Masterclass 24: Curatorial journalism - what, why and how

What curation is...Why it’s important...How to do it well

Curation is a new word for doing something that old school journalists might call copy tasting.

On a traditional national newspaper or broadcaster's newsdesk you’ll find a copytaster who sifts through the incoming reports from news agencies - Reuters, AP, PA, Agence France Presse and the rest - rejecting some, selecting others and pushing the most promising ones towards staff reporters, or the relevant specialists, for their assessment and follow up.

So some of those wire stories are developed, expanded and taken to a new level. Other, less promising ones, are printed straight, with or without reference to the source.

In the new world of journalism, the sources for stories have multiplied, and become available to all.

Eyewitnesses, industry experts and citizen journalists all have the ability to publish their material direct to the public if they wish. There is a far greater wealth of information being disseminated, on a wide range of open publishing platforms.

If we are talking about eyewitness accounts, Twitter probably comes first to mind. There’s also a lot of material filed to Facebook, video to YouTube and other platforms.

If there is a really big story – a Japanese earthquake, tsumani and nuclear meltdown, or unrest in a range of Middle Eastern countries, then the resources of profession journalists and broadcasters/publishers are completely inadequate to the task of reporting.

It’s down to eyewitnesses – or citizen journalists – to provide the vast majority of first-person material for the many reports that will be crafted about these events.

OK, there will be a few hard-news honchos striding in their flack jackets or anti-radiation suits through a scene of conflict or devastation, but what they can tell us is often actually pretty superficial.

The BBC saw fit to parachute a non-Japanese speaker into the heart of the unfolding nuclear disaster when the story was at its height, and went live to him as sirens were sounding and convoys of vehicles were passing.

The studio jockey asked him, as he broadcast live from the roadside, what those sirens were all about. The poor guy had no idea. I sympathise, I would have had no idea what was going on either.

I’d have had to look to social media - at local tweets and the rest - and use a translation tool to try to find out.

Given that many big events can’t be covered adequately by professional journalists, what do we need to do?

We need to look to social media, and the vast amount of eyewitness material and informed comment they hold.

The problem with all this eye-witness stuff is that it is unverified, sometimes unreliable, sometimes inaccurate.

What it lacks is the eye of a professional journalist, who can sift, evaluate and seek to corroborate the material that is presented.

That’s the process an old-school copy taster sets in train. And it’s the same process we embark upon when we try to take these raw sources of information, compare them, try to find patterns in information that reveal a truth.

That process describes what curatorial journalism is.

But it doesn’t just relate to really big stories.

Because everyone with a smartphone has the capacity to file multimedia reports, many people can contribute to the raw source-material for a story.

Curatorial journalism is about bringing an objective journalistic eye to all that raw date, sifting it, and presenting the best of it to a wider audience.

In another field, that of comment and analysis on an industry, there will be many commentators, some who describe themselves as journalists, others who are key members of that industry, some with less elevated roles but still with potentially illuminating insights.

Curating an industry, an issue, a hobby or pastime is also a valuable and rewarding journalistic enterprise.

So the old-school skill of copy tasting can be reinvented in the modern world as one in which many news sources – both official and unofficial, eyewitness, citizen journalist and/or expert can be scanned, appraised and either added to the report or rejected.

This masterclass is about how to practice curatorial journalism.

It’s about the platforms that help you curate the news, and the ways in which you can identify the best sources for the news you choose to curate.

Potentially, anyone could do this, what will make our curations worth reading?

It comes down to a fundamental journalistic skill – the ability to present information in the most dramatic and engaging way.

Have we curated, selected and packaged source material in such a way that people want to read it? If so, we have created successful journalism. If not, we’ve failed.

We may at times be unsure of the reliability of our sources, but we can at least identify what those sources are. That way, the reader can decide whether to trust them.

There are a range of platforms that promise the opportunity to curate successfully. We’ll look at some of them in this masterclass.

Which platform is most appropriate for you depends in part on the sort of curation you want to practice, and how much work you want to put in.

Want to know more about the reasons for curating? Here's a great Mashable article: Why curation is important to the future of journalism

Projects

There'll be some ideas for curation projects as we get down to using particular platfoms in later modules. Feel free to share them with the MMJ community by sending a link via any of the comment buttons, or to @andybull on Twitter.

Next: Choosing what to curate, and the right platform for you

Investigative Journalism