Context is personal

A single news item is only important to a reader if it makes sense within a larger context. An example

If you’ve been following the ongoing conversation about context in some journalism circles, there’s a good chance you weren’t compelled to view the example hidden above. For you, that context was superflous because of your personal knowledge and understanding of the topic.

If, on the other hand, this is the first time you’ve heard the idea that news items need context to be useful to readers, a summary of related posts might be helpful. The conversation

Every person who reads a news item, brings a unique set of life experiences and knowledge to put the news into some bigger story. Each reader also has a unique set of questions based on their ignorance of, and interest in, particular parts of that story.

One way to provide only the desired parts of a story for individual readers, might be to hide story elements until the reader clicks on a link to expand that part of the story. This is an old trick (shoddily implementod in this post) that might find new usefulness in this new context of … context.

I hoped to submit this post to Matt Thompson’s The Future of Context site, but technical requirements forced me to publish it here instead. Please follow the conversation about context happening on that blog to find out how journalists can create and deliver news in ways that can be more relevant and useful to readers than existing forms of storytelling.

22 futures of journalism, 2009 timeline

I’ve been running into so many discussions and predictions about the future of journalism that I’ve started bookmarking them with the tag “futureofjournalism.” I did not include the May Senate hearing only because it seemed fairly inconclusive.

From that collection, here is a timeline of 22 articles and blog posts from this year that contain some idea about what journalism will look like in the future. (Click on headings to see the original web pages.)

Update: Dipity makes this process so easy that I have added more events, and plan on throwing more into the mix as I stumble upon relevant links. Maybe this post should be titled “22+ futures of journalism, 2009 timeline”

Can editors and reporters crack TechCrunch’s real-time conundrum?

One issue repeatedly crept into a roundtable discussion when FriendFeed, Google and other high-profile web companies met at Techcrunch’s Real-Time Stream Crunchup last week. Beneath all the tech talk, it appears that the recurring issue was the very same thing that journalists have solved on a daily basis: parsing a deluge of raw information to make it useful for public consumption.

Information now arrives — and is instantly published — through various real-time streaming platforms like Twitter. Traditional print journalists had little to do with live streams, but social media is changing the newsroom, and this technological conundrum presents an opportunity for journalists to lead the way by applying their skills to filter the real-time web.

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8 Reasons journalists need a curation system

The growth of life streams means that “those who can filter out what’s important will matter more,” according to web strategist Jeremiah Owyang. CUNY Professor Jeff Jarvis’ makes a similar point that “every minute of a journalist’s time will need to go to adding unique value to the news ecosystem: reporting, curating, organizing.”

Journalists who hope to use curation to comprehensively cover stories and beats need an infrastructure conducive to that process. Today’s hodgepodge of widgets strapped onto today’s content management system aren’t enough.

Here are 8 reasons journalists as curators need a system to facilitate curation, based on Matt Cohen’s definition of curation as “the aggregation, filtering, and prioritization of content for a targeted audience, with context and editorial voice.”

  1. Links aren’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, link journalism is an integral part of curation, but why link to a video that can be embedded into a story? Why link to a stream of tweets when it can be contextually placed within an article ? A curation system should support easy embedding of external content.
  2. Canned widgets won’t suffice. When one person’s live tweets are relevant to a story, you might be able to embed one of Twitter’s default widgets, but what about a conversation? What about a filtered search? You can turn to third-party solutions, but then the story is dependent on those systems. A holistic curation system should include tools to embed content in a way that it makes sense for storytelling, not just the way the content-provider created a widget.
  3. Copyrights must be respected. Do you need permission to use that Flickr-published photo in your story? What about that song you found on Myspace? Possibly maybe, probably not. A good curation system should detect the publishing rights attached to content or, better yet, provide search functions that search only content that may be reproduced with the owners’ permission.
  4. Link-sourcing helps readers dig. Curating expert analysis and facts from online sources is important to a story, but linking to those sources gives readers an easy way to dive in deeper to learn more or decide how much they trust the source. And it isn’t just about blogs. A curation system needs to unobtrusively link to every blogger, videographer, photographer and microblogger whose content is used.
  5. Embedding code is just plain risky. There are good reasons some content management systems don’t allow the use of raw HTML or Javascript in a story. A malformed HTML tag can make a web page go blank. Seemingly harmless scripts can contain malicious code. A curation system needs to support embedding without raw coding, and has to be easily extensible, so that the next big video platform will be supported.
  6. Consistency is good web design. I’ve visited to many sites that present stories that sometimes have playable audio and video right in the middle of a story, sometimes in a right-hand column. Sometimes I have to click on a link to watch video on a separate page altogether. A good curation system enforces a consistency in across embeddable media.
  7. Journalists need to curate social sources. As more facts and rumors stream from social media and their networks, journalists need to monitor and pull from those sources. Although there are external tools to find information, there are very few tools built specifically for journalists to find, investigate and verify that data. A good curation system should provide tools to make that facilitate and document that process.
  8. Chrome OS: Google recently announced that they are developing an operating system “for people who live on the web.” Google accurately notes that modern systems “were designed in an era where there was no web.” Likewise, modern content management systems were built before the idea of journalist as curator. Sometimes, new ideas need new systems. This is one of those times.

Of course, not all stories need curation beyond a basic set of related links, but journalists need a system that supports aggregation, filtering and prioritization of outside media for those stories that require that kind of curation.

For a living, growing collection of links about curation, visit my Delicious bookmarks of pages tagged “curation.”