3 tactics for an evolving curation strategy
Curation is becoming commonplace in the publishing world. GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram has carved out a niche curating third-party content into coherent and insightful analysis about the media business, without much original interviewing. I’m using the practice more as well, including for this post.
Curating content from external sources is an important tool for resource-strapped editorial staffs that can no longer blanket their coverage areas with dedicated beat writers. As Ingram’s posts demonstrate, however, good curation still requires real editorial chops. Analysis, context, even a layer of original reporting are important elements of successful curation, and mark an important distinction from aggregation.
Digital First Media’s Steve Buttry best summarizes the role of a curator: “News curators must collect, summarize, make sense, add value, attribute, link, intrigue and entice.”
This lofty definition distinguishes curation from what you might find on Tumblr or Pinterest, which have come to be known as popular “curation” sites, but really aren’t, the New York Times’ Carina Chocano notes. “These sites are not meant (as curation is) to make us more conscious, but less so,” Chocano wrote.
As such, good curation represents a way for media companies to differentiate their digital content – even if they don’t own it all themselves. The practice is still very much evolving, as journalists learn to walk the line between referencing and attributing content and positioning it as your own (or stealing it).
Here are three ways media companies are experimenting with curation. One of them just might work for you.
1. Let your readers curate for you.
In a mashup of two digital publishing buzzwords – curation and crowdsourcing – the U.S. division of UK publisher The Guardian last week introduced #smarttakes, a “pop-up aggregation tool that collects standout pieces of commentary and analysis from Guardian readers.”
“We're asking readers to help us focus the conversation by sharing their favorite bits of commentary and analysis that develop around breaking stories,” The Guardian’s Ruth Spencer wrote in a blog post. The concept is simple: A user tweets a link to some interesting content, adds the #smarttakes hashtag, the The Guardian will compile common threads into a commentary on its website – where users can continue the discussion through comments.
#smarttakes, of course, will be driven by news events that generate a lot of Twitter activity. The Guardian had been experimenting with the tool for a few months, but its first official test came shortly after launch, in the aftermath of the Aurora shootings.
“We want to showcase multiple perspectives after a big story breaks,” Spencer told Mashable. “The Guardian can’t do them all.”
2. Dedicate some resources
The flip side of crowdsourcing is to actually invest in teams of curators, as a way for publishers with multiple web properties to share resources. Digital First Media last week announced it had formed a three-person “national Curation Team” as part of its centralized news operation, which is dubbed Thunderdome.
The company appointed Julie Westfall as “curation team leader” to “drive the development and execution of national and local curation strategy across Digital First Media.” Westfall’s mandate: coordinate daily curation efforts with the newsrooms of Digital First's local news sites. Two curators on Westfall’s team will track, collect, craft and distribute curated national news for publication across those Digital First properties.
"Providing context to everything we curate is vital to providing a comprehensive news report,” Jenkins said in a press release. “This team will be an essential part of our network coverage of everything from national politics and elections to national breaking news. Their main charge is finding ways to bring these stories home to every city and town we serve."
Digital First’s curation team also leapt into action quickly following the Aurora shootings, helping the Denver Post assemble a broad collection of related articles, videos, images and blog posts (right).
3. Partner with Twitter
Many media industry folk have asked whether Twitter is friend or foe to media companies. NBC clearly sees a benefit in partnering with Twitter to provide curated coverage of the upcoming London Olympics. The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, describes the plan:
“During the Games, Twitter will use its Olympics events page to highlight insiders' views, and to encourage people to watch NBC's on-air and online coverage. Twitter will embed its own staffer with NBC's social media team in London to ensure fresh news, interviews and links to TV highlights will show up on Twitter. The Olympics ‘hashtag’ … will pop up on screen during television coverage, NBC said.”
Twitter debuted this new type of events page last month for a NASCAR race. Using “a combination of algorithms and curation,” Twitter’s event pages “surface the most interesting Tweets to bring you closer to all of the action,” the company said in a blog post describing the #NASCAR page.
The moves are part of Twitter’s strategy to build a presence around live events and "more closely tie the shared experience on Twitter to the actual event that is happening," CEO Dick Costolo told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. Twitter, the Journal reported, “is also trying to make it easier for third parties, such as conference organizers, to organize Twitter posts around smaller-scale gatherings.”
Twitter’s goal, Costello said, is to transition from companies that "build off of Twitter to a world where people build into Twitter."
Twitter’s efforts underscore the need for media companies to figure out their own curation strategy – before third-party platforms co-opt their audience.