Curation is a relatively new term in journalism, but the practice is as old as journalism itself. Every act of journalism is an act of curation: think of how a news report or feature selects and combines elements from a range of sources (first hand sources, background facts, first or second hand colour). Not only that: every act of publishing is, too: selecting and combining different types of content to ensure a news or content ‘mix’.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ in his talk to employees at the Washington Post said: “People will buy a package … they will not pay for a story.” Previously that package was limited to what your staff produced, and wire copy. But as more content becomes digitised, it is possible to combine more content from a wider variety of sources in a range of media – and on any one of a number of platforms.
Curation is nothing new – but it is becoming harder.
Choosing the tools
I’ve identified at least three distinct types of curation (you may think of more):
Curation as distribution or relay: this is curation at the platform level: think of Twitter accounts that relay the most useful links and tweets from elsewhere. Or Tumblr blogs that pass on the best images, video and quotes. Or UsVsTh3m.
Curation as aggregation or combination: seen in linkblogging and news roundups, or galleries, or news aggregators (even creating an algorithm or filter is a journalistic act of selection).
Curation as filter or distillation: this often comes in the form of the list: Buzzfeed is a master of these, distilling conversations from Reddit and complementing them with images.
There are also a number of ways in which the journalist adds value (again, you may think of more):
Through illustrating (as Buzzfeed, above, does with images to liven up highlights from a text discussion)
Through following up
As a journalist operating online, you are both reporter and publisher, able to curate content both at the article level and that of ‘publication’ – whether that’s a Twitter stream, a Tumblr blog, or a Flipboard magazine. Here are some suggestions for tools and techniques: Continue reading →
It’s the start of a new academic year so I thought I’d compile a list of the latest reading I would recommend for any students looking at online journalism. (If you have suggestions for additions please let me know!):
Theoretical, historical and conceptual background
Digital Journalism by Jones & Lee (Sage, 2011) is very comprehensive and worth reading in full.
Gatewatching by Axel Bruns (Peter Lang, 2005) covers areas that tend to be overlooked by journalism books, such as new media methods and startups from outside traditional media. Read: Chapter 4: Making News Open Source
We The Media by Dan Gillmor (O’Reilly, 2006) is a seminal book on citizen journalism which is also available free online.
Practical online journalism – general
Clearly I’m going to say my own book, the Online Journalism Handbook(2017, Routledge), [UPDATE: now in its second edition], which covers blogging and web writing, data journalism, online audio and video, interactivity, community management and law. Continue reading →
Since Adrian Holovaty built ChicagoCrime.org in 2005 to automatically update a map with police crime statistics, automation has been an important element of data journalism. Few news organisations have guidelines on automation, but the BBC’s guidelines (2013) on video feeds do provide a framework. Continue reading →
Most news organisations’ professional guidelines include sections on protecting sources. In some countries this is also enshrined in law. Many journalists, however, are not aware of how they can betray sources’ identity by publishing original files online.
Metadata stored in those files – information about the date and location of access, the computers and accounts used, and other data, can be used to identify a leaker. Even photocopied or printed materials can bear invisible digital watermarks which describe what machines were used to produce them, and when (Reimer, 2005; PicMarkr, 2008). Continue reading →
Mass data gathering – scraping, FOI, deception and harm
The data journalism practice of ‘scraping’ – getting a computer to capture information from online sources – raises some ethical issues around deception and minimisation of harm. Some scrapers, for example, ‘pretend’ to be a particular web browser, or pace their scraping activity more slowly to avoid detection. But the deception is practised on another computer, not a human – so is it deception at all? And if the ‘victim’ is a computer, is there harm? Continue reading →
This is the second in a series of extracts from a draft book chapter on ethics in data journalism. The first looked at how ethics of accuracy play out in data journalism projects. This is a work in progress, so if you have examples of ethical dilemmas, best practice, or guidance, I’d be happy to include it with an acknowledgement.
Gun permit holders map – image from Sherrie Questioning All
Hacks/Hackers: collaboration and the clash of codes
Journalism’s increasingly collaborative and global nature in a networked environment has raised a number of ethical issues as contributors from different countries and from professions outside of journalism – with different codes of ethics – come together.
This collaborative spirit is most visible in the ‘Hacks/Hackers’ movement, where journalists meet with web developers to exchange tips and ideas, and work on joint projects. Data journalists also often take part in – and organise – ‘hack days’ or ‘hackathons’ aimed at opening up and linking data and creating apps, or work with external agencies to analyse data gathered by either party. Continue reading →
The following is the first in a series of extracts from a draft book chapter on ethics in data journalism. This is a work in progress, so if you have examples of ethical dilemmas, best practice, or guidance, I’d be happy to include it with an acknowledgement.
Data journalism ethics: accuracy
Probably the most basic ethical consideration in data journalism is the need to be accurate, and provide proper context to the stories that we tell. That can influence how we analyse the data, report on data stories, or our publication of the data itself.
In late 2012, for example, data journalist Nils Mulvad finally got his hands on veterinary prescriptions data that he had been fighting for for seven years. But he decided not to publish the data when he realised that it was full of errors. Continue reading →
But are we missing any? Please let me know in the comments.
UPDATE: Philip Nye points out his data posts are largely about Hackney.
Disclosure: Matt Burgess was previously the editor of Help Me Investigate Education and Coventry Data Blog creator Ian Silvera has contributed to Help Me Investigate. I am regularly involved in the Birmingham Data Blog.
A particularly useful habit of successful data journalists is to think ahead in the way you request data. For example, you might want to request basic datasets now that you think you’ll need in future, such as demographic details for local patches.
You might also want to request the ‘data dictionary‘ for key datasets. This lists all the fields used in a particular database. For example, did you know that the police have a database for storing descriptions of suspects? And that one of the fields is shoe size? That could make for quite a quirky story. Continue reading →