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Curation Journalism

The journalism industry is in the midst of a drastic transformation that threatens to destroy the traditional forms of journalism. 

"By early 2017 the world had woken up to a problem, with a mixture of impotence, incomprehension and dread, journalists had seen coming for some time. News – the thing that helped people understand their world; that oiled the wheels of society; that pollinated communities; that kept the powerful honest – news was broken.,, No one could agree on the narrative. The old media were lazy and corrupt: and/or the new players were greedy and secretive. We were newly penned into filter bubbles: rubbish - they had always been there. There was a new democracy of information: bunkum - the mob were now in control. The old elites were dying: read your history - power simply changes shape.
On this most people could agree: we were now up to our necks in a seething, ever churning ocean of information; some of it true, much of it wrong"
- Alan Rusbridger, Breaking News

The digital age has brought a change in how people consume media. This shift has not just changed where people get their news but has completely altered the media landscape. The new financial realities are shrinking news rooms and putting many news companies' outlets out of business. Even more significant has been the power shift as the gatekeepers to information have changed. However more critically, the way journalism is conducted is changing.

"The information revolution came along and the geeks stole our lunch" - Michael Rosenbaum 

Michael Rosenbaum, CEO

Journalism is dead and we have killed it. The failure of traditional media outlets to get out in front of the technology changes has led to a wild west of journalism where many players are swarming in to fill the void. The monopoly that newspapers and television networks had on publication and broadcast has been undone and with it their sacred tenants of proper journalistic practices are being challenged. This has lead to a state of nihilism for new media in which the old rules are no older set in stone as dogma. Among these 'outdated conventions' is perhaps the most fundamental of journalistic practices: original reporting. 

The profiteers of the information age are not the creators of information, they are the technology companies that facilitate its distribution. Facebook and Google intercepted the channels of information and in doing so have stolen the revenue and the power away from the journalists, who spend the time and money to do the original reporting. Media companies such as Reddit and The Huffington have found financial success by circumventing the expenses of original reporting by becoming the aggregators of other news sources original content. 

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Columbia Journalism Review. Chapter 6: Aggregation

This trend is a big part of what is broken in journalism today. The financial incentives are aligned to promote stealing other peoples reporting rather than creating your own. 

Link: Aggregated Robbery - The New Republic

However, as the producers of this form of new journalism will be quick to point out, there is a significant difference between 'scrapping,' 'aggregation' and 'curation.' When done with skill and care, curation journalism is not just a lazy and greedy way to steal profits, but is a form a story telling that could prove to be the essential element that makes sense out of the chaotic media landscape that the information revolution has created. 

Content-Aggregation-Versus-Aggregation (
"We are in the digital age now and what we find is that there isn't enough quality journalism but there's actually so much of it that a lot of it falls though the cracks - it gets read once and then forgotten. So what a curatorial journalists does is they look back decades, across media and they see stories that are lost and how they connect with one another and how they might be important now but weren't realized as important at the time"
-Seth Abramson

Seth Abrams on Real Time with Bill Maher

"Curatorial journalists find the gaps and blindspots in scattershot or even excellent reporting and then fill them in with reliable, germane reporting from other sources."
-Seth Abramson in The Guardian   

Ironically, the problem of too much information caused by technology and exasperated by aggregation journalism might be solved by more aggregation but done right in the form of curation journalism.  

The shear quantity and speed of today's media has made it nearly impossible to for the public to get a clear picture of what is truly going on. This constant bombardment of information, true and false, is so unwieldy that even those who are media savvy struggle to make sense of it all. It takes a high degree of media literacy and many hours to sift through fact from fiction and recognize what is important and what is a distraction.

The same skills and journalistic practices that are have been compromised in this digital era must be harnessed and focused upon journalism and media itself in order to save it. This is the job of the curatorial journalist. Although this curation may be the solution, it is not a replacement of original reporting. There must be a symbiosis between both in terms of content creation and financial reward for journalism to be saved.

The response to aggregation and curation journalism today seems to be if you can't beat them, join them - at least in part. Even the New York Times and other prestigious traditional news organizations, do some form of curation journalism themselves. This is in part because that is what modern news consumers have come to expect. Regardless of how much funding is spent and how many reporters are dedicated to original reporting, a single organization cannot be omnipresent to cover every breaking story. However, the experience for their audience is enhanced if every breaking story is available. Therefore, the solution is to fill in the gaps of their original reporting with content from other news organization or - what is becoming more frequent - from the accounts from civilians witnesses with smartphones and Twitter accounts.

Navin Vaswani of theScore - a mobile sports news application with 3.7 million active monthly users - says that curation provides a more deserve overall package for their users who have different preferences when consuming media. "(Today) as a journalist, especially in an online and mobile space you're almost like a producer - you are producing a new experience," says Vaswani. Twitter and other public online platforms act as a free wire service for theScore however, it requires a skilled journalist to mine these sources and amalgamate the best content in a format that satisfies all types of sports fans. "The best curators and the best news editors put together comprehensive news experiences using all the tools available to them."

It is worthwhile, although perhaps unsettling for some, to take a step back and ask: exactly how different is this from what a new paper reporter does?  

I’m wondering if what I consider “reporting” is just a form of aggregating, of skimming, of lifting the best parts of a scientist’s work and repurposing it for my own interests. These scientists have spent many, many years doing research, much of it at the very edge of the knowable, where finding a new piece of solid data is a laborious process that may require long nights at the computer or the laboratory bench, or mulling a bust of Galileo, and this work has to be slotted among other obligations, including grant applications, peer-reviewing papers, teaching, advising graduate students, holding office hours, serving on faculty committees and schmoozing at the faculty club. And here I am calling up and saying: “Give me the fruit of your mental labors.” Asking for the ripest fruit, as it were. Asking not just for information but for wisdom. Give it to me! For free.  And they did, because they always do, because we have a system of sorts.
- Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post  

Unless the reporter is giving a first-hand account of an event they witnessed, they are practicing a form of aggregation. They are scraping together eye-witness reports, knowledge, and research other people have provided and extracting the best material to produce a story or news experience that makes sense of it all. Curation journalism is simply a macro reiteration of this process. 

The information revolution has altered the nature of journalism, but sensemaking remains the sine qua non of its pursuit - and to make sense of the world in the digital age requires both original and curation journalism.

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