Sometimes, the most salutary moments come when someone outside a situation makes observations. Recently, Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, cogitated on the state of news media in a way that’s instructive for both news organizations and publishers overall. To begin:
As a nerd, I’m excited by the new tech, particularly mobile, including new display systems and pervasive connectivity. However, the tech is secondary, not nearly as important as repairing some current issues with trust and curation.
This really hits the nail on the head when it comes to the social obligations information purveyors have. But there are major twists introduced by a completely revolutionary information exchange landscape.
A recent example of this was given at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference I attended in Frankfurt. Matt McCalister from the Guardian told about a protest gone awry, with a protester killed and suspicion of police brutality. No evidence was forthcoming, and the police were denying any involvement. A journalist from the Guardian made a plea to readers for evidence, telling them they could trust him to do the right thing with the information, and soon enough, a video showing the police beating surfaced, leading to a formal investigation.
This is the trust issue, in a nutshell, but it’s much more — it’s about trust being used differently, about trust in an information-abundance world with an increasingly robust information infrastructure, allowing it all to play out differently.
Curation is another matter. We live in the age when people expect news to find them, so putting it into their workflows and daily experiences is different than it was when a small set of packages (newspaper, news programs) were where people sought the news. Curators have to place the news differently and probably more repetitively than before, or the news doesn’t reach its audience. Newmark nails the issue again when reflecting on the coverage of the financial meltdown and the pre-Iraq invasion “intelligence”:
Good reporters told us that something was amiss in both situations, and we did see some really good journalism in both cases. However, the really good journalism was buried, not curated into the front pages, and then, infrequently if at all repeated. . . . The new model for news curation and selection, I feel, will be a balance of professional editing and collaborative news filtering. In one incarnation, news organizations will look at feeds from highly respected news fans, and that will drive stories that are featured more prominently.
The curation opportunity is a major one for publishers of all types, but thinking it ends with the publication of a traditional book or journal is a losing proposition. And thinking that being “the best” is what creates interest underestimates the repetition required and dismisses major opportunities for connecting with a professional audience seeking novelty.
I was recently talking with a couple of researchers who observed that the most interesting science isn’t usually in the big name journals, but rather in the mid-tier or even lower-tier publications where really radical thinking and unusual results find their way into the literature. The big name journals are publishing on popular topics well along in the scientific literature. They’re important, but less interesting.
Curating out of the middle is a major opportunity for publishers and others in the information landscape. Repetition, presentation, prominence, and context all provide curatorial power.
The solutions to the information puzzles we’re being presented with may be as simple as Newmark is suggesting — maintain and increase trust, and curate information well, frequently, and meaningfully:
The successful news organization of the future will pursue models for news curation/selection which [are hybrids] of professional editing and collaboration among talented consumers.
The same could be said for journals and scholarly texts of all types. It’s really that simple.
Oh, and in the meantime, go mobile, social, and digital, all simultaneously.