Turning reporters into curators to improve journalism

A conversation started this week by Scott Karp and carried forward by Terry Heaton has me thinking about why news organizations are so skittish about linking out from their web sites.

It’s as if they think that creating a cul de sac will make readers forget they’ve got a Back button on the browser.

And when you layer that conversation onto Chris Anderson’s pith about amateurs noted below, you come to one of my favorite topics: journalists as curators.

It’s simple: Journalists need to stop thinking exclusively like content creators and start acting also as content curators.

Even today, years after the arrival of the social web, the internet might as well not exist to most news organizations, except as a broadcast medium for a one-way conversation.

But what if we took a step back and acknowledged that, in 2008, not only is pretty much everyone capable of being a journalist , many of them are already doing it. They maintain blogs. They post photos and videos online. They build and host popular and active discussion boards. They ask questions and they get answers.

Honestly, this isn’t a revelation, but you’d think it was based on most metro news web sites.

It’s no longer sufficient for a reporter to remain plugged into the happenings in his beat but report only the most significant. The reporter as curator takes on the role of the the most plugged-in guy in the room about a particular area of interest and uses that knowledge in multiple ways:

  • Report, of course
  • Blog on their beat. All beat reporters should maintain a blog that becomes the most reliable source for information and discussion around their topic area.
  • Be an active participant in communities of interest, online and off. This means real-name participation in blogs, user groups and discussion threads online and participation in real-world organizations and events.
  • Build, maintain and grow a real-name social network on at least one of the major platforms, involving peers, readers, experts, etc., around the  beat topic(s).  Learning from and model the successes  of Jay Rosen’s BeatBlogging project.
  • Point readers to the best of the rest. As good as our reporters are, they’re not able to cover everything. Linking frequently to other coverage of their beat is essential, as is asking readers to share their recommended links.
  • Ask questions of readers. Chances are, many readers know a whole lot about the topic area, too.
  • Embrace crowdsourcing as a reporting tool.
  • Participate in the conversation. Every story that’s published has a comments thread. This is an opportunity to connect better with the audience and to cement our roles as the go-to source on the topic.
  • Maintain an “about me” page that lists all recent articles and blog posts and relevant background and links out to related areas of interest.

This requires an investment in time, but the payoff in reader engagement will be worth it.

(Thanks to Scott Anderson who contributed much to this list back when we both worked for Tribune.)

Tim Windsor

VP, Content & Conversion at LendingPoint LLC
I lead media companies and other organizations that want to develop and improve their mobile and digital strategies and technologies, grow audience, and build sustainable digital revenue.