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Curation Techniques, Types and Tips

28 Sep 2012

News curators must collect, summarise, make sense, add value, attribute, link, intrigue and entice. Successful curation will make sense on its own if you don't click through to any of the content you are curating, but will entice many people to click through and read or watch more. Finding and presenting the collected content is important, but effective curation boosts the experience of each of the pieces by presenting multiple pieces in a context that enhances your understanding of each piece.

Steve Buttry, Digital Transformation Editor, Digital First Media talks about curation techniques, types and tips in his blog and shares this information below.

Link and attribute

Linking and attribution are the nearly non-negotiable ethical principles of curation. Curation derives much of its value from other people's original work. You can can and should add value using the techniques discussed later here. But you must absolutely attribute and you must absolutely link. In almost all cases, you should both attribute and link.

Attribution should be complete, citing the journalist and news organisation, if both are identified in the original source. Vague references such as "media reports" or passive verbs such as "was reported" are not sufficient. Even if the source is a competitor, attribute completely and by name.

If you are citing non-journalism sources, you still should attribute as completely as possible, identifying the person, organisation and/or site. Embedded tweets don't need attribution if the username, shown in the tweet, makes the attribution clear, but if a username doesn't identify a person and/or organisation clearly, you should provide that attribution in text if you know it.

An exception would be a Storify where you are compiling lots of tweets that are essentially a conversation among the public, where the individual identities aren't a key to the story. Slowing that flow down for real-name attribution when the tweet shows the username clearly is not necessary. But if the real name and organisation are relevant, slow down and attribute.

Other embeds, such as YouTube videos and Scribd or SlideShare documents, may not make attribution as immediately evident, so you should provide attribution in text.

Sometimes the name of a person or organisation is not sufficient attribution. If the person or organisation is not well-known, do a little research (Google will provide quick answers in many cases; sometimes an "about us" page will help). Especially in political content, you want to note whether you are linking to partisan sources. A liberal or conservative think tank or political action committee is an entirely different kind of source from a professional media outlet or an independent fact-checking site.

Articles purporting to present research also merit some checking. Who funds the research?

Ryan Holiday's manipulation of the media as a bogus expert, reported by Forbes, underscores why curators need to research the sources we curate.

Where you can't learn much about the source of content you're curating, consider crowd sourcing the question: Note the name and organisation, tell readers what you've found and that you're continuing research and ask them what they know about the source.

Where the source of online content is unclear, you should be clear about what you know and where you found the material. For instance, a few years ago I took a journalist to task privately for using the animated graphic below, which is widely reproduced on the web. I don't know where it originated and I'm not sure it would be worth the trouble to find out. It's a few years old, so it's not likely to be newsworthy, but if it surfaces again in discussions of government efficiency, as it does from time to time, a curator who used it should note its ubiquity and note where it is being used in the current context.

Government Snow Plow... This is Priceless...

I think the only instances where you might not link (but you'd still attribute) would be if you were curating about something highly offensive, such as a pornography or a video by terrorists of a beheading or other heinous act. In those cases, the decision not to link should be a joint decision, discussed with other curation team members and editors.

You should always disclose to readers why you choose not to link. If you discuss whether to link because content is offensive and decide to link, you might consider whether you should explain that decision, too, and whether and how to offer a warning about the offensive content.

I shared with candidates for our curation team an analysis of BuzzFeed curation practices by Farhad Manjoo. I told the candidates that BuzzFeed's curation practice, as described in the article was thoughtful and its research was effective. The BuzzFeed example examined in the greatest detail was a slide show of 21 photos that restore your faith in humanity. Manjoo noted that it was pretty clearly a mashup of two other slide shows of 13 and 7 photos, both curated by Ned Hardy, that restore your faith in humanity, though it never links to either of those lists.

Imitation is acceptable in journalism curation, but I believe curators should credit those whose ideas they use. For instance, a better way to present the photos that restore your faith in humanity would be to openly acknowledge the first two lists, choosing a few photos from each, find more than one other photo to add beyond the lists you're mashing up (searching on terms such as "rescue" and "good Samaritan" would undoubtedly help you find a few more). And then crowd source the growth of the list, seeking nominations for other uplifiting photos and adding them throughout the day (or a couple days if the response has some staying power).

Curators must add value

The curator adds value to the collected content in a variety of ways:

Summarise. The best curation will provide a good overview of a story or issue, so the reader gets a basic understanding whether or not they click through to the various content you have collected.

Organize. You add value by grouping related content together: You gather news reports, blog posts, tweets, videos and other content on related issues, giving the compilation value beyond the sum of its parts. The organisation within the curation adds further value: grouping the pro arguments and the con arguments or telling a story chronologically from multiple sources.

Original reporting. While curation is by its nature derived from the work of others, it doesn't have to be just a compilation of external content. Our curators will at times fill gaps with their own reporting or by including in the curation summaries from and links to original reporting by Digital First newsrooms.

Context. Curators should place news in context, linking to background materials and to related content. Much of curators' work focuses on the news, but you should always remember the value you can add from linking to your own archives and archives of other news organisations, Wikipedia and other reference sites. Topic pages are a helpful way to provide context, giving an overview of a running issue or a person frequently in the news, with links to earlier content.

Different types of curation

Stories breaking on social media. Some stories unfold first or heavily on social media. Our curation team will track the course of those stories, in the manner of NPR's Andy Carvin, who has provided a great model for curators in his tweeting, retweeting and Storifying of developments in the Arab Spring uprisings.

Reaction. Many days curators should consider rounding up the reaction to the top story of the day. We'll coordinate with Digital First editors who are handling the big story(ies) of the day and discuss which stories might merit a curation of the reaction by bloggers and commentators and/or the reaction on social media. For some stories, we might mix the blog/commentator reaction with social media reaction and other times we might decide they should be separate curation projects or that we should focus on one or the other.

For instance, last month the reaction to the Supreme Court's health care ruling was voluminous enough that separate curations of reaction on social media and by commentators might be the way to go. But the reaction to the appointment of Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo, and the subsequent story that she is pregnant might have worked best with curation of blogs and social media together.

"Talker" stories. Some stories generate such conversation that the talk becomes the story. A great example would be last month's story about the controversy in the Michigan House of Representatives over a member's use of the word vagina during debate. The curation of that story (done for the Oakland Press by Karen Workman, who's joining our curation team) could be a standalone project. Talker stories could come from fun trending hashtags on Twitter - newsy hashtags such as Sunday's #RetroactiveRomney discussion or silly hashtags such as #worstwesternsever, which had a nice ride last week.

Daily features. Our curation team might develop some annual, monthly, weekly or even daily curation projects. For instance, many newspapers routinely run daily lists of celebrity birthdays. (Link to some birthday sites.) A curation team wouldn't just rip off one of these lists. You might curate a slideshow of the people whose birthday it is or a collection of video clips. Or maybe you select one person whose birthday it is and curate a "best-of" collection of movie scenes, songs or athletic plays. Maybe you add a poll, asking users to vote for the celeb's very best moment.

Our curation team might give the birthday approach a try for the first few weeks or months, monitoring traffic. If it's consistently popular, then it becomes a daily routine. If not, we try something else. Even if it's a daily routine, you can vary it depending on the news flow. The curation I compiled for today's birthdays took about half an hour, if that, pulling in bios and video clips of three people and a link to a celebrity-birthday site that listed more. On a slow day, you might pull in more clips. On a busy day, you could feature one and link to the longer list.

Birthdays aren't the only possibility for daily curation projects. You could do a daily "top of the news" curation that rounds up the biggest stories of the day at particular times: Maybe an early-morning roundup for people starting their day, a midday roundup for people checking the web on their lunch hours and an evening tablet-designed version. (Of course, since our newsrooms serve four different time zones, the top-of-the-news product could be continuously updated.)

Or you could do daily roundups on a number of topics: sports, health, education, humour, etc. If the birthdays catch on, we might try some other daily curations that reflect traditional newspaper content: linking to comics, horoscopes, games, puzzles and advice. Or we might do a more digital roundup, linking to or embedding clips from the previous night's comedy shows. Popularity will be the key to which roundups become worth daily attention.

Vetting, verifying and correcting

Curators should be as skeptical as reporters. Because a curation team isn't breaking any stories, curators should be cautious and transparent in using content that has not been confirmed.

We've had two great examples this year of stories where false reports could have presented traps for a curation team: the premature reports of the death of Joe Paterno and the erroneous reports by CNN and Fox, jumping prematurely to conclusions about the Supreme Court's health care ruling.

In both cases, a curation team compiling reports from other media would be vulnerable to passing along those errors. A curation team should react quickly to the news, but doesn't have to react instantly to the first reports.

In the Paterno case, some news sites were reporting his death, but the news site that had been leading the way in coverage of the controversy that led to his resignation - the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa. - was not reporting the death. In such a case, we should not just report the death. We should take one of two approaches:

1. Report that some sites had reported the death, but note that other leading sources, such as the Patriot-News, the Associated Press and the Digital First newsroom that was covering the story closely, the York Daily Record, were not yet reporting the death, and it had not been announced officially by the family, the university or the hospital.

2. Seek independent confirmation of the reports of his death. In such a case, our curators probably would not have had good enough sources to get immediate answers. But by waiting until we could confirm, we would soon have seen the reports, shortly after the false report, about the family's statement that Paterno was still alive, or would have received the statement ourselves.

In the case of the Supreme Court ruling, an effective curation team would have watched multiple sources for the first reports about the ruling and would have seen right away that SCOTUSblog was reporting a different conclusion than CNN and Fox. That confusion would be enough to either report that initial reports were conflicting or to wait a little longer to sort out the conflicts.

In either case, if the curation team decides something merits passing along, they want to attribute, hedge, place stories in context and avoid jumping to conclusions.

For instance, it wouldn't be inaccurate to report that Penn State athletes received an email saying Paterno was dead (they did; it was bogus) and that you were seeking confirmation. And it wouldn't be inaccurate to report that Chief Justice John Roberts said the Constitution's commerce clause didn't allow the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (he did) and that you were awaiting further information about the ruling's conclusion as reporters finished reading the Supreme Court's opinions. But it was inaccurate to report that Paterno was dead and that the Supreme Court overturned the health care reform law.

Our curation team is going to make errors. All journalists do. We will correct them quickly and transparently, acknowledging even small errors and explaining major ones.

Content to curate

Curators need to curate a variety of content: news reports, blogs, tweets, videos, photos. Many of the best curations will combine different types of content.

Source: emediavitals

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