there is a long way to go.

  • Ellen Goodman

    The public TV station in Boston, WGBH, has been developing and implementing ideas of curatorship in the media and real spaces for years. You might want to include them in your conference.

  • My problem with MSM political news centers on the first element of your curation of news list: 1. Selection of the best representatives. They pick elephants or donkeys who come to the table with fixed agendas. There is a mistaken belief in the MSM that if they balance elephants and donkeys at the table, we gain a “balanced” view of the issue discussed. No, we get two slanted views, neither of which is an honest and fair appraisal of the facts. If the article is suggesting that news be democratized, them I’m all for it. Get the sleazy political hacks out of news.