Time for something new.
There’s good reason to have my students play around with this. Social media is clearly a large part of the information landscape now, and journalists are in the middle of an experiment on how to garner its potential. Through social media, they’re cultivating sources for traditionally told stories, they’re promoting stories they’ve written, they’re networking. But social media is not a one-way pipeline, and to ignore what social media users themselves are saying is to miss a large part of the story.
One journalist who recognized the story-telling importance of social media–Twitter in particular–is Andy Carvin. He’s been curating Tweets from the streets of the Arab Spring since the beginning. He does this both by selecting and retweeting information on Twitter and using Storify. To subscribe to his Twitter feed is to get an urgent and compelling look at the view on the ground.
Of course, if you’re on social media, you could do this yourself. You could take the time to search Twitter for key terms and key people who are immersed in the events of the day. You could filter out those Tweets that don’t pertain, retweeting those that do. In fact, Twitter users do most of these activities already.
The difference comes down to the tenets of good journalism–storytelling, balance, verification are all reasons to seek out curation done by journalists. In fact, according to David Brewer, that’s what journalists have been doing for years, only without the benefit of high-tech tools.
What to watch out for:
- Social media moves quick. You’ll need to as well, or your curated stories will be less relevant.
- At the same time, you’ll need to be careful. Information from Tweets and other social media can be wrong. You’ll need to corroborate what you use. And since faulty information gets passed along so readily on the Web, checking it against other Tweets can be risky as your sole source of confirmation. Crowdsourcing, alas, is not infallible.
- If you’re pulling retweets from others, be mindful that those tweets may reflect information that’s no longer up to date. Carvin explains it to Ethan Zuckerman this way: “Twitter can echo in the sense that it’s loud at first, then reverberates for a while. So something one person might’ve posted 12 hours ago gets retweeted by someone who’s just checking Twitter for the first time, causing it to propagate further.”
- It could be tempting to just throw a bunch of parts together without giving much thought to the shape that’s created. But then, that wouldn’t be journalism, so consider what the story is that you’re trying to tell before you curate.
- In fact, it can be easy to overdo on the assets (number of parts you bring in from the Web, Twitter, and the like). Think like museum curators who cull and arrange artwork, suggests Mindy McAdams.
After trying my own hand at Storify, one of my concerns is that curated topics can seem a bit superficially covered. That’s ok. Curation sits alongside other storytelling methods; it doesn’t replace them.
Want more on curation journalism? Check out my piece on Storify for a list of sources on the topic.