Digital First Media’s curation team starts work full-time today.
They are taking on a new role for our company, curating national content for use by our newsrooms scattered across the country in 18 states and four time zones. I blogged recently with some thoughts about how news curators should work. We also asked candidates for the positions how they envisioned the team working.
Here, with some light editing, are their responses:
Julie Westfall, coming to DFM from the web operation of KPCC public radio in Los Angeles (a former colleague from TBD), will lead the team:
Curation is obviously a huge part of the future, and that’s exciting. Besides that everyone says so, it’s clear that verification, context and new formats for it are the best ways to utilize user-generated content and the huge amount of data and information that flows during breaking, developing and ongoing news. The way most news orgs do this is still slow, clunky, un-user friendly, and not well-distributed, and that means there’s a lot of space for growth and a lot more ways to engage the users who provide the content.
Viewing content from a curator’s point of view is among the first ways to move into the mobile world. While these people may figure it all out, the article is not the ideal format for consuming breaking/developing news on mobile, but curating and its tools already give us what we need to start getting beyond that on mobile, and having a curation structure in place already rocking and rolling puts an org in a good position to create apps and take advantage of other mobile-friendly, article-busting storytelling innovations as they come along. Or hopefully as we create them! On that note …
A focus on curation should leave the door open for re-imagining our storytelling formats and always pushing them forward. We need multiple templates for multiple kinds of stories. Plus, I feel like a solution to the imperfect article format is on the tip of our tongues, and it will end up being simpler than we imagined. I’d hope that a focus on curation would also allow me room (and maybe a developer?) to develop better methods and products for updating stories. Starting with narrative stories and the article format, one would be a way to display previous versions of stories and show users what has changed. There’s lots of other work to be done on solving the problem of updating, too.
For a huge network like DFM, well-formatted curation also strikes me as the best way for everyone to more efficiently “cover everything” while supporting the creation of original content, especially in real time. Distributing original curated content of big news, breaking news and live events seems like the start of a solution for the overuse of ultimately useless (for digital users) wire content, and should provide a better service for users who will find more contextualized and digital-forward stories than what wire services have to offer.
Julie outlined her thoughts in a couple emails. These points are from a subsequent message:
Adding value to the added value. I think it will be important to figure out how to distinguish DFM national/international coverage from the kind that Storyful is doing, or various brands are doing on Storify. With three people focusing on curation, DFM has a good chance of being the first to curate a lot of stories, but DFM should still want to avoid duplication of other efforts. This will happen naturally as the editors get a better feel for how other outlets are handling curation, and how DFM’s coverage focuses can enable them to do it differently, but I imagine it will also take discipline to resist the urge to cover everything, and focus on what DFM can cover best.
New formats for context and story tracking. Newspapers, no matter how digital-first they are, continue to publish newspaper-type stories on the Web, which means information is distributed linearly in dribs and drabs, with little context. I think the team will be in a good position to help design scalable formats to add context to ongoing and developing stories. One such format could be similar to breakingnews.com’s topic pages. These sorts of models could give the community properties a relatively easy way to track stories from the beginning, and nobody is doing it on the smaller, ongoing regional stories that DFM covers so deeply. These sorts of mobile-friendly timelines are the building blocks of context, and could be put into practice on Storify at first. It’s this kind of context-building that creates tons of value in DFM’s relentless local coverage. Otherwise, the work and ongoing coverage slips into the ether too easily. The team should be charged with thinking up other such products that work well with DFM content, and efficiently serve up context. For instance, who wants to start at the beginning of the year when they’re doing a year-in-review? That’s why I started this.
Breaking news and live coverage. For live coverage, the curation team should be integrated enough to assist in planning coverage as well as helping to execute it, since planning is often the key for live coverage. The team should also be involved in developing live blog tools, and any other tools, for such coverage. The team members should also learn deeply about the breaking news operations of the DFM properties in their region, and develop relationships with them, so they can learn how best they can support their properties, and what kinds of curation products and tools would work best. Some may be so short-staffed that a curation of immediate resources is what’s needed, and others may be able to handle initial details while a curator works on a piece with an angle.
Angi Carter, who has been a reporter and most recently engagement editor at the New Haven Register, is one of two stars at Digital First newsrooms who will be joining the curation team. Here are Angi’s thoughts on our curation team:
I see the work of the Curation Team as a critical enhancement to outreach, engagement and building audience, rather than curation as an end goal in and of itself.
SPJ colleagues turned me on to Wiggio, which would let us do conference calls, virtual meetings or chats; create documents and spreadsheets and send text or email messages.
I believe curating regional, national and international stories will help DFM properties and Thunderdome keep pace with developing stories, while helping to put those reports in context and making broader links with multi-media elements such as videos, pictures or data visualizations.
Google Trends, trending topics on Twitter and Google+, TweetDeck and Hootsuite columns, Reddit, Digg, Pulse, RSS feeds, Facebook streams and national blogs (and their comment sections) are powerful tools to enable this and are the platforms/apps I use most frequently to keep up with conversations among social media users and people who are consuming news content and commenting on it.
Syndicaster videos: It is also important, I think, for the team to review video submissions to Syndicaster with an eye out for content that can be embedded in story pages across properties. We could then share the clips on social media channels, incorporating links to the originating property’s website. These are the types of synergies that can build not just traffic for that specific content but bolster our numbers of repeat visitors by being done consistently.
I already have feeds/lists on regional sister papers, competitors and sites we share content with at NHR, Citizens’ Agenda and important election stuff, American Homecomings and national news sites and blogs. These can easily be duplicated in feeds and channels specific for DFM.
Having a team dedicated to watching regional, national and international news will help us all discover potential sources that team members can refer to local properties and vertical editors when appropriate and broaden the exposure of DFM’s content.
The idea of being involved in vertical and/or special topics content really appeals to me.
I would love to be involved in curating content to engage the business/finance community, as I spent three years on the NHR business desk.
Because of my own life experiences, living in cities among people from all around the world and the NHR engagement team’s work on special portals this year for Black History Month and Women’s History Month, I would like to be a part of curating content around diversity/culture/immigration that goes beyond special observances, holidays and policy fights. Our team can help lead the way on strategies for engaging our audiences in meaningful, ongoing ways on these points.
As part of an ideaLab project, I am working locally with religious groups, women and youth to engage them in the use of collaboration tools, such as Olapic, MixedInk, Wiggio and blogging platforms, where they work together and with NHR to share content they generate and to inform/advise our staff of material that would help them with their lives, inform and entertain them and attract them to our sites. My style would be to continue involving these and other constituencies we serve in developing and sharing the content our team curates.
For example, we are experimenting with Olapic, a platform that allows us to receive photos from the public and build online galleries. On June 16, I attended a youth march in New Haven and we created this gallery with pictures I used to seed it with and pics people sent in by Twitter or email that day and after:
Once our news story was online, we embedded the widget code for the gallery into the Newsys page and I updated the gallery description with a link to that story on our website, so traffic could cycle in both directions. (I also use this for American Homecomings with Pinterest. I recommend putting bit.ly links to stories – when we have them – in the description of the pin).
Let’s say there’s a civic demonstration (i.e. May Day, the Arab spring) or a tsunami or earthquake or plane crash or terrorist attack or death of pop star/leader of a nation here in the U.S. or another country; the curation team could seed a gallery with local or AP art and crowdsource our social media channels for user-generated content. The local properties would quickly have images to share and the curation team could create a hashtag for everyone to use with Olapic’s Twitter interface to keep pictures coming in from the crowd.
This could absolutely be replicated across the company.
So, it would be nothing short of fun and totally cool to work with vertical editors and regional editors on projects: daily, weekly or longer. As our feeds and channels grow and develop, there will be no shortage of issues to pursue, thanks to the wisdom of the crowd.
I already receive alerts and have email subscriptions on the topics I’ve mentioned and others, to remain knowledgeable and in touch with many points of view. Journalists can’t serve vast and diverse audiences if we’re hearing only our own voice or only those similar to ours.
Community Media Labs
This is a plan for launch the first week in July, but I’ll mention it as something to keep an eye on. I’m combing our ideaLab for content from our CML bloggers that we will share daily using Paper.li. The Curation Team could try this also, taking samplings from CMLs that have started across DFM.
We’ve been using polls, a Google doc, social media posts and public forums to find out the election issues voters consider most important to them this year. Some have also submitted essays. Here is a link to the Citizens’ Agenda section of two sites we built at NHR around the 5th Congressional District and Senate races.
These strategies and others could be implemented across DFM.
I’m learning about a tool called Scout that sends me updates on specific candidates and committees and would love to teach our colleagues involved in covering municipal, state or federal races how to access it and what I’m learning.
Live Events/Breaking News
Even though I have played with ScribbleLive for less than a week, I see its potential for liveblogging – in a collaborative way – with local properties on breaking stories that continue to evolve through the day or events of great significance. The curation team can add content to a post in collaboration with a property where the event is developing. Fantastic!
We could even hold collaborative editorial meetings about topics and stories coming up in the weeks ahead or vertical projects in which the Curation Team could play a role. Here’s a peek at the Connecticut Cluster’s 10:30 a.m. news meeting (statewide Mon-Fri).
Karen Workman moves to the curation team from the Oakland Press, where she was Community Engagement Editor. She and Angi are both original members of the Journal Register Co.’s ideaLab, and experience that recognized and accelerated their leadership in our company’s exploration of digital tools and new engagement approaches. Karen’s thoughts on the curation team:
Preface (because it’s long enough to be a novel anyhow, sorry about that)
My impression of Thunderdome has always been that it would be a model of efficiency, best leveraging the company’s resources to both improve quality while reducing the burden of responsibilities on local newsrooms. The goal, of course: to allow local newsrooms to focus on what they do best — local news.
As someone working at a local newsroom, I can ask myself what someone working on a national Thunderdome curation team could do to help me out. That’s my approach here.
Digital First Media Curation Team
Everything we do must be worth our while or it’s just wasted resources. Worth our while, I think, means that the content we’re responsible for is, 1) Used by our news organizations and, 2) Is read by our news organizations’ audiences.
The first step is getting our news organizations to use the content. The challenge there is in how we can share the content so that using it is not adding to someone’s workload.
Let’s talk about what it’s like to be on the front line in a digital first newsroom.
I arrive in the newsroom at 7 a.m. A reporter arrives at the same time. Together, we’re responsible for the following:
- Check and upload any stories moving on the AP wire.
- Check three local TV stations; curate and upload stories/videos when applicable.
- Check one radio station website and two major metro dailies; curate and upload stories when applicable.
- Write, edit & upload any police items that came through overnight on pass-along emails.
- Check our two sister papers in the region, reformat and upload any desirable content.
- Tweet and check/respond to our interactions/messages.
- Post to Facebook and check/respond to any interactions/questions/tips, etc.
- Select a top story, write a script and film a reporter stand-up for our noon news show.
- If time allows, curate content from The Street.
- If time allows, curate content from our partner video providers.
- If time allows, curate content from American Homecomings.
This is not what we spend all day doing. Our goal is to have any curated content, sister content and fresh police news posted by 8 a.m. to optimize peak traffic hours. This is a critical time. How can we help people working then do more?
My life would be easier if someone were curating and providing me with content from our sister media outlets, partners and special projects. Things that would make me less likely to use content provided this way would be:
- If I had to rip it from a website myself. Most website content, even from our sister media outlets using the same CMS, has to be reformatted to simple text before it can be uploaded. Grabbing photos and videos takes a little extra time too.
- Conversely, if I were to be inundated with too many emails sharing content not particularly attractive to me, I’d stop paying attention to those emails.
The Michigan Curation Team
With our list of media partners growing, and with it the number of places we’re asked to curate content from, I saw an opportunity for us to be more efficient. It just didn’t make sense for everyone to be curating from the same places every day in newsrooms across my state. So I asked for some volunteers to start a curation team. We started in April.
Our role is limited, but it’s created a staffing efficiency, helped drive traffic to partner content and added value (and pageviews) to our websites. We were initially curating partner videos — selecting two videos, watching and writing a headline and one sentence of text and sharing in an email by 9 a.m. Monday-Friday with the embed code (with instructions to modify the code to make the video theirs). We recently replaced one video with a veterans story from American Homecomings.
We share by email and make it easy for the user to upload the content.
A national team could scale curating that type of content for the whole company, and do so much more.
What I want out of a national curation team
- I want someone scanning content from all DFM websites for interesting, widely shareable stories and providing me with full, easy-to-upload content. I want an internal wire service.
- I want curated content from our partners, verticals or special projects, provided to me in simple text with URLs next to the words that should be hyperlinked. Don’t make me go to five or more websites every day searching for this stuff. Make it available to me.
- I would really like someone to provide curated versions of hot stories when none of our DFM newsrooms, our partners or the wire has it.
- I would prefer this content arrive neatly in my inbox, one story per email with all the pieces right there for me, but I would not like too many emails.
- I want an easy way to let everyone in DFM have access to any hot stories created by my newsroom.
So, how can we do this?
If I ran this joint, I’d do it this way:
Create a section for the intranet to host content. It doesn’t need to be pretty, but it does need to be organized well. WordPress may also work. I think it needs to be internal only, though.
I would distinguish by story type — Odd news and talkers first, crime, national, features, politics, sports, entertainment, etc., and also by vertical or special project. I’d keep everything in a list view on one page with bolded subheds breaking up the story types and each subhed having a list of the latest three stories. Make the subheds link to full pages to view the most recent 10 stories uploaded to that category.
Stories should be uploaded in full, but listed with just the headline and lede with a “read more” button for the expanded view. Photos and videos should be posted as well.
I already said that ripping content from a website myself would not be ideal for me, so here are some solutions to address that:
- Have a “request this story” button beneath each story listing, on the front page (in list view). Most people know from the headline and lede whether the story is desirable anyhow. Include the button on the full view too. Pressing that button should bring up a box to enter an email address and media organization. For this to work really well, the email should be automated — as soon as the email is entered, the story is shipped with all its pieces right to your inbox. I think that’s possible, anyhow. It is at least worth investigating.
- Have an automated newsletter be sent, perhaps three times a day, based off content from that site. Make it easy to request the story by having the headline take you to the full story online, where you can either rip it yourself if you’re so inclined or use the request button to have it emailed to you. If a newsletter can’t be automated, then make it a manual responsibility.
To help get staffers engaged with getting their content on the site, I also think the website should include the following things on both the list view and full view:
- Number of times a story has been requested (click to see sites that requested it).
- Number of times a story has been viewed in full.
A “Submit a story” option should also be included prominently. A form that asks the user to submit a story headline, story text, photo, hyperlink to original source and embed codes for videos, a storify, soundcloud file, interactive map, etc., would make it incredibly easy for the curators to hit publish and add the story and all its content to the site.
Benefits of a website
- While local newsrooms are on different content management systems, the website would provide a place for all of that.
- I talked with a friend who does programming. He said the automated email function would work as long as there’s a database to draw from, and that it could be set up to ship stories in simple text and have photos attached.
- I ran this by our online editor too. He added that if the “request story” button instead just opened up the story file in the CMS, where all pieces are also available in the proper format (likely the source/html view) for sharing, that would suffice for him.
- Offering this keeps emails to a minimum, which is important. Too many emails will foster apathy. It organizes content, makes a nice one-stop-shop for local staff and offers delivery of the content in a form that requires the most minimal effort to use.
- Keeping emails to a minimum allows for curators to reserve email usage for breaking news situations, which is exactly when you need to be able to grab everyone’s attention. Email apathy would be a killer when big news breaks.
- A website that can automatically tally the number of requests/full views a story has would do a lot to engage staff in submitting content. I think local staff involvement would be huge in easing the burden on curators seeking DFM content. We could achieve much more with staff engagement. Seeing stories take off across DFM newsrooms would be fabulous for morale at the local level too. Journalists tend to be competitive folks. We like to see our work go viral.
I see the role of the curators to be a lot like being a wire editor. Mandy laid out a sensible plan for how to keep on top of the news, internal and otherwise, through RSS feeds, watch channels, social media lists and checking popular sites. I’d use Google Reader to organize the RSS feeds and set up a variety of Google news alerts as well.
This job is not for the 9-5er. We can set up all the lists and alerts and feeds we want, but doing this job well will hinge on having people who are true news junkies — people who are constantly checking Twitter on their smartphones because they enjoy doing so and who watch national news broadcasts on TV because that’s just their nightly thing.
If this were my job and the website idea was brought to fruition, I’d envision starting everyday checking the website first to see what was already there and if any submitted stories needed approval, then immediately turning to check feeds, lists, etc. A standard checklist of things to curate/upload/share would be a helpful guide — from verticals, national non-DFM curation, etc. I’d envision that a good curator will have an idea of what needs to be done that day before getting into the office. Having each curator email the next to come on shift with any notes of what needs to be done or, if overlapping, how to split responsibilities, would be helpful and foster a sense of team across distance.
It seems like a top priority for the curation lead would be compiling a list (or refining a current one) of contacts at local newsrooms across all properties. Good communication is critical in everything we do and having personal knowledge of contacts will aid immensely in that. A survey would be a great starting point to collect information from newsrooms that can assist in building social lists as well as internal contact points — names, titles, phone numbers, emails, Twitter accounts, Facebook, etc. A quick call to pertinent staffers to introduce the team and what we’re all about (as well as how they can contribute) might take a lot of time initially, but will pay off in dividends. Perhaps that initial contact could be more structured, using GoToMeeting or Google+ Hangouts to introduce themselves to small groups and provide an overview of how the team will work, an intro to curation and how to submit stories, suggest stories or contact the team for assistance at the local level.
For special projects like American Homecomings or verticals like Olympics, it seems like the team should define a plan for how to handle curation. With Olympics, it might be something like having a database of medals to update, finding or coordinating visual displays of data, creating added value pieces like storifies or photo slideshows, communicating with newsrooms to ensure curated content is being used, etc.
I like that these curators are being based in newsrooms and will have the flexibility to drop everything when a big story calls for it. While the daily tasks should improve content, ease the burden on local newsrooms and better utilize content already being created by DFM properties, I think it’s in breaking news situations that the team can really shine.
I’m excited to see Julie, Angi and Karen get started. I can’t wait to see them executing some of these ideas.