Musing about curators and curation and news

Curators are of necessity fastidious people, charged with leading the acquisition and care of objects related to a particular field of study or collection.

In the past these objects were physical in nature, real and tangible. Some of the “objects” curated were living things: zoos had curators. [An aside: My father used to tell me a story about the curator of the Alipore Zoo and his dalliance with a mongoose (or two). He wanted a pair of the creatures in question to be sent to him by the curator of the Sydney Zoo, or so the story went. But he had a problem. He didn’t know the plural of mongoose. He tried “mongooses”. It didn’t feel right. Tried “mongeese”. It felt even wronger. Went back to “mongooses”. It still didn’t feel right enough. So, finally, he wrote “Dear Curator: Could you please send me a mongoose? Yours faithfully, Curator, Alipore Zoo. PS While you’re at it, could you please send me a second mongoose?.]

I digress. Curators. Fastidious professionals. Finding, collecting and taking care of objects, both animate as well as inanimate.

And now digital as well. Yes, digital. For some time now I’ve been hearing about the need for digital curation, the need to identify people who will select, acquire and look after digital objects for future generations.

I can understand the need for digital curators, people with the passion, the vocation, the time and the skills to weed through the noise and the garbage and collect and preserve that which is valuable.

More recently, I’ve had to consider the need for digital news curators, as more and more events of this type take place: Who’s to blame for spreading phony Jobs story?

I thought CNET did a good job of making sure the blame is not simply shifted to “citizen journalism” per se, a trend that Chris Brogan also comments about in Citizen Journalists Aren’t Evil.

Journalism 101 is about checking facts before reporting. In this respect there is no difference between “mainstream” journalism and “citizen” journalism, there is a duty of care across the profession as a whole. People who pass unsubstantiated rumours around are bad journalists, regardless of the medium they choose to use. And regardless of who pays their salaries.

The way we gather news is changing. Or is it? What is the difference between a freelance stringer and a “citizen journalist”? Both are self-employed. Both have some links with the places where they get published.

And both have reputations that are tied to the veracity of their reports. Reputations that determine whether they get published or not.

In the past, this reputation was decided upon by a small group of people at the centre of a publishing machine, it determined who got published and who didn’t, and everyone else was none the wiser. Now, with the continued democratisation of news publishing, barriers to entry are getting lower and lower.

There is one more, crucial, change. Reputation is now determined by democracy and not oligarchy.

But maybe all this doesn’t matter anyway. The veracity of a newspaper only matters if people read it. According to this report, it would appear that at least one participant in the presidential election does not have that problem. Heaven forfend.

4 thoughts on “Musing about curators and curation and news”

  1. So then, I propose that there are two classes of human involved in this, after reading your piece. I think there are velocity fiends, who want nothing but to get to the story first. This comes from a “scoop the journalist” passion, and then there are the curators, as you’ve explained them.

    What would work best, in a kind of symbiosis, would be if the velocity fiends FED the curators, and then we would learn eventually to camp out on the curators’ sites, because there, the stories would be vetted.

    But then, haven’t we just re-invented traditional journalism?

    No, because curators have different mandates when not working for a press. Make sense?

    Fascinating riff, JP. Glad that you’re on the case.

  2. Thanks Chris. I used to divide all of the blogosphere into three groups: thinkers, linkers and stinkers. The thinkers were primarily creators of original material, the linkers were primarily filters and curators, while the stinkers did neither.

    I think the key difference between the old and the new journalism is that the curator is amateur, passionate, unbiased. Doesn’t work for FOX News, as an example, regardless of your politics. Nor for the National Enquirer.

    You see, I want news “recommendations” from people I trust, rather than news shoved down my throat.

  3. Hi JP – nice post!

    I agree with where you are coming from, but I think we owe it to ourselves to be the biggest critics of our own ideas and positions, which is why I posted the other day about the excellent journalist-and-blogger Robert Peston as a counterpoint to the FAIL of the Steve Jobs heart attack lie:

    I would caution against thinking that ‘amateurs’ are less biased than journalists. The opposite is often true.

    The curator role is very important, and I think deserves another category in your typology of bloggers as synthesisers. I see myself in this area – gathering links, summarising, simplifying and synthesising analysis about a topic.

    What’s interesting is that this used to correspond in some way to the role of editor, and still does in some publications; but many editors these days play purely technical/managerial roles rather than being truth seekers themselves.

    But ultimately, as you point out, where we are headed is reputation / trust based sharing of news, links and info within our social networks. You’re spot on there.

Let me know what you think

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